Pets allowed
Allowed
Elevation Gain
440.00 ft (134.11 m)
Trail type
Loop
Distance
3.67 mi (5.91 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

Across the Denver metro area, the Rocky Mountain skyline anchors the western horizon line. Train your eye to the humps in the foreground and you've identified the Hogsback: the gateway foothills to the Rocky Mountains. Get behind this first layer and enter a landscape defined by its unique ability to unite the dramatic features of the prairie's open skies with the sharper outline of the larger, pine-tree topped mountains leading up to the Continental Divide. 

Grazing Elk trail in Jefferson County's South Valley Park, is a good place to start. The trail follows a graceful line, swaying across the expansive, gentle contours of the roughly 6000-foot elevation meadow. With scented air and soft grasses sweeping in waves with the breeze, its curvaceous paths can lull hikers into an almost meditative state. Enjoy it, but don't get too passive. As the name implies, chances are high you'll see some wildlife. Elk and mule deer are common as are birds (e.g. steller's jay, chickadees, and the occasional mountain bluebird) and smaller, ground denizens run around underfoot, such as mice.

Rocky terrain and mice attract snakes, including the venomous, prairie rattlesnake. Stay on the path, keep your dog on a short leash, and pay attention. In a 2018 study of North Table Mountain, a nearby open space with similar terrain, 73% of surveyed visitors reported seeing a prairie rattlesnake. Don't let that dissuade you. Of that number, only 4.2% reported any conflict. Off-leash dogs who naturally sniff for mice and put their faces in holes in the ground (another favorite hiding spot for snakes) are particularly vulnerable. (Here's some advice on what to do if bitten.) 

Start your hike by parking on South Valley Road across from the Prairie Falcon trailhead. Grazing Elk trail begins on the western side and immediately climbs up the embankment making a single switchback to reach the higher elevation meadow. You'll immediately see a sign for Grazing Elk trail loop. The loop is only broken by the Rattlesnake Gulch trail, which is well-marked but unnamed. Follow Grazing Elk to your right and the Rattlesnake Gulch trail is at 1.6 miles. To your left, it is 0.7 miles. Rattlesnake Gulch trail connects Grazing Elk to Deer Creek Canyon Park across the street. On its own, it serves as a short, hilly spur with an enjoyable change of scenery that includes a seasonal wetland. Along the Grazing Elk trail loop, you'll traverse seasonal creeks and enjoy widespread views of red rock formations and spires across the street to the south and north. To your west, larger mountains and pine trees remind you that this space is part of the Rocky Mountains.

For all its beauty, there are reminders that the trail is near the Denver metropolitan area. Oversized homes strut their features across portions of the expansive landscape and the large, silver building set into the western slope belongs to Lockheed Martin. 

Bring water in hot weather and dress for minimal shade. For your safety and preservation of the meadow for plants and wildlife, stay on the trail. There are no amenities beyond a beautifully maintained trail and the gift of preserved open space with incredible views. 

 

 

 

 

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Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Spring
Fall

Congestion

Low

Parking Pass

None

Open Year-round

Yes

Pros

Pretty views. Well-marked trails.

Cons

Little shade. Rattlesnakes.

Trailhead Elevation

5,860.00 ft (1,786.13 m)

Highest point

6,180.00 ft (1,883.66 m)

Features

Wildlife
Big vistas
Horseback riding
Big Game Watching
Wildflowers
Bird watching

Typically multi-day

No

Suitable for

Biking
Horseback

Permit required

No

Location

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