It took me a good year to start trail running around Denver. We were living in Lakewood and my adventurousness stopped at Bear Creek Park. I lived right next to the park, so the inertia of not having to drive somewhere to run was overpowering and kept me plodding along the same path.
Then I joined a trail running club and it was like a veil was lifted and I could finally SEE! I was AWAKE and inspired! Wow, so just like drinking coffee?
That’s the thing about finding an interest or a passion. You know when you hit on it. From the outside it doesn’t always make sense. But it invigorates you, it drives you, it gifts you with a palpable energy that cuts through the mundane. Like why would someone risk life and limb to climb mountains or choose to live in a pile of debris (new favorite show)? Or be a cat hoarder or eat sofa cushions? Maybe it’s the palpable energy. Or maybe it’s a medical/psychiatric condition that is shamelessly exploited for our viewing pleasure.
Here are some of my favorite parks for trail running [slash hiking]:
1. White Ranch in Golden, Colorado
This park is great because of the stellar views, lack of crowds, and pick-your-own loop lengths. I’ve run here with my trail running group a lot and have fond memories of sucking wind up steep hills while trying to socialize. My loop of choice is approximately 6.5 miles:
- Belcher Hill Trail (1.1 miles)
- Right at the junction for the Whippletree Trail (0.6 miles)
- Stay straight to continue onto the Longhorn Trail (1.5 miles)
- Turn left onto the Maverick Trail (0.9 miles)
- Continue left onto the Belcher Hill Trail (2.2 miles)
This trail has lots of UP, pretty much until you turn left onto the Maverick Trail.
Here is more information and the White Ranch trail map.
And here is a pretty picture taken in early summer.
2. Green Mountain Park in Lakewood, Colorado
When I was training for my 50 miler I did almost all of my trail running long runs here – early mornings in the late spring, the whole mountain was green (like it’s name!) and covered in wildflowers. There’s some great single track action. The summit is at 6,800 ft so the views of Denver are excellent. It can be brutal in the summer because there’s no shade.
My loop of choice is just about 8 miles and starts on the south side of the park – the parking lot is right after S Indiana St. In a clock-wise fashion:
- Green Mountain Trail (2.2 miles)
- Left onto the Box of Rocks Trail (1.8 miles)
- Right onto the Summit Loop Trail (1.5 miles)
- Past the radio tower, right onto the Green Mountain Trail (2.5 miles)
Here is more park info and the Green Mountain trail map.
Here is a pretty [enhanced] picture.
3. Matthew/Winters Park in Golden, Colorado
The trails here aren’t too steep and the views are great along the way. You can connect to North Dinosaur Park or Green Mountain Park for some additional miles. The trail to the top and back is 4.5 – 5 miles.
Pretty picture #3:
4. Apex Park in Golden, Colorado
Apex is pretty freaking challenging. To get to the Enchanted Forest, the Apex Trail is 2.8 miles and gains almost 1,800 ft. I didn’t know this my first time and did much more hiking than running. And being a few weeks out from my 50 miler this trail didn’t give me the confidence boost I was looking for. That’s a nice way of saying I was melting down internally thinking I was going to be passed out and/or ugly crying in the dirt at mile 4 of the race. You can do both of those things at the same time I think.
There’s 9.5 miles of trails and restrictions on mountain biking on odd-numbered days. I think the heavy presence of mountain bikers is why I don’t like the trail as much as the others, just lots of awkward dodging and waiting for the next one to come around the corner. But the Enchanted Forest was quite charming, daresay enchanting, and the Grubstake Trail also provided some enjoyably tranquil forest trails.
5. O’Fallon Park in Morrison, Colorado
This is a more of a drive from Denver. A little crowded around the parking area, but once in a few miles I didn’t see anyone. You can do a straightforward out-and-back and make a nice 10 mile day through forested trails, great in the heat of the summer. Link with Lair O’ the Bear Park for some additional miles. I started out at Corwina Park and went to Meyers Gulch Road and back.
No picture, but here’s one of me in the middle of my oft-mentioned 50 miler. How many more times can I mention it before you never return?
I know Centennial Cone Park and the Table Mountain Parks are beloved by some, but I didn’t get that warm, fuzzy feeling at either. I also liked Mt. Falcon Park but haven’t been there in a couple years so my memory of it is a bit faded.