Spotlight on Parks: Roxborough State Park

Just southwest of Denver near Littleton, CO, lies Roxborough State Park, which contains one of Colorado’s most breathtaking sights. The park is dominated by the so-called Fountain Formation, a rippled ridge of red sandstone thrusting out of the ground like frozen plumes of lava. The formation was formed some 300 million years ago as the ancient precursor to today’s Rocky Mountains was uplifted and then eroded. These same rocks can also be seen at the nearby Red Rocks Amphitheater (named for the iron that gives the rocks their striking color) and Garden of the Gods near Colorado Springs.

Thistle and mullein in bloom before the red rocks that make Roxborough State Park famous. Photo by Jamie Simo.
Thistle and mullein in bloom before the red rocks that make Roxborough State Park famous. Photo by Jamie Simo.

Like Garden of the Gods, the 3,329 acres that make up Roxborough State Park have been dedicated as a National Natural Landmark due in part to the park’s geological significance. However, Roxborough is also notable for its diversity of plant and animal communities ranging from prairie to Douglas fir and Ponderosa pine forests. Several of these communities have also contributed to the park’s designation as a National Natural Landmark.

I visited Roxborough on a hot summer Saturday. Perhaps due to its close proximity to several metropolitan areas, I was not alone. This is one of the busiest state parks I have visited here in Colorado. To avoid the crowds, it might be best to visit during less busy times of the year or during the week.

Fritillary on wild bergamot. Photo by Jamie Simo.
Fritillary on wild bergamot. Photo by Jamie Simo.

Wildflower season is currently in full bloom and I saw skippers and butterflies partaking of the bee balm, otherwise known as wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), along the Willow Creek trail where it grows alongside nodding blue harebells (Campanula rotundifolia) and the delicate puffs of yellow salsify (Tragopogon dubius) seed heads. Blue flax (Linum Lewisii) and golden banner (Thermopsis montana) popped up in the more open areas along the trail.

Aside from providing welcome shade for hikers during the summer, the trees along the Willow Creek trail also provide shelter for a multitude of birds and squirrels. Everywhere I listened I heard the raspy cry of the spotted towhee (Pipilo maculatus) and the burble of house wrens (Troglodytes aedon). In total, 145 species of birds have been recorded in the park.  Perched on the overlooking rocks, I caught sight of 2 falcons, likely a mated pair of prairie falcons (Falco mexicanus) staking a claim to a nesting spot.

An agitated Macgillivray's warbler at Roxborough State Park. Photo by Jamie Simo.
An agitated Macgillivray’s warbler at Roxborough State Park. Photo by Jamie Simo.

The park is also home to a number of mammals, though I didn’t see any aside from a squirrel. These include mule deer and red fox as well as the occasional black bear or mountain lion. According to the park’s website, 11 species of reptiles and amphibians have been seen in the park of the 16 that could be expected to be found there. During my visit, I saw one, either a common or western terrestrial garter snake.

A garter snake fading into the grass at Roxborough State Park. Photo by Jamie Simo.
A garter snake fading into the grass at Roxborough State Park. Photo by Jamie Simo.

My trek to the park was a short one and I only took in the Willow Creek trail and one overlook, but there is still a ton of the park to explore. When I have more time I’ll be sure to return to see what I missed.

Like all other Colorado State Parks, visitors to Roxborough can either pay the daily fee of $7 or buy an annual park pass for $70 for unlimited park visits during the year. Due to the sensitive nature of the park’s rocks and plant and animal communities, biking, rock climbing, and pets are not allowed in the park. There are also no campsites. However, there is an auditorium that can be rented out for special events.

If you’re in the neighborhood, or even if not, Roxborough State Park is an amazing destination for a day of hiking and enjoying the scenery.

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