Why we love it: North Table Mountain Park offers top-of-the-world views from a selection of smooth trails just a stone’s throw from Denver.
When to go: Whenever you need to get away from it all, as long as the sun’s not too hot and the wind isn’t howling.
With a dozen access points, several parking options, and a 15-mile network of trails to choose from, Jefferson County’s North Table Mountain Park offers a refreshing respite for hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians who need a quick-and-easy escape from suburbia.
My favorite getaway is a three-mile loop that begins at the trailhead on the park’s west side. From the south end of the parking lot, follow the obvious road a few yards uphill to the junction with the North Table Loop Trail. I prefer to turn left here, following the loop clockwise, because it offers a pleasant 0.8-mile stroll through tall grasses before the short but rather steep climb up the Mesa Top Trail begins at the next junction.
After arriving on the mesa top, there’s one confusing intersection below the prominent antenna tower; stay to the left of the ‘Mesa Top’ sign. The smooth, and sometimes muddy, path soon passes a seasonal wetland that occasionally hosts ducks. At the junction with the Tilting Mesa Trail, turn right and follow this gently rolling path for 1.1 miles, drinking in the expansive, 360-degree views of the foothills, plains, and downtown Denver.
In a twist of fate, today’s elevated mesa top was once a low point in the landscape. About 64 million years ago, this spot was a river valley until a lava flow erupted from a Front Range volcano and flowed down it, armoring the sediments below with a hard, resistant cap. Over the ensuing years, erosion slowly lowered the surrounding, softer terrain, converting what was once a valley into today’s distinctive, flat-topped plateau.
Evidence of North Table Mountain’s fiery past is still evident in the mesa’s rim of steep, dark cliffs, which offer opportunities for rock climbing, as well as a refuge for golden eagles and red-tailed hawks. There is a great view of some of these cliffs near the end of the Tilting Mesa Trail, just before you turn right to head steeply down the North Table Loop.
Throughout your hike, keep a sharp eye out for rattlesnakes, which are commonly spotted here. The mesa’s hard caprock, fertile volcanic soil, and seasonal ponds also provide excellent habitat for prairie dogs, mule deer, and many species of birds—all just a short distance from civilization.
Getting there: From the CO93/US6 junction in Golden, head north for 2.2 miles to the well-signed access road to the trailhead on the east side of CO93. There are additional access points on the south and east sides of the mesa.
Logistics: Dogs are allowed but must be on leash. North Table Mountain Park protects a number of sensitive areas; please respect all signed closures.