Looking for a great place for an easy to moderate hike, on the south side of Denver? Roxborough State Park provides some beautiful red-rock-studded scenery and several nice trail options. And, it’s less than an hour’s drive from the middle of the city.
I decided to make Roxborough State Park the very first stop on my trip to Colorado in 2014. My flight arrived in Denver around noon, and after stopping for a few supplies, I headed directly here. Since the park schedules its closing time around sunset, I had to squeeze my hiking into a limited number of hours.
Roxborough State Park has one entry road, and the main parking area is at the end of it. Park, and then walk uphill and around the corner a short distance, and you’re at the park’s visitor center. Many of the park’s trails start from here, so it’s all quite easy.
The park staff recommended I hike the most popular trail at Roxborough — the Fountain Valley Trail. I was assured I’d have enough time to finish the hike before the park closed.
The sign says the Fountain Valley Trail is 2.2 miles, and moderate. I’d rate it as pretty easy, since almost all of it is level or gently sloping. A handful of side-trails could be considered moderate, since they are rocky and steeper. Taking all of these side routes will also make the hike a bit longer.
The first side-trail is the Fountain Valley Overlook Trail.
This short spur allows you to glimpse at the landscape to the south and west.
Back on the main trail…
it’s not far until the trail splits into a loop. You can go either left or right. Left, or clockwise, provides quicker access to the park’s valley of red-rock fins. Select the right side, counter-clockwise around the loop, and the first part of your hike will be more wide-open.
Since it was late in the day, I decided it would be better to finish the hike on the sunny side of the fins. So, I went counter-clockwise. And while you could argue that this side of the trail is less interesting…
… it does provide access to an excellent viewpoint in the center of the loop. Lyon’s Overlook is a 1/3-mile spur, that requires some uphill hiking. The effort is well worth it.
At this viewpoint, you’re looking at where the loop trail is headed. It’s going to loop around, and take you through the bottom of this valley.
Since I was visiting in early October, I was expecting to find some great fall colors here. The altitude at Roxborough State Park varies between 5,900 and 7,200 feet — making this area much lower than other spots in the Rockies. I figured it was about the right time to see leaves changing in the lower elevations — but in 2014, the leaves were late, and I was early. As you can see, the leaves were just beginning to turn.
Back on the trail, I was headed to the northern apex of the loop, and that meant heading downhill for a while. At the top of the trail…
… there are rattlesnakes, apparently — although I didn’t see any.
Also, there are some old, historic buildings, which would be very photogenic, if not for the huge sign plastered on the buildings, explaining the preservation efforts.
Henry S. Persse’s stone house is also located here. Persse was a New York native who hoped to build a resort here. The luxurious, 200-room hotel was never built, but he did construct some cottages, and used the house to entertain and feed guests.
Nowadays, the park opens the house to visitors — but I was either too late in the day, or too late in the season. Even with the doors locked, I was able to peer through the windows.
Beyond the Persse house, the trail turns south to complete the loop. As soon as I rounded the corner, I started to see some leaves changing — although just barely. Even so, these were the first fall colors I’d seen on the trip, and I was very excited.
The trail remains mostly flat as it passes through the valley.
For the entire length of this side of the trail, you’ll have a rock wall on the left, and more red-rock fins on the right.
At this time of day, the better photographs were looking east.
Here’s a nice outcropping of red sandstone…
… and the same hill, from the other side.
The light was quickly disappearing from the trail, but I still had a little more than an hour before the park closed. So…
… I decided to tackle the Willow Creek Loop. This trail circles through an open space, directly south of the visitor center.
The first leg of the loop is mostly tree-covered…
… with just an occasional break for sunbeams.
At the south end of the loop, you have a nice view of the valley and the hills to the east…
… and further south.
If I had more time, I would have loved to hike the South Rim Loop (a longer version of the Willow Creek Loop). With even more time, I would have hiked the Carpenter Peak Trail. It’s an out-and-back path that gains about 1,000 feet from the visitor center. From this point, it would be about 5 miles to the peak and back.
With time quickly passing, I took the shortest route back to the car, which was still quite scenic and nice.
The end of the trail is near this hill.
Once you’ve passed through this tall grass, you’re back on the park’s entrance road, which finishes the loop and connects you to the parking area.
The Bottom Line
I enjoyed Roxborough State Park because it was convenient, scenic, and it gave me a great place for my first hike of the trip. If you’re not accustomed to Colorado’s high elevations, it’s good to spend a day around the foothills to acclimate. And, if you plan your visit to coincide with the fall colors, you should see some nice leaves at Roxborough State Park.
Roxborough State Park is located south of the 470 beltway, and west of I-25. From Denver, take I-25 to Colorado 470 (this portion is not a toll road), and head west to US 85. Follow US 85 south to Titan Road, which turns into Rampart Range Road. Your GPS may want to take you past the park entrance — if you get to the gated community, you’ve gone too far.
If you’re coming from Castle Rock or Colorado Springs, take I-25 to US 85, and follow it north to Titan Road. It’s a round-about route, but there really is no shortcut.