A generally easy and popular Class 2 hike, mostly on trail when combined with Mount Parnassus. Quick and easy passenger car access for Front Range cities.
Drive west up I-70 from the Denver metro area and approximately 2.9 miles past the Bakerfield exit, turn off the interstate at Exit 218 and park at the Herman Gulch trailhead parking area on the north side of the highway. On weekends, this popular trailhead can be very crowded and a parking spot may come at a premium. Plan on early arrival. The two trails share a common start. Watch for the turnoff to Herman Gulch after about 1500 feet or five minutes of walking east on the trail. The junction is signed. Herman Gulch will head left. There is not a vault toilet at this trailhead but there are usually some porta-potties. There is no water available.
No designated camping is close by. You may be able to get away with sleeping in your vehicle in the parking lot if you can tolerate I-70 traffic roaring by all night. There are private residences on a road above the parking lot. If you really need a place to spend the night, drive back to the Bakerfield exit and you can locate a few spots near some designated parking on the south side of the highway, but I-70 noise will still make the night almost intolerable.
The other possibility is to backpack into the area around Herman Lake where you may be able to find some good camp spots on the tundra near the lake. Please respect Forest Service rules regarding how close to the lake you may camp.
From the parking area, head up the combined Herman Gulch/Watrous Gulch trail and then turn right after about 1500 feet (or five minutes of walking) onto the marked/signed, Watrous Gulch trail. The trail gains steadily into Watrous Gulch which it intercepts after about 1.25 miles. Once in the gulch, you'll emerge out of the forest into some avalanche debris and open tundra slopes. The I-70 noise will soon abate. In 1988, the trail began to fade out here, but now, a trail continues all the way to the Woods Mountain/Mt. Parnassus saddle. At about 1.4 miles, the trail crosses the stream and just after the crossing, you'll come to a signed trail intersection for the Bard Creek Trail # 83. Coordinates are: N 39° 42' 44.5 W 105° 50' 15.3". Close by on the Bard trail is a campsite area where someone has built a large wood/log lean-to type structure.
If you want to put the mind in neutral, just keep walking up the Watrous trail and enjoy the largely tundra stroll. There will be one trail heading off to the right not long after the creek crossing that is presumably a shortcut for Parnassus, however, that trail which follows a south running ridge line, may lead into avalanche debris. Use at your own risk. About 20 minutes after the creek crossing, there will be another trail intersection at these coordinates: N 39° 43' 09.50" W 105° 50' 25.7". Elevation here is 11,485 ft. To continue to Parnassus it is best to take the right fork. It crosses a small rivulet then comes quickly to a campsite located virtually on the trail. This trail will parallel another trail that stays down closer to the creek. Continue on the Parnassus trail all the way to the Woods-Parnassus saddle. For extra credit, consider a quick jaunt up and down Woods, which is ranked in the Top 700 summits.
At the saddle, turn right and gain the final 1,100 vertical over increasing chiprock, etc. as the tundra fades.
For a return, simply retrace your ascent route. For the more ambitious peakbaggers, it's highly recommended that you continue class 2 hiking over to Bard Peak, about one mile east, adding just over another 600 feet of gain. From Bard, it's possible to descend directly south toward the Bakerville exit on I-70, picking up a climber's trail that leads in that direction. If you don't locate the trail, this could lead to some serious bushwhacking. This descent will cross the Bard Creek Trail #83 which could also be taken back to the west to rejoin the Watrous Trail at the creek crossing.
For yet even more brownie points, the truly dedicated peakbagger can add Englemann Peak to their list for the day. From the summit of Bard, you'll need to walk north, descending the north slope of Bard to no-count Robeson Peak and continue north over mostly tundra to Engelmann. Then you'll need to reverse your route to get back to your vehicle(s), heading back over Bard. This is all easy and fast, tundra hiking. Adding Engelmann will increase mileage by 4 and elevation gain by about 1,600 ft. making this a much more ambitious day.
Bard Peak is sequenced with Mount Parnassus. One-way mileage and elevation gain are measured from the summit of Mount Parnassus. Round-trip mileage and elevation gain assume completion of the sequence. Mileage and elevation gain may vary depending on the descent route chosen.
Use the route description for Mount Parnassus first and hike to the summit of Parnassus. From the summit of Mount Parnassus, walk east along the connecting ridge to Bard Peak. At first, you will lose a little over 500 feet in elevation to the saddle, then regain 600 feet to the summit of Bard. Most of the terrain is over tundra with chiprock, some rubble and talus. To descend, either retrace your steps by way of the Parnassus summit (easiest and least complicated; 2.2 miles RT) or it is also possible to head directly south from the Bard summit to Bakerville Exit on I-70. Further down, you may stumble across the Bard Creek trail #83 that will lead you down and back to the Watrous trail where it crosses the creek. If you don't find this trail, continuing to descend can lead to some serious bushwhacking straight down to Bakerville. You should probably only attempt this descent if you have left another vehicle at the Bakerville exit, otherwise, you'll have 3 miles of interstate walking to get back to your vehicle parked at the Herman/Watrous Gulch TH.