Length: 6 miles roundtrip
Difficulty: Easy
Why we love it: Gain a fresh perspective on Clear Creek Canyon from a new multi-use trail
When to go: Open year-round, but best enjoyed during the fall
Pre-hike buzz: Before you embark, swing by the Windy Saddle in Golden for an espresso or chai and a breakfast croissant sandwich or other grub
Dogs: Allowed on leash
Drive time from Denver: 36 minutes, 24.5 miles

During countless drives on U.S. 6 en route to the high country, many of us have marveled at the beauty of Clear Creek Canyon and wished that we could immerse ourselves in the scenery at a more leisurely pace. That’s now possible, thanks to the opening of the first segment of the multi-use Peaks to Plains Trail in JeffCo’s Clear Creek Canyon Park. The result of a partnership between Clear Creek and Jefferson counties, this section stretches westward for three miles from the Mayhem Gulch parking area to a small lot just west of Tunnel 5. Because the Tunnel 5 parking area can only be accessed by eastbound traffic, the logistics are easiest if you park at Mayhem Gulch and walk heading upstream.

Thanks to the wide, paved path and gentle gradient, it’s a pleasure to stroll along the gurgling creek and its verdant riparian corridor. The trail stays mostly on the opposite side of the creek from the road, providing an unexpectedly quiet and peaceful walk, particularly the stretch on the path’s western end that explores a river meander away from U.S. 6, which takes a shorter path through Tunnel 5.

The path is thoughtfully designed, with several resting spots and convenient shoulders engineered into the three bridges that span the creek. These provide plenty of opportunities to watch the activities of many other recreational users, from rock climbers and rafters to modern-day prospectors panning for gold.

Funded by a $4.6 million grant from Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), this initial stretch should be opened in 2017. The visionary P2P project, one of  former Gov. Hickenlooper’s highest-priority trails, received a significant boost in 2015 when GOCO awarded JeffCo another $2 million to build an additional 1.75 miles of trail at the mouth of Clear Creek Canyon, which will link up with 24 miles of trails in Golden and extend to Tunnel 1 on U.S. 6.

While much of the proposed trail will remain under construction for years to come, once completed, hikers will have even easier access to the stunning canyon from the quaint streets of downtown Golden.

Getting there: From the CO 93/U.S. 6 junction in Golden, head west on U.S. 6 for 6.2 miles. The Mayhem Gulch trailhead parking lot is located on the north side of the road between mile markers 262.5 and 262.

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.