Best Denver Hike for Summer Solstice

With the summer solstice coming up to denote the longest day of the year, you can’t miss a great hike in Denver to celebrate. There’s one place like no other that will offer up fantastic front range views, an incredible sunset, birds galore, deer and their fawn, barking prairie dogs and blooming wildflowers.

Head out to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge. “The Arsenal” as Denver natives call it, or “the Wildlife Refuge” as newcomers call it, boasts all sorts of trails. From hikes around lakes to short hikes around the Visitor’s Center, there are plenty of options to spend the day, an hour, or half a day in the Refuge. You can even stop by the Arsenal on the way to the airport to catch your flight (don’t forget to see the bison!) But there’s one trail that’s exceptionally spectacular at any time of the year, but especially for the summer solstice.

The Bluestem Loop Trail

The Bluestem Loop Trail, a 1.5-mile loop, overlooks the wetlands, the mountains, and the prairie. You can have vast front range views that capture from Longs Peak to Pikes Peak. You might even spot Mt Evans. But also from here, you can enjoy the longest day of the year. All the wild flowers are in bloom. Butterflies flutter from bluestem to curly dock. The wetland captures dragonflies, while the uploads hide deer, foxes, and coyotes. Prairie dogs might shuttle from hole to hole. You can see an entire ecosystem busy taking in the bounty of summer, anticipating fall just a short time away.

And chances are, you’ll only drive 20 minutes to get there (if you live in Denver.) The beauty about the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge is that it’s nearby. If you live in Denver, Commerce City, Aurora, or maybe even Arvada, you can get there in 20 minutes or less. On the way to Denver International Airport? It’s just a quick stop north of 56th Ave, just west of Pena Blvd.

On the Trail

On the trail, you’ll find various interpretative signs about Blue Goose, Sedges, Wetlands and the High Line Canal. Thigh-high grasses blow in the wind. Brilliant burgundy and violet thistles dot the prairie, you’ll hear meadowlarks singing, and you’ll see Swainson hawks soaring. A herd of eight white-tailed deer and their two babies keep watch. Bull snakes slither. Bison bake in the sun just to the north.

Take your time, and you’ll see even more wildlife watching you. Perhaps you’ll catch a burrowing owl next to a prairie dog hole? Damselflies and bubble bees dart and bumble their way across flowering pinks and purples. As the sun sets, the dazzling hour dusks upon seed heads and pine cones.

The Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge. 15,000 acres buffer Denver from the airport.

It’s the perfect place to catch a sunset for the longest day of the year.

It’s the perfect place to bring your kids.

It’s the perfect place to find some contemplative time.

Whether you’re in the Refuge to hike, fish, walk, or sit, it’s a welcoming place for all folks to find free time for free. You can also take the 14-mile drive through the Refuge and see the giant herd of American bison roaming freely in the prairie. (Remember, they’re wild! Don’t get out of your car, and take pics from a distance!)

Directions to Trailhead

Getting to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge is fairly easy. You can point your GPS to 6550 Gateway Rd, Commerce City, CO, which will take you to the Visitors Center. The Visitors Center chronicles the history of the Refuge from its homesteading years through World War II, the building of weapons, petro-bombs, and pesticides, and finally to its restoration as a wildlife refuge. It also includes a life-size bison. You can even touch real bison fur! There are restrooms, a cute little gift shop that supports the Friends of the Wildlife Refuges organization, and a hands-on interpretative room where kids can dress up in little house on the prairie clothes!

To get to the actual Bluestem Trailhead, here are the directions.

Take I70 to Central Park Blvd. Go north. Central Park Blvd turns into Prairie Parkway and goes north of Dick’s Sports Park. Take a right on Gateway Blvd. Enter the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge. Take a right on Wildlife Drive. Continue for about a mile. Cross Havana St. Derby Lake will be on your left. Continue about a 1/2 mile. The road turns to dirt. Take it to the end. Park. The trailhead is on the south side of the parking lot. The coordinates are 39°48’45.9″N 104°49’17.9″W. There is no address for the trailhead. But most GPS and mapping apps will allow you to type in the coordinates above just as if you were typing an address.

Directions for Hiking the Trail

The Bluestem Loop Trail loops from the trailhead. You can go left or right. If you go left, you’ll reach the bench mentioned above in about 1/3 mile. Go right, and you can follow the several loops (just keep going right) until the trail loops back to the left. You’ll find the bench about 1/4 mile past the High Line Canal sign as you are working your way back north. The entire loop is just about 1.5 miles if you take all the little detours. Parts of the trail to the left are on elevated boardwalk; the remainder is soft surface. We saw wheelchair tracks on the entire loop.

During the summer, it can be quiet warm on the trail, and there is little to no shade. Be sure to wear a hat, sunscreen, and perhaps even long sleeves to protect from the beating heat. There is also no water, either, on the trail. Make sure you have enough water for you and your kids if they’re tagging along. And, no, your dog is not allowed in the park.

If you go and hike the Bluestem Loop Trail, post a picture and tag it with #denverbyfoot. I love seeing your pictures!

See you on the trail,
~Chris

PS For another great hike in the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildife Refuge, read this article.