South Valley Park Trailhead: North Parking Lot Trailhead

Activities: Hiking

Closest City / Town: Denver, CO

Driving Directions:

  • From Denver, travel south on C-470.
  • Take the Ken Caryl Avenue exit and head west.
  • Turn left onto South Valley Road.
  • Go over the hill and look for the South Valley Park north parking lot on the left.
  • Note: there is a well kept restroom facility, nice picnicking areas, and benches at the north trailhead.

Hiking Distance: 2.0 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.

The Swallow Loop is a relatively easy hike that follows the Swallow Trail and Coyote Song Trail.  From the parking area, look for signs on the south end of the parking lot that point to the Swallow Trail.  Head south on the Swallow Trail for 0.9 miles.  Take a left at the trail junction, continuing for another 0.2 miles.

When you reach the next trail junction, hang another left onto the Coyote Song Trail (now heading north).  The Coyote Song Trail winds through the spires of the Lyons Formation.  This is a wonderful trail to take pictures, so be sure to bring your camera.  Hike up the Coyote Song Trail for 0.9 miles; it will lead you back to the parking lot.

Note that this hike can be done in conjuncture with the Grazing Elk 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.

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