At under 1 mile up and 1 mile back, with just enough elevation gain to make you feel like you’re really hiking and to give you some spectacular views, I think Mt Cutler is the perfect beginning hike. We took both Will and Ellie on it for their first under-their-own-steam hikes at age 2. Little ones might need a little prodding along in places but it’s a great place to start, and if you end up having to carry them at least it’s not far!
Pros: Short, fun, lots of variety, it’s steep enough that it feels like a real hike but you’ll still make it down in time for lunch and naptime. I also like this one for weekday hikes without Nic and Will–there’s enough traffic on it that I feel comfortable taking just Ellie hiking. You can see Seven Falls from the south side of the mountain as you near the top of the trail as well as the Shrine of the Sun above the zoo. If you’re there at the top of the hour, you can hear the bells, too!
Cons: If you have a fear of heights, this one might get to you. The trail on the southwest side of the mountain has been widened in the last couple of years, and this makes it much less of a terrifying prospect for anyone with a fear of heights and a toddler, but it is still a good drop down. This is also a popular trail for people to take dogs on. Most are very good about taking their pet’s waste with them, but there are occasionally off leash dogs or overly friendly dogs on this trail. (Little hiker tip: When Ellie was little we’d prompt her along by telling her she might see a dog if she just kept going!)
Distance/difficulty: 2 miles, 400ft elevation gain. There are enough steep sections that if this trail were longer, it would be difficult, but at just 1 mile up it’s a great hike for beginning little hikers. Ellie and Will were both conquering this trail under their own steam at 2 years old.
Directions: From I-25 take exit 140 for Nevada Ave. Travel south on Nevada Ave for approximately 1/2 mile before turning right to go west on Cheyenne Blvd. Take a right at the Starsmore Discovery Center onto N. Cheyenne Canyon Rd. Drive approximately 1 mile to the marked trailhead parking area on the left.
- The trail has seen some hard days in recent years with the heavy rains of 2013 and 2014. It was completely destroyed in sections and required rebuilding last year (or maybe the summer before? I’m getting old–it’s hard for me to remember these things). The back section that used to so terrify me is a little wider now after rebuilding (hurray!) and the hard work of volunteers is an excellent opportunity to talk with kids about trail building, volunteering, and the way national, state, and city parks are funded and how they were started. This usually leads into a tax discussion with Will. Who needs school when we can just go on hikes?!
- Erosion–plenty of opportunities to observe that here, particularly if you become Mt Cutler regulars. We’ve seen the gap between these roots and the trail grow large enough for the kids to pass under!
- You might spot some pyrite if you keep a look out!
- You’ll often experience a good range of temps as you emerge from lower in the canyon onto the south side of Mt Cutler. A good time to talk about the different types of flora that may enjoy the different areas of shade and sun.
Further reading: This post from Colorado Photo Hikes includes lots of great photos of the trail.