Monday, August 17, 2009

Dakota Ridge - Dinosaur Ridge Hike

The Matthews/Winters Park became part of the Jefferson County Open Space Land in 1982, it has over 8.5 miles of hiking and biking trails for public use. The Matthews/Winters Park consists of multiple trails on both the east and west sides of Highway 93 near Red Rocks. One of these trails, Dakota Ridge, runs along the top of Hogback Mountain, which is the mountain that rises up between C-470 and Highway 93. Hogback Mountain has incredible views of Green Mountain and C-470 to the east and Highway 93 and Red Rocks to the west. If you are looking for a trail with views for miles near the metro area then this is it!
Personally, I have always been rather confused with the Hogback Mountain Trail. It is part of Matthews Winters Park, but the parking for the trailhead is in the Stegosaurus Parking Lot at Dinosaur Ridge right across the street from Matthews Winters. (or you can park at Matthews/Winters and then take your chances running across highway 93).

(it's best to park in the stegosaurus lot)

To be sure I knew where I was going, I stopped at the Matthews Winters trail-head to grab an Open Space Map. I was surprised to find the Hogback Mountain Trails on the same map, maybe I had just never noticed this before? As I looked at the map, I noticed you could make a loop out of the Dakota Ridge Trail, and I much prefer to hike a loop. The loop goes from the Dakota Ridge Trail, to the Zorro Trail which runs along the east side of Hogback Mountain and down to Rooney Road, next you hike along Rooney Road to Dinosaur Ridge Road and then back onto the Dakota Ridge Trail to get back. The two hiking trails added up to 3.1 miles and that seemed a good mileage for me to hike, as I had other things to do yesterday. But I noticed later on into the hike, the mileage is for the trails only and does not include the mileage down the roadway. I marked this with my car after I hiked so I knew exactly how far I went...but without this mileage noted on the map, it made for a much longer hike than I had originally planned! The total mileage for this loop is 4.5 miles and it took me 2 hours and 15 minutes to complete.

(map is of route, yellow = trails, orange is time on road, mileage is for the time spent on Rooney road and then on Dinosaur Ridge Road)

The hike starts with a steep uphill climb to get to the top of the ridge along Hogback Mountain. The road noise from I-70 and 93 is pretty loud, and I am reminded this is an "urban hike". The trail provides views for miles to the east and west and you can see along the ridge line to the south in front of you, which is very cool! For the first mile of this trail, you cross back and forth over the ridge line of the mountain viewing both Red Rocks and Green Mountain to the west and east. The terrain is rough and there are lots of rocks and uneven surfaces to watch out for, which is hard when the scenery is so beautiful. You will encounter mountain bikers on this trail, so keep an eye out for them too, as there are sharp curves and steep hills! After 1 mile, the trail winds down into a valley and you can see a fork in the trail where you can continue straight or go east down the Zorro Trail. For my loop, I went east, down the Zorro Trail, which is .9 miles long.

The Zorro trail declines steeply and you can see the parking lot for Green Mountain Open Space in the distance. The trail is somewhat overgrown, as it does not get much use and I only passed 1 set of hikers up to this point on a Monday afternoon and none on Zorro trail in particular. The Zorro trail ends at Rooney Road where you need to go right or south along the road. I did not realize when I started the hike that it would be along the roadway, the map does show this, but I had expected some sort of foot path along the road...unfortunately there was none.
The walk along Rooney Road took me about 12 minutes, which was .75 miles (I checked the mileage in my car later). It was a fairly cool day, luckily, otherwise the walk along the road would have been horribly hot! After .75 miles you come to a fork in the road, and the Dinosaur Ridge Visitor Center is directly in front of you. To continue my loop you turn right or west here, and hike up the Dinosaur Ridge Road which runs through the Hogback Mountain Valley near the North Entrance of Red Rocks on the West, and Alameda Street on the east.

This was my first time up Dinosaur Ridge, surprisingly as I have lived in Golden for the past 6 years! Dinosaur Ridge is a unique piece of geology with lots of fossils and even dinosaur footprints! The road is closed to cars, so the walk is much more pleasant than Rooney Road. The highlight of the Dinosaur Ridge are the dinosaur tracks which are fossilized in the side of the mountain about halfway up the road. At this point, even on the coolest of summer days, I was feeling hot as was my hiking partner Rock, my 11 year old black lab mix.

Finally, I was able to see the Dakota Ridge trail sign and knew we were going to get off the pavement and back on the hiking trail soon! The distance up the Dinosaur Ridge road I estimated at .6 miles from where you left Rooney Road. Meaning you are on the road for 1.3 miles along this hike. Just a few yards past where you get onto the Dakota Ridge Trail again there is a very clean port-o-potty and a few yards further up from that is a lookout vantage point. I hiked up to the lookout point and got some incredible views looking south down the front range and Hogback Mountain, there is also a nice bench and a shade structure for sitting and checking out the views. After this I visited the bathroom and then started back on Dakota Ridge for the final 2.2 miles back to the car.
The remainder of the hike back is along the Dakota Ridge trail, it is 1.2 miles back to where we started our loop and an additional 1 mile back to the car.

(here you can see back to the start of the loop, I needed to go straight)

The hike back continues to impress with views for miles and miles to the east and west. There is one particular vantage point where you are directly across from Red Rocks park and in the past I have been able to hear the music playing at this point!
Rock and I were quite tired at this time, and it was also about the time I realized that I had forgotten sunscreen (something that I never do!). We huffed it back to the car, taking only about 45 minutes to get back to the car. Along the way I passed a confused couple with children who were trying to see the dinosaur footprints. Sadly they were still nearly 1.3 miles from the end of the trail, then a walk down the road to see the tracks (and back again). I though to myself at least its not just me who was confused on this trail, and made me excited that this blog could help someone else from making the same mistake :)

Park Quick Facts: (rated 1 - 3) To see the Criteria click here
Difficulty - (2.5)
for difficult footing and terrain
Distance (driving) - (1)
within 10 minutes from my house near the Mills Mall
Crowded (1) -
I do not see many hikers here, even on busy weekends, it is not a well known or hiked trail.
Amount of Trails (3)-
Matthews Winters has 8.5 miles of trails, and they connect for even more trails to both Green Mountain, Red Rocks, and Mount Vernon
Length of time - the loop I did was 2 hours 15 minutes, but you could do an "out and back" on Dakota Ridge and hike as much or little as you want.
For the dog lover - I have never seen a ranger here and often see people with their dogs offleash. There is no water for dogs on the trail.
Bathrooms? None at the Stegosaurus lot, but across the street in Matthews Winters there are bathrooms, also there were 2 port o pots along the loop I did, in the Green Mountain Parking lot and at Dinosaur Ridge.

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1 comment:

  1. An excellent review. My daughter and I were just pondering the Dinosaur Ridge hike and your information was very helpful.