Planning a family hike? You’re in luck. The area surrounding Thornton features a huge range of amazing hiking possibilities. From picturesque parks to mountains to wildlife-watching opportunities and more, you’ll really find it all in this part of Colorado.
In fact, with so many great places to hike, it can feel like a challenge to know where to go with your family. That’s where Crème de la Crème of Thornton comes in. We’ve put together this list of some of the best places to hike near Thornton to get you started.
Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge
Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge is the place to go if you’re looking for a family hike close to home. You can escape into nature and check out native wildlife with the kiddos — including bison, prairie dogs, coyotes, and deer, not to mention waterfowl, raptors, and plenty of songbirds. In addition to hiking, the wildlife refuge also offers an ideal spot for seasonal catch-and-release fishing, archery, and more.
The 11-mile Wildlife Drive makes it easy to connect with hiking trails or take things easy when the kids need a break. Parking lots near trail heads along the way connect to 20 miles of trails ideal for hiking. Some trails are open to bicycles as well. It’s free to visit the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge, and the refuge is open from sunrise to sunset.
What’s better than a family day of hiking? A family day of hiking that includes dinosaurs, of course! That’s right, just a short drive from Thornton sits Dinosaur Ridge, a famous paleontological and geological spot where you can enjoy the great outdoors where dinos once roamed.
Dinosaur Ridge Trail, a paved section of West Alameda Parkway, is open to pedestrians, bicyclists, and hikers. The site boasts dinosaur tracks and bones as well as unique geologic features, so look forward to over 15 fossil and geologic sites as you hike. The sites are marked by interpretive signage. The just over 2-mile round-trip hike on Ridge Trail takes around one to two hours.
Then there’s Triceratops Trail, a 1.5-mile gravel trail. You’ll find this trail one block east of 6th Avenue and 19th Street in Golden. While you hike, you’ll get to check out huge vertical walls of sandstone in some old clay mining pits. Make sure to stop and read the interpretive signs here too, which highlight clay mining along with the tracks and traces left behind by birds, insects, invertebrates, and of course, dinosaurs. This site is also known for its leaf and plant impressions, including palm fronds from the past. A round-trip hike will take around an hour.
You can access the main Visitor Center and east side in Morrison and the Discovery Center and west side in Golden. The main Visitor Center, Exhibit Hall, and Discovery Center are open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from May to October. During those months, guided bus tours are available daily from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. From November to May, the Visitor Center, Exhibit Hall, and Discovery Center are open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, with bus tours available from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Walking tours are offered on Saturdays and Sundays throughout the year.
Mount Galbraith Park
Mount Galbraith Park, located close to Thornton in Golden, is another great place for local families to explore. In fact, this park is a hiker-only destination. It offers practically 5 miles of steep and rocky trails. The park spans 800 acres and delivers breathtaking views of Golden, the Continental Divide, and the plains. Make sure to check out the Mt. Galbraith Loop, which will take you 1.6 miles around the top of the mountain’s 7,260-foot peak. The park is open every day from one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset.
NCAR – Table Mesa and Bear Canyon Loop
Head over to nearby Boulder for access to the NCAR – Table Mesa and Bear Canyon Loop, a loop trail that sees moderate traffic and takes you on a hike of a little under 4 miles. The trail is rated as moderate and is sure to delight kiddos with the chance to check out wildlife. You can even take your dog along for the hike as long as you keep your furry friend on a leash. The beautiful Bear Canyon Loop takes you through open spaces and meadows, delivering some of the best views of the Flatirons that you can find.
Bear Creek Trail at Lair O’ The Bear Park
If you’re looking for a family-friendly hike, you can’t go wrong with a day outdoors at Bear Creek Trail. Located in Lair O’ The Bear Park near Idledale, Bear Creek Trail treats you to amazing nature like a picturesque river.
If you hike Bear Creek Trail to the castle, you’ll get to see views of the castle, too. This part of the trail spans 2 miles and will take you just under an hour to hike. The out-and-back trail is accessible year-round, and it works well for all skill levels. It’s a dog-friendly trail as well, making it a great option for a laid-back day watching for birds while hiking.
Alderfer/Three Sisters Park
Alderfer/Three Sisters Park is another amazing place for a hike close to home. This park is located in Evergreen and will treat your family to landmark rock formations, beautiful ponderosa pine strands, and some truly amazing vistas. In fact, Alderfer/Three Sisters Park has the most trails per acre of any foothills park, so you can rest assured you’ll find a hiking opportunity that meets your family’s skills and needs. The park stretches 1,135 acres and features 16.1 trail miles. The park is open daily one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset.
There you have it! Crème de la Crème of Thornton just gave you some great hiking spots to check out when you’re in the mood for a family outing but don’t want to travel far from home. Do you have another go-to hiking spot you love to explore with your kids? Let us know if we missed your favorite local trail so we can add it.