Hiking in Roxborough State Park

I recently made a weekend bucket list. It was last Saturday. I was laying on my couch, deep into a Gossip Girl binge (it’s fine, you can judge me, I have no shame) and feeling underwhelmed by the way my weekends have been going. I moved back to Colorado for so many reasons, none of which included watching Gossip Girl all Saturday-long (not that there’s ever anything wrong with spending a weekend Netflixing, just in moderation).

But I’m still new in town, and moving to a new city by yourself can be hard and I don’t really have a friend group in Denver yet. I haven’t yet found my let’s-get-brunch or go-camping or explore-this-trail this weekend group and I’ve kind of let myself get lazy and mopey during my weekends without that motivation.

Which actually motivated me to make a weekend bucket list and to be intentional about planning things from the list for my weekends. Maybe I’ll share that list and how I’m preparing to tackle it in a future post, but for now I want to share some photos from the hike I did in Roxborough State Park this weekend.

Visitor center at Roxborough State Park

When I heard there was a Colorado State Park less than an hour away from Denver that’s akin to “a mini Garden of the Gods,” I knew I had to check it out. Roxborough State Park is a short drive from Denver (about 45 minutes from my apartment in Capitol Hill) and is truly an oasis and the perfect Denver day hike. The second you turn down the road that leads to the park entrance, you’re surrounded by rolling hills of deep green foliage, from which rise walls of red rock.

Red rocks at Roxborough State Park

Obviously since it’s a state park, you either need to have a Colorado State Parks pass or be prepared to pay the $7 day-use fee to enter (a small price to pay for such an escape). It’s also important to note that the park is open for day-use only (7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. in the summer and 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. in the winter) so there’s no camping, there’s also no mountain bikes, dogs or horses allowed in the park.

Signs throughout the park, and along the trails, warn of poison ivy, rattlesnakes, mountain lions and bears and while I was thankful for markers pointing out poison ivy along the trail, the only wildlife I spotted were little lizards scampering across the trail here and there.

Roxborough State Park trails, rocks and sky

Car access is limited in the park – this, along with restrictions on pets, bikes, etc. is all to help preserve the space – so all cars must park at the visitor center, from which you can access all trails. I arrived around 1:30 p.m. and had no problem finding a spot. The main parking lot is at the visitor center, which you’ll arrive at after passing through the park entrance – it’s just a five-minute-or-less drive from the entrance. There’s an overflow lot below the visitor center, which you’ll actually arrive at before you get to the visitor center, and where I parked.

View of Roxborough State Park from Carpenter Peak trail

There are a few trail options; I opted for the Carpenter Peak hike, which is the longest in the park at 6.4 miles roundtrip and takes you to the highest point (7,160 foot elevation) in the park. It’s labeled “strenuous” on the park maps and “moderate” on the park’s website, though it’s worth noting that most of the hikes on the website are labeled “moderate.”

When trying to determine which route will work best for your needs, I recommend using the guide on the map you get when you arrive at the park. I found those guidelines to be pretty standard in terms of public park difficulty ratings, i.e. they err on the side of more difficult.

I consider myself a fairly strong hiker and was looking for something that I could hike easily in less than two hours, but would offer a bit of a workout – essentially something I would personally think of as moderate – so I opted for the “strenuous” rating and it was spot-on with what I was looking for.

For a similarly strong hiker, I’d definitely call the Carpenter Peak hike easy to moderate. There are some steep-ish, rocky sections, but plenty of long, smooth, flat stretches for your legs to recover. I wouldn’t take small children or your out-of-shape flatlander friends on it, but if you’re relatively fit, you should be fine and it’s well worth the 6 miles.

Not only will you get views of the whole park from different heights and angles, but you can also see the Denver city sky line for most of the trek.

If you do have small children or flatlanders in tow, or even if you’re just time-limited and/or looking to do a little site seeing, there are plenty of easier trails and you can get great views right from the visitor center. There is excellent trail signage throughout the park; between that, the map and the folks at the visitor center, it would be hard to get lost (trust me, this is coming from someone with zero sense of direction).

A shady spot on the Carpenter Peak trail

There are long stretches through scrub oak, which are dusty and sun drenched (so don’t forget water and sunscreen; I’ll also bring bug spray next time), but also delightful pockets of evergreen forest, which offer the relief of shade and smell like warm, sun-soaked pine and dirt.

You know that feeling when you’ve been cooped up in an office all week and finally set foot in nature? Your mind lets go and your whole body relaxes. That’s exactly what happened to me on this hike. It was completely restorative and, while I did pass a few other folks here and there, I was mostly alone on the trail.

Dramatic skies from the Carpenter Peak trail

It was the perfect afternoon adventure, (my morning was spent in a Barre3 class and eating Voodoo Donuts … balance, right?) though I cut it pretty close to the witching hour for late summer monsoons; it started thundering right when I summited. But, hey, looming thunderstorms make for great pictures, don’t you think?

Rain in Roxborough State Park, Carpenter Peak trail

I’m so glad I got out and started tackling my bucket list. I sometimes forget how important it is for my sanity and overall wellbeing to get out in nature to move and breathe and explore. I’m looking forward to snowshoeing in Roxborough this winter, and am excited to check more adventures off my list in the meantime.

It’s also worth noting that the visitor center is ADA accessible. They also offer nature programs and events for all ages, which are worth checking out. For complete information about Roxborough State Park, including trail guides, an events calendar and a comprehensive list of rules and restrictions, visit the park’s page on the Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s website.

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