Hiking the trails near Red Rocks Amphitheatre is a favorite for DU students looking for a beautiful hike not too far from campus. However, you can only hike them three or four times before the trails get a bit tiresome and everyone realizes that your hiking selfies were all taken in the same place. So the next time you find yourself near Red Rocks to hike, convince your friends to check out Castle Trail in Mount Falcon Park. It’s right next to the amphitheatre (you can see it from the trailhead) but it offers something different and refreshing from the trails directly stemming from Red Rocks.
Not only is it scenic and challenging, it also features fascinating historic ruins at its end, making this trail immensely interesting in addition to being beautiful and offering plenty of cardio. Just be aware – this hike is pretty strenuous and will take some time (it took my group about three hours to reach the summit), although it’s well worth it.
The trail begins right from the parking lot and, about 100 feet away, splits into two different trails:Turkey Trot trail and Castle trail. Turkey Trot trail offers a longer and more mild alternative to the latter, but Castle trail is certainly the better option for those looking to get in a workout. The path is pretty gravelly, so be sure to bring shoes with plenty of traction.
The first half of the trail provides lovely views of the Denver skyline, Red Rocks Amphitheatre and the plains surrounding the small mountain you’re scaling. At the halfway point, the Turkey Trot and Castle trails converge and the hike becomes much more rugged and strenuous. However, with this added challenge comes even more stunning views of Denver and the mountains as you gain elevation over the city scape. This area is heavily wooded, so keep an eye out for wildlife.
After a number of switchbacks, the summit of the trail comes into view (it’s marked with a small picnic table pavilion). Hiking up this far took my party about two hours (although we admittedly aren’t in the best shape), making it the perfect time to have a small snack or meal while enjoying the magnificent views.
From here, you can either take Walker’s Dream trail or continue on Castle trail (or both), each leading to a ruin about a mile on. Both are the works of John Brisben Walker, a renaissance man of the early 20th century who made his fortune from investing in automobiles and magazines (he owned Cosmopolitan and is largely responsible for the huge circulation it has today). He invested a good deal of his fortune in Colorado, creating plans for an ampitheatre at Red Rocks, proposing the idea that would become the Denver Mountain Park system and building hiking trails, railways and buildings in the area.
Perhaps his grandest idea for the area, a summer White House for the presidents to visit on Mount Falcon, never materialized due to funding shortages and World War 1 (the cornerstone and some rubble comprising the foundation of the house is at the end of Walker’s Dream trail). Walker’s house was a large castle at the top of Mount Falcon, which burned down in the early 1900s after being hit by lightning (the ruins are at the end of Castle trail).
For someone so influential in the area, I was surprised I had never heard of Walker until I visited the ruins of his house and the summer White House. While very eerie, these are also infinitely fascinating and a testament to the struggles of trying to make a life in the rural west during the early 20th century.
After visiting the ruins, both of which offer astounding views (it’s clear why Walker wanted the two buildings where they were, the views from the windows would have been amazing), you can either continue on Castle trail to the other parking lot and walk along the highway back to the initial lot, or you can head back down the trail the way you came and get an extra good leg workout.
If you’re looking for a day hike with views, killer cardio and a bit of history, Castle trail is the perfect alternative to the typical trails near Red Rocks. Just make sure to set aside plenty of time, because this trail is captivating enough to make you want to stay awhile.
A Map of the Mount Falcon Castle Trail. Created by Kellsie Brannen