Vien R. Guenther
Hiking in White Ranch Park - Jefferson County, Colorado
White Ranch Park is the largest park in Jefferson County Open Space system. This is a popular park for both hikers, bikers and equestrians. With over 20 miles of multi-use trails, you have a choice which trails you want to take, create your own loop, or take short or longer hikes. All trails are interconnecting. It might be busy with bikers but you can still get away from them in some part of the park. We hike here three seasons of the year - winter, spring and fall - when the weather is cool and the wildflowers are in bloom. When hiking in winter, it's easier to take along spikes since parts of the trails will be icy. The only views here are to the east, as far as the eye can see, but there is no traffic noise.
White Ranch Park was first settled by James and Mary Bond in 1865. Originally heading to California, they decided to settle on this land after their young son was killed under the wheels of their wagon. Their home still stands within the park even after the homestead changed hands over the years. In 1913, Paul and Anna Lee White bought a portion of the land. They acquired additional properties for a cattle ranch and operated it until Paul died in 1969. In 1974 Anna made an agreement with the Jefferson County Open Space for transfer of ownership of the land. This, with an additional piece of land, the geological formation called Ralston Buttes, purchased by Jefferson County was added to what we now call White Ranch Park. In 2002, the adjacent Weidner property was added to White Ranch Park.
TO GET HERE
From Denver to the east takes about 40 minutes or so; the west trailhead are further away so it will take a bit longer to get there. To the main White Ranch Open Space Park parking lot via US-6 West, take State Highway 93 north from Golden 1.7 miles to West 56th Avenue. At the end of West 56th Ave. turn right on Pine Ridge Road to the parking lot. To west trailhead, take State Highway 93 north from Golden, about one mile to Golden Gate Canyon Road. Head west for about four miles to Crawford Gulch Road/Highway 57, then follow the signs to White Ranch Park.
- HIKING TRAILS (20.7 miles) -
BELCHER HILL, WHIPPLETREE, LONGHORN, SHORTHORN, RAWHIDE & MUSTANG TRAILS LOOP - 9 - 11 miles
Hiking in White Ranch Park, we either start at the east or west trailheads. But most of the time we begin our hike at the east trailhead, at the lower parking lot because this part of the park is more scenic and you don't have to drive as far. Starting at Belcher Hill Trailhead, the first mile of the trail crosses private lands so you might find some horses grazing alongside the trail.
Following Belcher Hill Trail, there is a junction to the Whippletree Trail. We sometimes take this trail to the Longhorn Trail which we take uphill to its junction with the Shorthorn Trail, which will then take you to another junction where your rejoin the Longhorn trail. We used to take Longhorn Trail all the way but a section of this trail was recently designated for bikers only.
The Shorthorn and Longhorn Trails is where you will find the best views. To the southeast is the view of the North Table Mountain and below it the historic town of Golden. To the east is the Ralston Reservoir (fed by Ralston Creek coming from Golden Gate Canyon State Park) and the plains beyond, as far as the eye can see. We often see Mule Deer here so keep your eyes open.
The Longhorn Trail ends at the Rawhide Trail, which you then follow to the west trailhead. Near the parking lot you will find a memorial for Paul White, with some old ranching equipment that was used back in the day, such as a hay mower, rake and manure spreader. Take a moment to read the interpretative signs to know what are they were used for, if you haven't yet.
At the west trailhead is the Rawhide Loop Trail. Take this loop west to the Belcher Hill Trail, which will take you to the Mustang Trail junction in about one mile, after crossing the Belcher Hill Road. Here you will be at the top of Belcher Hill, the highest point in the park. From here you can decide whether to go back down the Belcher Hill Trail or take the Mustang Trail. Taking the Mustang Trail all the way will take you back to Belcher Trail after about 2.5 miles or so. From the Mustang Trail is an alternative shorter route, about 0.4 miles from the top. From here you can take the Saw Mill Trail in less than a mile back to Belcher Hill Trail. Either way, you will finish your hike on the Belcher Hill Trail.
This description is just one of a number of hikes you can do in this park. You really need to get yourself a free trail map, which is available at all trailheads, so that you can decide which way you want to go, depending on how far you want to hike and where you decide to start your hike.
White Ranch Park is one of two Jefferson County Open Space parks that allow camping, with permit. Sawmill and Sourdough Springs Campgrounds are semi-primitive, tent-only, walk-in camping in designated sites.