Best Denver area parks for beginner trail runners

Trail running is one of the fastest growing sports in the world and for one main reason: it is so much fun!
We are fortunate to live in a place with a myriad of park systems and literally hundreds of miles of trails right in our backyard.  However, not all front range trails are suitable for beginners.  Steep climbs, descents and technical terrain are a veteran trail runner’s delight but those new to trail running may find themselves beyond their ability level and at higher risk for injury.

So how to know where to start?
We’ve compiled a list of 5 favorite trails in Southwest Denver (within 30 minutes of Denver proper) suited for runners looking to hit the trails for the first time.

South Valley Park

90 South Valley Rd., Littleton

This is #1 on our list for beginner trail runners.  The trail is smooth and even wide enough for a jogging stroller if you want to bring your kids along to explore a bit of nature.  We recommend the 2 mile loop (Coyote song to Swallow trail) with just the right amount of rolling hills that will take you through fields of wildflowers and majestic rock formations.

Red Rocks Park 
18300 W Alameda Pkwy, Morrison, CO 80465

When most people think about Red Rocks, they think of the famous Amphitheatre.  But did you know that there are miles of trails right from the Trading post parking lot?  The 1.4 mile Trading post loop trail is a great beginner trail.  Several rocky sections and steep climbs but the scenery is well worth the effort!

Phillip S Miller Park
1375 W. Plum Creek Parkway, Castle Rock, CO 80109

This park is most known for its “mini-incline” or staircase straight up a 200ish foot hill.   The park recently added miles of new trail, designed in the shape of flower petals.  4 loops (or petals) start and end at the athletic fields, each ranging from 1.5 to 3 miles.  The trails are pretty smooth with rolling hills and some moderate climbs.  Plan on seeing lots deer and peregrine falcons on your runs here.   We recommend going to this park if you are training for an event or looking to add mileage weekly: as your fitness improves, add another loop!

Waterton Canyon

Whether you run, bike, hike or fish (or all of the above), Waterton Canyon should be on your summer to do list.   The wide, gravel road winds through the Canyon along the rushing Platte River. *(No true single track trail here unless you up for the 7ish mile one way trip to access the Colorado trail).

The road is closed to the public so you can enjoy the quite and sounds of nature.  Herds of big horn sheep can frequently be spotted on the rocky ridges and even walking along the road.

There is a slight grade on the way out so this park makes for the perfect place for an out and back long run where you can work on your turnover and a quicker pace on the way back.  There is little coverage here so make sure to plan for a hot, sunny run.

Bear Creek Lake State Park
15600 W Morrison Rd, Lakewood CO 80228

This is city park so be prepared to pay an entry fee.  If you want to avoid the fee and add an extra 1/2 mile to your run, park in the gravel lot located across the street from the Conoco off the Morrison exit and then cross over onto the bike path which will take you into the park by foot.

The trails at Bear Creek park are relatively flat and a lot of fun!  Plan on a couple of creek crossings and a lot of shade, this is a great spot to run mid summer with plenty of opportunities to cool off!

Stay tuned for follow-up posts with more great front range trail recommendations for beginner and intermediate trail runners coming soon including North Denver and beyond.

Don’t see your favorite trail on the list or have a recommendation for beginners?  Post it in the comment section below!

Want to get into trail running but don’t know where to start?  


Check out our Women’s beginner trail running courses starting in late August!

In this 6 week course you will gain the knowledge, fitness and confidence so that you can join your friends on their next trail running adventure.

The sessions take place on different trails across the front range and are part running/skills work and part classroom where you will learn how to conquer steep hills, technical sections, how to handle wildlife, what to wear, what to pack and more!  The final graduation run culminates with a 5-6 mile run including a little bit of everything to practice your new skills. Learn more HERE.

Just getting back into running or new to running in general?

 Check out our NEW Couch to Trails program! 
This is a milder version of our Beginner course where we will work up to a graduation 5k trail run and build from the ground up with run/hike intervals and cover all you need to know to get into running and learn more about the outdoors!
Learn more HERE.

One thought on “Best Denver area parks for beginner trail runners

  • May 20, 2016 at 7:28 pm

    This is great! Thank you for sharing. I’m new to CO, moved from the Bay Area of CA, where I did a lot of trail running. I’ve been trying to find a way to get into it here but had no idea where local trails are or if there were any trail running groups. It seems like this is a great resource!


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