Happy Trails – Hildebrand Ranch Park

by Suzanne Webel

Where?? Well, it’s South of the Border, about 25 miles or so. It’s Jefferson County Open Space’s newest park, about 1,500 acres tucked in between Chatfield State Park, the Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield, and the first hogback of Denver Mountain Park. It may eventually connect to Deer Creek Canyon Park trails to the north and to Chatfield State Park trails, including the High Line Canal, to the east.

Take Hwy 93 to Golden, merging onto C-470 just past the “Taj Mahal” (JeffCo government building). Proceed south to Wadsworth Blvd (C-121), and turn immediately west on Deer Creek Canyon Rd. The newly completed trailhead is about 1.3 miles west of Wadsworth, and is “paved” with a durable concrete block system that won an award for excellence.

The Two-Brands trail provides a five mile loop through three sandstone hogbacks (Jurassic and Cretaceous Niobrara, Lyons, and Dakota Formations) as well as grazing land and hay meadows. Physical geographic communities include the foothills-canyon riparian zone, foothills/shrubland, foothills-meadow, and ponderosa pine-savannah, which support raptors, prairie dogs, burrowing owls, mule deer, elk, mountain lions, and bears.

The land was originally settled by Frank Hildebrand in 1866. Since at least 1950 the Chatfield Valley was recognized as having potential for massive flood control measures needed to protect Denver, but funds were not appropriated. In 1965, a torrential flood roared down Plum Creek, killing 13 people and leaving millions of dollars in damage. In 1971 the Army Corps of Engineers condemned over 300 acres of the Hildebrand Ranch and built the enormous Chatfield Dam, creating a large reservoir and subsequently a State Park. The Denver Botanic Gardens next door consists of mature cottonwoods, grasslands and ponds, with a wildlife observation area, display gardens, a historical farm, a 19th century one-room schoolhouse, and working beehives. In 2001 Jefferson County acquired the remaining 1,450 acres of the Hildebrand family ranch. Jefferson County partnered with South Suburban Parks & Recreation District to weave a public trail through the Trailmark subdivision and make a complete multiuse loop trail. Hildebrand Ranch Park opened to the public in the spring of 2010.

The entire loop is natural surface or crusher fines, except for a one-block section on the north side of Trailmark Boulevard where trail users must ride in the road or on the sidewalk. The South Suburban Parks and Recreation folks say they will be installing better wayfinding signs to make this part of the trail clearer.

Total Distance: 5.0 miles, one large loop trail
Total Time:       Approx. three hours including lunch
Difficulty:         Intermediate
Dogs:                 Leash
Jurisdiction:     Jefferson County Open Space, 303-271-5925
South Suburban Parks & Rec District, 303-798-5131

Maps:  Hildebrand Ranch Park Map 1