Wednesday, March 23, 2011

NREL Trailhead on South Table Mountain, Golden Colorado

Belle looking for deer
I was prompted to hike at the NREL trailhead after a reader posted a comment asking about the mileage of the trail system there.  Since this trail is near to my house, I decided to head on over for a hike and find out; plus I was eager to see if the dusting of snow we received helped the foliage start to bloom.  I didn't see any flowers, or even cactus flowers, but there was a tiny tint of green on the mountainside, unfortunately if we don't get some rain or snow soon, this spring and summer are going to be very dry. 
If you haven't hiked this trailhead, its definitely one to check out; its close to the metro area, great for trail running, easy to moderate mountain biking, or just a great hike with views of the city, front range, and often you will see lots of deer that frequent the area.  Plus, there is always something interesting going on at NREL; which is heavily patrolled especially on top of Table Mountain.  (this does not interfere with your hike, there is a fence and boundary)



Getting there:  NREL or the National Renewable Energy Laboratory is the only national lab that is dedicated to research and development of renewable energy.  It is located on the north side of I-70 in Denver West, and the road dead ends at NREL, so its quite easy to find.  Exit I-70 at #263 and go north, make a left turn at Denver W. Parkway and drive about .6 of a mile to the parking lot on the right.  Click here for the google map and to input your own directions. 
Specs:  There are no restrooms at the trailhead, but there is a visitors center at NREL that may have a facility.  (I have not been inside the visitor center) 
The first time I hiked here, I thought I was in the wrong place, it is very official looking; but the small parking lot at the base of S. Table Mountain is for visitors to park and hike.  Currently, as of March, 2011, NREL is doing construction and the main trail starts down the sidewalk about 500 feet, (back the way you drove in) but there is a sign pointing you in that direction.
Apartments on the east side of the trail

The Hike: I have been trying to figure out a way to get the mileage of my hikes for a while now.  I don't have a smart phone or data plan, and my GPS won't track my walking; but my husband does have a smart phone, two in fact, one is his work phone.  So, I decided to find an app that tracks distance, and borrow his phone each time I go hiking.  On this hike, I took the main trail to the trail split; then the Tertiary trail to the Basalt Cap Loop, and then back the same way.  The total mileage was 3.04 round trip and took me about 1 hour and 15 minutes. 

It's been several years since I have been to this trailhead, and it has come a long way since then; the Basalt Cap Loop has fresh gravel and there are trail signs that mark the other off-shoot trails on the mountain.  You can easily make this hike much longer, there is a split at the northwest end of the Basalt Cap Loop, that trail takes you to a rock house and through the mesas.  I passed a gal who was hiking and she told me she spotted 24 deer just a few minutes ago, but I wasn't so lucky to see them. 
I'd love to hear any comments or questions regarding this trail or other in the area; please post your comment! 
Below you will find the photos I took along the trail as my trip report. 




Walk down the sidewalk and there is a pedestrian crossing along the road, which leads to the trailhead. 
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Start hiking up the main trail
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After approximately a half mile you will reach this trail sign, I took the Tertiary trail to the Basalt Cap Loop
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The Basalt Cap Loop once I reached the top of the mountain from the Tertiary Trail.
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The views from the far east side of Table Mountain
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This reminds me of the 'old west;'  views of Denver in the distance
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Very dry tinder along the trail; I remember thinking wildfires were going to be inevitable this season; as of now the Indian Gulch Fire is burning out of control in high winds not far from here.
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Views looking to the North, you can see The Flatirons of Boulder in the distance, and South Table Mountain in Applewood.  You can see the curve of the mountain here.
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Looking west along the trail
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Looking west at Lookout Mountain in the distance
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5 comments:

  1. Nice pictures, seems like it was beautiful day!

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  2. Thanks for your share! very impressive!

    nolvadex

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  3. Hi Jennifer,
    Thank you for sharing your pics and experience. I ran this trail today. For the running community let me say thet if you take the Tertiary trail up to the top of the mountain, its rough! Rocky and steep! You have to0 be in good shape to run this. Once you get to the top and began to run the Basalt Cap Loop its smooth sailing. Running back down on the Tertiary is almost worse than going up as you have to really watch your footing. Jennifer have you ever tried the Cretacious Trail? I wonder if its more gradual? Thanks, Nick

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  4. Nick, I don't think I have done the Cretacious Trail, where is that located? Is it another one on Table Mountain? I am always looking for front range hikes to do in the wintertime when high altitude is snowed in :)

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  5. Jennifer,

    Yes it is on Table Mountain. Look at your 5th pic down.

    Thanks,

    Nick

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