Up in the foothills just outside of Denver, Roxborough State Park is an often-overlooked gem filled with soaring red red rock formations and peaceful meadows. A 2.5-mile lolipop, the Fountain Valley Trail takes in the best this rugged park has to offer: ecological diversity, scenic beauty and big, sweeping views. On the way, you’ll pass through a wide range of biological communities—from hot, dry scrub oak to lush, wet meadows—and ramble under the shadow of those giant red rock fins. The route also offers the option for two worthwhile side trips to can’t-miss overlooks. It’s a great hike any time of year and an ideal place to work off Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends.
Fountain Valley Trailhead
Start at the trailhead interpretive signs just southwest of the Roxborough State Park visitor center and follow the dirt road that climbs northwest through thickets of scrub oak.
Almost immediately, you’ll reach the junction with the Fountain Valley Overlook Trail. Turn west (left) for a quick detour to an overlook that offers a bird’s-eye perspective on the area you are about to explore. It’s impossible not to be awed by the park’s unique geology from this spot: A band of sandstone pushed up here during the uplift that formed the Rocky Mountains and rises from the ground at a dramatic angle. Red fins, formed from the Fountain Formation (the same as in Garden of the Gods and Red Rocks parks), lord over the verdant valley below while further north (right) the yellow-orange Lyons Formation forms a chunkier banded ridge. The younger, more rugged Dakota Hogback dominates the eastern skyline.
Continue along the main trail to reach the start of the lolipop’s loop, which you can choose to hike in either direction.
At the Lyons Overlook Trail junction, turn left to head southwest for a short, but worthy side trip that climbs at first and then winds downward to reach the Lyons Overlook, an observation deck that rewards you with vistas of the Fountain Formation’s otherworldly fins, Carpenter Peak and Longs Peak far in the distance. Meet the main trail and turn left to continue cruising downhill past a shaded bench that makes for a great rest spot.
Soon, a house known as Persee Place comes into view. In the early 1900s, Henry S. Persee built this as a summer home. He wanted to develop the land into a resort, which riled Denver mayor, R.W. Speer, who wrote, “The area should be owned by the city for the free use of the people.” It would be decades before his vision materialized, but in 1975, Colorado purchased the first 500 acres of Roxborough State Park, which now covers 3,300 acres. At the house, the trail curves west (left) to cross Little Willow Creek, an intermittent stream that acts as important water source for wildlife.
Skirt this lush meadow to reach Signpost 15 (a stop that corresponds to the self-guided nature trail guide available at the visitor center). The frog picture alerts you to listen for striped chorus frogs, tiny amphibians with a big song in spring. Pause for a moment to look back at the quiet meadow set against these alien rock formations. After the meadow, climb slightly through a tranquil section of juniper and ponderosa pine. Pause often to enjoy the fins as you work your way back to the end of the loop. Turn south (right) and retrace your steps along the “stick” portion of the lollipop to return back to the trailhead.
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