Why we love it: Whether it be hiking, running, mountain biking, or riding your horse or dirt bike, Spruce Mountain's trails have a workout for everyone.
When to go: Anytime. Located south of Castle Rock near Larkspur, this park never really gets crowded, and the abundance of trails of varying difficulty means none of them are overused.
A word of advice: Do not come to Spruce Mountain if you're the indecisive type. The number of trail combinations is almost overwhelming (in a good way). You could easily spend a whole day here checking out all the detours, overlooks and service roads. I like Mountain Top Loop, a 5.5 mile trek that circles around the mountain through ponderosa pines, scrub oaks, and rocky cliffs.
From the parking lot, head into the park; at the trailhead keep straight (the signage may be a little confusing—just follow Spruce Mountain Trail for about a quarter mile and it connects to Mountain Top Loop later). You'll skirt the edge of the meadow and have a view of the surrounding buttes before entering the forest. Continue up the gentle switchbacks and rocky outcrops. A mile and a half in, you'll connect with Mountain Top Loop.
The north face of the mountain can get extremely icy in the winter, so be sure to bring Yaktrax (the best invention ever—a spikeless traction system for shoes) or wear shoes with adhesive treads this time of year. Once you crest the mesa, it's not so slippery; it's the climb up that's sketchy.
The loop goes around the entire mesa, but you'll have several opportunities for side excursions if you wish. One popular variation is to take the steep service road down to Eagle Pass Trail, which returns you to the trailhead a mile later. If you continue on the loop, take the Oak Shortcut on the way back down. It's not that much shorter, but the descent is sharper and it's something different instead of retracing your steps on the connector trail.
Getting there: From Denver, take I-25 South to exit 172/Upper Lake Gulch Road. Turn right on Upper Lake Gulch, then head south on Spruce Mountain Road. Spruce Mountain Open Space is five miles down on the right.