Looking for a quick hike in town? Then consider the Basalt Cap Loop on South Table Mountain. The 3-mile loop climbs South Table Mountain, winds around the eastern side of the mesa, then drops back down to the parking lot.
The hike starts near the visitor's center for NREL, the National Renewable Energy Lab (directions below). From the parking lot, walk back down the sidewalk toward the main NREL sign you passed driving in and look for the dirt trail heading toward South Table Mountain. There's no sign here, but this is the Cretaceous Trail.
About a third of a mile from the parking lot, you'll come to a signed trail split for the Cretacous and Tertiary trails. Continue up the Cretacous Trail, turning west until you reach the top of the mesa. This is the hardest part of the hike, because the trail gains about 200 feet of elevation in a half mile.
After a short walk on top of the mesa, you'll come to a second trail split. This is the Basalt Cap Loop. While there's a sign here, the signs become a bit scarce at this point. Remember this spot, the loop trail ends here.
To hike the Basalt Cap loop, go left at this split and the next one (which is just a few steps away and unsigned). After that, go right at all the splits, making a circle around the eastern end of the mesa top.
The Basalt Cap loop is about 1.6 miles long before it ends back at that signed trail split we saw earlier. At this point, it's about 0.8 miles back to your car, or if you want a longer hiker, turn right, then go left at the next two trail splits to hike across the mesa. (Read about that hike here.)
Details: The hike from the NREL Visitor's Center, up the mountain, around the Basalt Cap loop and back to the parking lot is 3.2 miles with 450 feet of elevation gain. The Visitor's Center is open Monday through Friday, so parking may be limited and restricted on weekdays.
Directions: From I-70, exit Denver West Blvd and turn west. About 0.1 miles from the highway is a stop light at Denver West Parkway, turn left. Now it's just about 0.4 miles to the NREL Visitor's Center parking lot.