Why we love it: Sometimes we just want a quick hike, not a marathon trek.
When to go: Since most of the park’s trails are short and shaded, it is a good choice for an afternoon leg-stretcher when the sun is strong. If you want to see the beavers at work on Bear Creek Trail, visit in the early morning.
Let’s get this out of the way: Lair o’ the Bear Park in the Jefferson County Open Space system will not give you an endurance hike. In truth, you can tackle the area’s five trails in one day. One of those, Bear Creek Trail, is a 1.5-mile (one-way) shaded, crushed gravel path that follows the creek, which makes it perfect for warm, fall afternoons when it is hard to figure out exactly how many layers you need to wear if the sun is out.
The trail starts at the parking lot. Head toward the wooden arch and stop by the ruins of the old “Rutabaga” Johnson farmhouse. Johnson was a successful Swedish farmer in this canyon during the early 1900s, and sold his sought-after produce in Denver and Evergreen. Overgrown lilac bushes and parts of an old stone fireplace are all that remain of his ranch.
As the path progresses, you’ll see numerous foot paths that lead to the water’s edge. If you like to fish, rainbow and brown trout, long-nose dace, and two species of suckers (catfish) can all be found in this section of Bear Creek. Beavers also live here, as evidenced by the dams scattered along the waterway.
Cross over a wide pedestrian bridge about three quarters of a mile in and you’ll soon come upon a castle that looks like something out of a fairy tale. This is Dunafon Castle, which was built in 1941. Today, it is used for weddings and other special events. (You’ll be on the other side of a secure gate and you can’t go inside without an invite, but it’s still cool.)
You can continue back to your car on the same trail, but we like to take Creekside Loop instead. It’s short and narrow, with ample tree cover. After all, getting a sunburn in the fall is just plain unfair.
Getting there: From Denver, take I-70 west to exit 259. Go left at the bottom of the ramp. In Morrison, take Highway 74 West toward Evergreen. The parking area is four miles west, on the left side of the road, in Idledale.