Section 3 of the Colorado Trail is the best 1 night backpacking trip near Denver, CO. I had not backpacked in a few years, and I was concerned about mileage, water source, my own physical capabilities, comfort for my dog etc. and found the Section 3 of the Colorado Trail to be the perfect introduction to backpacking! In this short guide, “Section 3 of the Colorado Trail”, you will get everything you need to plan for a fun, scenic, and comfortable beginner back trip.
Parking in the Buffalo Mountain Recreation Area allows easy access to the Section 3 of the Colorado Trial.
We set up our 1 night backpacking trip as a shuttle. We parked one car at the little scraggy trail head, and another car near the Wellington Lake parking lot. This system is in conjugation of the Buffalo Mountain bike loops.
It was optional to pay at the mountain bike loops to leave our car overnight or you can park along side the road.
The shuttle between the two was a well groomed gravel forest service road, and took about 25 minutes.
The total distance of trail we hiked was 13 miles.
We planned (and successfully completed) hiking about 12 miles the first day and 3 miles the following.
Water sources on Section 3 of the Colorado Trail were ample.
In our party of 4 adults, we each carried about 3 liters of water. There were 3 small creeks and one slightly larger creek along the 12 miles. The last 3 miles was more water scarce.
It was our first time hiking with our dog, Honey, and she drank a lot of water! After setting up camp about 8.5 miles in, that evening we hiked back about 2 miles to retrieve and filter about 2 L of extra water each.
We use a Katadyn water filter which directly fills our hydrapacks.
Section 3 of the Colorado Trail is dog friendly.
While we did have to hike back for extra water for Honey (and water for coffee in the morning!), overall this section is dog friendly.
Honey is very fuzzy, loves water, and my main concern with the trip is that she would overheat. Almost the entire 12 miles is well shaded. She enjoyed laying in the small creeks.
The entire trail is on national forest service land – keep your pet on leash (or voice command) and be prepared to pick up their waste.
Scenery and landscape on the trail included interesting rock formations and gentle elevation gain.
Overall, Section 3 of the Colorado Trail gains less than 2,000 feet over 12 miles. The trails are a fine, crushed granite unique to the geology of that area. It looks like crushed gravel that someone placed there! The forest is a beautiful mix of pines, flora, and Colorado Wildflowers.
I did not find the elevation to be a hindrance to back packing. I believe this trail would be obtainable for people with lower fitness levels with the correct preparedness. People with lower fitness levels should consider fitting their pack well, practice carrying their pack a week before, and planning for an early start in the morning. Breaking up the mileage into two 6 mile days would create an obtainable goal.
My packing list for Section 3 of the Colorado Trail included:
– Three-man back packing tent (We have a mountain hardware mineral king we LOVE)
– Tarp + p-cord (unnecessary but useful when it did rain!)
– First aid kit (a smaller back packing adapted kit will be more comfortable)
– Two down sleeping bags + two camp pillows
– Two inflatable sleep pads
– Extra camp pad for Honey to be comfortable
– One change of clothes each + one sun layer each
– Rain Jackets
– Water pump
– 4 Granola bars each, 3 pieces of fresh fruit each
– 2 dehydrated back packing meals
– 4 packages of instant oatmeal
– 6 cups of dog food
– Collapsible dog bowl
– 2 head lamps (we like our Petzel Tikkas)
– 2 base ball hats
– 1 insulated hat
– 1 sunblock
– 1 pair of sandals each
– 1 MSR stove + fuel
– 2 camp cups (also serve as bowl)
– 2 camp spoons
– Coffee – check out our adorable coffee filter
– Tea bags
While our list is not excessive, it is also comfortable with some extra amenities like coffee & camp pillows.
Tent camping on Section 3 of the Colorado Trail is easy and spacious.
Dispersed camping off the trail is readily available.
Remember to brush up on your LNT principals before you go, to help take care of this beautiful part of Colorado.
We found a beautiful, level camp spot easily. We met a few through hikers, and saw two other tent campers. We back packed over 4th of July weekend – so we were mentally prepared for busy trails. Surprisingly it was quiet.
Section 3 of the Colorado Trail was the perfect overnight introduction to backpacking and inspired me to plan future trips!
We finished off our quick and fun back packing trip with some socialization & food at Zokas in Pine, Colorado.
Yes, a dog friendly bar & grill just 15 minutes from the trail head! Zokas offers affordable bar & grill cuisine, with amazing scenery and convenience. The staff was so nice, and brought a big bowl of ice water out for Honey. Their spacious porch, had 10 + tables in the shade – literally every single one of them had a dog sitting at it! It was so fun.
Let me know if you try this section of the Colorado trail!
Happy Hiking – Emily
I recently partnered with Ebay. The links in this article are affiliated with Ebay. I sincerely believe in shopping overstock & used items first. I love to find outdoor gear from a smaller supplier first before shopping large.