It may seem strange to find a Denver park in the foothills, but Pence Park is what Denver calls a “mountain park.” Denver owns parks in four counties. Pence Park is in Jefferson County.
Pence Park is popular with mountain bikers, not as a trailhead, but as a place to turn around on the Bear Creek Trail. But what you may not know is Pence Park features two hiker only loops — the West Ridge Loop and the Picnic Loop. To access both, you will have to hike part of the Bear Creek Trail.
The hike starts at the Pence Park trailhead on Meyers Gulch/Parmalee Gulch Road (directions below). The trailhead has a large, dirt parking lot and a sign board with a map, but there are no ammenities here. Just before you turned into the parking lot, you may have noticed a yellow sign marking a hiker crossing, that’s where you’re going. From the map board, turn back toward the road and hike that way. Don’t take the trail that looks like it leads into the meadow, take the trail that runs along the bottom of the parking lot toward the road. At the road, hike slightly west to the hiker crossing.
This is the Bear Creek Trail. In this section, the trail follows the road, but you’re slightly above it. As you hike, watch for glimpses up ahead of Mount Evans and other peaks in the distance.Soon the trail turns north, into the forest.
About a half mile from the trailhead, you’ll see a turnoff with a sign that shows no bikers and no horseback riders, but it doesn’t say anything else. This is the West Ridge Loop Trail. Take a few steps west on the trail and you’ll come to an open area with an old sign that says West Ridge Trail. That should build your confidence that you’re in the right spot.
This section of the West Ridge Trail goes west and has nice views of the Continental Divide. This section is easy hiking because it’s mostly downhill.
About 1.1 miles from the trailhead, you’ll arrive at another trail split. You can turn right here to continue on the West Ridge Trail, but I suggest veering left at the intersection. Walk a short distance from here and you’ll come to a sign for the Picnic Loop.
You can hike the Picnic Loop in either direction, but here’s my suggestion. If you’re here on a warm day, turn right (in between the signs) and follow the faint trail down through the open meadow and around the loop. That means you’ll be doing the uphill climb in the forest. If you’re visiting on a colder day, start the loop by hiking straight ahead, through the forest. You’ll end the hike with a climb up through the open meadow, warming yourself back up.
The Picnic Loop is about a mile and winds through the forest, a nice gulch/canyon-like area and a meadow.
At the end of the Picnic Loop, head back to the West Ridge Trail split, now turn left to continue on the West Ridge Loop.
Here the West Ridge Loop is an old road. Soon you’ll have views east of O’Fallon Park and the foothills. Follow the trail as it winds down to a kiosk at the intersection of Pence Park and O’Fallon. If you’d like to add some distance to your hike, consider the Meadow Loop or hiking north on the Bear Creek Trail. Or just follow the signs for the West Ridge Trail as it winds its way east and south, ending on the Bear Creek Trail.
Note, you’ve been hiking downhill for awhile, that means an incline is coming. If you hike the West Ridge Loop in a clockwise direction, you’ll do most of the uphill in the forest and shade. Just follow the Bear Creek Trail back to Pence Park.
Details: The hike around the West Ridge and Picnic loops is about 4.4 miles with 800 feet of elevation gain with all the ups and downs.
Directions: From C-470, exit Morrison Road/Highway 74 and drive west through the town of Morrison (watch your speed!). Follow Highway 74 about 8.3 miles to Myers Gulch Road and turn left. It’s about 1.9 miles to the Pence Park trailhead on your right.
If you want more hikes, scroll down to “Suggested by author” or check out more than 200 other great hikes in Colorado here.
Don’t miss any of my hiking articles, click the “subscribe” button at the top of this article and follow me, Denver Hiking Examiner on Facebook.