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Length: 4.3 miles
Why we love it: Moderate hiking, biking, and winter trails through thick stands of quaking aspen and lodgepole pines in a former ranch just off U.S. 285
When to go: Fall, for golden aspens; in winter, for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing; in late spring, to see the forest spring back to life; and in summer, to escape the heat.
Pre-hike fuel: Is there anything more delightful than a down-home diner? Find a seat at the Conifer Cafe, and fill up on crispy hashbrowns, the corned beef scramble, or a pile of pancakes.
Post-hike buzz: Stave off sore muscles with a single hop IPA at Evergreen Brewery. If you’d rather eat your alcohol, order the IPA mac and cheese, which, of course, is slathered in their crowd-favorite beer cheese.
Restrooms: Yes, at the first junction on the trail
Dogs: Allowed on leash
Even though it’s located adjacent to a busy highway, this beautiful 667-acre Jeffco Open Space parcel feels like a world away. Best of all, its multiple loops allow you to vary the length of your outing, making it an ideal destination for families or groups searching for hikes of different lengths.
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I recommend the 4.3-mile “perimeter” route, which you can easily shorten along the way. This begins at the parking lot with the Owl’s Perch Trail, which winds through an open, grassy meadow past the trailhead board to an outhouse. Here multiple branches are momentarily confusing, but they all soon rejoin the main path.
Continue a short distance along the Owl’s Perch to the junction with the Lodgepole Loop. Proceed straight on this trail, which climbs steadily through tall lodgepole pines, which can grow up to 100 feet tall and whose name refers to their historical use as tent and teepee poles by Native American tribes.
After 0.6 miles, you reach a picnic shelter at the next junction, this one with the Sunny Aspen Trail. Veer right on this to see some of the park’s densest aspen groves. After about 0.3 mile, you will intersect the Old Ski Run Trail, which has a short, 0.5-mile loop at its end. Along this circuit there are some nice views of the nearby peaks and a comfy bench that’s perfect for kicking back and enjoying some lunch.
Once you’re refreshed, retrace the remainder of the Old Ski Run Trail back to the picnic shelter. Turn right here to continue downhill to complete the remainder of the Sunny Aspen Trail and the Lodgepole Loop en route to your car. Along the way, enjoy the glowing aspens and keep an eye out for tiny Northern Pygmy Owls, which hunt for songbirds during the day.
Getting there: From Denver head south on U.S. 285. About 11 miles past the 285/C470 junction (and just before the “Welcome to Conifer” sign), exit onto South Turkey Creek Road. Cross under the highway and park in the lot on the south side of U.S. 285.