This is another of the maps that usefully supplement the recently published Major Metro Trails Map of 2016. The Horseshoe Park area is one of Aurora’s better kept secrets. It provides links to Toll Gate Creek, the Cherry Creek Spillway Trail, and the Powerline Trail, with access in all directions. Signage can be challenging, but this is a great starting place from which to explore trails in all directions.
This one rides better than it reads. In fact the real knock on this route is that it is hard to figure out some times if you are on the right trail segment or not. Mostly, this is a signage problem, as in the City of Aurora is doing a terrible job labeling and signing their trails. It is really that bad and really that simple. But first, a few general thoughts on access and the ride character. I usually ride this clockwise and like heading out 7th Ave east across Colorado Blvd then continuing on 6th Avenue to Uinta St. Sixth Ave is not everyone’s cup of tea so feel free to ride east on 7th Ave instead. This ride takes you way out east, past all of the suburban sprawl, to a point where you can see the plains and nothing beyond them (at least if you look in the right direction). If you look to the northeast from Plains Park, you can also see the giant white bubbles that mark Buckley Air Force Base’s electronic monitoring stations. The dirt trail along the Plains Conservation Center is tricky in a few places but worth the extra effort. There are a few spots to pay attention, especially where the signage is inadeqaute.
Working clockwise, the exit from the High Line Canal to Toll Gate Creek Trail isn’t obvious. You’ll have passed under Chambers Rd, passed by an old historic farm, crossed over the High Line Canal and poof! there it will be. Look left, cross down and under Alameda Ave, and all will be well.
After that you’ll be riding south on Toll Gate. You’ll come into Horseshoe Park and will need to ride east on Powerline Trail. Your clue for when to turn is the power lines themselves. Look for them! They’re big and tall and hard to miss. Keep riding east.
You’ll eventually come to a park with a playground. Work your way around to the west side and you’ll have a choice of a dirt trail or a paved trail. Both are fun. If you ride the dirt, it stops (and you should, too) at Hampden. Ride the sidewalk east to Skills Park, and go north through the park then angle left onto a (you guessed it) No Name Trail. Crazy, isn’t it? No wonder they cannot stick a sign in the ground. If you are riding the paved trail, look for the no name trail angling sharply off to the right. Follow it to West Toll Gate Creek Trail back to Horseshoe Park and from there ride home the way you came or head southwest to Cherry Creek Reservoir. Alternately, there’s a short stretch of West Toll Gate Creek Trail that leads south to Dartmouth Ave if you’re interested in some of Aurora’s finest on-street riding.
If you’ve made it back to Horseshoe Park and want to ride the full loop, all you have to do is figure out how to get out and south the Spillway Trail. It is not easy, but well worth it, if only to try to imagine what kind of cataclysmic event it would take for the spillway to ever come into play. And if you can imagine that, what would Horseshoe Park look like under that much water? The map below probably explains the route and route finding difficulties better than I can, so take a look and give it a try. The neighborhoods just south of Horseshoe are not super busy, so even if you are off route somehow, nothing ugly is going to happen. Once you’re on the Spillway Trail, the only remaining obstacles are the several at-grade crossings just north of the park. Use the crosswalks, be patient, and all will be well.
One final note. I’ve shown this as a kind of open-jawed route with access from the north along 11th Ave to CU Medical School and the Anschutz Medical Plaza and from the south through the reservoir and from Denver along the Cherry Creek Trail. Rding in from northwest Aurora to Southwest Aurora is a tale of two cities (almost). The contrast is stark between the older and seemingly less affluent northwest and the suburban southwest. It is one of those things that makes riding a bicycle so interesting–there’s no screen between you and the world around you.