Why we love it: A unique weekend alternating-use schedule allows hikers and bikers to enjoy this loop’s panoramic views into Clear Creek Canyon and peaceful stretches of backcountry without bumping into one another.

When to go: Spring through autumn, when the shadier sections are clear of ice.

The Mayhem Gulch trailhead in JeffCo’s Centennial Cone Park accesses a 4.7-mile “lollipop loop” offering sensational views up and down Clear Creek Canyon, as well as the opportunity to spot elk and other local wildlife. This trailhead also provides access to a 17-mile route that circumnavigates the nearly 3,400-acre open space parcel.

From the parking lot, the Mayhem Gulch Trail zig-zags up the north side of Clear Creek Canyon via a series of steep switchbacks. During the climb the traffic noise fades away and the views open up as you traverse the sparsely vegetated, south-facing slopes.

After 1.5 miles of uphill hiking, you intersect the Juniper Trail. I prefer to hike this loop clockwise, which quickly leads to cooler, more northerly facing slopes covered with thick stands of Ponderosa pines and the occasional Douglas fir tree. After just 0.8 miles of pleasant hiking, the Juniper Trail intersects the Travois Trail.

Around this junction the landscape is more open, with grassy meadows stretching to rolling, sparsely forested hills. This is a great area to look for elk, whose diet consists of both grass and shrubs. If you spot any, be sure to keep your distance; these are wild creatures that can weigh from 500 to 700 pounds, depending upon gender. Centennial Cone Park is also home to diminutive Preble’s meadow jumping mouse, a federally listed threatened species.

Turn right on the Travois Trail and follow it for 0.1 mile until you reach the junction with the Mayhem Gulch Trail, which quickly descends the steep slope for 2.3 miles to your car. If you’re up for a real challenge, you can continue in either direction on the Travois for a scenic 12-mile loop that, due to its length, is more commonly visited by mountain bikers than hikers.

Getting there: From the CO93/US6 junction in Golden, head west on US 6 for 9.8 miles. The Mayhem Gulch trailhead parking lot is located on the north side of the road between mile markers 262.5 and 262.

Logistics: Centennial Cone Park has an alternating use schedule on weekends; mountain biking is permitted on even-numbered dates, hiking on odd-numbered dates. Both activities are permitted on weekdays. Dogs are allowed but must be on leash. The park is closed each year in December and January.

Terri Cook
Terri Cook
Terri Cook is an award-winning freelance writer based in Boulder. More of her work can be found at down2earthscience.com.