This summer I was determined to introduce my sons to the joy of hiking in Colorado even if I was the only one truly enjoying it. What follows are two kid-friendly hikes that are sure to start you off on the right foot.
In both cases, we hiked with friends because that is always more fun. I also packed a good stash of snacks for motivation. Some might call these bribes. So be it. I had to come up with some non-cash incentives after they cleaned out my wallet from spotting the mountain sheep during our Waterton Canyon bike ride. Luckily, my sons carry their own water hydration packs now so they can drink as often as they need which means I am no longer the mobile refreshment mule, just the snack mule. I am happy to report that despite the initial “why do we have to go so early?” and “are we there yet?” mumbling, my sons admitted that they had fun on both of these hikes and want to go back. Fun=Joy in my book.
Our first outing was to Castlewood Canyon State Park located off of Hwy 83 just south of Franktown. A day pass to enter the park costs $7. There is also a second park entrance located off Hwy 86 & Castlewood Canyon Rd. Regardless of which entrance you use, Castlewood Canyon State Park is a great beginning hiker location because it is so close and it offers a variety of different trails with varying degrees of difficulty and length depending upon what you want. The views from the top of the canyon rim are quite picturesque too. Most importantly it involves a creek, so if your kids are like mine, they will climb Longs Peak if it involves a chance to play in a creek at the end.
We pulled into the parking lot at 8:30 a.m. and hit the Lake Gulch trail. We followed it down into the canyon and then connected with the Inner Canyon trail that follows Cherry Creek along the canyon floor amidst large boulders. Combined, it is a 2-mile loop. It can get pretty hot and muggy down on the canyon floor. Thankfully, there are several sandy areas along the creek bed that offer perfect spots for an extended rest break and a chance to cool off. Our kids had a ball climbing on top of the bigger rocks and wading in the shallow pools. I suggest packing some dry socks and a hand towel so they can dry off their feet and hands after playing in the water. Please exercise caution when climbing the rocks due to rattlesnakes. Thankfully, we did not encounter any.
The Inner Gulch trail ends by crossing a sturdy walking bridge over the creek before climbing a short but steep trail back up to the top of the canyon rim. Our hike took us roughly 2 hours including our extended break in the creek bed. You could end your adventure with a picnic at one of the many shelters or picnic tables at the top and still be home by noon. Not bad for a maiden hiking voyage.
A second terrific kid friendly hike is Devils Head Fire Lookout located south of Sedalia, CO off of CO-67/Manhart Rd and Rampart Range Rd. It may take you longer to drive to the trailhead than to hike it, but it is definitely worth the trip. Be aware that it is a very popular trail because of the fire tower appeal and likely to be crowded. Go early for that reason, and most especially, to avoid possible afternoon storms. You most definitely do not want to be up there in a lightning storm.
The hike itself is a steady uphill climb 1.4 miles to the tower base area. Yes, there will likely be grumbling from the kids about “we’ve been hiking for hours uphill”, but once they reach the base area and lock eyes on the tower stairs, they suddenly morph into Billy goats. From there you climb 143 steps up to the lookout tower anchored on top of a granite rock outcropping. The views in all directions are simply amazing. Talk about feeling like “The king of the world!” The meadow at the base area of the stairs offers many great picnic spots and if you are lucky, you’ll get a chance to chat with Bill Ellis and his wife, who have served as tower lookouts here for over 25 years. Follow this link for a great article from The Denver Post about Bill Ellis and the history of the fire tower. http://www.denverpost.com/lifestyles/ci_18452885.
For more information about this hike visit the following websites: