On the far north side of Rocky Mountain National Park, a ranger named a canyon “Little Yellowstone,” because of its resemblance to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River in Wyoming, according to Lisa Foster, author of Rocky Mountain National Park, The Complete Hiking Guide.
While you may or may not see the resemblance, this is an interesting geologic area with a canyon of strikingly different rock that’s been carved and eroded over time.
There are two ways to get to the canyon, on a long hike via the Lulu City Trail in the park or on a shorter hike from La Poudre Pass.
From the La Poudre Pass trailhead (directions below), follow the small, dirt trail pass the trailhead sign across the meadow. A tenth of a mile from the parking lot, the trail ends at a wide, dirt road. This is the Grand Ditch Road and our “trail.”
Turn right and head toward Rocky Mountain National Park. Along the road you may notice very tall posts. That’s to tell the plow operators where the road is, if they need to plow into this area before the snow melts completely.
About a quarter mile from the parking lot, you’ll pass through a gate and pass the sign that says you’re entering Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s another .2 mile to the La Poudre Pass Ranger Station. The ranger station has a cabin, barn and corral.
Here you’ll get your first look at the Grand Ditch. It’s that simple ditch with water in it by the ranger station. The Grand Ditch is an amazing feat of engineering built in the 1890s to move water from the Never Summer Mountains and the Grand Valley to Poudre Canyon and the Eastern Plains. It normally takes a hike of several miles to reach the Grand Ditch, but not at La Poudre Pass.
Cross a small bridge here and continue walking on the road. The ditch builders not only had to build a way for the water to be moved, they built a road along the ditch so maintenance crews could access the ditch.
It’s fascinating to walk along the ditch and imagine being in this remote area in the 1890s. The workers built nearly 15 miles of ditch. As you walk, look at the rock walls that had to be blasted in places to make room for the ditch.
At 1.45 miles from the parking lot, there’s a trail split and a sign that says Little Yellowstone. Turn here. Now the hike changes. After walking on a wide, dirt road, you’ll find yourself in the forest on a single-person wide, rocky trail. The trail quickly begins to drop and will drop about 350 feet in elevation over the next .9 miles.
The trail winds through the forest, passing through, then along a meadow. At one point, you may spot the canyon ahead, but the trees are too thick to really see anything but a glimpse of color.
Follow the trail over some creeks and a few switchbacks (where the trail switchbacks/crosses back and forth on the hillside) until the trail comes to the canyon rim. This is the Little Yellowstone view.
Due to the large number of trees on the rim, you’ll need to do some careful exploration to get a good photo. But be careful! There’s no guardrail here and the side of the canyon is still collapsing.
When you’re done exploring, return the way you came.
On the way back, when you reach the small bridge at the ranger station, I recommend staying on the Grand Ditch Road and not crossing the bridge. Follow the overgrown road, along the ditch, to a gauging station. Here there’s another small bridge to cross over the ditch and return to the main road back to your car.
Details: The hike from La Poudre Pass to Little Yellowstone is 4.6 miles roundtrip with 450 feet of elevation gain.
If you’re looking for hiking in Poudre Canyon, my favorite hikes are Lake Agnes, Lake Emmaline and the B-17 crash site. Find more Poudre Canyon hikes and hikes across the state in this list of 400+ Colorado hiking trails. Don’t miss any of my trip reports, sign up for an email alert by clicking on subscribe at the bottom of this article and follow me on Facebook.
Directions: From Fort Collins, take Highway 14 through town. When Highway 14 makes a left turn at a gas station (Ted’s Place), zero your odometer. Drive about 53 miles and turn left on Long Draw Road. From here, it’s about 12.9 miles to the trailhead at the end of this (at times, bumpy) dirt road.