Here are the printable documents that will familiarize you with the course. You may want to carry the map, turn sheet and aid station table with you. A narrative course description and information on course marking and are below.
Be sure to print maps in landscape mode and in color.
So how hard is it?? Well, that depends on your experience, level of training and ability. If you are a strong runner with experience on mountain trails, North Fork is a relatively easy race by mountain trail standards and quite runable. If you are new to ultramarathons, not experienced on mountain trails, not used to altitude and/or not well trained, the race will feel hard. There are a number of long climbs, and downhills on trails are slower than on the roads. Most people will walk much of the uphill. If the weather is hot, it will seem harder. Be sure to study the elevation profile to get a feel for how much up and down there is.
As with any trail race, distances are not exact. The course has been measured only by GPS, and GPS devices vary. The segment distances are averages of several runs on the course with different GPS devices. If you GPS the course yourself, don't be surprised if you get slightly shorter or longer distances. We've done our best!
Narrative Course Description
The race starts and finishes in Pine Valley Ranch Park, a Jefferson County Open Space park located in Pine, Colorado. Directions can be found in the race information. The start is on the Narrow Gauge Trail, next to the lower parking area. The first 1/3 mile is on the Narrow Gauge Trail along the North Fork of the South Platte River, from which the race gets its name. Then the course turns left across the bridge and heads up into the Pike National Forest on the Buck Gulch Trail. After about 2-1/2 miles of climb on Buck Gulch, some of it quite steep, runners turn left onto Skipper Trail for a nice mile of downhill, after which the trail becomes gently rolling but still more up than down on Skipper and Homestead (right turn) Trails to the Homestead aid station at 5.3 miles.
From the aid station, runners turn onto Charlie's Cutoff to do the 4.8-mile "Charlie's Loop," a fun descent on Charlie's Cutoff and Homestead (right turn) Trail for about half that and then a climb up Miller Gulch (sharp right turn) back to a right turn on Homestead Trail and a second visit to Homestead aid station at 10.1 miles.
Runners then turn around and go back down Homestead to Miller Gulch Trail, turn right and head gradually uphill for just over a mile on Miller Gulch and Gashouse Gulch (left turn) Trails, and then a big downhill begins on Gashouse Gulch to the Buffalo Creek aid station at 14.7 miles.
After 4/10 mile of gradual uphill along Buffalo Creek, the 50K and 50 Mile courses split at 15.1 miles at the junction of Buffalo Creek and Tramway Creek Trails. The 50K turns left up Tramway, and the 50 Mile continues straight along Buffalo Creek. The 50 Mile runners do an 18-mile section that is described below, and then return to this point, turning right up Tramway to rejoin the 50K course. For the 50K (and the 50 Mile when it returns to this point at mile 33.1), the course climbs up Tramway Creek Trail to the Colorado Trail, where the course turns left. The Colorado Trail section rolls up and down for 3.6 miles, the first half mostly up and the last half mostly down, to a left turn on the Shinglemill Trail, followed by a quick descent to the Shinglemill aid station at mile 20.2 (mile 38.2 for the 50 Mile).
From the aid station, the Shinglemill and Morrison Creek (left turn) Trails take runners back down to Buffalo Creek on a lovely 3.3-mile downhill. A left turn onto Buffalo Creek/FS 543 takes runners on a gentle uphill along the creek to the Buffalo Creek aid station at 24.3 miles (mile 42.3 for the 50 mile).
From Buffalo Creek, the last big 3-mile climb begins up Baldy Trail, followed by a gentle section on Gashouse Gulch (right turn), Miller Gulch (right turn) and Homestead (left turn) Trails, taking runners back for one last visit to the Homestead aid station at 28.4 miles (46.4 for the 50 Mile).
The 3.6-mile run from Homestead to the finish in Pine Valley is almost all downhill (just one more short climb!), some of it steep, on Homestead, which becomes Strawberry Jack, and Buck Gulch (right turn) Trails and then along beautiful Pine Lake (right turn), pictured above, to the finish line at the large picnic shelter.
For the 50 Mile, from the junction of Buffalo Creek and Tramway Creek Trails at mile 15.1, runners continue along Buffalo Creek to its end at Forest Service Road 550. The course turns right for a 1/10 mile section on FS 550, and then runners turn left into Meadows Group Campground and find the Meadows aid station at mile 16.3 on the right in another 1/10 mile at the Colorado Trail's Buffalo Trailhead.
Runners then return to the campground road and head uphill to begin the beautiful 6-mile "Green Mountain Loop" on the Green Mountain and Colorado (left turn) Trails. The first half of the loop is a significant climb, the second half a lovely downhill back to the campground road (right turn) and Meadows aid station at 22.1 miles.
The next section is on the Colorado Trail, 4.9 miles out to the Rolling Creek aid station at 27 miles and then back again to Meadows at 31.9 miles. The highest point on the course is in this section, and it is mainly a gradual uphill on the way out, which of course means some nice downhill on the way back. From Meadows, runners head back to the Buffalo Creek/Tramway junction where they diverged from the 50K. The course is then the same as the 50K from there to the finish (see above).
The course will be marked with surveyor's ribbon, small flags, and signs. Samples will be shown at the start. The entire 50K will be marked with yellow. The 18-mile addition for the 50 Mile, miles 15.1-33.1, will be marked with orange. Red and white striped ribbons will be placed at junctions on trails you do NOT take--so never run on a trail past a striped ribbon. Turns will be very well marked, and there will be occasional "confidence" ribbons in between. Don't turn off the trail you are on unless the course markings clearly tell you to do so.
At some trail junctions, there may be ribbons going more than one way because you will be running through these junctions more than once in different directions. In these places you will see signs that tell you which way to go. SIGNS ALWAYS GET PRECEDENCE OVER RIBBONS.
If you have doubts about whether you are on course, keep going until you get to the next trail junction. All trail junctions have wood Forest Service signs showing the names of the trails. If there are no course markings at the trail junction, you are off course. Turn around and go back the way you came until you see course markings. NOTE: In 2011, vandals removed markings from a key turn, causing runners to miss the turn. Most turned around at the next trai junction when they saw there were no markings, and they got back on course. But some kept going past unmarked trail junctions and did a lot of extra distance. You should carry the course map and turn sheet with you, just in case.
There are 6 aid stations in the 50K and 11 in the 50 Mile. They are spaced 4 to 6 miles apart. All but Tramway Creek (self-service water only) at 33.8 miles in the 50 Mile will have water, GU electrolyte drink, Coke or Pepsi, 7 Up or Sprite, Mountain Dew, GU gels, S!Caps, and an assortment of sweet and salty foods, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and fruits. By late morning, there will be ice. See the aid station table for locations and distances of the aid stations. You may want to print it and carry it with you.
Almost home - the last half mile of trail along Pine Lake as you head to the finish