Technically we visited Lair o’ the Bear for a hike, but it would work well for a trail run as well, even though the Bear Creek Trail is less than 2 miles long.
We’ve passed by the trailhead countless times, so I was particularly happy to check this one off earlier this summer. The trail is just west of Idledale; about a 40 minute drive from our house in Denver and part of the Jefferson County Open Space system.
The trailhead is off I-74 (Bear Creek Road) on the left when coming from Denver and down below the highway. There’s a sizable parking lot but it fills up fast with porta-potties and several areas for picnicking. It seems like a great little spot for a picnic along the Bear Creek - either to make a day out of it or bring a picnic for after your run or hike. Fishing is allowed here (with a license and a 2 fish maximum), so we saw a number of fly fishers enjoying the day and the fast-flowing water.
The first mile and a half out of the parking lot is flat and wide, following along Bear Creek; perfect for families and an easy start to a longer excursion. I’d like to bring visitors back here for a short walk as it gets you into the mountains and would be comfortable for those who aren’t used to elevation. It's possible to hear traffic noise from the highway above but the rushing water of Bear Creek covers it well for the most part, and near the end of this section is Dunafon Castle - an elaborate residence/wedding venue - on the other side of the creek. While a bit out of place, it is pretty to look at.
Where this section of the trail comes to and end, another trail veers left and starts to climb. It’s good to know that this area has a ton of interconnecting parks via the trails. You can venture into Corwina, O’Fallon, and Mt Falcon parks with seemingly endless trails to explore. The path we took seamlessly connected into Corwina Park and while the trail is substantially shaded, there are sections without cover and with a lot of sun, where the temperature can rise quickly. While this trail isn’t far into the foothills, it does start around 6,500 feet and rises from there, so the thin air is nothing to take lightly. Hydration and sunblock are a must.
On numerous occasions we had to jump to the side of the trail as mountain bikers passed by. While technically bikers are to yield to hikers and runners, it’s much easier for us to wait for them, than for them to stop, especially on steep or rocky terrain or narrow passes, as is the case for much of this trail. This would have been a bit annoying if we had been running - it seems to be a popular trail with mountain bikers, likely due to the proximity to Denver - but as we were hiking it was fine.
We went about 7 miles out and back, which provided a solid workout with some serious climbs and beautiful views of the mountains. We were glad to have some snacks with us and a good amount of water, as we took a bit of a break half way through to enjoy the view and refuel for the trip back to the car. The flat section along the creek on the way back was welcomed and all I wanted to do was put my feet in the cold rushing water!
What to know if you go:
- Go early for a parking spot or else you might end up along the entrance road
- Take plenty of water, a snack (if you’ll be out for a while), sun block, and a hat
- Snap a photo of the big trail map at the trailhead to have on your phone - but know that this only covers the small Lair o’ the Bear Park and not the surrounding trails (you’ll want to take screenshots of those maps on your phone before you head out)
- Porta-potties are available at the trailhead but no water
- Be ready to get out of the way of mountain bikers
- There are nice picnic tables & grills for a post-run picnic
- If you’re not up for a picnic, Lariat Lodge Brewing in Evergreen is a great spot for post-run brunch and beer