Driving through Golden, there are several mountains you can hike, including Lookout Mountain, Mount Galbraith, North Table Mountain and South Table Mountain.
South Table Mountain has a fascinating history. Over the last 100 years or so, it has been home to a dance hall, quarry, sheep herd and a fight over development. Thanks to Jefferson County and conservation easements, the mesa top is open for hikers.
There are several access points for South Table Mountain. A few years ago I hiked the Lubahn Trail on the west side. Today I took the Cretaceous Trail on the southeast side.
The Cretaceous Trail starts near the visitor’s center for NREL, the National Renewable Energy Lab (directions below). From the parking lot, walk back down the sidewalk toward the main NREL sign you passed and look for the dirt trail heading toward South Table Mountain.
About a third of a mile from the parking lot you’ll come to a signed trail split telling you that you’ve been hiking on the Cretacous Trail.
Continue up the Cretacous Trail, turning west until you reach the top of the mesa. After a short walk on top, you’ll come to a second trail split. This is the Basalt Cap Loop. Because I wanted to explore the mesa top, we went left/west here and at the next two smaller, unsigned splits. Google maps shows this as the South Table Top Mesa Trail.
The trail crosses the top of the mesa, heading west. About 1.5 miles from the trailhead, you may notice an old building or two on the right/north side of the trail. That’s the site of an old quarry. You’ll need to hike a few steps over to the edge to see it better.
A short distance later, you may notice a paved road behind a fence on the left/south side of the trail – that’s a training track for the Colorado State Patrol.
Continue to follow the trail west. Sometimes the trail is a wide road, other times it’s a rocky path. Just keep heading west, avoiding the closed trails. As you get close to the western edge of the plateau, you should see a rocky area rising up on the northwest corner. That’s Castle Rock. Wikipedia says a cafe called the Castle Rock Resort was built in 1906. Visitors arrived on burro. In 1913, a casino, dance hall and funicular incline railway were added. Wikipedia goes on to say the resort was taken over by the Ku Klux Klan during the 1920s as a meeting and ceremonial place. The resort burned to the ground in 1927. The city of Golden has a photo of the funicular railway on its website.
At the Castle Rock, there are concrete stairs to help visitors get to the top. The stairs are steep and in disrepair, but it’s worth the extra hike to get to the top. Once there, enjoy the views before you return the way you came.
Learn more about Golden’s history. See the conceptual plan for South Table Mountain. Read about the plans for South Table Mountain. Check out more great hikes here.
And don’t miss any of my hiking reports, click the “subscribe” button at the top of this article and follow me, Denver Hiking Examiner on Facebook.
Details: The hike from the NREL Visitor’s Center, up the mountain and across to the Castle Rock is about 6.8 miles with about 600 feet of elevation gain. The Visitor’s Center is open Monday through Friday, so parking may be limited and restricted on weekdays.
Directions: From I-70, exit Denver West Blvd and turn west. About 0.1 miles from the highway is a stop light at Denver West Parkway, turn left. Now it’s just about 0.4 miles to the NREL Visitor’s Center parking lot.