Sunday, March 29, 2015

Trail Running: North Table Mountain Park (Golden, Colorado)

With a beautiful morning on tap and an itch to try a new trail, Woody and I headed to North Table Mountain Park in Golden Saturday morning. This is a great park for running, hiking, and mountain biking within a 20 minute drive of Denver.

Already around 55 degrees when we arrived at 8:30am, we left extra layers in the car and applied sunblock as there is no shade on North Table Mountain. The rock formation that juts out of the ground to towering heights just east of the foothills, is a result of ancient lava flows in the area. The park boasts more than 15 miles of trails through rocky terrain and many steep climbs. 

I drive by this park often between Denver and Boulder, and I have to say it's pretty intimidating, but based on the large number of people I've seen tackling the mountain from the trailhead off route 93, I knew we'd be able to do it. Heather's (of Just a Colorado Gal) account of her run at North Table Mountain inspired our run.

Our Route: We started at Easley Road Trailhead taking the short Lithic Trail to turn north on North Table Loop, around the north side to Mesa Top Trail, a quick detour on Tilting Mesa Top Trail then back to Mesa Top, to Cottonwood Canyon Trail which connects back in with North Table Loop and Lithic back to the trailhead.

Parking at the Tony Grampsas Memorial Sports Complex off W 44th Avenue, we found it a bit difficult as first timers to find the trailhead across Easley Road. (Hint: take the dirt path out of the parking lot then when you get to the JeffCo Open Space Trail turn right and take the path a few hundred yards till you reach a wood bridge over the ditch leading to a few parking spots on Easley. Across the road is the trailhead.)

Right from the start you're heading up. And up. Only a few minutes into the run and I was breathing heavy and wondering what we had gotten ourselves into. Even with snow and rain a few days earlier, the rocky trail was pretty dusty. There were a number of long sections with packed dirt trail, that were almost as difficult to navigate as the rocky sections.

North Table Mountain Park

After some serious climbing, this route provides some downhill sections that lull you into a feeling that it's going to be an easy, relaxing run. But just to your left there's a huge, imposing wall of rock, so it's hard to ignore the fact that at some point you're going to go up again.

Just then, there was one long section that really pushed my limits and I had to slow to a hike. It was long and steep and just around a curve it kept going up. A few guys passed me and I told Woody to go ahead and I'd meet him at the top. He didn't think it was easy either, but he was able to run more of it than I was. 

North Table Mountain Loop

Running North Table Mountain Park

Finally we hit the flat top of the mountain and I was able to catch my breath. The trail winds around a pond and around the top of the mountain for a bit before you reach a few lone trees and then some serious switch backs start down the mountain. 

This is a popular trail system for mountain bikers - how they get up or down some of these trails is beyond comprehension for me - so we had to pull off quite a few times to let them pass. While runners technically have the right of way, it's much easier for us to let them pass than them to stop. There are some really tight spots on the trail that runs right between a steep decent and a steep incline, so you have to be careful and watch your step closely. The loose rocks could be dangerous. 

That's the one thing that bothers me about trail running. I spend so much time looking at the trail I hardly get to enjoy the views! We rounded finished our run at 7 miles and I was actually feeling really good and accomplished at the end. There is a lot more ground to cover at this park, and there it's quite a unique spot, but I think we'll explore a few others before we head back here - unless we're looking for some serious punishment on the hills!

Running Cottonwood Canyon Trail

If you go:

  • Go first thing in the morning. With no shade, it could brutally hot in the middle of the day
  • Sunscreen is a must
  • Take water (and some food if you plan on being out there for a long time)
  • Share the trail. It's a heavily used trail system so be sure to watch out for others, especially on tight sections.
  • Watch out for, and respect, the wildlife. The area is home to mule deer (we saw a few), rattlesnakes (thankfully we didn't see any), prairie dogs, and birds including golden eagles and red-tailed hawks
  • Take a map of the park - which you can find here. Tip: Take a photo of the map at the trailhead with your phone so you don't have to carry paper that'll likely get wet with sweat!
  • When you've finished your hike, drive a few minutes into downtown Golden to grab some iced coffee and eats at the Windy Saddle Cafe. (Good selection of gluten free items but they could stand to add a few for vegans) 
What type of gear do you use for hydration on a long run when there aren't any drinking fountains on your route? * Which do you prefer - the trail or the road?


Lisa said...

We hit the trails Saturday and dry! It was tough. My running partner carried the water, since I hate carrying anything. :)

Lisa said...

This looks like so much fun, and great strength training. Inclines are the way to go ;)

Also, it looks much warmer there than it is here. Wish I could've joined you guys.