Hiking North Table Mountain: Golden, CO

I probably pass five or six trailheads on my commute home from Denver to Boulder—visible ones from the road with parking lots and pay stations and everything. If we’re including trailheads I can’t see or have to drive a few miles out of the way for, there have to be hundreds.

And I think one of the reasons why I folded and accepted a job with such a long commute was because I could easily stop at a trailhead on my way home, go for a run or hike, and wait for traffic to die down.

Until yesterday, I hadn’t done that because every day I got into my car during my first and second week…I didn’t want to get back out of it until I pulled up in front of my house. It’s been mentally and physically exhausting learning new systems and processes. Even learning names, titles, and where the bathrooms are made my brain hurt. But now that I’ve got a routine happening and I’ve finally figured out who my HR manager is…I wanted to start exploring some new trails in between my destinations.

Last night I picked North Table Mountain. From the road, it looks like a painfully steep climb with a bend that hugs the side of the mountain. It’s the kind of steep that would probably work your quads into the ground just trying to prevent a face plant on the way down. It’s why I got so excited about it.

Thursday morning I packed my shoes and tights and sports bra and hoped for clear evening weather. But I forgot socks, so that sucked.

A little after 4 p.m., I scooted out of the office early because I totally can. My boss and I had a check last week and one of the things we talked about was hours and work and life and how those can co-exist in a manageable and enjoyable way.

“If you need to leave earlier so you can go bike in the afternoon because you need daylight and that’s how you operate, and you finish things up after that in the evening, then go ahead and do that.”

He’s not like regular bosses, he’s a cool boss. And he’s an ultrarunner, so he understands the demands of training and figuring out how important it is to fit that into a full-time job. Plus, that’s mostly the mindset out here. We don’t pay an exorbitant amount of money to live in Colorful Colorado amongst some of the most beautiful mountains in world…just to stare at them out our windows.

So that’s what I did yesterday to enjoy the spring weather Colorado is blessing us with this week. And when so many life changes are happening all at once, outside on the trails is my favorite place to process them, work through them, solve them if I can. And then call my mom if none of that works.

The North Table Mountain trailhead is located off Highway 93 in Golden, Colorado’s Jefferson County. “Sprawling mesa park formed by ancient lava flows provides hiking, panoramic views & native wildlife.” Apparently wild flowers start blooming this time of year, so I can’t wait to head back when the trails are full of color.

Spots in the lot are limited and there isn’t overflow parking nearby so when I pulled in around 4:45 p.m., I was happy to grab a spot right away. I changed in my car and headed straight up. Damn, it’s a lung and buns burner—but in a good way. The dirt path is probably about 500 feet elevation gain in less than a mile and levels off when you get to the very top. The trail rolls up and down from there, but it offers sweeping views of Denver and Golden, which is just beautiful especially during the golden hour of the day.

I didn’t have a plan for this hike other than breathing some fresh air after work before driving home. When I got to the top of the that initial climb, I took a short hike up to Lichen Peak which is a short out and back. It looks like a big pile of rocks at the top of some stairs.

I then turned back around and followed the North Table Loop (short loop—there is also a long one that’s about 7 miles) around the top of the mountain. There are lots of signs and trail maps along the way which is super helpful if it’s your first time there. Plus, I highly suggest downloading the All Trails app, which has been a blessing out on the trails when I felt completely lost or turned around.

I think people had the same idea I did because the trails were very crowded with walkers, runners, dogs, and so many bikers. I am definitely bringing my bike here next week to zoom around the trails and explore more ground in less time.

Eventually the trail took a steep downhill turn at the edge of my counterclockwise loop, ran along the side of the mountain and brought me back to the parking lot. I covered 3.75 miles in about 45 minutes which was perfect. By then the traffic had thinned out a little bit which made for an easy drive home.

Pro tips/advice:

    1. If it’s a hot and sunny day, bring sunscreen or a hat or both. It’s totally exposed out there with no shade.
    2. Dogs need to be on leashes at all times. If your pup is weird around other dogs or people, try to go on off hours because it was really busy when I was there on a weekday evening.
    3. Download AllTrails (it’s free!). I’m telling you, it’s a lifesaver when there are multiple trails to follow. You could easily end up taking one that’s way too long or too short on accident.
    4. Unless it’s snowy, sneakers are totally fine; no hiking boots necessary.
    5. The trail sites rate this as moderate/difficult. It’s not. The beginning is very steep, but the rest is fairly flat no matter which way you go. 

The best part? It was still light out when I left and when I got home around 6:15 p.m. I love spring! I love daylight savings time!

For awhile I was bummed about my commute. I have to buy gas every week. I have to leave an hour earlier. I have to prep things a lot more the night before. Yeah, I much prefer my old 15 minute commute into downtown Boulder, but so far it’s working out ok. I get to finish an entire podcast episode on the way and sip my coffee slow and steady as I drive along the front range. It’s beautiful, really.

I’ll be back again very soon! Happy Friday 🙂

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