The East/West Regional Trail (EWRT) meanders through Douglas County open space grassland for 20+ miles (32.2 km). With several trailheads and numerous access points from the neighboring communities, this natural area attracts mountain bikers, hikers, trail runners, even horseback riders. This almost-suburban trail is squeezed into open space south of the Denver metro area. As a result, it’s easy to get to while still allowing that sensation of getting away from it all. Read on to learn more about the EWRT.
East/West Regional Trail-the basics
The East/West Regional Trail is located in Douglas County, Colorado open space. It runs just south of the Denver metro area’s suburban sprawl, skirting by the cities of Highlands Ranch, Lone Tree, and Castle Pines. These communities have one or more trailheads and neighborhood access to this point-to-point, 20+ miles (32.2 km) long trail.
As the name suggests, this trail runs mostly in an east-west direction, but it is by no means a straight line, and it does have several north-south portions. I’ve been on a lot of different trails in the last year (more about that here), and I have visited different parts of the East/West Regional Trail over the last several months. I grew to appreciate the natural grassland terrain, an opportunity for unobstructed views of the mountains and plains, few crowds, and ease of access without much driving.
On my hikes, I started from different trailheads with parking, including the western terminus in Redstone Park in Highlands Ranch, Pronghorn Park in Highlands Ranch, the Grigs Road Trailhead south of Highlands Ranch, and the Lone Tree trailhead. Each of these trailheads had some kind of restroom. Other trailheads with parking include Red-tail Park and Rocky Heights Middle School in Highlands Ranch, Daniels Gate Park, and Coyote Ridge Park. See the map below for more information on the location of trailheads and the available amenities.
I have to admit I got confused on my first visit to this trail, when I had intended to start at the eastern terminus. I ended up in the Cabela’s parking lot in Lone Tree and wandered over to where I thought the trail might be. On Cabela Drive, I saw a small trailhead with limited parking. Aha!
I didn’t realize that the trail’s start had moved to Schweiger Ranch, a historic landmark and homestead dating from the 1800s. The ranch is on the other side (the eastern side) of Interstate-25, about 1.2 miles (1.9 km) driving distance. A small parking lot at the ranch entrance leads to a soft-surface trail that initially heads south and passes under the highway, intersecting with the existing EWRT after about 2.5 miles (4 km).
As an aside, this historic ranch and ranch house are now adjacent to a light rail station and parking garage, just next to the interstate, a striking contrast between old and new.
On the Trail
On the western end of the trail in Redstone Park, it’s flat and paved. Not too far into my first hike on this segment, I was momentarily confused by a sign for the Spring Gulch Equestrian Area announcing a fee requirement. There is no fee to use the East/West Regional Trail, only the Equestrian Area, which is a short distance ahead of the sign and has a gated entrance.
Since the trail has to curve around Highlands Ranch, houses are always visible on this segment, but they are not too close. There is one street crossing at the intersection of Highway 85 and West Highlands Ranch Parkway. The corner is reasonably safe due to the crosswalk, crossing signal, and traffic light.
As the path goes further east, the pavement turns to a natural dirt surface and signs of civilization become less prominent. The native vegetation in this area consists of short plants, such as grasses, scrub oak, and agave. With very few trees around, there is ample opportunity to take in sweeping views of the surroundings. Highlights include the Rocky Mountains to the west, Pike’s Peak and Devil’s Head to the south, the plains to the east, and the Denver metropolitan area to the north.
If you take the trail from east to west, you’ll always have the mountains in view. Somewhat counterintuitively, the eastern part of the trail is at a higher elevation than the western. Do you want to go uphill on your way out, then see the mountains going downhill on your way back, or vice versa? Choose wisely!
The busiest parts of the trail were the areas around Highlands Point and Bluffs Regional Park. Even so, I wouldn’t describe them as crowded. While I was seldom the only person on the trail, encounters with others were more or less infrequent. The lack of people contributes to the overall quiet and serenity in this protected natural space. Please note, I do my hikes in the morning. If you come at different times of the day, you may have a different experience.
Views from the East/West Regional Trail
Still traveling from west to east, once past the access point from Pronghorn Park, the trail heads south for a bit, away from the subdivisions and past a few farms. The open grassland in this area of the EWRT is flattish compared to the nearby Front Range. As the trail turns back toward the east, however, many ups and downs add up to a surprising 880-foot (268-meter) change in elevation over the nearly 20-mile distance.
It’s relatively easy for a hike, but a few steep sections with some climbs will get your heart pumping. The dips and turns of the path are welcome since they obscure the view of the suburbs. At one of these points, if you let yourself, you might believe you’re in the middle of turn-of-the-century ranchland.
Blackened grass and scorched bushes and trees are evidence of a small wildfire that burned in June 2020 around mile markers 9 and 10. On my last hike in this area, an expanse of grass in the distance was still tinged red by fire retardant from an aerial drop. Colorado simply has not had enough rain and snow, making the landscape exceedingly dry and prone to fires. The damage here is minimal but serves as a reminder that devastating fires, like those throughout the state in the summer and fall of 2020, are always a possibility.
The best place to get an awe-inspiring 360-degree view of the area is Highlands Point, at an elevation of 6315 feet (1925 meters). Highlands Point is a little over a mile ( about 1.75 km) west of the Grigs Road trailhead and slightly less if you start at Red-tail Park in the south part of Highlands Ranch and take the Dad Clark trail.
Highlands Point features a large compass constructed of cut stones embedded into the ground. The perimeter of the compass has several markers pointing to items of interest, such as the famed Pike’s Peak some eighty miles (129 km) to the South, Chatfield Reservoir to the west, and even the Colorado State Capitol in downtown Denver. Make sure you can stop and spend a little time here taking it all in. If you’ve just come from the city, the expansive area and views for miles are a refreshing and welcome contrast.
Precautions to take on the East/West Regional Trail
At the same time, the wide-open spaces do come with potential hazards. Colorado is a dry climate. Without any shade in this area, it’s essential to bring water and sun protection (hat, sunglasses, appropriate clothing, and sunscreen). Take special care if you plan on being out during the day in the summer, as the sun and heat can be brutal.
This isn’t a place to be in a thunderstorm, so check the weather conditions before heading out. As mentioned above, fire is a possibility. Be aware and note any restrictions.
Part of the trail may be closed at certain times for wildlife protection. There will be a detour near a golden eagle nesting area if needed, as shown on the map below.
Be alert to the presence of mountain bikes. Most bikers are polite, but the relatively narrow path has places with blind turns where you could be taken by surprise.
The East/West Regional Trail offers connections to other trails. For example, Redstone Park is also a trailhead for the Spring Gulch and Marcy Gulch Trails, paved trails inside Highlands Ranch. I turned one hike into a loop by going out on the EWRT and returning to Redstone Park on the Spring Gulch Trail. You can see this route that I contributed to AllTrails here.
Highlands Ranch has its own private “backcountry” trail system with several connections to the East/West Trail. One can be fined for trespassing. These private trails are well-marked with rule-filled signs, so it’s pretty easy to avoid them.
On the eastern side in Lone Tree, the EWRT goes through Bluffs Regional Park on a segment shared with the park’s own trails. Bluffs Regional Park trails include two overlooks with stunning views, which are well worth exploring. Click here to see my post on Bluffs Regional Park.
Other trails connected to the East/West Regional Trail include the Ridgegate Trail in Lone Tree, and as mentioned above, the Dad Clark Trail in Highlands Ranch.
The EWRT is currently being expanded to bring the total distance to 28 miles (45 km). In August 2020, construction began on a new 4.7-mile (7.5 km) segment that will connect the trail near Schweiger Ranch with an existing trail in the town of Parker to the east. I’m looking forward to checking out this eastern segment when it’s open.
Custom Map of the East/West Regional Trail
I couldn’t find all the information I wanted about the East/West Regional Trail in one place. So I created this map on AllTrails to tie everything together.
Red: East/West Regional Trail
Blue: Connectors or neighborhood access
Purple: Seasonal detour for wildlife protection
Don’t see the map or want to see the original? Click here to go to the map page on AllTrails.
Other Trail Information
|Distance||Up to 20+ miles (32.2 km)|
|Difficulty||Easy to moderate|
|Trail Type||Point to Point|
|Trail Surface||Unpaved, natural (eastern and central), paved (western)|
|Besides Hiking:||Trail running, mountain biking, equestrian|
|Links||Douglas County Trail Page |
Colorado Trail Explorer (COTREX) Page
Darla Travels Custom Map on AllTrails
|Closest Towns||Highlands Ranch, Castle Pines, Lone Tree|
Multiple trailheads and access points make it easy to get to the East/West Regional Trail. At 20+-miles (32.2 km), the trail lends itself to repeated visits on different segments. Civilization is just over the hill, but is easy to ignore. Once out on the winding path, it’s peace, tranquility, and open space grassland.
Have you hiked the East/West Regional Trail? What did you think? Leave a comment below.