Published: September 14th 2008March 1st 2008
Distance: 6 miles
With temperatures in the high 60’s, I couldn’t resist getting out for my first hike of the year. I generally consider myself lucky if I can get in one or two hikes in March, as the weather tends to be pretty temperamental this time of the year. This was actually the earliest hike that I’ve done in the four years since I became an avid hiker. Not surprisingly, there was still a good amount of snow on the ground in some places and the trails were quite muddy. The mountains were still getting hit with record snow fall, so I knew I’d have to stay along the foothills. The weather got ugly again the next day, so I’m glad I got to stretch my legs when I did.
Deer Creek Canyon and South Valley Parks are two of Jefferson County’s many open space areas. Both parks are located on the far side of the hogbacks west of Chatfield Reservoir in Lakewood. Deer Creek Canyon Park has about ten miles of trails that explore the densely-wooded foothills above the eastern entrance to the canyon. The trails provide nice views of the surrounding valley between the
hogbacks and foothills. On a clear day, downtown Denver is visible to the northeast. Although smaller than Deer Creek Canyon Park, South Valley Park is much more geologically interesting. The park’s seven miles of trails run along the exposed rock formations that make up the hogbacks. Several prominent sections of the Fountain and Lyons formations jut out of the ground to create unique shapes. The reddish Fountain Formation is the same type of structure made famous by Red Rocks to the north and Roxborough State Park to the south (although both parks are home to far larger formations).
My day began at Deer Creek Canyon Park where I decided to do the Meadowlark/Plymouth Creek trail loop. This route is attractive to hikers since mountain bikers are not allowed on the Meadowlark Trail. The trail begins in a meadow just west of the parking area and climbs at a moderate rate into the hills above Deer Creek Canyon. As it climbs, the trail provides increasingly spectacular views of the various geological layers of the hogbacks a few miles to the east. The skyscrapers of Denver also come into view along the initial stretch of this trail. South Valley Park can
be seen to the northeast, just below the highest (Dakota Formation) hogbacks and Lockheed Martin’s Deer Creek Canyon facility can be seen to the north. After a short series of switchbacks, the Meadowlark Trail hits its high point and begins to descend into a shaded gully to the south. The Plymouth Creek Trail runs along the base of this gully and connects the Meadowlark Trail with the park’s western and southern trails. While most of the Meadowlark Trail was either dry or muddy, the Plymouth Creek Trail was still covered in slushy snow. As a result, I decided to head back east to the parking area, carefully descending the slippery path. After exiting the gully, the trail passes by several unique pink and white rock formation that run in a vein along the side of the hill.
I then drove a few minutes south to the main parking area and trailhead for South Valley Park. The red Fountain Formation rocks and the yellow/white Lyons Formation rocks run along the park’s eastern border. For the best views of the unique formations, take the Coyote Song Trail to the northwest. This trail navigates an easy route along South Valley’s hogback wall.
After 0.8 mile, I took a slight detour onto the short but steep Lyons Back Trail, which climbs into the yellow rocks of the Lyons Formation. At the top of this short 0.1 mile climb, hikers will be greeted with great views of the valley floor to the west and the much higher Dakota hogbacks to the east. The Lyons Back Trail eventually turns into the Pass Trail and heads downhill to some of the Ken-Caryl Ranch Foundation’s open space territory. Back on the Coyote Song Trail, the route continues to the northwest for another 0.5 mile, gradually turning into an easy/moderate route. At an intersection with a spur down to the northern parking lot, the trail heads up to the park boundary for another 0.2 mile before turning into a bike path that leaves South Valley. From this vantage point, there is a great view of the valley to the south that shows the overall patterns to the hogback geography. It is easy to see where one formation ends and another begins as the colors gradually change.
For a longer hike in Deer Creek Canyon Park, consider heading west along the Plymouth Creek Trail to access either the
2.2 mile Plymouth Mountain Trail or the 2.5 mile Red Mesa Loop. There are a few other hikers-only trails available, such as the 1 mile Homestead Trail that links the western part of the Plymouth Creek Trail with the Plymouth Mountain Trail. In South Valley Park, the Coyote Song Trail really is the best option for up-close viewing of the rock formations. The 1.2 mile Valley View Trail heads south from the northern parking lot through the park’s open meadows. Hikers with more time should consider using the Rattlesnake Gulch (Deer Creek Canyon) and the Grazing Elk Trails (South Valley) which combine to link the two parks. This route will add about 3 miles roundtrip to your hike.
From the Denver area, travel south on C-470 to the Kipling exit. Turn west (right) on W. Ute Avenue, then west (right) on Deer Creek Canyon Road. The parking area for South Valley Park will come up first on the right. Turn left on Grizzly Drive, then right into Deer Creek Canyon Park.
There are more photos below