North Table Mountain is perfect for a sunrise hike near Denver

Editor’s note: This is part of The Know’s series, Staff Favorites. Each week, we will offer our opinions on the best that Colorado has to offer for dining, shopping, entertainment, outdoor activities and more.

When I started up the old mining road on North Table Mountain that takes runners and hikers from the main parking lot on the west side of the mountain to the flat top of the mesa just before sunrise one day last week, the lights of Golden twinkled below.

I took that as a signal it was going to be a very good day.

It’s a steep climb — more than 400 feet in elevation in only half a mile — but it’s always worth it. And on that morning, it was downright enchanting.

When I reached the top, the eastern sky was painted with the colors of an exceptional sunrise — reds, oranges and purples. To my right was one of my favorite features of this mountain, a rocky area a little larger than a football field that looks more like a lunar crater than a Front Range mountain setting. It’s rimmed on two sides by cliffs and never fails to captivate.

Not all visits to North Table are as memorable as that sunrise sojourn was, of course, but that mountain never lets me down. It’s one of my favorite places to run, featuring great views with more than 17 miles of trails around and atop the mesa.

It does have one major drawback: It’s so popular, the large main parking lot on the west often fills up and overflows. Weekends are crazy busy. North Table’s twin mountain on the other side of Clear Creek, South Table Mountain, has similar terrain but attracts far fewer people, which I noted when I shared South Table as a Staff Favorite in May.

Despite the crowds, North Table is wonderful. Administered by Jeffco Open Space, it looms hundreds of feet over Golden and Arvada, delivering wonderful views of its surroundings and downtown Denver, 11 miles away. Much of North Table is rimmed with beautiful rocky cliffs. And it’s a big mountain, so once you get up one of the three primary ascent routes, visitors do tend to spread out.

The main parking lot is located just east of Colorado Highway 93, two miles north of Colorado 58. The quickest way to the top is up the old mining road at the southern end of that parking lot. From there I recommend exploring the Sea Cliffs area just to the south or taking the Golden Cliffs trail to the southern edge of the mesa overlooking downtown Golden.

Another great option atop the mesa is to take the Tilting Mesa trail about a mile east and north to the Mesa Top trail. Follow that east for about 0.3 of a mile and then turn left onto the Rim Rock trail, which is my favorite part of the mesa. Rim Rock is a 1.7-mile loop that takes you to the rocky edge of the mesa overlooking Arvada. Finishing the loop returns you to the Mesa Top trail for return to the main parking lot.

Another way to get atop the mesa is to take the North Table loop about a mile and a half north and east from the main parking lot to the base of the Mesa Top trail, where you will ascend about 350 feet up a steep gravel road.

But my favorite way up is from the east side of the mesa. Park on the east side of Easley Road, about 0.6 of a mile south of 50th Avenue, cross the road and follow the trail north about 0.25 of a mile, turning left onto the Lithic trail. Take the Lithic trail about 0.15 of a mile up to the North Table loop. Follow the North Table loop south and west to the Cottonwood Canyon trail, which finishes the climb to the top of the mesa. Take that trail to the Mesa Top trail and turn right, descending to the North Table loop trail. This will take you through a beautiful rocky ravine. When you reach the North Table loop, head south back to the Lithic trail to finish the run or hike.

That’s about a 3.75-mile run with 530 feet of elevation gain, and I love it. But pick any trail on North Table Mountain and you will not be disappointed.

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