I hiked with nudists at a Colorado campground. Here’s how you can, too.

Estimated read time 11 min read

I live by the philosophy of trying almost anything once. I’ve ticked paragliding in Peru, cliff jumping in Kaua’i and driving a motorcycle in Colorado off my bucket list. But I’ll admit that the idea of hiking in the woods with 21 nude strangers gave me pause.

At Iron Aspen Ranch in Boulder County, this is the norm.

Owner Mickey Haggerty invited me to see the 30-acre homestead in its naked glory by joining him and members of the Rocky Mountain Naturist Club — naturist being the term for a non-sexual nudist — on a Sunday hike in late June.

Mickey Haggerty gets ready to head back to base camp after spending time at a lake during a recent outing with members of the Rocky Mountain Naturist Club at the Iron Aspen Ranch near Lyons, Colorado on June 23, 2024. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)
Mickey Haggerty gets ready to head back to base camp after spending time at a lake during a recent outing with members of the Rocky Mountain Naturist Club at the Iron Aspen Ranch near Lyons, Colorado on June 23, 2024. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

It wouldn’t be my first Denver Post assignment involving nudity. Last year, I covered Lake Steam Baths, a nude bathhouse. However, the facility on West Colfax Avenue segregates by gender, so I only interviewed naked women — much less intimidating as a woman myself. This time, both Eve and Adam would be present, so to speak.

In the weeks before the hike, I lobbed the idea off friends and coworkers. My boyfriend — a forester — naturally deferred to logistical planning. What about the bodily risk of ticks or sharp branches?

My younger sister was over the moon at the prospect, and my mom sighed and laughed. For his peace of mind, my dad has yet to be told about the outing.

The questions about who, what, where, when and why were expected, but I most enjoyed the out-of-character reactions. For instance, a plainspoken friend who hails from the Northeast revealed that he was raised by a pair of hippies, so he’d feel entirely comfortable in such a situation.

Haggerty does, too.

“It’s just the way I live,” he said. “I think I’ve worn pants five times in the last two years.”

The idea of Iron Aspen Ranch came to him around seven years ago. Haggerty bought his property near Lyons in 2004, then started building his house by hand in 2011. Once he wrapped up the initial construction, he posted online about his clothing-optional camp and received positive feedback.

Mickey Haggerty, wearing nothing but a hat, checks his emails before visitors arrive at the Iron Aspen Ranch near Lyons, Colorado on June 23, 2024. Haggerty bought his property near Lyons in 2004, then started building his house by hand in 2011. Once he wrapped up the initial construction, he posted online about his clothing-optional camp and received positive feedback. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)
Mickey Haggerty, wearing nothing but a hat, checks his emails before visitors arrive at the Iron Aspen Ranch near Lyons, Colorado on June 23, 2024. Haggerty bought his property near Lyons in 2004, then started building his house by hand in 2011. Once he wrapped up the initial construction, he posted online about his clothing-optional camp and received positive feedback. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

“I am very small scale, and I plan on keeping it that way,” Haggerty said. “I don’t have pools. I’m not going to have hot tubs. I mean, I live 100% off grid.”

He hasn’t cleared any trails because he doesn’t want hikers wandering onto his property. And with fire bans, campers shouldn’t expect to roast marshmallows over open flames. Instead, Haggerty encourages visitors to bring grills and gas camp stoves.

Men are required to bare all, while nudity is optional for women. “This is to keep the looky-loos out for the safety and courtesy of our members,” Haggerty wrote on his website. Firearms are allowed on the grounds.

In the future, he’d like to build tent pads to give campers flat spots for pitching. After renovating his small cabin, he wants to rent it out.

Haggerty’s property can only be accessed by high-clearance vehicles. So, he relies on his regulars — Coloradans hailing from Fort Collins to Boulder — and small groups that attend events like April’s naked snowshoe hike. The age range of one group varied between 23 years old and 75 years old, Haggerty said.

He estimates that he hosts between 100 to 150 visitors annually. Haggerty also prefers to keep his exact address private. “I don’t need every high school student for 50 miles around coming to try and see somebody naked,” he said.

Originally from upstate New York, he moved to Colorado as a kid. Growing up, he often heard the phrase: “Don’t get those dirty; take them off.” So, from an early age, Haggerty got used to shedding his clothes to keep them unsullied.

After college, he joined the Navy and visited his first nude beach in Florida at 23 years old. He’s been hooked ever since. “Everybody is beautiful, and, once you take all your clothes off, it really doesn’t matter your body type or style or anything,” Haggerty said.

Today, when he’s not at his gig as a nude model, he spends most of his time outdoors, working on his house and hiking. “Going for a hike without any clothes on is just liberating,” Haggerty said. “You’re just free.”

Mickey Haggerty chats to the reporter while driving to his 30-acre homestead at the Iron Aspen Ranch near Lyons, Colorado on June 23, 2024. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)
Mickey Haggerty chats to the reporter while driving to his 30-acre homestead at the Iron Aspen Ranch near Lyons, Colorado on June 23, 2024. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

Preparing for a nude hike

The morning of the hike, I woke up bleary-eyed around 6 a.m. and wondered, “What exactly do I wear? Does it matter?” Haggerty had sent a few preparatory emails, encouraging me to dress to my comfort level. One message instructed me to “put sunscreen on everywhere, whether you plan on getting naked or not.”

Soon after, Denver’s skyline disappeared in my rearview mirror, and I wound my way through the Boulder foothills — frenetic energy climbing by the minute.

Haggerty directed Post photographer Helen H. Richardson and me to a meeting point near Allenspark where he planned to pick us up before driving to his property. Without cell service, I worried this would quickly turn into a wild goose chase.

But, sure enough, all parties were accounted for before 8:30 a.m., with Haggerty, 57, pulling up in his blue Jeep (named Blue Moon). Tanned and shirtless, he was clad in only a kilt.

As his vehicle bumped along the extremely rocky road up to Iron Aspen Ranch, Haggerty chatted about his clothing-optional camp and its seasonal membership. For access from June through September, single campers pay $30, while couples pay $45. A day pass for non-members costs $10, with an additional $5 charge to stay overnight.

Referring to clothed people as “textiles,” Haggerty casually whipped off his kilt as soon as we parked by his unfinished house. Only his cowboy hat and an earring remained.

Mickey Haggerty, left, chats to Denver Post reporter Megan Ulu-Lani Boyanton while touring his 30-acre homestead at the Iron Aspen Ranch near Lyons, Colorado on June 23, 2024. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)
Mickey Haggerty, left, chats to Denver Post reporter Megan Ulu-Lani Boyanton while touring his 30-acre homestead at the Iron Aspen Ranch near Lyons, Colorado on June 23, 2024. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

Richardson and I were not as unruffled. Still covered, we followed the friendly, naked man on a tour of his home and met a couple of his campers, who were also attired. Sitting on Haggerty’s front porch with a hot cup of coffee in hand, my heartbeat began to calm.

It was short-lived. We soon greeted a group of two men and one woman, who stripped and lathered sunblock on their bodies. Shortly after, a caravan of five vehicles approached, and their occupants followed the same routine. A third of the group had previously visited Iron Aspen Ranch.

What struck me as I surveyed them wide-eyed was the diversity: an array of ages, body types, ethnicities and genders. I saw tattoos, piercings, stretch marks and surgical scars. One man smoked a cigarette, naked except for the hat on his head and bag over his shoulder. Another — as bare as the day he was born — conversed with me about the current state of print journalism.

At this point, Richardson made it clear that she would not be partaking in the lifestyle. If I chose to accept that mission, then I would have to go it alone for the story.

Hiding behind Haggerty’s Jeep, I couldn’t muster the gumption to get naked. However, I reasoned that it’s legal for women to go topless in Colorado, and my female ancestors in ancient Hawaiʻi only wore paʻu, or skirts, so that seemed like my least risqué option.

After some stalling and a deep breath, I followed almost two dozen naked bodies through the trees near the Roosevelt National Forest.

Hikers make their way through the woods as they hike with members of the Rocky Mountain Naturist Club at the Iron Aspen Ranch near Lyons, Colorado on June 23, 2024. Owner Mickey Haggerty hosts members of the Rocky Mountain Naturist Club -- naturist being the term for a non-sexual nudist -- on hikes on his property. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)
Hikers make their way through the woods as they hike with members of the Rocky Mountain Naturist Club at the Iron Aspen Ranch near Lyons, Colorado on June 23, 2024. Owner Mickey Haggerty hosts members of the Rocky Mountain Naturist Club — naturist being the term for a non-sexual nudist — on hikes on his property. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

Why get naked? A return to nature

My mood: somewhat addled. Naturism — even in part — was a much more difficult feat than I’d imagined. Then, there was the added challenge of a 3.5-mile loop hike, with elevation gain, on a hot summer day. I clung to my reporter’s notebook like a life preserver.

For their parts, the other hikers created as comfortable of an environment as possible for a newbie like myself, alternating between checking in on me and chatting with each other.

Each explained the reasons why they partake: freedom, a return to nature, healing from trauma and body image issues. Several nudists emphasized its non-sexual nature.

Still, most declined to be identified. One man and his wife keep it a secret from their children. A few people fear how their workplaces would react.

A participant described herself as fairly new to social nudity, but she joined the Rocky Mountain Naturist Club because it’s a non-sexual group. She said she does it to embrace body positivity and escape societal pressures on women. After her first event, she said she cried happy tears.

Being around so many naked bodies still felt surreal to me, but I was sentimentally affected by the sense of community. A man passed out cans of beer and cocktails, imploring his fellow hikers to lighten the load of his backpack. After we reached a pond in time for lunch, a woman insisted on sharing her ham and cheese sliders with me.

An exchange was proposed: a sandwich traded for skinny-dipping. I took a furtive plunge into the chilly water, eliciting cheers from the others.

Hikers cool off in the waters of a lake at the end of their hike with other members of the Rocky Mountain Naturist Club at the Iron Aspen Ranch near Lyons, Colorado on June 23, 2024. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)
Hikers cool off in the waters of a lake at the end of their hike with other members of the Rocky Mountain Naturist Club at the Iron Aspen Ranch near Lyons, Colorado on June 23, 2024. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

They exuded a sense of ease, swimming in the pond and sitting under aspens like nymphs. Meanwhile, I lunged for my biker shorts as soon as possible.

By the time our group returned to the property, I was exhausted after roasting under the beating Colorado sun. I also felt emotionally and mentally zapped as my mind tried to process the emotions that accompany a departure from normalcy.

On one hand, the unconventionality took me off guard — although I don’t think I could have adequately prepared myself anyway. Hiking (literally exposed to the elements) with a troop of nudists felt much more involved than soaking at a clothing-optional hot spring or steaming at a nude bathhouse. It was an experience that had to be lived to be understood, even in the slightest.

On the other hand, an assumption of mine held strong: The naturists I met are just everyday people who enjoy the sun and breeze on their skin.

Richardson noted that everyone looked so different with their clothes on. One of the hikers kindly drove us back to our cars, escorting us out of Naked Neverland.

However, first-time, amateur and experienced naturists are always welcome to explore Iron Aspen Ranch for themselves.

I am decidedly not a nudist. In fact, I realized that I may be more inhibited than I thought. Because of my free-spirited personality, I imagined that I’d maintain a carefree mindset throughout the day.

But I found that, as of now, my personal preferences include the comfort of clothes. As it stands, my well-loved athleisure remains in rotation, and my affairs with Aritzia and Moana Bikini are going strong. (Plus, my boyfriend just built me a closet, so that can’t sit empty.)

Several of the naturists encouraged me by saying that this is a story I’ll fondly retell when I’m 90 years old. After adding another adventure to the bucket list, I can’t say that I disagree.

A hiker puts on a large hat to protect her from the sun prior to leaving on a hike with members of the Rocky Mountain Naturist Club at the Iron Aspen Ranch near Lyons, Colorado on June 23, 2024. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)
A hiker puts on a large hat to protect her from the sun prior to leaving on a hike with members of the Rocky Mountain Naturist Club at the Iron Aspen Ranch near Lyons, Colorado on June 23, 2024. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

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