Why we love it: Easy access, varied terrain, and tremendous views down to the plains make this loop a perennial favorite.

When to go: Early or late in the day to avoid the crowds.

This 6.5-mile-long “lollipop” loop explores the southeastern part of White Ranch Park, part of the extensive Jefferson County Open Space system. This scenic park preserves part of a former Hereford cattle ranch operated by the White family. Earlier in its history, this land served as the hunting and camping grounds for the Arapaho and Ute tribes, as well as the home of James Bond (a Welsh immigrant, not 007) and his wife, Mary, whose quaint cottage still stands within the park.

From the eastern access point near Golden, the only option is to follow the Belcher Hill Trail, which crosses beneath the ranch-style entrance sign, then descends slightly to follow a small stream bed. After crossing the stream, the path climbs steadily to the first junction after 1.1 miles. Turn right here to follow the Whippletree Trail, which drops steeply into, then climbs out of, another small drainage. By the time you reach the junction with the Longhorn Trail, you’ve climbed high enough to reach sparse stands of stately ponderosa pines and juniper trees, which cast welcome shade on hot days.

Turn right (east) to follow the first leg of the Longhorn Trail, which winds through alternating patches of forest and grasslands. At the next junction (with the eastern end of the Shorthorn Trail), continue right for an additional 0.75 miles on the Longhorn Trail through a beautiful, open meadow with glimpses of a historic barn. At the meadow’s western edge, turn south on the Maverick Trail, which offers dramatic views down toward the plains.

Forested hillsides, rocky outcrops, and beautiful views abound once you rejoin the Belcher Hill Trail, which has great views of Golden’s North and South Table Mountains. After another 0.6 miles, however, you’ll need to focus on the path, which drops steeply down a very rocky road, making this a rather challenging bike ride in either direction. After another half mile, you rejoin the smoother, final leg of the Belcher Hill Trail, which all too soon returns you to your car.

Getting there: From Golden, take CO93 north 1.7 miles to West 56th Avenue. Turn left here and follow this road for 1.1 miles to a stop sign. Turn right to enter the large dirt parking lot.

Logistics: There is no entry fee. The park’s trails are open to hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians.

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.