Front Range

Full Circle

It may be 100 years old, but plenty of new adventures await along the Lariat Loop.

June 2014

—Illustration by Michael Byers

In the early 1900s, Denver planners established a mountain parks system 12 miles west of the city limits; in 1914, they added the 4.6-mile Lariat Trail Scenic Mountain Drive for automobile touring. Some called the concept crazy. We call it prophetic: Today, the system’s 14,000 acres, spread across four counties, are visited by about two million people annually—and that original road has morphed into the 40-mile Lariat Loop National Scenic Byway. Celebrate our city planners’ foresight with a summertime tour.

Add one more jam session to your summer calendar: the Golden Music Festival (June 13 to 15). Catch bluegrass and folk acts from along the Front Range—including Finnders & Youngberg, Jeff Scroggins & Colorado, and the Railsplitters—onstage at Golden’s Clear Creek History Park while sipping pours from Mountain Toad Brewing, Golden Moon Distillery, and Stem Ciders.

Birds aren’t the only creatures filling the skies over Lookout Mountain. On weekend days, dozens of paragliders join the aerial display. And so can you: Catch some air, an adrenaline bump, and views that extend from Denver all the way to Rocky Mountain National Park with a tandem flying experience courtesy of Colorado Paragliding. 

Evergreen residents and renowned artists Tom Ware and Laura Mehmert are just two of the 24 sculptors from around the country who have contributed 29 permanent works to the town. Consider them extra eye candy during Evergreen’s Art for the Mountain Community Sculpture Walk on June 7, which comprises 15 new pieces—all of which are for sale. Don’t forget to cast your ballot for the People’s Choice Award.

Forget four wheels: Circling the loop in Lycra is a summer must-do. Or take a shortcut and power up Lookout Mountain’s 1,500 vertical feet, brave I-70 traffic (from the shoulder, of course) for 1.5 miles, then plummet down craggy Bear Creek Canyon before finishing on a stiff 3.5-mile ascent with magnificent views of Red Rocks. Begin and end at the “dinosaur lots” located off the Morrison exit along I-70.

There are no snowcapped peaks or high alpine lakes to see here, but one of the state’s most stunning views blossoms in early June from the southern cliffs of Morrison Slide Trail (which starts in Matthews/Winters Park). Look south to see the foothills—in striking shades of green thanks to early summer rains—and glimpse the rust-colored sandstone remnants of the inland seaway that once flowed here.

Photo ops of mule deer, red foxes, coyotes, and herds of elk abound in places like Apex and Elk Meadow parks. Spot red-tailed hawks nesting in Bear Creek Canyon; bald eagles and ospreys hover near Evergreen Lake. Also keep an eye out for the Abert’s squirrel and its rabbitlike ears near the ponderosa pine forest around Lookout Mountain.