Friday, January 2, 2015

Dawson Butte

Dawson Butte overlooking the 5 mile loop trail

Dawson Butte Ranch Open Space is a 25 square mile plot of Douglas County open space land, just 7 miles south of Castle Rock.  The mostly forest-covered land was purchased to preserve the open space feel and provide recreation.  The loop trail runs 5 miles and is a favorite with area runners and bicyclists.  Horseback riders also enjoy the area and the 60 horse jumps placed along bridal paths.
The day we went was cold and we only saw a few other people on this usually popular trail.

Well marked, easy to follow trail

Bench by the trail

Open Space began in 1994, when it was voted in by the Douglas County residents as a way to preserve some of the quickly disappearing lands in the county.  As a past and present resident, I have enjoyed many of the county's open space lands.
The Dawson Butte Open Space Trail travels from trees to meadow and back to heavy tree cover, providing shade and peace.  A few benches are placed along the trail, with picnic tables at the start and at the halfway point.  The hike starts at the high elevation of around 6800 feet, drops over 2.5 miles to the lower elevation of just over 6500 feet, and climbs back almost 300 feet of elevation near Tomah Road to the trail head.  Front range views are nice, and the ever-present Dawson Butte looks over all here.  There are no trails (or access) to the top.  We all liked the hike, enjoying the sound of the wind in the trees, while listening to birds and watching the views.  At times you could smell the pines all around you.  It is a very different experience from the areas around Castle Rock, with so much timber here.
This actually felt like a "real hike".  Where the shorter trails and sections we had been hiking had been fine, they didn't provide as much of a workout, or an extended time "on Trail".  I did have some sore muscles afterward, and this was a good hike at a good time for my leg recovery.  For spring, this will be the trail that I can walk a couple times a day to get into shape for longer trips in the high country.  I highly recommend this hike for all.  I would like to come back and snowshoe here this winter.

Meadow walk

Benches are available

The Stairway to Heaven, Manger Meadow, Tomah Meadow and Fenceline trails are bridal paths and include those 60 horse jumps.  A dirt road provides emergency access through the park.  There is no water, so bring your own.  A Port-a-let is available at the trail head.  Trail maps are available HERE.
Peaceful hiking trail

Indian Head view
To get to Dawson Butte Ranch Open Space, take I-25 south of Denver to Castle Rock.  Exit at mile 181, Plum Creek Parkway, turn right under the railroad overpass, then turn left to go south on the frontage road (on the west side of the Interstate).  Follow south to the right turn on Tomah Road.  Watch for trains at the railroad crossing!  Follow Tomah Road up the hill, turning right into the trail head.  Park here and hike.  Following the trail clockwise will lead you alongside of Tomah road for the start, counter-clockwise will take you into the pines first.

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