Sunday, June 1, 2008

Plymouth Mountain Trail

Distance: 6.9 miles RT
Elevation: 5,995-7,495 ft
Elevation Gain: 1,400 ft not including some recaptured elevation loss

Plymouth Mountain is part of the Deer Creek Canyon Open Space in southeastern Jefferson County and is a great shoulder season hike that is close to suburbia and hence perfect for a day when time is limited.

This was our first visit to the park. We tend to avoid Jefferson County Open Space because of their strict leash laws but today we thought we would try and see if we could control the dogs sufficiently to make it worthwhile. Not only did the dogs behave, but also the trail was so lush, so varied, and so filled with bucolic vistas that we may just have to try the leash thing again. One of our dogs, Abby, is a beefy gal who could pull the leg off a seated buffalo with sufficient provocation. Holding her on a leash is like playing Russian roulette with a shoulder dislocation.

View of an unnamed hill from the Meadowlark Trail. The Golden Eagle Trail ascends it

Dear Creek Canyon contains 12.8 miles of trails some with substantial elevation gain. Three of the trails are hiker only. The rest are multi-use. We started out on the Meadowlark Trail, which is 1.6 miles long and is one of the three hiker-only trails. The trail winds through scrub oak and brush with plenty of views of Lockheed Martin’s facility and the red rock fins that surround it. This trails is very narrow and it was difficult to pass the many runners and hikers we came across. The ground is soft, however, with minimal rocks, which makes it much better for runners. The Meadowlark Trail joins the Plymouth Creek Trail at a small bridge near the creek. There was sufficient water running to give the dogs a cooling drink, but the minimal nature of the flow heralded a dryer outing for those going later in the summer.

The junction of the Meadowlark and Plymouth Creek Trails

The Plymouth Creek Trail is very rocky with both loose rock and large slabs of jagged rock sticking out of the dirt. Right after the trail junction it ascends sharply upwards. At one point there are even steps of railroad ties to one side. This trail is filled with mountain bikers busting their quads to try and get up and over all the rocks. It is brutal, and many had to dismount and walk their way up. A few mountain biking Web sites call this section the “Wall of Shame”. About half a mile up, the trail does become less cumbersome, but it still ascends without a break. This part of the trip was in the pine forest that covers Plymouth Mountain itself. Even though we got an 8:30 am start, the shade was welcome. Plymouth Mountain trail is a circle, and intersects its creek side cousin in two places. If you take the first intersection, you’ll end up skirting the mountain to the left. This portion of the circle is 1.7 miles long while the other section is only 0.9 miles. The 1.7 mile portion has stunning views of the McMansions that stud Deer Creek Canyon as well as views of the Hogback Ridge, which shields the wealthy from the mere mortals who live in rest of Littleton. This section is a gradual climb on a softer trail. There are at least three switchbacks to tell you that you are indeed getting farther up the mountain.

Looking north from one of the overlooks on the Scenic View Trail

The trail to the top is creatively called the Scenic View Trail. There was no sign at the junction from this side of the circle but there was one from the other. There are several interesting rock formations and overlooks along this short 0.4 mile trail but the final destination is even more impressive. There are several rock formations to climb and a near 360-degree view of the surrounding areas. It was a pleasant place to linger.

Once back out on the Plymouth Mountain Trail, we took the shorter 0.9 mile route back down. This segment of the trail is much steeper and almost as rocky as the Plymouth Creek Trail. We were glad we chose to circumnavigate the mountain from left to right.

Finally, we returned to the bridge and decided to follow the Plymouth Creek Trail back to the car instead of retracing our steps along the Meadowlark Trail. With the exception of some interesting rocks farther down, this was not a good choice. The trail descends steeply to the point where we felt like we were stumbling and sliding downhill. The dogs were pulling us as well, which did not increase the ease of our decent.

Rocks and McMansions on the Plymouth Creek Trail

All in all, Deer Creek Canyon Open Space is a pleasant excursion. There are at least two more loops, each with its own scenic view, to entice us to return. The parking lot is large and there are well appointed restrooms. We plan to lead a Sierra Club hike there in the fall.

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