Historic Bouldering at Horsetooth Reservior

A northward view over Horsetooth Reservoir, CO. Photograph by Kacey HerlihyPerched in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Horsetooth Reservoir overlooks the Colorado town of Fort Collins, about an hour north of Denver. The reservoir, approximately 6.5 miles in length and a half-mile in width, was constructed in 1949 as part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project. The federal diversion project was implemented to redirect precipitation water from the Western Slope of the Rocky Mountains to the Eastern Slope, along which most of Colorado’s population lives. Horsetooth Reservoir provides the main water supply for the Poudre Valley, as well as plenty of recreational activities and beautiful vistas for everyone to enjoy.

A popular belief among climbers is that Horsetooth Reservoir is home to the origins of modern American bouldering. Brought to the area in the 1960s by John Gill, rock climbing and bouldering have become popular activities at Horsetooth. Many of the cliffs are used as practice for climbers to prepare for tackling bigger routes in the mountains. Some of the sandstone cliffs have fixed anchors in place for top-roping, while others have become popular bouldering locations.

Rotary Park, famous in the bouldering community for being one the sport’s first American locations, sits on the eastern side of the reservoir, across from Lory State Park. Several moderate trails wind through the natural landscape to climbing areas with names like “Punk Rock” and “Mental Block.” Be sure to always behave responsibly when climbing – stay on designated trails, leave no trace (remove trash) and preserve routes for others.

Along with rock climbing, other activities at the reservoir include camping, boating, fishing, hiking, cycling, wildlife viewing, RVing, picnicking, and water sports. The reservoir and surrounding public parklands are open year-round, although many areas do require access permits. Within the Horsetooth lands are 4 campgrounds, 111 campsites and 7 boat-launch ramps. 

Photograph by Kacey Herlihy.