South Table Mountain is a great place for trail running — The Know

Editor’s note: This is part of The Know’s new series, Staff Favorites. Each week, we will offer our opinions on the best that Colorado has to offer for dining, shopping, entertainment, outdoor activities and more. (We’ll also let you in on some hidden gems). Find our previous Staff Favorites here.

I have had many favorite Front Range places to run over the years, including a 5-mile time trial I used to do on the steep roads of Red Rocks Park (it includes a run up the steps of the amphitheatre on the last mile) as well as a tough but rewarding trail run at Matthews/Winters Park (it offers stunning views, especially at sunset).

But my current favorite place for running is South Table Mountain on the eastern edge of Golden. It has great views and overlooks, with a nice variety of trails, and it’s usually far less crowded than its counterpart on the other side of Clear Creek, North Table Mountain. Both are Jefferson County Open Space Parks.

The geology of South Table and North Table is fascinating. The rocky top of both mesas was deposited by a volcano that erupted near the current site of Ralston Reservoir 64 million years ago. Some of the trails on South Table reflect its geological origins: Lava Loop, Dome Flow and Basalt Cap.

North Table is a wonderful place to run, too, but finding a parking space there, especially on weekends, can be a nightmare. And there’s usually a lot of  traffic on its trails: runners, hikers and mountain bikers.

And before I go further, no discussion about those mesas should ignore the fact that they are rattlesnake habitat. While I’ve never felt unsafe there, be aware and watch the trail carefully.

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South Table stretches about 3 miles across, from the western edge that looms over Golden to the eastern edge at Applewood. There are multiple climbs to get on top. I normally park at the Golden Hills access point on the south side of the mesa. From there, the trail climbs about 170 feet over 0.8 mile, where the mountain levels off. For an extra challenge, try the western end. That’s roughly a 480-foot climb over about 2.5 miles from the trailhead to the signature rock ramparts that preside over Golden, including aptly named Castle Rock. The view from Castle Rock is spectacular.

But I also love the overlook on the eastern edge of the mesa, which looks down on Applewood, Wheat Ridge, Arvada and the skyline of downtown Denver in the distance. A rock outcrop there is named Carl’s Point in honor of Carl Eiberger, an attorney who donated work for decades to prevent South Table from becoming a rock quarry.

Another great trail up there is the Lava Loop, which is currently under a seasonal closure because it is nesting season for golden eagles that live in cliffs on the mesa’s northern edge. When that trail is open, the views toward North Table and Clear Creek below are awe-inspiring.

My favorite time to run South Table is in the hour or two before sunset, when the sun is dipping toward Lookout Mountain and shadows are lengthening across the mesa top and the surrounding landscape. There are fewer people on the trails and you can feel alone — OK, almost alone — in a very special place.

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