Hidden off a small road near Pine Grove (formally Pine), just north of the Pike National Forest, is a small Jefferson County Park.
Pine Valley Ranch Park only has about four miles of trails, but it features include two loops, a scenic lake, a lodge, an observatory, lots of history and a river that runs through the park.
The park is about seven miles from Highway 285 at Pine Junction (directions below). When you enter the park, continue past several driveways, past two parking lots until you reach the bottom parking lot where the road ends. The trails begin behind the bathrooms.
At the map board/sign board, pick up maps for both Pine Valley Ranch Park and the Buffalo Creek Recreation Area and decide which way you want to go. I suggest warming up with the upper loop, then enjoying a stroll on the lower loop. The upper loop is the Buck Gulch Trail-Strawberry Jack Trail-Park View. The lower loop is the North Fork View-Narrow Gauge Trail.
For the upper loop, face the sign board and turn left. Follow the Pine Lake Loop Trail south, then west, as it heads to the lake and along the south shore. You’ll pass the Park View Loop. (It’s the staircase on the left.) You’ll be coming down that trail later. For now, keep walking along the lake until you come to the Buck Gulch Trail.
After a nice, flat stroll, take a deep breath because it’s time for some elevation gain. The Buck Gulch Trail is an old road that’s about three people wide. This trail is open to cyclists, so expect to see quite a few here.
You’ll hike less than a half mile up the Buck Gulch Trail to the turnoff for the Strawberry Jack Trail. You’re now leaving Pine Valley Ranch Park and traveling into the Pike National Forest. If you want a longer hike, pull out the Buffalo Creek Recreation Area map.
For this loop, turn left on the Strawberry Jack Trail and follow it as it goes east through a burn zone. This area was damaged by the Hi Meadows Fire in 2000. As you continue hiking up the hill, you’ll notice two things. One – how fire burns in a wild pattern, destroying dozens of trees in one clump and leaving others untouched. Two – how the forest is making a comeback with all the new growth.
At the top of the hill, the Strawberry Jack Trail continues on, but we turned on the Park View Trail. The Park View Trail climbs over a couple short hills and begins dropping back into Pine Valley Ranch Park. From the trail, you’ll likely see the nearby town of Pine Grove to the east, the scenic Pine Lake below you and even a large lodge.
Baehr Lodge was a 27-room summer home that was built in the 1920s for a wealthy Chicago utility company owner. If you look on the hill to your east, you may also spot an observatory that is open during events put on by the Lookout Mountain Nature Center.
At the bottom of the trail, you can stroll around the lake or explore the North Fork View-Narrow Gauge Trails.
Details: From the parking lot and around the Buck Gulch-Strawberry Jack-Park View loop is about 2.25 miles with 500 feet of elevation gain.
Directions: From Denver, take Highway 285 south about 21 miles to Pine Junction. Turn south on County Road 126/Pine Valley Road. Take the windy road 5.8 miles and turn right on Crystal Lake Road. Follow the road about 1.3 miles to the lower parking lot where the road ends.
See the park map here. Read about the park’s history here. In the Pike National Forest, don’t miss the Shafthouse history hike and Devils Head fire lookout. Also in the area is Roosevelt Lakes and Gibson Lake. Check out more great hikes here.
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