Length: 4-mile loop or a 5-mile out-and-back hike
Difficulty: Moderate
Why We Love It: The preserve features the same, gorgeous granite scenery visible in Lumpy Ridge near Estes Park —but with far fewer crowds.
When to Go: In spring and fall, when the temperature is just right
Pre-hike Buzz: Enjoy a pre- or post-hike latte with an oversized slice of quiche at Lyon’s Barking Dog Cafe.
Restrooms: Outhouse at the trailhead
Distance from Denver: About 50 miles
Dogs: Must be leashed. Only one dog per person.

Longmont’s Button Rock Preserve is a well-kept secret, in part because it’s tucked a few miles up a dirt road near the town of Lyons (yup, Lyons). Because the open space parcel hosts multiple reservoirs, it’s a wonderful place to spot wildlife, from osprey, eagles, and great blue heron to coyotes, black bears, and the occasional mountain lion.

It is this stealthy visitor for which the Sleepy Lion Trail on the preserve’s southeastern edge is named. To access this relaxed route from the parking area, follow the dirt dam access road, which is closed to vehicles. It leads to the small dam that impounds petite Longmont Reservoir, which is framed by a spectacular granite cliff that’s often crawling with intrepid rock climbers.

After passing the reservoir, continue up the road as it parallels North St. Vrain Creek. In half a mile, the road intersects the Sleepy Lion Trail. Turn left and start up this path, which leads into the rolling foothills. For the next 1.5 miles the route climbs gently but steadily, all the while weaving in and out of shady glens, open meadows, and piles of large granite boulders that make ideal spots for leisurely picnics and good resting places to enjoy views of the surrounding hills.

As you near the end of the trail, you’ll catch sight of Ralph Price Reservoir, an important storage area for Longmont’s water supply. All too soon, you’ll reach a junction where you must choose between several options. You can retrace your steps to your car; you can turn left to access BoCo’s Hall Ranch Open Space; or you can veer right to complete the last 0.25 mile of trail through the woods before joining a fire road that leads down to the large reservoir’s dam. Here you can rejoin the dirt access road, which is the quickest way back to the parking area where you started.

This open space is a great place to spot wildlife, from great blue heron to the black Abert’s squirrels that inhabit the peaceful ponderosa pine forest. Credit: Logan Abbott

Directions: From Denver, take I-25 North to U.S. 36 and follow this road west to the junction with SR 66. Turn left here to remain on U.S. 36 through the town of Lyons. At the town’s last traffic light, where U.S. 36 and CO 7 split, turn right to continue following U.S. 36 towards Estes Park for an additional 4.2 miles. At the junction with County Road 80 (the sign to which currently reads “Road 0”), turn left and follow this 2WD dirt road 2.7 miles to the large trailhead parking area.

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.