Meyer Ranch Park

Going south on U.S. 285 from Denver, the urban landscape changes to rural in less than 30 miles, the glare of tall buildings replaced by coniferous hills.

Still, it’s hard to escape the din of the highway at Meyer Ranch Park. And yet the developed, fast-paced world feels far, far away. That’s what makes this 667-acre preserve in Jefferson County so popular.

Parking fills fast on summer weekends. We spotted a lot of families on this visit, kids out discovering nature. They find wildflowers and raspberries popping in the summer, while in the fall, they walk beneath golden aspen canopies. They might even spot the elusive, adorable pygmy owl.

It’s a fairly mild series of short loops, though the hiker will work up a sweat on frequent ascents. Those make for fun, intermediate descents for mountain bikers. Runners, meanwhile, can rack up as much distance and elevation as they please by lapping the network marked as 4.1 miles.

All begin on the Owl’s Perch Trail, through the lush meadow fed by South Turkey Creek. In the forest, we stayed straight for the Lodgepole Loop. Consecutive rainfalls made the forest bright green and fragrant, and with moss clinging to rocks and logs, we almost felt transported to the Pacific Northwest.

We veered right for the Sunny Aspen Trail, rising with our heart rate over steep, rocky terrain. Less than a half-mile farther at a picnic shelter, we caught the Old Ski Run Trail, a “stem” leading to a short “lollipop” loop. Bikers will enjoy the fast ride tight between trees.

Back down to the picnic shelter, we continued our return by going right on Sunny Aspen and right again on Lodgepole. The trails are well-marked, and maps are stocked at the trailhead.

Trip log: 4.4 miles, 894 feet elevation gain, 8,680 feet max

Difficulty: Moderate

Getting there: 10490 S. Turkey Creek Road, Morrison. Follow U.S. 285 south from Denver for about 12 miles, at Meyer Ranch Park sign turning slightly right off highway for parking lot.

FYI: Open one hour before sunrise and one hour after sunset. Hiking, biking, horses. Dogs on leash.

SETH BOSTER, THE GAZETTE

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