Hiking the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Denver, CO

You may not know it, but there is a large National Wildlife Refuge with miles of hiking trails in the metro area. In the 1940s, workers at Rocky Mountain Arsenal made chemical weapons including mustard gas, Lewisite, and chlorine gas. A section of the Arsenal was also used for the Rose Hill POW camp that held as many as 300 German prisoners. Now, the site is a wildlife refuge for more than 330 species of animals, including eagles, wild bison, deer, coyotes and bald eagles.

The Refuge has about seven miles of hiking trails. While the trails are on the prairie, hikers can see three different lakes.

Hikers must start at the Visitor’s Center (directions below). Stop inside, sign in and get a trail map. If you leave your driver’s license, you can check out a pair of binoculars for free.

At the southwest edge of the parking lot is a kiosk and the beginning of the Prairie Trail. Signs along the trail describe some of the plants in the area. We took the Prairie Trail to Lake Mary and around the lake’s western side. On the south side of the lake, the Prairie Trail takes hikers across the prairie. There’s a short stretch on a blacktop road, but then the trail winds through the prairie some more. As you walk, listen for birds, watch for deer and enjoy the views of downtown Denver, the foothills and the snowcapped peaks in the distance.

When you come to a four-way intersection, turn right and take the quarter mile side trail to Havana Ponds. After a couple of photos, we turned around the headed back. We took the Woodland Trail to 6th Avenue.

6th Avenue Trail may say trail in its name, but it’s actually a road. This is where we got our first glimpse of the deer who make the Arsenal their home. They may like this area because it’s close to Lake Ladora.

To walk around Lake Ladora, take the 6th Avenue Trail to the D St. Trail to the Ladora Trail. While the hiking map shows the trail as being next to Lower Derby Lake, there’s a large embankment around the lake, so you will not see the lake unless you take a bus tour. That’s important because most of the eagle’s nests are at Lower Derby Lake.

The Ladora Trail brought us closer to the deer we saw from the 6th Avenue Trail. We also saw lots of geese overhead. The Lake Ladora Trail winds back to Lake Mary and the Visitor’s Center.

To see more of the Arsenal including the trees where the eagle’s nest and the enclosure where the bison live, you might want to take a self-guided car tour. More info on activities here.

Details: The hike to Lake Mary, to Havana Ponds and looping back around Lake Ladora was about 4.6 miles with minimal elevation gain.

Directions: From I-70, exit Havana and drive north to the entrance gate on 56th Avenue. From the entrance gate, it is 1.6 miles on Havana to the Visitor’s Center.

Don’t forget to bring water.