Published: December 28th 2008April 29th 2008
Distance: 9 miles
The end of April brought a continuation of the warm and windy conditions that had been in place for most of the spring. I finally found out that the weather pattern was due to the La Nina water phenomenon that had taken root in Pacific. This event was (according to one meteorologist at KUSA/9 News in Denver) the reason why we were seeing so much wind and why the mountains were still getting pummeled by blizzards. Whatever the case was, I knew I needed to get in a longer hike in preparation for my trip out to Moab that was coming in just a few days. Mt. Falcon was the toughest and longest hike that I had done up to this point in the season.
Mt. Falcon Park is yet another of Jefferson County’s many open space parks. Like White Ranch to the north, it offers a nice variety of hiking trails ranging from somewhat difficult to easy. There are two trailheads: one just south of the small town of Morrison and the other in the Indian Hills to the west. The Morrison trailhead is just south of the world-famous Red Rocks Amphitheater, part
of the large Fountain Formation line that runs along the foothills. Mt. Falcon Park represents another little slice of interesting Colorado history. In the early 1900’s, a developer named John Brisben Walker set about building what was to be a summer home for the United States President on what is now the park’s land. Walker himself lived in a lavish “castle” along the ridge occupying the western side of the park. The home burned down in 1918, but brick remains still stand. The summer home for the president never got beyond the laying of the foundation before funding ran out. Trails within the park lead to both the Walker Castle ruins and the foundation of the summer home.
The eastern trailhead offers a nice opportunity for one of the more difficult hikes that I have done in this area. The trail heads west from the trailhead and almost immediately comes to an intersection. The Turkey Trot Trail, which is for hikers only, heads off to the right, while the multi-use Castle Trail veers left. To avoid the many mountain bikers out that day, I headed to the right. The Turkey Trot Trail winds its way up the side of
the hill at a moderate incline for 1.7 miles. About a third of the way along, the trail enters a gully with a seasonal creek and abruptly heads north for a short time. Low foliage and sparse trees provide nice views of the valley between the foothills and the Dakota Hogbacks as well as the plains farther to the east. The trail continues to wind around the side of the mountain and eventually enters a more densely forested area before reconnecting with the Castle Trail. The next 1.2 miles represent the steepest and one of the most exposed portions of this hike. The Castle Trail eventually winds its way up to a ridge marked by a covered picnic area and a trail intersection. The short (0.3 mile) Walker’s Dream Trail heads up to the summer home site. At the end of the trail, look for a white marble corner stone indicating what was intended to be built there. This location offers a spectacular view of Mt. Evans which was still covered in snow. The Castle Trail continues west for another 0.9 mile, passing the Walker Castle Ruins off to the right. At this point, the trail is easy with a
few moderate sections. Continuing east, trees give way to meadows and some open views of the Indian Hills. The Castle Trail hits another intersection and heads off to the right (north) and the park’s western trailhead, while the Meadow Trail heads left (south). The moderate Meadow and Tower Trails offer a few more overlooks, including the Eagle Eye Shelter and the lookout tower near the summit of Mt. Falcon. The lookout tower was my turnaround point.
Up until I detoured onto the Meadow and Tower Trails, the route that I described above is really the main hiking and biking route in the park. All visitors will have to start on the Castle Trail to reach any of the other side routes. On the ridge in the southwest corner of the park (in the general vicinity of the Walker Castle ruins) there are a few other trails that explore the meadows and forested hills along the park’s southern border. The two mile Parmalee Trail loops from the western trailhead to an intersection with the Meadow Trail. These trails can be used to access the Old Ute and Devil’s Elbow Trails that head to the southeast corner of the park. Back
at the intersection of the Castle Trail where the Walker’s Dream trail heads north, hikers can also choose the steep but short (0.3 mile) Two-Dog Trail which heads up to a nice overlook.
As with all foothills parks, Mt. Falcon will be very hot in the summer. Even though the upper part of the park is a good 1700 ft. higher than the eastern trailhead, there won’t be much of a cool off. The upper part of the park is also very exposed, so watch out for afternoon storms. I would strongly recommend that hikers starting at the eastern trailhead use the Turkey Trot Trail to avoid Castle Trail’s occasional blind corners (I’ve been surprised by a few mountain bikers barreling down the trail).
THE BOTTOM LINE: The route that I’ve described here is a great source of exercise and the view wasn’t bad either. This was a good way to get myself re-acclimated to longer hikes without feeling like I was pushing myself too hard. I would recommend this hike to people who are looking to increase their hiking stamina, especially folks who may not be used to the higher altitude yet.
Directions: From the Denver
area, take US 285 (Hampden Ave. in town) west to Highway 8 north. Look for signs directing traffic to Morrison. Turn left (west) on Forest Ave. and then right (north) on Vine Ave., which heads straight to the parking area. The eastern trailhead can also be reached by heading west along CO 74/Bear Creek Road through Morrison and then turning left (south) on Highway 8. The western trailhead is also accessible from US 285. Use the Indian Hills turnoff and follow Parmalee Gulch Rd. for five miles and follow signs into the park.
There are more photos below