Why take the two-hour-long trip to the mountains to hike when there are places just about twenty minutes away from the metro area?
Why take the two-hour-long trip to the mountains to hike when there are places just about twenty minutes away from the metro area? At the first of the "Nature Nights" at the Wildlife Experience, Senior Park Ranger Thomas Welle told of six Douglas County properties, most of which had more than one use. All of the properties in Douglas County are free, but are day use only. He also mentioned that all of the properties to the South are full of mountain lions and bears.
To begin, he told us of Spruce Mountain Open Space Trail, 5½ to 6½ miles long. You can hike, bike, ride horses and walk your (leashed) dogs on this trail. There are fantastic views on Spruce Mountain, but be on the lookout for horseback riders.
The next place he told us of was Dawson Butte Ranch Open Space Trail, a 5½ mile loop. On this trail, you can hiking, bike, ride horses, walk your pets on leashes, go snowshoeing and cross country skiing. The top of the butte is off limits to the public, though. There are many horseback riders here, too. However, once you get moving, people spread out. You'll probably be surprised how few people you see. As Tom Welle said, "You get a pretty good backcountry experience, and you don't really have to go very far to get it."
The third property was Sharptail Ridge Open Space, which is made up of more than one trail. You are allowed to hike, mountain bike, and ride horses here, depending on the trail. This is a great place to spot some wildlife. There are elk, deer, lots of bears, and rattlesnakes–so watch where you're stepping!
The following property was the Hidden Mesa Trails. Cherry Creek runs through this park where they support agriculture, you are allowed to walk your dogs on leashes, hike, ride horses, and mountain bike on the trails. Here there are elk, and prairie dogs that are supposed to be west of Cherry Creek (but need some occasional herding by park rangers). You may find some signs that people used to live there, such as arrowheads, if you hike here, but if you do leave them there. They belong to Douglas County.
The last open space was Greenland Open Space, which you can hike, bike, walk your (leashed) dogs, and ride horses on. At one point in the year there are mountain bike races here, and otherwise there is lots of horse traffic.
The last property Tom Welle told us about was Bingham Lake. He told us this was a good place for kids to fish (you don't need a fishing license) and that a bald eagle shows up there every winter! That would be incredible to see.
You can find out more about Douglas County properties and get maps along with directions at www.douglas.co.us/openspace
One of my favorite hiking places is in Jefferson County, called Lair of the Bear. This place is a great spot to go hiking in if you have never been hiking before, or if you are going to go with small kids. Lair of the Bear has easy trails, and beautiful views. It's a great place to start!