Trailhead: South Parking Lot Trailhead
Closest City / Town: Denver, CO
- From Denver, travel south on C-470.
- Take the Ken Caryl Avenue exit and head west.
- Turn left onto South Valley Road.
- Avoid the South Valley Park north parking lot.
- Take a left on Deer Creek Canyon Road.
- The south trailhead is located on the left.
- Note: There is a portable restroom facility at this trailhead. For picnicking and better restroom facilities go to the north trailhead (see the Swallow Loop trail description).
Hiking Distance: 4.6 miles (roundtrip)
Description: South Valley Park is a great, easy way to escape the hectic hours and toils of urban life. Moreover, you don’t have to travel a great distance to get there (at least for Denverites). However, like many other Jefferson County Open Space parks that line the Front Range along the Metro Denver corridor, South Valley Park can be scorching hot in the summer. We recommend finding time during the fall, winter, or spring to visit the area.
From the south parking lot, head north on the only trail that leaves the lot. Hike north for 0.4 miles, and take a left at the first trail junction onto the Swallow Trail. After another 0.2 miles of trekking, take another left at the second trail junction. The trail will cross over South Valley Road to the west side of South Valley Park.
Make the short climb up the hill on the west side of South Valley Road. The Grazing Elk Trail winds 2.2 miles through a pristine prairie full of blue grama (Colorado’s state grass). This area is probably the least visited in all of South Valley Park, offering a decent amount of solitude. Moreover, it provides some of the best views that the Ken-Caryl Valley has to offer. The Grazing Elk Trail is actually a loop. After completing the loop, return to the south parking lot via the same way that you came.
Note that this hike can be done in conjuncture with the Swallow Loop.
Worth Noting: South Valley Park is a dream for many geologists and archeologists. The Park’s solid rock monoliths and walls exhibit both the Fountain and Lyons formations very well. By way of comparison, the Fountain Formation was formed when rivers and streams eroded the ancestral Rockies down and deposited sediment along the Front Range. This material subsequently solidified over time. This layer became exposed when the current Rocky Mountains, which were uplifted between 50 and 70 million years ago, shot out of the ground. Other examples of the Fountain Formation include the Boulder Flatirons, Red Rocks near Morrison, and Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs.
On the other hand, the Lyons Formation was created primarily by the force of wind. The Lyons Formation is weaker than the Fountain Formation, which is why climbers generally gravitate towards areas like the Flatirons and Garden of the Gods, while steering clear of places like South Valley Park (besides, climbing is not allowed at South Valley). Sandstone from the Lyons Formation can be seen on many of the building exteriors at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
From an archeological point of view, the Front Range of Colorado has some of the oldest human remnants in North, Central, and South America. Evidence suggests that South Valley was inhabited by hunter-gatherers 12,000-10,000 years before present.
In its more recent history, John Shaffer purchased much of the valley in 1913, naming it after his sons, Kent and Carroll (i.e. “Ken-Caryl Valley”). After going through a number of successive landowners, South Valley wound up in the hands Martin Marietta. Martin Marietta, now the Lockheed Martin Corporation, sold South Valley Park to Jefferson County Open Space in 1997. Lockheed Martin still owns a large facility to the west; the building is highly visible from many areas of South Valley Park.