The first pasque flower of the season is waiting for you. If you’re eager to see the courageous purple and yellow flower peeking from the dead grass without slogging through hip deep snow, here’s a couple spring hikes in the Estes Park Valley that you ought to try.Gem Lake LoopA popular year-round hike is the Gem Lake Loop, thanks to its south facing exposure that melts snow quickly but for a few shady areas. Located two miles from town along Devils Gulch Road, the trail begins at the Lumpy Ridge Trail Head and climbs steeply through private land. Once you pause to catch your breath, look behind you at the panoramic views of the Continental Divide.After about a half mile, the trail reaches a fork. Flower lovers should turn left and follow the trail as it loops below the Lumpies. My wife and I saw dozens of pasque flowers on a sun-splashed grassy area as we descended toward the meadows of McGregor Ranch below.As you turn back toward the trailhead, you pass thick aspen groves to your right. To your left pasque flowers often are tucked in the rocks on the south facing slope. If you’re lucky you may see a stray Black Angus cow grazing in the distant meadows. The loop is about a mile and a half and takes about an hour, even if you stop and smell the flowers.Homer Rouse Memorial TrailA local favorite is the Homer Rouse Trail, a pleasant three-mile round trip along the old right-of-way between Fish Creek and Lily Lake. The rarely crowded trail is a cooperative effort between the Estes Valley Recreation and Parks District and Larimer County and is open to runners, cyclists, horseback riders and those exercising their dogs.Park your car in the lot next to Fish Creek Road and walk the gravel road south along the border of Cheley Camp. To your left the meadow opens up to horse herds grazing under the watchful eye of Twin Sisters Mountain. After a half mile, the gravel road turns into a path that winds through a thick evergreen forest and connects with an old jeep road that climbs toward the Highway 7 and the historic Baldpate Inn. An occasionally trail branches off into the trees and invites exploring. It’s a steady uphill climb but finally, you reach the dirt parking lot of the Baldpate Inn at an elevation of 9,000 feet. Stop for lunch or a cool drink on the veranda and tour the world’s largest key collection. The Baldpate Inn opens May 27 and remains open until Sunday, October 9.If you legs still have some bounce, cross busy Highway 7 and follow the half-mile trail around Lily Lake. The Diamond Face of Longs Peak towers to the south while Twin Sisters lies to the east. Remember, Lily Lake is in Rocky Mountain National Park and dogs are not allowed on the trails.It’s all downhill to your car parked next to Fish Creek Road. Your legs will be thankful.
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