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Dawson Butte Trail
Dawson Butte Trail
5 miles round trip
300 feet elevation gain
If you live in north El Paso County or south Douglas County, this is a great pre- or post-work/school run or bike ride. It's a stress-buster trail. You're not high in elevation and you don't gain much elevation, it's a well-marked doubletrack path, even a gentle breeze wooshes through the pines above, the sounds of birds chirping will help you forget your worries, and you won't see too many others on weekdays.
This is also a great trail for young children. It's not strenuous, you travel through forest and open meadows, there are plants large and small of various colors and a variety of leaf shapes, flowers, plenty of flitting and crawling insects, and, depending on the time you visit, larger wildlife.
It's also a great choice for those hikes with less-fit friends and family visiting from the lowlands. It feels very "Colorado," but there's no lung-busting climb and they can still carry on a conversation as they walk. And thanks to a local Eagle Scout, there are plenty of new benches along the way in case someone just wants to sit a spell.
To get there
Take Interstate 25 north to the Tomah Road exit. Cross west over the interstate and head north on the frontage road about 1 mile. Turn west on Tomah Road and drive about 1.5 miles to the Dawson Butte Ranch entrance on the right.
There is a large dirt parking area with an elongated section for horse trailers. There's a port-a-pottie here and picnic tables. (There are picnic tables along the trail, too, so pack a lunch and enjoy the quiet of the forest.)
The five-mile loop trail is mostly forested with breakouts into meadows with views of the Front Range. There are no steep climbs here. This is a rolling trail that curves through the trees and stretches across or alongside the meadows. You'll be able to keep an eye on kids who want to run a little way ahead in bursts of exploration.
If you expect temperatures to warm up during your hike, you might want to take the trail clockwise, heading out from the trailhead near the picnic tables. This will lead you across the largest meadow when it's cooler and through more forested areas as it warms up. But there are no extremes hiking in either direction.
The Play Pen Path, Tomah Meadow Path, Fenceline Path, Stairway to Heaven Path and Manger Meadow Path all connect with the Dawson Butte Trail at each end, so feel free to explore without fear you are wandering away from the open space.
An optional bridle path includes more than 60 horse jumps, and looks like a fun ride. It'll definitely thrill young hikers to see horses and riders navigate the jumps. You will need to point out the difference between pine cones and horse droppings on the trail, however. One is far more interesting to pick up and show Mom and Dad.
There is no access to the top of the butte. In fact, while it appears at first that you will circle the butte, you do not. You follow along its base awhile and circle through the forest to the south.
This is a great trail for beginning mountain bikers or families of all abilities biking together. There is no technical riding. There are sandy stretches, but none is too long. It's also a great loop for beginning trail runners; you'll get a workout, but won't have to worry much about your footwork.
You may encounter horses on the main trail. Be courteous and yield to them and their riders. It looks to be a great place to try snowshoeing in winter.
Dogs are allowed on leash. Info: Douglas County Open Space and Natural Resources, (303) 660-7495.
A scale of one to four boots. One is easiest, with little elevation gain, and it is at a reasonable altitude. Four is most difficult, with severe elevation gain, difficult terrain or extreme length or altitude.
Looking for more trails?
Try the Trail Finder on the Out There Colorado homepage.