Approachable from the South (via Settler’s Park off Canyon Blvd) or the North (via Centennial Park along Sunshine Canyon/Mappleton Avenue), the awe-inspiring natural rock formation Red Rocks is drop dead gorgeous, easy to access, and fun for family bouldering. The trek from either trailhead is around 1/2 a mile. The towering Red Rocks are rarely subject to serious climbers – leave your crampons at home – but are a perfect place for some hand-foot-rock coordination.
With an early start we had the trail to ourselves and enjoyed a serene and spectacular experience.
I awake to the sound of bloody murder. What is the deal with the persistent early mornings? My daughter screams for one of a dozen contrived reasons. I slog my way across the hall. The volume drops. She says good morning, Daddy. My heart melts. It’s good to see her.
We make coffee. We read a story. And another. And another. Momma (pregnant) isn’t stirring whatsoever so we decide to hit the road early and let her sleep in.
Mmmm.. Moe’s Bagels. They know how to ease into a morning.
We drive up Sunshine Canyon to Centennial Park Trailhead. The mouth of the trail starts with some big steps for a 3-year old. But she’s bursting with energy and powers up.
A hundred yards later we head towards the rocky ridge via a narrow footpath. My daughter breaks into a full sprint. She’s yelling at me to run and keep up. I should have had more coffee.
It is a quiet morning with gray skies. But the rocks and summit are still majestic. Here the trail is made up of loose rock, difficult to walk on. We’re thankful to have our runners.
My daughter begins a collection of walnut-sized rocks she calls “crystals”. This is a practice I do not recommend. Later I am appointed the steward for this collection.
After just around twenty minutes we reach Red Rocks. The foot of these towering rock formations are easy to climb. My daughter’s instinct is angle for the summit. It is a bit of a stressful climb for me… She reaches, then falls. Then slips and scrapes. I help her get a toe hold, she’s steady, until I hear a tear. Exhale through the pain. Hold back tears. Check for blood. Rinse. Repeat. 50 times more as we explore the rocks.
Some minutes later, she scrambles to the shoulder of one of the towers. I race up to ensure she doesn’t flop over the other side. But she’s fine. She tackles the rocks like playground equipment – without any concern for what her landing below might be… courageous, but overconfident and without any concept of the consequences. I stay within arms reach for the duration of the climb. Thinking helmets could have been useful.
After mucking about on the East face of the rock towers, we loop around towards the West face. We then find a channel that leads back to the East face through a narrow ravine. A view of the city opens up as we squeeze through.
We take a break on the East side of the rocks, sitting near the base. We have snacks. My daughter keeps digging in the backpack for something else. I can see that I did not bring enough variety for her palate. Behind us, the stone rockets upwards to the sky. I walk 50 paces away and turn to take a photo. My daughter looks surprisingly tiny against the monolithic rock formation (see cover shot).
As we make our descent we notice Colorado hookless cactus. The symmetry of this barrel shaped cactus is stunning.
Black bears, mountain lions and mule deer inhabit this area too, apparently, but we don’t see any this morning.
Minutes later the skies begin to clear. Feathered fingers of white precipitation cascade across the sky. We look back up towards Red Rocks, now almost glowing in its geological glory.
Back on flatter ground, my daughter charges again. As if she had a triple espresso with the handful of bacon and cheese bagel. It’s awesome to see her run so fast. “Feeeeeeeeeel the wind,” I imagine she says.
The sun seems to chase away remaining traces of clouds. Wildflowers flank the trail as we look North towards Sunshine Canyon and across to the Mt. Sanitas ridge trail.
- Directions to Centenial Trailhead parking lot (Google Map)
- Trail Map (PDF)
- Interactive Trail Map (Interactive, via Open Space and Mountain Parks)
- Trail Conditions (via Open Space and Mountain Parks)
- Fleece / Jacket
- Water bottles
- Snacks (granola bar, dried mango, apple)
- Camera bag
- Wish I had: climbing helmet, more kinds of snacks, sunscreen (though was not needed today)