Location: Jefferson County Open Space
Nearest town: Littleton
Distance from Denver: 24 mi / 0:35
Trail distance: 2.0 mi loop via Swallow and Coyote Song Trails; additional 3.4 mi to add Grazing Elk Trail loop; park trails connect to about 3.0 mi of trails maintained by Ken Caryl Ranch.
Elevation: 6,000 ft at TH
Direction notes: Exit C-470 at Ken Caryl Ave west. Go through stoplight, curving left onto S Valley Rd. Parking lot and TH are on the left just past the stop sign.
Dogs: On leash
Trailhead: Bathroom, signage, brochures with maps
Dates hiked: April 2010, January 2012, March 2013
Jefferson County Open Space
Trail notes and photos:
South Valley is another easily accessible foothills park located in the southern part of Jefferson County. The trails are very exposed, so they were mostly dried out just days after the recent snowstorms. On this particular day temperatures were in the high 60’s with the sun tucked behind a thin layer of clouds.
Trails connect with neighboring Deer Creek Canyon Park, the hills of which can be seen across the valley to the southwest.
There is very minimal elevation gain in this park, making it a good choice for a quick and easy hike or trail run. All but one trail is open to bikes and horses (I saw two horses today and just one bike) but the width makes sharing the trail easy. I don’t find these trails to be very exciting in and of themselves, given that you can see one trail from the other, leaving little to the imagination.
The highlight of South Valley Park is the red rock formations along the valley, plus the backdrop of layered sandstone just east of the trail. Park regulations prohibit climbing on the rocks, however the plethora of social trails leading from the main trail to the rocks (and the people I saw climbing on them) make it obvious that many people do not heed these warnings.
From the Swallow Trail I cut across South Valley Rd to check out the Grazing Elk Trail. After climbing a short, narrow trail covered in snow and soft ice, I realized that this loop simply goes around a flat area next to the Lockheed Martin complex.
Had I been on bike I would have completed the loop (or if there had been elk grazing), but I honestly felt no desire to hike the open 2.2 mi so I headed back across the road to the main part of the park.
Back on the Coyote Song Trail I climbed the Lyons Back Trail up and over the sandstone “wall” to connect with about 3.0 mi of trails maintained by Ken Caryl Ranch. My hope was that these trails would run along the top of the wall to provide bigger views of the valley and more exploration of these rocks, but they actually headed down and along the eastern slope of the wall.
The extremely muddy and rutted Columbine Trail connects to the Cathy Johnson Trail, which is road-like and runs along power lines. At the northern end it connects to the bike trail along South Valley Rd, which I followed back to the parking lot.
My recommendation for this park is to stick to the 2.0 mi Coyote Song Tr – Swallow Tr loop to enjoy the beautiful and numerous rock outcroppings and views of the valley. Like many of the Jeff Co parks in the lower foothills, you will not experience solitude or be out of earshot and eyesight of roads and homes, however it is a nice place for a quick, easy walk and picnic.