Hiking Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge

Hiking Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge

Need a great hike that's close by, is fantastic for kids, invites world travelers, and includes world history?

And you might even see bison, deer, foxes, prairie dogs and bald eagles?

Then head over to the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge.

From Homesteaders to Bison

The Wildlife Refuge, which now hosts a bison herd of close to 100, two types of deer, lots of foxes, coyotes, prairie dogs and ferrets, used to be the dirtiest land in the country. Seized from homesteaders after Pearl Harbor, the Army built munitions and chemical warfare, creating a toxic cocktail of mustard gas and dioxins. On top of this deadly soup, the space race created fuel for the Apollo space mission.

By the time the 80s rolled around, Denver’s Stapleton airport and a disgusting dirt pile of tainted soil called out for solutions. Leaders came together, moved the airport, and got the old Army base declared a Superfund site. At the same time, bald eagles appeared. With legislative maneuvering and citizen support, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge appeared.

Hike or Drive to See Bison

And now, you can view the bison on this wonderful urban resource, just a few miles off i-70 just north of the old Stapleton airport tower. The bison’s range behind fences. In a car, you can drive along a designated route within the range and get very close to the bison. Yet, you must stay in your car. If you decide to walk, you can get close, but a fence will always be between you and the bison.

Let’s be honest, right up front. Bison aren’t friendly. They don’t want your company. They weigh almost a ton. So, no, you won’t actually be hiking with them. You’ll more be walking near them, in view of them, or within range. If you don't see them walking the Legacy Trail, hop back in your car and drive the Wildlife Drive Trail.

Get Up Early or Go Late

The best time to view the bison is early in the morning or later in the afternoon. But it’s really a guessing game at best. The bison roam the Refuge throughout the day, and there are many days you can’t see them from the trails or the public viewing areas. None the less, here’s how you can walk right next to them if they're out.

The Trail Route

Park at the Refuge’s Visitor Center. Inside, you can see a life-sized bison and learn the history of the Refuge. When you’re ready, head out on the Legacy Trail, which leaves from the back side  of the Visitor Center. At the head of the trail is a ferret exhibit that you won’t want to pass up. Then head northeasterly along the trail to Lake Mary.

The trail is mostly pebble rock. Rollers and strollers can enjoy it on dry days. You’ll walk through medium-high prairie grass along rolling knolls. About halfway to Mary Lake, which is about a ½ mile, you’ll encounter some swales on both sides of the trail where lovely Cottonwood and Oak trees grow. Keep your eyes peeled, as you’ll have a high chance to see mule deer and maybe even some white-tailed deer.

Shortly after you pass the swales and before you cross Havana, look to the north. If you’re going to see any bison by foot, here’s your best chance. Often, small parts of the herd will hang out just north of the swales and west of the road. You’ll be close enough to take pictures where they look like bison and less where they look like little brown dots out in a field of grass.

While you’re near Mary Lake, cross over Havana and enjoy a walk around Mary or go a bit further to Lake Ladora. There’s a great loop trail of about 2 miles to take you around the lakes. When you’re ready, head back west along the Legacy trail to the Visitor Center,completing a four-mile out-and-back walk.

By the way, Colorado natives and long-time locals call the area the "Arsenal" while new-comers tend to call it the "Refuge."

Traveling to Denver International Airport?

If you have 2-3 extra hours before checking in for you flight, stopping by the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge is a great last stop on the way to the airport. If you're driving from downtown Denver to the airport, take I70 to the Central Park Blvd. Go north about a mile when the street turns into Prairie Parkway. Take a right on Gateway Road into the park. When you finish your visit, leave the park, turn left on Prairie Parkway to Central Park Blvd. Turn left on 56th Ave to Pena Blvd. Turn left on Peña to the airport.

Or, if you are taking public transit, purchase a ticket on the A train for the airport. Take A train to Central Park Station. From there, you can take Bus 62. The bus will let you off on Prairie Parkway, and then you'll have about a 1/2 mile walk. It might be better to Lyft to the Visitor's Center from Central Park Station. When you're finished, either Bus 62 back to Central Park Station or Lyft to the 61st and Peña A Train station. Take the train to the airport. You will not need to purchase another ticket. Your airport ticket is good all day and for multiple rides. It's good on the bus, too, if you decide to take that route.

If you go to the Refuge, post your pictures and tag them with #DenverByFoot. I'd love to see them!

~See you on the trail

PS If you'd like more great hiking suggestions nearby in Denver, get my book Best Urban Hikes: Denver.

3 Easy Urban Hikes in Denver

3 Easy Urban Hikes in Denver

With Take a Hike Day upon us, rather than driving up into the mountains for a hike, here are three easy urban hikes in Denver. Great for kids, visiting family, and everyone else who loves to hike, these three easy hikes near Denver invite everyone out for a great time. These hikes help tourists and visiting friends adjust into and acclimate to our Denver altitude, too! Be sure to click the hike title for an interactive map.

The Norfolk Glen Loop

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Norfolk Glen Loop. The Norfolk Glen Loop in Aurora combines the best of the outdoors with the ease of two great trails, the Sand Creek Greenway and the High Line Canal Trail. At five miles, which you can shorten to just over three, this hike starts at the Star K Ranch Morrison Nature Center off Smith Road (16002 E. Smith Road, Aurora 80011). You walk through wonderful open space filled with deer, elk, coyotes and prairie dogs. You'll cross the Sand Creek onto the High Line Canal Trail, and walk for a couple of miles with the Canal on your right and open space full of hawks and eagles on your left. After navigating the Triple Creek Trailhead, you'll head back along the Sand Creek and its Greenway on soft surface trail. When you arrive back to the Nature Center, be sure to go inside to use the restrooms and enjoy the interpretive history about Mr Stark. For the kids, they can touch some animal furs, too!

Stapleton Central Park Loop

The Stapleton Central Park Loop. At three miles, all housed within Stapleton's Central Park, you can follow the map, or just get lost meandering the trails between Central Park and Westerly Creek Park. Within the loop, you'll find a fantastic playground for all ages that includes rock climbing and bouldering. Don't miss the beautiful Alzhiemer's Remembrance Garden, and be sure to walk out onto the overlook. This "bridge to nowhere" is actually a piece of artwork designed to connect the old Stapleton airport with the new. It diagonally points from the old air tower just to the west to the new air tower to the northeast. Regardless of which way you walk this loop, the views are plenty.

Confluence Park Clover Loop

9creeks eatwalklearn

The Confluence Loop. A great hike for locals wanting to show off Denver, this hike starts at REI at Confluence Park. You'll walk along the Platte River toward Mile High Stadium, cross the million-dollar bridge, then enjoy the swoosh of Elitch's roller coasters. Pass the City of Denver's Centennial Garden, then you'll take a right and amble along Cherry Creek. Here, you can see where Denver and Auraria were founded while enjoying some great urban art. The walk continues along the Platte River to Denver's Skatepark, which is continually ranked in the top 10 free skate parks in the world. If you're ambitious, you can extend this three miles walk over the Millennial Bridge and drop into Union Station for lunch.

Finally, a favor.

If you enjoyed this post, would you consider helping me raise money to fight cancer? I'll be hiking Yosemite with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. In order for me to attend, I must raise $3900. Would you consider donating to send me on my way and to fight cancer? Donate here. Thank you

Have you walked any of these loops? Which was your favorite? And thanks for supporting me and the Leukemia Society.

See you on the trail


Hiking In Denver Rocky Flats

Hiking Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge

One of the most beautiful things about urban hiking in Denver is that we have not one, but TWO, national wildlife refuges to escape to for a beautiful plains-oriented hike. The older Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge is on the Denver boundary next to Commerce City, and the newer Rocky Flats Wildlife Refuge sits just north of Denver and east of Broomfield. The Refuge's main entrance is located at mile marker 3 on the south side of Highway 128.

Both the refuges have similar histories--they resulted from the cleanup of armament development. The Arsenal manufactured petro-bombs, sarin and mustard gas along with pesticides from the 1940s through the 1970s. Rocky Flats took on plutonium triggers for the nuclear arms race. After closing both arms factories, the areas were cleaned up (with much controversy) with Superfund money and opened as wildlife refuges. With similar geology and geography, you'll find wide-open prairies, rolling hills, historic buildings and vast views. Whereas the Arsenal has bison, Rocky Flats has elk!

Rocky Flats Trail Report

The Rocky Flats trails are previous dirt roads of double track with a raised grassy area between the two tracks. From the northern parking lot, they start as just dirt and then turn to pea gravel and then gravel. Due to the rough surface, you'll want to wear sturdy shoes. There are over 10 miles of trails, of which mountain bikers will also find great adventure, and whom should yield to hikers.

Harvest Moon Rise over the Plains

On September 23, we headed out to Rocky Flats to see the full moon rise. The gates technically close at sunset, so we arrived early to hike and catch the moon rise at the end of the hike. We headed out from the northern parking lot for a 6-mile out and back hike.

Rocky Flats Route

Start at the Walnut Creek trail head off Highway 128. At the trail head, you'll find a compost toilet, maps, and general information. Please note that no dogs are allowed, but horses are permitted. Make sure you have plenty of water. Not only is it dry, but the altitude might add additional challenge for those hikers arriving from outside of Colorado.

Head westerly for about two miles to the Lindsay Ranch Loop. You'll go down in the ravine and have gorgeous homestead views along Rock Creek. Continue around the loop, enjoying the old Scott homestead and barn where the Lindsay family raised cattle until they were asked to move by the atomic commission in the 1940s. Here is a good chance to see many of the 239 migratory and resident wildlife species including prairie falcon, mule and white-tailed deer, elk, coyotes, songbirds, hawks, and the federally threatened Preble's meadow jumping mouse.

Exit the loop and return to the Walnut Creek trail by turning to the east. Follow it back to the trail head on Highway 128. When you arrive back at where you parked, you will have walked just a bit over 6 miles.

We only touched the northern portion of Rocky Flats. We'll be back to enter from the southern entrance to adventure along Rocky Mountain Greenway, which will eventually connect Rocky Flats to Two Lakes to Rocky Mountain Arsenal. The ultimate goal is to connect all three Refuges with Rocky Mountain National Park. I can't wait!

What did you enjoy on your Rocky Flats hike? Post pictures and tell me why you hiked Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge.

~See you on the trail

Drive and Walk Lariat Loop Denver

Drive and Walk Lariat Loop

Back in the 1920s when the City of Denver was on a buying spree to buy land in the mountains for its residents, it was also building a road to connect the residents to the new Denver Mountain Parks. This twisty, hairpin-turny, ribbon of concrete, called the Lariat Loop (see map), wiggled up Lookout Mountain around Morrison, Evergreen and Golden for 40 miles. Although it never got the National Park status leaders thought it deserved, it still exists today and provides a great place for a local road trip that leads to several local walks and hikes. Here's how to drive and walk Lariat Loop.

Dinosaurs Galore

You can drive onto the Lariat Loop from wherever it makes sense for you to start. We decided to drive it clockwise from Dinosaur Ridge, where we made our first stop. I have to say, I was quite confused where "Dinosaur Ridge" is. Ask many a Denverite, and they'll tell you it's off I70 at the Woolly Mammoth and T-Rex parking lots. Well, yes, that's one side of Dino Ridge. But the other side is off C470, and that's where we started.

Geologically Dinosaur Ridge is a segment of the Dakota Hogback in the Morrison Fossil Area National Natural Landmark located in Jefferson County, Colorado. Point your GPS to 16831 W Alameda Pkwy., Morrison, CO. This is the Dinosaur Ridge Museum. Inside you'll find great touch exhibits for all ages about the history of the finds and the dinos in this area. You can also purchase a $9 bus pass to take you to the sites up on the ridge. Instead, park, enjoy the museum, and then walk the ridge.

You'll see the ridge to the southwest of the museum. There's a road that goes up the ridge, and you'll also see many cyclists making the climb. Walk your way up the ridge, reading the interpretation along the way. You'll see a few giant 15 inch wide (if not more) footprints, an explanation of the terrestrial coverings, and then you'll see the mother load! A whole bunch of three-toed dino prints scattering all which way. It's a giant wall of prints, and the interpretation helps you understand the ways the dinos moved. No matter what your age, you'll love seeing these great patterns.

If you're up for it, continue up the ridge and around the other side for more fossils and geological wonders. Or, head the 1/2 mile back to your car to go to the next stop, which is Red Rocks Park, your first Denver Mountain Park.

Walking Red Rocks

Volumes have been written about Red Rocks Mountain Park, so I'll give you the quick and skinny, and I'm going to assume you've either seen a show or you'll see a show in the future at the award-winning auditorium. Thus, I'm going to give you three things not to miss at Red Rocks since you've driven there and now you're walking!

Park at the Trading Post, which has a great Electric Vehicle station that is seldom used. Go inside and enjoy the Colorado Music Hall of Fame. Fill up your water bottles, then venture out to the wonderful Trading Post Trail. At only 1.5 miles, it’s packed with the best of Red Rocks Park. With some steeper climbs, but relatively a moderate trail that out-of-towners and kids will love, the trail passes Frog Rock, Picnic Rock, Nine Parks Rock, Ship Rock, Creation Rock and Seven Ladders Rock. Along the trail, you’ll start to see the geologic history embedded in the rocks showing how the plains clashed up against the Rockies, spilling these red-iron monoliths in their path.

The third thing you should do at Red Rocks is the Visitors Center at the top of the auditorium. See who has actually played at the famous hall, learn about the awards its received, and go back in time to famous concerts. Then, plan your next concert event if you don't have idea already.

Now that you've been awed by Red Rocks, head to Morrison to the unassuming Morrison Natural History Museum at 501 Colorado 8, Morrison, CO. It has a giant story to tell in the dino hunt of Colorado. See research in progress as the Museum continues to actively studying local paleontology. They've recently found a baby Stegosaurus fossils, baby sauropod tracks, and the missing muzzle of Apatosaurus ajax.

Before heading west, if you need to grab a bite, back track a block into Morrison and grab some fish and chips at the The Cow Eatery. Otherwise, point your GPS to Little Park, 21763 Miller Ln, Idledale, CO. Sadly, your GPS might miss it. So, point it to Lair of the Bear, but don't go there. About a mile before Lair of the Bear and right after Idledale, you'll see a steep road down to the left. Take that road, and you'll be at Little Park.

Radiator Water

Park. You won't be going far. Get out and look at the super octagonal stone structure. Back when the Lariat Loop was built, cars needed water for their transmissions. They'd stop here, refill their radiators, and then head on to O'Fallon Park, our next stop. Before leaving, you can certainly walk into Lair of the Bear through this secret back entrance where you can avoid the crowds at 'Bear. But save your steps for the next stop.

Four-Sided Chimney

Continue westerly on hwy 74 (Lariat Loop, have you seen the signs?) to O'Fallon Park at 25500 CO-74, Morrison, CO. Pull through the first parking lot, past the gate to the rear parking lots. There will be a lot on the left and the road will go over a small bridge to a larger lot. If possible, park in the small lot on the left. Get out of the car and walk through the lot, moving southerly to Bear Creek. At the creek, you'll see a dirt road going back toward whence you came. Walk along that, with the Creek on your right and the (unseen) hwy 74 on your left. You'll walk about a half mile.

Cross over the creek. There will be a compost toilet on your right. You'll see the start of the Meadow View Trail. Follow that to the left to the Stone Chimney Trail, which takes you to the four-side chimney. Visit the chimney at the end of the trail. Here, earlier Denverites would stop to fish in the creek then cook their catch on the fireplace while warming themselves with hot cocoa. Walk the half mile back to your wheels and head westerly again towards the next stop, Hiwan Heritage Park.

Log Lodges

Point your GPS to 28473 Meadow Drive, Evergreen, CO, and get out to enjoy Hiwan, a wonderful 1893 log lodge whose female owners changed this history of Evergreen. The picture above is a model; you can actually go inside. Be sure to visit during hours and get a tour with a docent. It's free and well worth your time. Afterward, hike across the creek and up the side of the hill to get a view of the Heritage Park. You'll clock about 1/2 mile.

Lookout, Buffalo Bill!

You may be getting hungry by now, but see if you can hold off until after our next stop. Head to Lookout Mountain and Buffalo Bill's Grave at 28473 Meadow Drive, Evergreen, CO on Lookout Mountain. Be careful of all the cyclists training for their centuries, and give them wide berth on corners. At the top of the mountain, you'll want to do three things.

The first is to stop in the Pahaska Teepee to see this historic building which was once the museum. Grab a greasy snack if you need to, then go next door to the second stop at the new Buffalo Bill Museum. It's free for Denver kids with their MyDenver Card, and totally worth the $5 admission for adults. Well stocked with fabulous memorabilia from Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show and the other elements of his life, you'll leave with a better understanding of the games of the western frontier. It's a must-stop and relevant for today's history.

When you've got your story straight about Buffalo Bill, head up the hill to the third stop, his and Louisa's graves. They aren't spectacular, but they are thought provoking. From here's it's also a great way to see Denver's skyline and understand the beauty Cody saw which made him want it as his final resting place. You'll walk about 3/4 mile here at Lookout.

Golden Gems

For the last two stops, point your GPS to Sherpa House at 1518 Washington Ave, Golden, CO. Park along the street. Pop into Sherpa for their lunch buffet where they feature both meat and vegetarian Indian food. Get your fill of savory and spices treats, and be sure to down the chow with a mango lassi. When you're ready, grab your walking shoes again and head up the hill to the School of Mines Geology Museum.

You'll find the Geology Museum at 1310 Maple St., Golden, CO. Not only is this a great cache of sparkly gems, but it's got a wonderful recreated mine that both adults and kids will love. You can buy a rock to take home, too. While there, grab the fabulous map of the Bob Weimer Geological Trail. This one-mile amble through Golden takes you through the geological features and fossils of this great town, starting with the story of the Hogback ridge.

If you're still in the discovery mood of the Lariat Loop, head into downtown Golden. See where the water for Coors beer comes from, grab an ice cream, admire the artwork along the Clear Creek Trail, and do some shopping. You are close to the end of the Lariat Loop. By this time, you will have driven about 40 miles and walked a 3-5 miles if you've done all the suggested walking. You surely could do more!

Drive and Walk Lariat Loop

The Lariat Loop has hundreds of great finds along it, and we've only touched the surface. This post is just to get you familiar with the loop and to expose you to the fun things I've done while enjoying the Lariat Loop. But you could also hike, drink beer, race cars, find deer, eat steak, climb boulders, paint scenes, and do one thousand other things on the Lariat Loop. None the less, you can drive then walk, bike then hike, drive then hike, or bike then walk the Lariat Loop. Have fun!

Hiking in Fall Color in Denver

Finding Fall Color in Denver

Fall is quickly approaching in the mountains, and it will soon be here in Denver. You can see it by the subtle yellowing of the cottonwoods and ash in Denver and the vibrant golden changes in the Aspen in the mountains.

Everyone flocks to the high tops of the front range to catch their beloved views of aspen color riots. But you can find some great fall color right here within the C470 loop, often within 10 minutes of your Denver home.

Three Denver Hikes for Fall Color

Here are three great places to find fall color IN Denver.

Fall color shows up in our wild prairie grasses, too. Check out this urban hike in Lowry for some great fall color via the grassy plains. It's a great place to hear smaller song birds, too.


The High Line Canal Trail, especially between mile markers 16-25 (from Fly n B to Julia deKoevend Park, segments 5, 6, 7.) You'll also find a plethora of wild apples and plums. Bon appetite!

The 9 Creeks Loop, especially along the South Platte River near Globeville on segments 1 and 8.

Post pics of what you see this year and share your bounty of fall color in Denver.

~See you on the trail,