Looking for something different at Roxborough State Park? Then head for the Swallowtail Trail. While the park map shows the start of the trail and while you can access the trail from Roxborough State Park, the trail is not in the park itself, it’s part of Douglas County Open Space.
There are three ways to access the Swallowtail Trail — a 4.6 mile hike (one way) via the Sharptail Ridge Trail, a 7.2 mile hike (one way) via the Ringtail Trail or a two mile (one way) hike from Roxborough State Park. I chose the two mile access.
Douglas County describes the trail as “The loops wind among rocks and ledges, through shrublands speckled with pines and firs, and over intermittent creeks and upland meadows.”
The hike starts at the Roxborough State Park Visitor’s Center (directions below). Turn right out of the Visitor’s Center, walk past the picnic tables and cross a road to a sign board. Behind the sign is a beautiful rock formation. Hike south through the trees and around the formation to a view of the valley east of the park. When you come to trail splits, follow the signs that say “Carpenter Peak.”
At 0.6 miles, the trail crosses a road. Stop here. Notice how a sign on the other side of the road says 2.6 miles to Carpenter Peak? We are not going that way. Take a good look around here, because this is a our turnoff on the way back. For now, turn left and hike down the wide, flat road. This is County Road 5. You shouldn’t see any traffic, but occasionally park rangers do drive this road.
As you walk, you’ll see some old farm equipment in the field to your left. You’ll also see a few old homes. The developer of the area, Henry Persse, built a home in this area in the late 1800s. However, Persse’ home is not here, it is on the other side of the park, on the Fountain Valley Trail.
Walk the road about 0.9 miles to a trail sign. This is where the Sharptail Ridge Trail connects to the area. For this hike, turn right, and walk just another tenth of a mile on the road to the turnoff for the Swallowtail Loops. A sign says, from here, the loops trail is 3.4 miles roundtrip. (My GPS said it was about 2.7 miles.)
After walking the road for the last mile or so, you’re now back on a single-track, dirt trail. As the trail winds through some trees, notice a large, red rock monolith on your left. You’ll be getting closer to this rock formation and even walk right next to it on the upper loop trail.
After about a third of a mile, you’ll come to a sign that says you’re entering the Nelson Ranch Open Space. Nelson Ranch was purchased in 2002 by Douglas County and Great Outdoors Colorado.
Continuing hiking until you come to a trail split — this is the upper loop. We decided to go clockwise, so we turned left. The trail winds through the vegetation to the base of that rock formation we’ve been looking at. We turned left and walked about 2/3rd’s of the way around the rock before coming to another trail split. We turned left again. As you hike here, enjoy the views of the valley.
About a quarter mile from the start of the upper loop, the trail cuts across a rocky ridge. This is a scenic spot and a good place to take a break. It’s sunny here, so it’s warm in the cooler months.
When you’re ready to continue on, just follow the trail and the occasional arrows that will point you in the right direction. This next section of trail gets rocky at times, but it just adds to the adventure of being in this remote place that very few people visit.
As we hiked in the valley, we suddenly spotted an old barn. While there is no information sign, we assumed this was part of the Nelson Ranch. A historical article on the people of the Sedalia area said the Nelson family owned the Nelson Store in Sedalia at one point.
Just past the barn, we came to the trail split for the lower loop. The lower loop doesn’t have the rock ledges, but it has nice valley and prairie views as it circles around the property, bringing you back to almost this same trail split, just a few feet away.
We continued on the rest of the upper loop, passing the trail split for the Ringtail Trail that leads to Indian Creek. At the end of the loops, we were back near that big, red rock formation we hiked around earlier. From here, return the way you came, back to Roxborough State Park. As you hike the road back, don’t miss that turnoff for the trail back to the Visitor’s Center.
At Roxborough State Park, visit Carpenter Peak, Fountain Valley and the South Rim. If you want more hikes, check out my article on 200+ great hikes in Colorado.
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Details: The hike from the Roxborough State Park Visitor’s Center out to the Swallowtail Loops and back is about 6.7 miles roundtrip with about 600 feet of elevation gain with all the ups and downs.
Cost: Admission for the state park was $7 in Nov. 2013.
Directions: From C-470, take Wadsworth south past Chatfield State Park. Turn left on Waterton Road (just before the entrance to Lockheed Martin.) Continue on Waterton Road until it ends at North Rampart Range Road. Turn right (south) on North Rampart Range Road. After 2.3 miles, you’ll see the entrance to Roxborough State Park on your left, just before the entrance to Arrowhead golf course.