Less than an hour from Denver? Check. Beginner-friendly trails with a view? Double check. Like many of the parks in the Jeffco (Jefferson County) Open Space system, Matthews Winters makes it wonderfully beginner-friendly to get outdoors. It’s great to hike, bike, or run without sacrificing views or an entire day.
How Do I Get There?
The park is almost immediately off of I-70 at the Morrison exit, and while parking was jammed on Memorial Day we still found a spot relatively quickly at 11 a.m. All Jeffco parks are free (thanks, open space sales tax!) and have maps available at the trailhead.
Where Do I Go?
The only drawback to this park system is that the directional signage is pretty terrible once you’re on the trail, but fortunately, you only have a few options at Matthews Winters and it’s pretty easy to follow the crowd.
Start out on the Village Walk trail and continue past the first fork to go on Cherry Gulch before connecting to the Red Rocks trail. This is about five miles out and back, but that’s the nice thing about out-and-backs – when you decide you’re done, just turn around and you know exactly what’s in store for the trek back.
There’s a really nice overlook toward the end of the trail that makes for a good place to stop to eat and sit in the shade. If you continue past that, you will be going uphill the entire time you come back until you reach that overlook, so keep that in mind. It’s just over a mile to Red Rocks from this point. We turned around right after the sign telling you that you’re leaving Matthews Winters and crossing into Red Rocks.
Alternatively, after the second creek crossing you can go left at the next fork to continue on the Red Rocks Trail and go back to the parking lot. You’ll pop back out at the Cherry Gulch/Red Rocks Trail intersection that you saw on your way out. This is a three-mile loop that’s very flat, much like the rest of Matthews Winters. The only steep trail is called the Morrison Slide. It involves some pretty intense switchbacks up and down. I didn’t have it in me to tackle that this trip, but the views are supposed to be worth it.
What Should I Wear?
If you get all the way to the outlook, that’s one of three places where there’s much shade on the trail. That means lather up on sunscreen because Colorado sun doesn’t eff around. I would suggest also wearing a hat as my fivehead narrowly avoided sunburn, even with sweatproof sunscreen. Bring sunglasses to complete the trifecta.
There are two places where you have to cross a small stream, which as you may have guessed are the only other two spots of shade on the trail. If you have waterproof hiking boots, you’re all set. If you don’t, you’ll still be fine since there are rocks to use at the larger crossing and you can (theoretically) jump across the smaller one. If you don’t stick the landing (guilty), it’s hot and dry enough out there that your feet will dry quickly anyway.
The views from the Red Rock trail are, unsurprisingly, mostly of red rock outcroppings. You can see Red Rocks the proper noun as well as Dinosaur Ridge just across the highway. While it’s not panoramic mountain views, it does the trick if you want a scenic, easy, and close-to-home hike or run.
For the most part, the trails are very well-maintained and not difficult. There are a few more technical spots that get rocky, but nothing extreme. I’d only be careful if you’re trail running – there are a few spots that could give you a nice sprained ankle if you’re moving that quickly. Like I said before, Matthews Winters is relatively flat, so it’s a great place for beginner trail runners as well as hikers.
Is It Crowded?
You likely won’t be alone on the trail and you will have to share with mountain bikers and horses. There are more of the former and I was pleasantly surprised at the lack of horse poop on the trail. Both parties have the right of way, so be careful stepping off the trail.
Most of them are courteous but be emotionally prepared for a mountain biker to roll his eyes at you for not getting off the trail after he stopped, got off his bike, and was walking when you looked over your shoulder two seconds ago. Not that I’m citing a specific, personal incident. We didn’t have any issues with bikers flying past us or coming out of nowhere at high speeds, but maybe we were just lucky.
Anything Else To Know About?
Matthews Winters seems to get a lot of attention for rattlesnakes, but I can’t imagine this is an issue on the weekends. Probably because I didn’t see one and I need to tell myself that to sleep at night, but also because the volume of people tromping around doesn’t make for a peaceful place to sun yourself if you’re a snake. If by some awful stroke of bad luck you get bitten by one after reading this blog, don’t sue me because I’m not a wildlife expert or ranger or in anyway qualified to be making such sweeping generalizations about rattlesnakes.
Despite the fear-mongering headline, this news article actually has great advice for rattlesnake safety (chalk that up under things I never knew were a thing before I moved to Colorado).
Now that you’re good and scared of the outdoors, get out there! In all seriousness, wildlife is a part of life in Colorado but as long as you know what to do when you see wildlife (Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s blog is a great resource), you will likely be fine. Again, not an expert, just good at Googling things for you. Don’t let the fear of the unknown keep you from trying things out!