High Line Canal, Denver
Designated as a National Landmark Trail, the High Line Canal was completed in 1883 to deliver irrigation water to the city of Denver and communities to the east. The 66-mile canal trail from Waterton Canyon to the Green Valley area northeast of the city has become a major recreational amenity in the Denver area, as well as a great way to see various communities, landmarks and mountain vistas. The beauty of the High Line Canal Trail is that you can start a run at dozens of places in the metro area and enjoy a well-groomed dirt trail (only a few sections are paved or concrete) on a flat grade.
Mesa Trail, Boulder
This rolling 6.5-mile route between Chautauqua Park and Eldorado Springs is more than just a trail. It runs beneath the face of the Flatirons and is one of the most iconic trails in Boulder. With dozens of offshoots splitting off along the way, it’s easily possible to run for several hours and never cross your own tracks. Mountain bikes and horses aren’t allowed on most of the trail system, but it can be fairly crowded on pleasant weekend days. Mostly it’s a fun, challenging and scenic trail ideal for long, strength-building runs during a marathon training program.
Green Mountain, Lakewood
An iconic mountain a couple of miles east of the foothills in Morrison, Lakewood’s Green Mountain is one of the closest rugged trail systems to the Denver metro area. There are several places to start a run in William F. Hayden Park, but no matter which one you choose you’re bound to do some climbing. There’s an invigorating 6.5-mile loop that crosses the summit if you’re willing to endure 800 feet of climbing and descending to soak in the unparalleled 360-degree views.
Walker Ranch, Boulder
Located about 5 miles west of Boulder on Flagstaff Route, this 8-mile loop has more of a reputation as a mountain bike trail. And while it’s a great ride, it’s actually a better run. It has a little bit of everything: it climbs, it rolls, it descends and is even flat for a short stretch along South Boulder Creek. But it’s not an easy run; the 8-mile loop can take from 75 minutes to 2 hours depending on your pace. A series of cascading waterfalls midway through the loop is a great place to take a break, especially because there’s some nimble-footed stair-step climbing you’ll encounter back there.
Golden Gate Canyon State Park, Golden
A hidden gem in the foothills northwest of Golden and southwest of Boulder, this huge mountain park has more than 35 miles of trails spread across 1,200 acres of dense forest, rocky peaks, and aspen-rimmed meadows. You can link several trails of various lengths to create your own trail or challenge yourself on the 6.7-mile Mountain Lion Loop. (There is a lot of wildlife in the park, including mountain lions, bighorn sheep, black bear, mule deer, elk, fox, coyote and bald eagles.
– Brian Metzler is a Boulder-based freelance journalist and senior editor for Running Times magazine and the founding editor of Trail Runner magazine. He has run races from 50 yards to 100 miles and has tested more than 700 pairs of running shoes in the past 12 years. He is the author of “Running Colorado’s Front Range” and the co-author of “Natural Running.”