Colorado, Colorado Hikes, Colorado Summits

Colorado Day Hikes: Deer Creek Canyon Park

Located on the southwest edge of the Denver Metro area, Deer Creek Canyon Park is open to hikers, bikers, and equestrians. The park isn’t huge, but there are 14 miles (22.5 km) of trails including routes to the park’s two highest points: Plymouth Mountain and Bill Couch Mountain. Like all Jefferson County Open Space parks, it’s free to access. And extremely popular.

In my experience, JeffCo is also one of the more hands-on agencies in the area; they periodically close trails for mud or ecological protection, monitor parking lots to prevent overcrowding, and there are almost always rangers patrolling the trails (and they will ticket anyone found hiking in a closed area or with an off-leash dog). Personally, I appreciate their work. It’s a more pleasant experience for all of us when there aren’t a million people and dogs running amok.

Pat and I first visited Deer Creek Canyon on Memorial Day weekend 2020, a reluctant compromise after having to cancel our long weekend camping road trip. But I shouldn’t complain; we’re extremely fortunate to live somewhere with so many nearby hiking opportunities, which allowed us to comply with Covid restrictions without venturing too far from home.

We set off just after 8:00am on a Saturday on a hike that would include the Plymouth Creek and Meadowlark Trails, which both depart from the parking lot and form a 2.6 mile (4.2 km) loop. More people seemed to be headed up Plymouth Creek, so we opted for Meadowlark. This trail weaves northward up a hillside, a gradual but steady incline, before turning 180° and heading south. The very last section of trail drops down to Plymouth Creek and terminates at the Plymouth Creek Trail.

Views from the Meadowlark Trail

From here, we turned right and followed the Plymouth Creek Trail for the next mile. The trail parallels the creek – as the name suggests – but does gain a decent amount of elevation fairly quickly. Eventually it flattens out, curves around, crosses the creek, meanders across the adjacent hillside, and comes to an end. On this particular day, the trail also passed by two rattlesnakes. They were off to the side and left us alone, but we did warn all the dog owners we encountered. This is one of the many reasons it’s important to keep your dog on a leash at Deer Creek Canyon.

From the end of the Plymouth Creek Trail, it was a quick jaunt on the Red Mesa Loop trail and then 0.5 miles (0.8 km) on the Golden Eagle Trail to reach the top of Bill Couch Mountain at 7057 feet (2151 m). We found all the junctions to be well-marked and easy to follow, though you’ll likely want to have a map as well so you know which trails to take to reach the summit.

Bill Couch Mountain (right)

Upon arrival, we were surprised but pleased to have the summit entirely to ourselves. This close to Denver, it’s rare to have anything to yourself. A woman and her dog arrived shortly after and stayed for a few minutes, and a guy was walking up just as we were leaving, but we spent about 15 minutes enjoying the views all alone.

As with many Colorado summits, the high point is a jumble of rocks which provided a nice place to sit and enjoy the views. With everyone working from home, smog levels were greatly reduced and we had a nice view of downtown Denver. The surrounding landscape was painted numerous shades of green and the sky was blue; it was a beautiful day!

Summit views

Initially we’d considered taking a 1.6 mile (2.6 km) round-trip detour up Plymouth Mountain on our way back, but ultimately decided to save that one for another day. Instead, we headed back to the car, opting to stay on Plymouth Creek Trail the whole way back. The total for our entire hike was 6 miles (9.6 km) with 1315 feet (400 m) of elevation gain.

Plymouth Creek Trail

Deer Creek Canyon actually suffered a small forest fire in August 2019; I remember leaving work that day and seeing a plume of smoke rising from the foothills. Fortunately, firefighters were able to contain it within a couple days and it only burned about 25 acres. Remarkably, we saw very few signs of the fire. A few blackened trees and heartier plants remained, and some small burned patches of soil were still bare, but I was amazed at how much vegetation had already returned 9 months later. It was an interesting juxtaposition, and a reminder of both the destructive power and strong resilience of mother nature.

We returned to Deer Creek Canyon Park in 2022 to summit Plymouth Mountain, and though there was snow on the ground, we could tell that recovery from the fire had continued. Retracing our steps from last time, we headed up Plymouth Creek Trail to Plymouth Mountain Trail, which encircles the mountain at an elevation of about 7000 feet (2135 m). On the south side, a trail branches off and ascends the remaining 300 feet (90 m) to the summit. It was a fairly gradual walk through the forest until the final section, which required a little bit of scrambling to stand on the true summit. However, if you’re not up for scrambling there are plenty of wide open spaces to sit and enjoy the view without climbing the rocks.

Setting off on the Plymouth Creek Trail
The trail was a little a lot muddy at times
Winter views from the Plymouth Creek Trail
The summit rock pile
Summit views

We walked the other half of the Plymouth Mountain loop trail on the descent and retraced our steps along Plymouth Creek Trail back to the car, making this a 6.35 mile (10.2 km) lollipop loop with 1460 feet (445 m) of elevation gain. It was not a difficult hike overall, though it’s always a little more challenging when you’re walking on snow, and we did use our microspikes for traction.

There are a couple other trails at Deer Creek Canyon that we haven’t hiked, but overall, after summiting both high points, I feel like we’ve had a pretty thorough tour of the park. It’s nice to have a place like this relatively close to home where we can get a dose of exercise and nature at any time of year, coupled with panoramic views of the place we call home.

The Important Stuff

  • Getting there: the parking lot is off W Deer Creek Canyon Road in the SW Denver metro area; once you approach, it’s well signed. The specific GPS address is 13388 Grizzly Drive in Littleton
  • Fees and passes: none, though JeffCo will close the parking lot when it’s full and they will sometimes close trails when it’s muddy or for wildlife protection, so you may not always be able to access the park. Be sure to check before you head out; the website will have the most up-to-date information, and COTREX can be a good resource as well
  • Hiking: there are multiple intersecting trails in the park that can be combined in various ways to create a hike of your desired length and level of difficulty; here is a trail map
  • Where to stay: there is no camping or overnight access allowed in the park; however, it’s located right on the southwest edge of Denver and there are dozens of camping and other lodging options nearby
  • Other: as mentioned above, we encountered a couple rattlesnakes during our summer hike, and there were some mountain lion sightings a couple years ago, so definitely be aware of your surroundings, make noise, hike in groups if possible, and keep your pets leashed

19 thoughts on “Colorado Day Hikes: Deer Creek Canyon Park”

  1. I like that they patrol these trails and ticket owners of off leash dogs. Nothing annoys me more than large dogs running amok on nature hiking trails, scaring people and wildlife. Looking back to 2020, isn’t it amazing how happy we were for even the simplest opportunity to get out on a trail, any trail. We are at the muddy stage here now so, trying to be patient. Happy Wednesday Diana. Allan

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree, Allan. I hate being approached by random dogs, especially when the owners claim they’re friendly and don’t do anything to stop them. I don’t care how friendly the dog is if I don’t know it. It’s so annoying, and people here are really terrible about adhering to leash laws.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Who doesn’t love free!? Glad to hear that the area is monitored though to protect the environment and prevent overcrowding. This seems like a good consolation prize after having to cancel your camping tip. The views from the summit look lovely and how nice to have it all to yourself for a few minutes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. At the time, it felt like a pretty crappy consolation prize haha! But in the grand scheme of things, it’s not so bad to have this so close to home and open and free.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha a lot of people have commented that the snakes would have deterred them. It definitely made me super vigilant after seeing the first one. The good thing is that as long as you give them space, they usually leave you alone.


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