I learned about Jefferson County’s Meyer Ranch Park months ago, while en route to Santa Fe, New Mexico for a fun and outdoorsy Fourth of July weekend. While driving down to New Mexico, I noticed the park from the highway just twenty minutes after leaving my house and made a mental note of it. Since Meyer Ranch was close to home, I planned to visit on a day when Kevin and I didn’t have the time for a full-day hiking excursion.
On the last Sunday of September, the perfect opportunity to visit Meyer Ranch Park presented itself. We were scheduled to catch a film at six p.m., and since Kevin slept in until well after eleven, I decided to forgo my initial to visit El Dorado State Park in favor of spending the afternoon at Meyer Ranch Park. I didn’t bother researching the park; rather, I quickly went online and printed out a trail map minutes before heading out the door.
Some of my favorite adventuring moments happen by accident, and our visit to Meyer Ranch Park was no exception. Come autumn, the region’s Aspen trees (especially popular in Estes Park, the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park) are famous for their sun-drenched golden hues and trademark white bark. Kevin and I had separately researched where we could visit an Aspen grove, but the Internet didn’t have any suggestions less than a two-hour drive away. Imagine our surprise, therefore, when we parked our car in the park’s small lot only to be greeted with this view:
Yep, these are Aspen trees, boasting beautiful fall colors weeks before Kevin and I had expected them. Roughly thirty minutes from downtown Denver, this locale is infinitely easier to reach (and less crowded!) than a place like Estes Park. Talk about a pleasant surprise! Since we’ve only lived in Colorado a few months, we hadn’t planned on seeing fall foliage until mid-October, and we certainly didn’t think we’d stumble upon an Aspen grove at this small, off-the-beaten-path open space in the foothills of the Rockies.
Which, I must confess, is an oversight on my part, because the park’s website explicitly lists Aspen groves as a feature. Oops. And to think Meyer Ranch Park wasn’t even my first choice of activities for the day – a lucky coincidence, I know.
Before I show y’all more drool-inducing photographs of this absolutely breathtaking park, I’ll give you the lowdown on how we experienced it: Meyer Ranch Park has a number of different trails, 4.1. miles in total, that average hikers will all find relatively easy. We started off on the Owl’s Perch trail, which takes hikers from the parking lot into the park, and from there, we continued on to the Sunny Aspen trail. We then hiked the entirety of the Old Ski Run Trail, which is one-way except for a short loop at the end near the park’s scenic overlook. On the way back down, we continued along the Sunny Aspen trail (which is a loop) and made our way back to Owl’s Perch via the Lodge Pole Loop. The entire journey took about two and a half hours, and is the route I would recommend to other visitors looking a lengthier hike.
All of the trails are impeccably maintained and clean, and there are also a number of beautiful picnic shelters and benches available throughout the park. Bicycles and dogs (with leashes!) are permitted on all of the trails, and due to the relative ease of the trails, I would recommend this park to families with younger children.
If I had to choose one adjective to describe Meyer Ranch Park, it would be tranquil. The winding paths are quiet and peaceful, bordered by lovely forests. Even if one only has an hour or so to spend in the park, plenty of scenic beauty can be appreciated without much elevation gain. Panoramic views, however, do not present themselves until hikers reach the end of the Old Ski Run trail, and believe me when I say the effort is well worth the reward:
Obviously, an endless sea of mountains would be pretty anytime of the year, but there’s something about the brilliant colors of fall that makes a view like the one shown above near impossible to leave.
Suffice to say, I now have a new favorite park to recommend to out-of-towners looking for a local spot. The initial trail leading hikers into the park, Owl’s Perch, was a little crowded – perhaps because of the Aspens – but after passing the first grove, we felt like we had the entire trail network to ourselves. Kevin and I were able sit down and enjoy the view for ten minutes without seeing another person, making this an ideal weekend escape from the bustling urban sprawl of Denver.
Before visiting, I recommend hikers either download the park’s trail map onto their smartphone or print out a hard copy. There are a variety of short, winding trails and without a map, hikers might find themselves disoriented. A PDF trail map is available here.
Meyer Ranch Park is situated in the heart of the foothills, and as such, temperatures will be a little cooler than in downtown Denver. On the day of our visit, we noticed the temperature dropped eight degrees between our place in the city and the park. Dress accordingly; I’d advise layers. Colorado weather can also be fickle; crystal-clear mornings can easily transition into stormy afternoons, so be prepared for rain and check the forecast before hitting the trails.