Vien R. Guenther
Hiking in Matthews/Winters Park - Jefferson County, Colorado
Hiking here is a much different experience than other hiking places in the foothills. Although you will hear the traffic noise of both major highways (I-70 and C-470), you wouldn’t mind since it has a fantastic view and the area has interesting and important geologic sites. Some of the best-known dinosaur tracks were found around this area. The rocks on the west side of Dinosaur Ridge, part of the Morrison Formation of Jurassic Age (or the “Age of Giants”), is where Arthur Lakes, a notable geologist, discovered the dinosaur bones in 1877. The rocks on the east side of Dinosaur Ridge, part of the Cretaceous Dakota Formation, is where hundreds of dinosaur footprints were discovered.
Note: You will find all this evidence on the paved Dinosaur Ridge Trail/W. Alameda Parkway. It will be an interesting trip for kids as well as for adults.
The park has 2,461 acres and 12 miles of trails, including land acquired from William Winters and Nicholas Matthews - hence the name of the park. Plus there are other acquisitions including one on the hogback that was first acquired by Jefferson County Open Space.
Included in the park is the former town of Mount Vernon, located at the base of Mount Vernon Canyon, founded in 1859. It was once an important route, a thriving stage stop to the gold fields of Idaho Springs and beyond, and supplied lodging to gold seekers during the Colorado Gold Rush of 1858-59. Two stone grave markers are all that remains of the town site today. In preserving the town site, the park also helps preserve the landscape near Red Rocks and Dinosaur Ridge.
TO GET HERE
There are various places to start your hike here. You can begin your hike on the main Matthews/Winters Park Trailhead along County Road 93, or at Dakota Ridge Trailhead near the Stegosaurus lot along I-70. Other alternative trailheads are along Rooney Road beside C-470 and at Dakota Ridge Parking by the Red Rocks Park Road near the town of Morrison.
- HIKING TRAILS -
This park is an easy access hiking destination in the foothills for both hikers, runners and bikers. We usually hike the whole loop on this trail beginning on either of the trailheads mentioned above. But we found that starting at Dakota Ridge parking lot is easier, for us at least. Parking here is very limited though so you have to be early.
DAKOTA RIDGE TRAIL/RED ROCKS TRAIL/MORRISON SLIDE TRAIL LOOP – 8 to 12 miles
Hiking the whole loop from Dakota Ridge parking, you have to cross the Hogback Road to get to the Dakota Ridge Trail. The Hogback is a barrier between the high plains and the foothills and what we see is only part of a long ridge that starts from the eastern fringe of the Rocky Mountains extending north-south from southern Wyoming through Colorado and into northern New Mexico.
About less than a mile from the trailhead, the ridge was cut down for construction of W. Alameda Parkway. This road was constructed in 1937 to provide access to Red Rocks Park. It was closed to through traffic a few years ago to protect the dinosaur tracks, fossils and geologic sites in the area.
About 200 yards after crossing the road (from the North Dinosaur Park), the trail continues back up to Dakota Ridge. Look for the sign on the stairs. On this trail you will get an good view of the Red Rocks Park. Also on this ridge is a sign about Arthur Lakes, don’t look for a lake though, it's the name of the noted geologist who found the dinosaur bones here in 1877.
Hiking along the hogback you will see two different views - the plains on the east and the mountains on the west. A little over a mile further north along the trail is a turn-off to the Zorro Trail which connects to the Rooney Road Trailhead. The Dakota Ridge Trail continues along the hogback to the end where it goes down to County Road 93.
The Hogback was cut down by the construction of Highway I-70. The trail crosses the road and continues on to the west side. This is the main entrance to the park and the beginning of the Red Rocks Trail and the Morrison Slide Trail.
RED ROCKS TRAIL/MORRISON SLIDE TRAIL
We are now on the west side of County Road 93 below the historic town site of Mt. Vernon. From here, follow the Village Walk Trail to the Red Rocks Trail. The highway traffic noise is much diminished from here on. Take a short detour, about half a mile from Mt. Vernon Creek, to the Mount Vernon Cemetery. This is the only remaining evidence of a once thriving town.
At a bend, follow the Morrison Slide Trail. The zigzagging uphill will get you a real workout, until you reach a flat area below Mount Morrison. On this stretch of the trail is a spectacular view of the plains and the hogback. We stop here to enjoy the view while having lunch.
Going downhill, the trail connects back to the Red Rocks Trail. In completing the loop, you have to cross a couple of park roads to get back to the Dakota Ridge parking lot.