Have you ever looked for hiking trails near Interstate 70 on the Eastern Plains? Most websites will only show you trails in the Colorado mountains, but a search on google maps turned up a park near Deer Trail called Richmil Ranch Open Space.
Richmil Ranch protects about 350 acres. Arapahoe County bought the land from Richard and Mildred Helling’s trust in 2007. The name Richmil comes from Richard and Mildred’s names.
“The nature area preserves wildlife habitat and offer outdoor recreational opportunities that are in growing demand on the County’s eastern plans,” according to a news release issued in November 2012, just after the park opened to the public.
Richmil Ranch offers a nice, flat, easy walk that’s perfect for families. Hiking to the loop, around the loop and back is about 2.45 miles. You can also add a little side trail for another .85 miles, but quite honestly, the spur trail is a dud with no trees. It’s more of a second access trail for people hiking from the town of Deer Trail.
While you can see Richmil Ranch’s trails and a sign for the park on I-70, the trailhead is about three miles off the highway (directions below). At the trailhead, you’ll find port-a-pottys, a sign with a map, and two picnic tables under a cover.
The trail starts behind the sign board. Turn right and follow the wide, dirt and crushed rock path. There are lots of clumps of cottonwood trees here, but just a little bit of shade. I came in early May when the trees were just starting to grow their summer leaves, but I think this hike may be best in fall when the leaves are turning colors.
About a tenth of a mile from the parking, there’s a trail split. Turn either way, but I decided to go right first and hike in a counter-clockwise direction. As you hike here, you may hear from traffic noise from I-70 to your north and Highway 40 to your south. However, the best sound in the park is all of the birds chirping around you. When I hiked here in the early morning, there was a lovely symphony of birds greeting the new day. About a third of a mile from the parking lot, I even spotted a lone picnic table under a tree, just off the trail. It turns out there are about six picnic tables scattered in the trees along the trail, but most of them are on the windmill side of the park, near the windmill.
As you hike, enjoy the symphony or birds and the short sections of shade as the trail winds through the trees and grasslands.
About a half mile from the trailhead, the trail bends toward Highway 40. While it looks like you’ll be going under the highway and the nearby railroad tracks, you won’t. The trail bends back just a few feet from Highway 40. Soon you’ll be hiking due East, enjoying sunrise if you’re here early in the morning.
Two-thirds of a mile from the trailhead, you’ll arrive at the park’s main loop. This loop protects a section of agricultural land. When I visited in early May there were no crops, but there was a large watering system. At this point, there are fewer trees and eventually none, as you walk around the loop. You’ll also walk a short distance near Highway 40. I had fun waving at the passing drivers. Out here, everyone waves back.
As you walk, enjoy the “decorated” barbed wire fence. The fence seems to catch all the tumbleweeds in the area, creating an eastern plains “artwork.”
A mile from the trailhead, you’ll come to the spur trail. This 0.4 mile trail winds through the prairie over to a gate and Highway 40. I walked the path for a little extra exercise, but this spur trail is really just another access point for the park. There’s nothing along this trail to recommend it.
As you continue around the loop, along the barbed wire fence, you’ll be heading toward I-70. As you get closer to the highway, there’s suddenly a “hill.” It’s a small hill – but a hill with an elevation gain of 26 feet. At the top, you’ll see the sign for Richmil Ranch Open Space that says “Protect. Connect. Enjoy.”
So true, this is just a pleasant place to protect, connect with nature and enjoy the peace and quiet.
It’s not too far from this “hill” that you’ll be heading back into the trees and may spot a windmill. At 1.6 miles, you’ll come to another trail split. Turn right to stay on the northside of the park and go to the windmill.
The windmill area is the perfect spot for a break. There are two picnic tables here and a small pond. While it’s a little too close to I-70, it’s still a nice place to rest and enjoy the park. If these picnic tables are full, there are two more picnic tables down the path (one on each side in May 2014), in the trees.
On the way back to the trailhead, I crossed over East Bijou Creek, but you have to be looking for a creek to really see it. It’s a creek, not a river, which means you may not see water here.
After hiking about 2.3 miles or so, you’ll be back at the first split you came to and just a tenth of a mile from the trailhead and parking lot.
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Details: The hike around the park without the spur trail is about 2.45 miles with 60 feet of elevation gain. Adding the spur trail out-and-back creates a hike of 3.3 miles.
Directions: From I-70, take exit 328/Deer Trail. (You may spot the Richmil Ranch Open Space sign between mile markers 326 and 327.) At the exit, turn south on Cedar Street and drive about .25 miles to Highway 40/1st Avenue and turn right. Drive about 2.8 miles to the trailhead on your right.