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Roxborough State Park

Roxborough State Park is located where the eastern plains meet the foothills zone of the Rocky Mountain region not too far from Littleton, with elevations varying from just over 6,000 feet to a high of 7,159 feet at the summit of Carpenter Peak, the only named mountain in the park. But that should not discourage those who want to hike in this wonderful creation of nature. The park has eight trails totaling 14 miles. Some of these trails connect to other trail systems including Douglas County Open Space, Pike National Forest, Waterton Canyon, and the Colorado Trail. Also, this place is famous for rattlesnakes and poison ivy during the warmer months. The park has signs to warn you about that.


But hiking here in Roxborough State Park is otherwise a real pleasure. There are no bikes or pets allowed, camping and horses are also prohibited. The park has no designated picnic area except for a few small tables on the patio of the visitor center. Drones or fires are not permitted, and a Colorado favorite’s marijuana is banned here as well. Encompassing an area of almost 4,000 acres, this park is about nature dramatic red-rock formations, distinct plant communities, and a variety of wildlife including black bears, mountain lions, mule deer, and many others. It could be particularly enjoyable hiking here in the autumn when the colors burst into a variety of yellows, oranges, and reds.


The geology of Roxborough State Park is fascinating, to say the least, something that would surely attract rock climbers. But even this activity is not permitted here. The most striking feature for visitors to the park is the dramatic Fountain Formation. This spectacular tilted sandstone began forming over 300 million years ago with the gradual erosion of the Ancestral Rocky Mountains. Today these red sandstone fins and monoliths stand beautifully at a sixty-degree angle and are the result of millions of years of uplift and erosion. While there are many places in the park from which to view them, the view from the South Rim Trail is where you can appreciate the overall magnificence of the park.


The Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife is committed to keeping this place as pristine as nature created it. Even parking is limited to three parking lots that can easily fill up fast, especially on weekends, so be sure to arrive early. There is an admission fee charged to enter the park. It is valid for the entire day on which it is paid plus the following day until noon. So if you had a great day and want to see just a little bit more, you can come back the next day for a few hours.


Roxborough being just a relatively small park, there are not very many hiking trails, and several can easily be combined into one or more combinations so that a longer hiking experience can be tailored to your preferences. There is usually more than one trail. This includes Carpenter Peak Trail(2.7-mile), Willow Creek Trail(1.5-mile), and the Fountain Valley Trail(2.5-mile). 


At the northern end of the valley, where the trail makes a significant switchback, is a stone house homestead built in 1903 by Henry Persse who named the place Roxborough Park after his family’s estate in County Galway, Ireland. He used it to entertain guests to whom he wanted to promote turning it into a resort. Unfortunately, his dream fizzled out when he died in 1918 after he was struck by a trolley car near downtown Denver. Ultimately, the Colorado Division of State Parks bought the property and turned it into Roxborough State Park, which has been significantly expanded to its current size. The old house was restored in the late 1990s; the site also includes several other farm and ranch structures. The house, known as Persse’s Place is occasionally open to park visitors; the park conducts a free open-house on certain dates in the summer. We have never experienced that, although you can walk right up to the house and look inside through the windows.


After Persse’s Place, the trail heads south again and gradually rises in elevation through a grassy valley. Also finding a herd of mule deer here is normal. About halfway up this valley, a side trail leads to the Lyons Overlook, which is the highlight of the hike. When you get to the overlook, there is a viewing platform from where you will get the iconic views of the entire valley and its stunning rock formations. From the overlook, it is less than one mile back to the trailhead and the visitor center, which is worth stopping to see.


Since Roxborough State Park is conveniently positioned at the southwest extremity of the Denver Metropolitan area close to the border of Littleton, it goes without saying that visitors to the park who are not locally based will find no shortage of places to stay and eat, find alternative recreation, or indulge in unlimited shopping. You will not be disappointed. The park is just minutes from the C-470 freeway which connects with I-70 as well as I-25, the major east-west and north-south Interstate highways crossing the entire state from border to border. Just go slightly out of your way to visit this gem of a park. You will be pleasantly surprised.

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