Hiking Red Rocks Park big loop: Matthews/Winters to Dakota Ridge to Red Rocks Trail (Golden, CO)

After you climb the Dakota Ridge Trail, you get the view to the west of Matthews/Winters Park, Mount Morrison, and the foothills.

Need some elevation gain without going too far away? Then it’s time to tackle the big loop of Red Rocks Park to Matthews/Winters Park and over the hogback. You can start the loop at Red Rocks, Matthews/Winters or the Stegosaurus parking lot. I suggest hiking in a clockwise direction, starting at Matthews/Winters or if there’s no parking, then the Stegosaurus parking lot (directions below).

Red Rocks Trail

From Matthews/Winters, hike east in the parking lot, cross the highway (very carefully, there’s no light or crosswalk) and hike up the trail on the hogback right in front of you. This is the Dakota Ridge Trail and yes, it’s steep. You’ll climb 270 feet in the next 0.6 miles. At the top, the trail drops down to a saddle and a trail split. The Zorro Trail leads hikers and bikers to Green Mountain to the east.

At the saddle, stay on the Dakota Ridge Trail and begin climbing again. You’ll find some funky logs on the trail here. Look closely, you should see rock steps next to the logs. Those rocks make it easier for hikers to climb the hill. At the top of this section of the hogback, the footing gets tougher in the rocks. However, the scenery up here is amazing. Make sure you take breaks often and enjoy the views of Green Mountain and the metro area to the east. To the west, that’s Matthews/Winters and Red Rocks parks. You’ll be hiking over there soon.

Dakota Ridge Trail Steps. Photo: Lisa Mitchel

Eventually, the Dakota Ridge drops down to a road. This is the old Alameda Parkway. It’s closed to traffic except for certain days of the year when there are shuttle buses taking visitors to the geological formations along the road. When you hit the pavement consider a short hike downhill to the impressive dinosaur tracks. When you’re done, hike back up the hill to the big 180-degree turn at the top. On the east side of the ridge is a trail, that’s the rest of the Dakota Ridge Trail. And yes, there’s another climb here. Hike up the trail, over the ridge, then you’ll have a long drop back down to the highway.

At Highway 93, there’s a crosswalk. Cross the road (carefully) and you’ll see a sign pointing you right for the Red Rocks Trail. Take a few steps, then turn west up Red Rocks Parkway Road. Cross the road and hike just a tenth of a mile until you see the dirt path on your right (north). This is the Red Rocks Trail. For the first quarter mile, you’ll be winding through a field, heading toward the red rocks. Cross Red Rocks Parkway Road again and a sign says the Red Rocks Trail goes both directions. Turn left here and you’ll be heading for the Trading Post and the amphitheater. For this loop, turn right (north) and you’ll be heading for Matthews/Winters Park.

In less than a quarter mile, the trail will cross the road one last time and you’ll begin the scenic section of the Red Rocks Trail. Here, the trail winds through the rocks to a trail split at Matthews/Winters. Now it’s decision time. At this point, you’ve still got about 2.4 miles left. You can take the steep Morrison Slide Trail or the mostly flat Red Rocks Trail. Both trails reconnect on the other side of this mesa.

At that point, continue hiking the Red Rocks Trail north to the last trail split. The Village Ride Trail is for bikers. The Village Walk Trail is for hikers. One treat along the Village Walk Trail is a small cemetery just off the trail. You’ll see two fenced off areas with headstones. The cemetery is all that remains of the town of Mount Vernon, the original capitol of the Jefferson Territory. Learn more here.

Details: The loop, with the climb over the Morrison Slide Trail, and a side trip to the cemetery is 6.7 miles with about 1,600 feet of elevation gain with all the ups and down.

Directions: From I-70, exit Morrison Road/Highway 93. Turn south and drive just 0.1 miles to the Matthews/Winters entrance on the west side of the road.

Learn more about Matthews/Winters Park. Learn more about the trails at Red Rocks Park. In the area, don’t miss the Trading Post Loop. If you want another challenge, you have to hike Mount Morrison. For more great hikes in Colorado and throughout the west, click here.