Denver Area Photo Locations – South Valley Park

April 17, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

This is the next in my series of PFB Images blog posts about Denver area outdoor photography locations.  This month, I’m featuring South Valley Park.  The park is located west of C-470 in the Ken Caryl Valley area of Jefferson County.  From C-470, take the Ken Caryl Avenue exit and turn west, passing through the hogback.  At the first traffic signal, bear left onto South Valley Road.  Continue about one mile to the South Valley Park entrance on the left.  The park is free and is open from one hour before sunrise the one hour after sunset daily.  See the park’s website for details.

South Valley Park consists of about 900 acres, including about 8 miles of trails.  From the main parking lot, you can combine the Swallow Trail and a portion of the Coyote Song Trail to create a 2-mile hiking loop.  Swallow Trail is hiker-only, and serves as a boundary between the flatter western meadow portion of the park and the hogback on the eastern side.  The 0.2-mile connector between the Swallow Trail and the Coyote Song trail begins the climb up the west face of the hogback.  The climb continues along Coyote Song Trail, with the highest point on the loop near the Lyons Back Trail junction.  Note that the lands east of the Coyote Song trail (including the hogback rim and portions of the Lyons Back Trail) are owned by the Ken Caryl Valley Ranch Foundation, and are only open to Foundation members.  Grazing Elk Trail is a 2.5-mile loop encircling an elk meadow in the southwest portion of the park, and is accessible from the south end of the Swallow Trail.  This trail is subject to seasonal closures based on elk movements.

Since the Grazing Elk Trail is closed when the elk are most active, the majority of the photographic opportunities are along the Swallow Trail / Coyote Song trail loop.  The park is home to mule deer, rabbits and other small mammals, and a wide variety of bird life.  An occasional elk will cross South Valley Road to graze in the meadow west of Swallow Trail during the fall, and coyotes and foxes can be seen occasionally.  Mann Reservoir (just south of the parking lot) attracts limited waterfowl since the reservoir is small and water levels are not stable.  From a landscape photography perspective, this park provides less crowded access to the red sandstone formations that Colorado’s Front Range is known for. Much of the loop provides close-up access to the formations, allowing for intimate photographs such as this melting icicle photographed along Swallow Trail.  The best time for landscape photography is evening.  The rock formations are bathed in low light until the sun dips below the foothills to the west, as shown in this late-day image taken where the rocks rise out of the meadow.  From Coyote Song Trail, it is also possible to photograph sunsets over the Front Range foothills.  Various other locations in the park can yield decent photographs depending on weather and lighting, including and the intermittent creeks that flow through the park and Grazing Elk Trail.

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