Destination Red Rocks Park
July 7, 2017 / By Chris Oudean
Red Rocks Park is one of the most popular destinations in Colorado. It’s not only home to the world famous Red Rocks Amphitheater prized for it’s near perfect acoustics, but it’s also a great place to get some exercise on the numerous hiking trails, and learn about its history of dinosaur fossil discoveries throughout the years.
The red sandstone formations found all around the park belong to the Fountain Formation, which formed 290 million years ago, and was then uplifted vertically around 80 million years ago and exposed through erosion the way it is seen today. Once considered one of the seven wonders of the world, the park was first discovered in 1820 by an army expedition. Up until 1870, it was often referred to as Garden of the Angels, but in 1906, is was renamed Garden of the Titans by John Brisbane Walker shortly after taking ownership of the land. Mr. Walker would use the land as a music venue over the years. In 1928, the city of Denver purchased it from Mr. Walker, and continued the tradition of music on a platform that was built in between the massive formations of sandstone now known as Creation Rock and Ship Rock. Construction of the amphitheater you see today began in 1936 and continued through 1941. Over the years, additions have been slowly added to the facilities, including a restaurant, trading post, and music hall of fame. At Red Rocks Park entrance #1, there is also a Discovery Center Gift Shop, which is part of an adjacent attraction Dinosaur Ridge. There’s a bunch of really exciting dinosaur stuff here!
What to do:
Katie and I love this park. It’s been a favorite destination of ours since moving here. We’ve attended some of the best concerts in our lives here and done a good amount of hiking. The views are fantastic from all around the park. The tricks of light that play throughout the day on the massive stone walls and spires in the park make for an grand backdrop that puts your mind in a state of wonder. There is so much detail in the rock formations that at times, it’s hard to peel your eyes away from them.
The park itself has many entrances and exits. The roads meander through the park, interconnecting in places. There are a number of small parking areas and pullouts where you can head out on one of the many hiking trails. There are even trails that interconnects with both dinosaur ridge and Matthews Winters Park, both being right next to Red Rocks Park. Our two favorite trails within Red Rocks would be the Trading Post Trail and the Mount Morrison Trail.
The Trading Post Trail starts at the trading post building, which now houses the newly designed Colorado Music Hall of Fame. Once you’ve filled up on souvenirs and music history, head over to the south side of the building and you’ll find the start of this trail next to the parking lot. It’s an easy, 1.5 mile loop that weaves through some of the larger stone formations. Here you can often find deer wandering around the trails and birds nesting high above on the rocks. Grasses, cactuses, yucca, and a variety of wildflowers line the trail in the summer. Keep a close eye out for rattlesnakes.
The Mount Morrison Trail is accessible from one of the last entrances into the park as you head towards the mountains through the town of Morrison. Upon entering to the right, as long as the gate is open (they close it periodically for maintenance and upcoming concerts), there is a small pullout to the right of the road. To the opposite side is a small path that leads up the hillside. This is the trail. If you follow it, it’ll take you up to the very peak of Mount Morrison, where you’ll be rewarded with excellent views of Red Rocks and beyond. Due to the orientation of the amphitheater, you can easily hear performances from the trail if you happen to be there at the right time. This 3.2 mile trail is difficult with a nearly constant upward incline, with a few spots to catch your breath where it levels out temporarily. You can see all the way to downtown Denver as well. It’s an awesome place to watch a sunrise or sunset!
The amphitheater itself is certainly the main attraction here. It really is an impressive sight that can only be fully appreciated in person. On approach to the main parking lot, you’ll weave back and forth along the tops of the hills until you reach a pull-off just before the road heads through a small sandstone tunnel. You can stop here for a moment if you like and check out this interesting rock formation and a view of downtown Denver. Pass through the tunnel and you’ll reach the main amphitheater access point. Before reaching the seating area, you’ll walk between the massive formations named Creation Rock and Ship Rock that make up the natural acoustics of the amphitheater. From here, you’ll have access to the Ship Rock Grille. There is also information about the history of the park inside the visitors center. Keep walking and you’ll come upon an overview of the theater and stage.
There are tons of steps here. It’s actually become a popular destination for exercising. Most mornings, you’ll find a good number of people running up and down the stairs for a good workout. Trust me, it’s a good workout. You can see all the way to downtown Denver here as well, and views of sunrises are pretty spectacular as the suns rays splash color into the rock formations all around. At night the Amphitheater plays host to a number of festivities.
Each year there are dozens of musical concerts. Some are your standard style concert with an opening band before the main headliner, but there are also band mashups, where multiple popular bands will play back to back and create a music festival style experience. Reggae on the Rocks is one of these, and is one of the most popular reggae festivals in the world. It’s been held here each year since 1988. There are also special performances that regularly occur for holidays, a Film on The Rocks series where they play popular family friendly films after dark, and fitness classes including yoga and core training. Here’s a fun fact for you: Blues Traveler has played every 4th of July here since 1993.
Red Rocks park has played a key role in the culture of Denver, Colorado for decades. The defiant and unique topography perfectly reflects the sense of adventure and pride that drives the residents of this elevated state. The mile-high city touts many interesting destinations, but it wouldn’t be the same without this one of a kind monument. Musicians love the acoustics of the amphitheater so much that they keep coming back over and over again. Due to its popularity, be sure to get your tickets on day one for a chance at attending your desired event. Tickets sell out extremely fast for everything. The nearby attractions bolsters its popularity too. In the immediate vicinity you also have: Matthews Winters Park, Dinosaur Ridge, and the lovely small town of Morrison with excellent restaurants to choose from. You can even bike into the park on the Bear Creek trail which connects with Denver’s expansive trail system.
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