Why we love it: It's the Red Rocks of the southern suburbs. These magnificent sandstone formations are part of the Lyons and Fountain systems, which run all the way from Morrison to Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs.
When to go: Early morning. That's when some of the more elusive animals (bobcats, bears, and mountain lions) head back to high country. You might catch a glimpse of one on his trek back up.
Colorado has lots of spectacular state parks, but Roxborough is special. Since it's the convergence point of multiple ecosystems (mountains, marsh, and plains), you'll see plants and animals from all of those habitats.
From the Visitors Center, head up the Fountain Valley Trail. Just a few hundred yards in, you'll see a sign for the Fountain Valley Overlook. If you're short on time, or maybe just want to impress visitors with a breathtaking Colorado view, take the detour. If not, save it for the return. A quarter mile in, the trail forks. If you go left, you'll be treated to spectacular views of the rock formations right away, but you'll have to tackle a killer hill further in. If you go right, you'll cruise down that hill and catch the formations on the way back in. I usually choose the first option; my philosophy is always to burn a few extra calories whenever possible.
You'll start to pass through some trees and marshland. Make sure to look up—there are lots of bird and owl nests in the trees. Three quarters of a mile in, you'll come to a clearing that has "photo opp" written all over it.
A mile in, you'll round a bend that leads to a limestone cabin built by Henry Persse. The one-time owner of this land, Persse wanted to turn the area into a high-class resort, complete with a hotel, golfing, and guest cottages (thank goodness that didn't happen).
Continue on, gaining elevation, and pushing up that killer hill. Your calves will be on fire. The only sound you'll hear is the crunching of your footsteps and the occasional aircraft overhead. For a bit more distance (1.3 miles), take the Lyons Overlook Trail, which drops you smack dab in the middle of the formations. It connects to the main trail again via a circular loop. There'll be one more small hill, then take the fork left back to the Visitors Center.
Getting there: From Sante Fe/Highway 85, take the Titan Road exit and turn right. Titan will turn into Rampart Range Road in three miles. Drive another 3.5 miles and turn left onto Roxborough Park Road. Take the next right for east Roxborough Road, which takes you down a gravel road and into the park.
Tips: Leave Fido and the mountain bike at home. This park is for hikers only. A $7 park fee gets you all-day access that's good until noon the next day.