Colorado’s Rocky Mountains attract hikers year-round with towering peaks, rushing whitewater and vibrant wildflowers. And with so many parks along the Front Range, Denver residents don’t need a congested drive on Interstate 70 to feel miles deep in Colorado’s natural beauty.
South Table Mountain
Cable cars once carried visitors up South Table Mountain’s hillside, and at the top, couples would dance into the night. Until a fire in 1927, the plateau was home to a dancehall and restaurant.
Though many proposals, including a Nike headquarters, have been suggested for the lava-carved mesa, Jefferson County Open Space acquired the land in 2005 for permanent protection.
The South Table trail climbs several steep switchbacks before forking left, toward the “Castle Rock” outcropping. Atop the mesa, old concrete steps lead to its highest point. If you decide to explore the many four-wheel-drive roads, make sure to stay off private property. Signs clearly indicate the boundaries.
From U.S. 6 in Golden, drive east on 19th Street until it ends at Belvedere Street, about 10 blocks. The trail begins on the south side of the intersection, and street parking is usually available.
For other access points and more information about both North and South Table Mountains, visit www.tablemountains.org.
Constructed in 1912 with the help of the Colorado Mountain Club, the Beaver Brook trail connects Genesee Park with Lookout Mountain’s Windy Saddle. Slopes drop far into Clear Creek Canyon, and hikers traverse small rock fields, open meadows and pine forests.
Rocky ledges and occasional steep footing make this trail better suited for adults and older, more adventurous children. Though the trail is eight miles one-way, hikers can turn back in time for a sunset picnic at Lookout Mountain Park.
The parking lot can be reached from U.S. 6 in Golden by turning west onto Lookout Mountain Road (19th Street). The lot sits about 3 miles up on the right. Continue to the top for a panoramic picnic site.
Visit www.denvergov.org/parksandrecreation for more information.
Forget the stair climber. Gregory Canyon’s steep trail gives even the strongest hikers a great workout.
Winding along pine-covered canyon walls, the path leads back toward Flagstaff Mountain, then around to Chautauqua Meadow. A loop through the canyon and onto the Saddle Rock trail totals about 3.5 miles.
If your legs are up for an added challenge, stop by the Crown Rock bouldering area. Watch as climbers solve “problems” and leave chalk trails on the twisted rock formations. The Circle Hikes Guide details Gregory Canyon and connecting trails. You can download a copy or pick one up from the Chautauqua Meadow Ranger Cottage at Grant and Baseline streets in Boulder.
Rangers provide information on volunteering, wildlife and alternate trail options, in case the family isn’t ready for Gregory Canyon’s difficult single track.
Drive west on Baseline from U.S. 36 in Boulder to access the canyon trailhead. Parking for the ranger cottage sits between 8th and 9th, or continue an extra mile to the Gregory Canyon parking lot. Signs mark both entrances. A $5 parking fee at the canyon lot is charged for non-Boulder residents.
Golden Gate Canyon
Bright wildflowers and a brisk Deer Creek greet springtime visitors of Golden Gate Canyon State Park. Even if the flowers are faded by late summer, huge pines provide deep shade in the noon heat. After a bit of climbing, the mountain lion trail follows Deer Creek downstream. Small footbridges lead hikers across the creek for a loop total of nearly seven miles.
Like all Colorado state parks, Golden Gate charges a $7 day use fee. Make sure to bring small cash bills, as the self-service station is often the only payment option.
The mountain lion trail can be accessed from the Nott Creek parking lot. From the intersection of highways 6, 93 and 58 in Golden, drive north on Colorado 93 for just over a mile. Turn left on Golden Gate Canyon Road and watch for cyclists around the sharp turns. The fee station sits about 12.25 miles up the road.
After paying for your day pass, make a quick right turn onto Crawford Gulch Road. Here you can stop at the visitor center and pick up maps, or continue another 3.5 miles to the Nott Creek parking lot.
For more information, visit parks.state.co.us/Parks/goldengatecanyon
Carved by the same Cherry Creek that flows through downtown Denver, Castlewood Canyon features the ruins of a dam more than 100 years old.
The four-mile out-and-back trip to the old dam takes visitors along stunning canyon walls. For those willing to tackle some uphill and rocky ledges, follow the Creek Bottom Trail past the ruins and return via the Rim Rock Trail.
From Interstate 25 in Castle Rock, exit at No. 182 and head east over the highway. Turn right onto Route 86 and follow it just over 6.5 miles to Castlewood Canyon Road. The turn can be sudden and sharp in fast traffic, so be sure to watch the mileage.
Continue to the park entrance, where visitors can use the self-service fee station and pick up maps of the area. Parking for the Homestead Trail, which leads to Creek Bottom, is just past the fee station.
For information on this and other Colorado state parks, visit
The foothills and Front Range offer many hiking opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts tied to the city. Even without a cabin high into the hills, Denver residents can easily reach the calm of a mountaintop escape.
If You Go
Denver Parks and Recreation Department, Mountain Parks Division, (303) 697-4545
City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks, (303) 441-3440
Table Mountains Conservation Fund
Colorado State Parks, (800) 678-2267
Rachel Barbara has a degree in film and media arts from Temple University. A former river rafting guide, she is especially keen about covering the adventurous side of Colorado.
From the Editors: We spent a heap of time making sure this story was accurate when it was published, but of course, things can change. Please confirm the details before setting out in our great Centennial State.