With the abundance of mountains and variety of terrain that Colorado offers, there are places close to home that shouldn’t be overlooked when planning your next family expedition.
If you’re seeking intricate geological features, trickling streams or great views above the city, consider the numerous trails and parks Jefferson County Open Space offers in the foothills outside Denver.
South Valley Park, near Littleton, offers approximately 1.2 miles of paved trails and 6.8 miles of natural surface trails on fairly flat terrain. Even though this is not an uphill mountain hike, plenty of views abound. Take in the scenic landscapes of red rock outcroppings, mountains and jutting sandstone formations (climbing is prohibited due to excessive erosion).
Other outdoor activities include biking, horseback riding and picnicking. You also may spot a herd of mule deer, or just enjoy the Fountain (rocks jutting upward, due to erosion) and Lyons (cliff-like, usually sandstone) formations. The park is a favorite background for family and senior high school photos.
Coyote Song Trail, the farthest trail from the road, is probably the best trail option. It’s about 1.6 miles and makes a good day hike round trip at 3.2 miles. The trail has many short ups and downs that are easy enough for small children and the elderly. Be aware that mountain bikers are allowed on the trail. Swallow Trail is a 1.2-mile, hiker-only trail for those who wish to keep the kids away from speeding bikers.
If you decide to take a detour, make a right onto Lyons Back Trail to a section referred to as “the stairs” that crosses Lyons Hogback.
To get there, take C-470 to the Ken Caryl Avenue exit and head west. Turn left on South Valley Road to reach the north parking area. Or take South Platte Canyon Road from C-470 and Wadsworth Boulevard to Deer Creek Canyon Road to the south parking area.
Bear Creek’s Lair o’ the Bear is a perfect low-level trail for everyone. It offers three hiker-only trails and three multi-use trails. Hike through riparian woodlands for a nearby fishing trip or just to enjoy the tranquil views of the creek.
Bear Creek Trail (1.5 miles) is a shady, gravel-covered trail that leads to good fishing areas. Creekside Loop (0.2 miles), for hikers only, also leads to great fishing.
Creekside Trail (0.3 miles) leads to the fishing pier, while Brittlefern Trail (0.3 miles, also hikers only) leads to the picnic area.
Bruin Bluff Trail (1.9 miles) is a multi-use trail, which climbs away from the creek to views of Ponderosa pines and yucca plants and connects to Little Park. Caster Cutoff (0.2 miles) bisects with Bruin Bluff Trail.
Not only might you see elk, deer and other small mammals sipping from the stream, but reptiles, amphibians, beavers and waterfowl also call this Lair home. The American dipper bird dives into the waters searching for its next meal.
An abundance of wildflowers, willow trees and Douglas-fir trees can be found going west along the stream, as well as ferns and mosses that carpet the ground beneath.
To get there, take Colorado Highway 74 about 4 miles west of Morrison. Parking is located on the south side of the highway.
For more moderate family hiking and excellent mountain biking, Matthews/Winters Park, near Morrison, boasts magnificent views.
Follow the Hogback to catch a glimpse of Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Denver and the Morrison Slide. These trails are extremely popular with bikers. The park is excellent to visit near the end of winter, when hikers can stay cool. However, during summer months, there is little shade and the sun can be quite intense. Be sure to bring hats and plenty of water for the whole family.
From the parking area, Village Walk (0.9 miles) takes you through the historical Mount Vernon site and to a picnic area, with plenty of views of the Hogback and Red Rocks.
For something slightly more challenging, continue on to Red Rocks trail (2.8 miles) with even greater views of Red Rocks. Then it’s on to Morrison Slide trail with numerous switchbacks and a breathtaking view of Denver from the top of the plateau.
Dakota Ridge trail, slightly narrower and moderately steep in some places, begins at Colorado Highway 26 and continues for 2.2 miles. Following the Hogback ridgeline, the trail rewards trekkers with spectacular views but may not be a good idea for small children.
To get there, take Colorado Highway 26 south 0.1 mile from I-70 and turn at the park entrance.
If You Go
Jefferson County Open Space
700 Jefferson County Parkway
Golden, Colorado 80401