One of the most appealing parks along the Front Range, Lair o' the Bear has a lot to offer hikers of all ages and abilities. The short trip to the park from town makes this a reasonable outing, but hopping in the car and winding up Bear Creek Canyon will help you to leave the everyday behind.
Be aware of the weather before you head out. Though the trail seems wide, and the creek seems mellow, summer rainstorms can cause flash flooding, which would make it nearly impossible to return to the trailhead from the southern side of the creek.
For hikers looking for an outing of moderate length not far from the Denver area, this route is sure to satisfy. Starting from the eastern main Lair o' the Bear trailhead, this route heads west. Though the parking area is quite large, the park is a popular option for many Denverites, and it does fill up. Plan to arrive early in the morning to beat picnickers, fly fishermen/women, and mountain bikers!
Once you've parked your vehicle and have put on sunscreen, head out on the Bear Creek Trail
. This route is the most obvious path leaving from the western end of the parking area, and it starts as a wide doubletrack. Though there's plenty of room to hike 2-3 abreast, the volume of other visitors means that you'll want to keep to one side. The first mile or so of the trail is a lovely escape from the urbanity of Denver. The trail winds along a steep hillside, closely following Bear Creek. You'll enjoy the shade of massive cottonwoods, and the burbling sounds of the creek. The trail through this portion is flat and well maintained, providing visitors with plenty of opportunities to take in the natural surroundings.
If you're traveling with youngsters, keep an eye out at the 3/4 -1-mile mark. The Dunafon Castle is a real treat, especially for kids (of all ages!) with a vivid imagination. Originally constructed as a private residence in 1941, the castle has captivated visitors for decades. A drawbridge crossing the creek, the moat-like appearance of Bear Creek, and the authenticity all give visitors a feeling of having stepped back in time. Spending a few moments to admire the castle is well worth your time!
Once you've decided to continue on, you'll follow along the Bear Creek Trail
for a while longer. Eventually, you'll come to an intersection where two posts slow downhill traffic, and where a side trail branches to the right. Continue straight past the posts to continue. Shortly after this intersection, the trail will leave the creekside. You'll still enjoy the shade, but it will be the result of pines instead of cottonwoods. Around this time, the trail will also shrink to more of a wide singletrack.
The route will begin to climb at about the 1.2-mile mark, but the going is pleasant at first. The incline is steady, but switchbacks and ample shade makes the going manageable. You'll be climbing for just over a mile, but the views will be worth it! Stop at a few of the switchbacks to take in the views across the valley. Once you've reached the crest of the hill, enjoy the short but mellow descent on the other side.
You'll be moving along the edge of a meadow at this point, and once you duck back towards the trees, you'll reach an intersection with the Panorama Point
trail. Take a left onto this trail, as you'll double back, heading north just upslope of the trail that you were just on. From here there is a short but strenuous climb to the top of a ridgeline, and then to the summit of an interesting rock outcrop. By gaining a perch on the rocks, you'll be above the surrounding ponderosa and lodgepole pines, offering a unique view of the area. Take in the views or enjoy a picnic from this lovely vantage point.
Once you've had your fill, head back the way you came to return to the trailhead.
Visitors will likely see ducks and native fish in the lower portions of the park, but deer or elk sightings are possible higher up!