As a resident of the Denver area, I wish I could write a love letter to the Jefferson County Open Space system. The county manages a plethora of beautiful parks largely off the tourist radar, thus offering locals tranquil hiking opportunities without having to make the trek up to Boulder or Estes Park, both considerably more crowded. On the last weekend of summer, I discovered White Ranch Park and fell in love at first sight.
Between views of the valley, surrounding mountains, and lush plains, there is no shortage of scenery to admire (and photograph!) at White Ranch Park. There are even unexpected viewpoints of the Denver skyline if one happens to visit on a clear day like we did.
Like all Jefferson County Open Spaces, White Ranch Park is completely free to visit. That’s right, no pesky passes visitors have to print off their computers beforehand. As someone who travels professionally, I’ve just about had it with the hours I’ve wasted trying to figure out what passes I need for which trails and parks. (I’m looking at you, Washington state, the worst offender of them all). Seriously, visiting the Denver area, determined to hit the trails, truly is a breeze.
With over twenty miles of trails, ranging in difficulty for hikers of all skill levels, visiting this park requires a little advance planning. Since I’m a sucker for scenic overlooks, I decided to park in the overflow parking lot, which is the first one visitors pass on their way into White Ranch. Starting on the easy to moderate Rawhide Trail, Kevin and I continued on to the Wrangler’s Run Trail, which offers beautiful views of the surrounding forest. Wranger’s Run eventually meets back up with the Rawhide Trail, which takes hikers to the Princess Anne overlook and all the way back around to the overflow parking lot.
The scenery? Spectacular. The weather? Perfect, especially considering Kevin and I visited on the final weekend of summer. The hike? We worked up a sweat at some points, but overall, it was not too strenuous. Since we only had the opportunity to explore a sliver of White Ranch Park, I think it’s safe to say we’ll be returning at some point in the future.
As I compose this article, I can’t help but wish I am standing back here, admiring the view shown above, as opposed to sitting in my home office, all cooped up on yet another brilliantly sunny Colorado day. Did you Denver is actually the sunniest city in the United States? That’s right. Take that, Honolulu and Miami. No matter what time of year, travelers can take advantage of all the outdoorsy activities Colorado has to offer.
Sadly, the view from the Princess Anne overlook was slightly obscured by trees, but the scenery along the trail more than made up for the lack of a panoramic view!
If you recognize the above photograph, thank you for being a regular reader of this blog! I loved it so much I featured it as the “photo of the week” following my visit in mid-September. Seriously, guys, I couldn’t put my camera away while at this park. And, like many of the lands that make up Jefferson County Open Spaces, I got the sense White Ranch Park isn’t a place tourists flock to. Even so, I’d recommend arriving early in the morning (before 10:30) or in the mid-afternoon if you want to hike on a sunny weekend from May to September.
In total, we spent about two and a half hours in the park, and doing so allowed us to thoroughly explore roughly one-third of the trail network. One of my favorite parts about White Ranch Park is its extensive trail system, with paths ranging from easy to difficult, which makes it easy for hikers to plan individualized routes based on time and ability. There are a few easy paths that start at the park’s primary trail head for hikers short on time or visiting with kids, while determined hikers who want to stay on the trails from sun-up to sun-down can easily do so. Not to mention the two campgrounds!
How did Kevin and I live in Denver for three months before visiting White Ranch Park? I don’t know, but this is one spot I’ll eagerly recommend to out-of-towners and locals alike.
The only real complaint I have is parts of the Wrangler’s Run trail were quite buggy; I wish we’d thought to pack some bug spray. If you’re hiking at White Ranch Park in warmer weather or camping overnight (the park offers two large and well-maintained campgrounds) I’d suggest tossing some insect repellent into your pack. Also, be sure to pack plenty of water and bring sunscreen – a number of the trails don’t offer any tree cover, so this is a must.
To learn more about the park and download a map of the trails, please visit the official website here.