Trail running the Davidson Mesa

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Sarah Tuff Dunn

There’s something sacred about Davidson Mesa, where a 3.2-mile, mostly flat trail makes it a mecca for trail runners. Just before dawn, there is a magical few minutes where no head lamp is required but there is still a scattering of stars and a sliver of moon overhead. If you’re lucky, there are no cars in the parking lot and no dogs in the off-leash area. It’s just you and the sound of your feet smoothly scraping the trail as you set off toward the Flatirons.

The Flatirons seem to change with every moment on the Mesa — retreating, advancing, changing colors from gold to copper and silver. While they’re breathtaking up close, the five distinct formations are even more awe-inspiring from a distance, as your legs and lungs are pumping up the gently rising hills, and you begin to see the light of day.

PRAIRIE DOGS star in the Davidson Mesa wildlife show — scurrying, chirping and scrambling in and out of their holes. In the morning, magpies dart in and out of the tall grass, too. It smells alive out here, touched with sage and the odor of horses stabled in the Spanish Hills neighborhood. Your isolation in nature is only disturbed by the passing of other people out exercising.

The author, hard at work, trail running toward the sight of 14,259-foot Longs Peak.

Even telephone poles seem majestic on the Mesa, which lures Boulderites from sunrise to sunset. Teenagers are filming themselves spinning in circles. Friends are running side-by-side, talking about their plans for a summery Saturday. Families stop to admire the views of downtown Boulder, Lafayette, Lyons, Erie and Denver: a 360-degree panoramic of Colorado life, rural and urban. It’s different now, with the masks and the social distancing, but eyes are still smiling.

Slinking alongside the Davidson Mesa is U.S. Highway 36, the main corridor between Denver and Boulder. As a trail runner, you see the ebb and flow of traffic throughout the day. Commuters, tourists, truck drivers all making their way to an unknown destination. But after a loop (or two or three or four) your stopping point is back at the trailhead, taking in the glow of this gorgeous place.

Three things to know before you go

1) It’s impossible to get lost on this trail.
2) Harper Lake (across McCaslin Boulevard) is also a terrific trail run: one mile around, with no dogs.
3) Parking is limited; find additional spots at Harper Lake.

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