Lyons is a small town tucked just on the edge of the Rocky Mountains. Besides having a cute main street complete with food and (sometimes) music, Lyons is also the gateway town to beautiful Button Rock Preserve. I first visited the Preserve when I was looking for fairly easy hikes near the Front Range. I was immediately enchanted by the part of the trail that follows a twisting, robust creek to a massive dam. And recently, I was able to visit for a second time to complete a lollipop trail that heads up into the forested mountains that surround the preserve. What’s great about this trek, besides the river, the drama of the dam, and the views, is that Lyons is the perfect post-hike stop for food and rest.
This is a wonderful option for anyone looking for a trail that isn’t too long, but it is still a great workout. It also offers an opportunity to enjoy many of the things that make Colorado such a wonderful place – forests, mountains, food, and breweries. Whether you want to explore in person or just enjoy some pictures, come along to learn about this exceptional hiking near Lyons, CO.
- 1 Why Visit Button Rock Preserve?
- 2 Sleepy Lion Trail Lollipop Route
- 3 Need to Know Information (Sleepy Lion Route)
- 4 How to Get There
- 5 Safety Considerations
- 6 Things to Eat in Lyons, CO
- 7 More on Colorado
Why Visit Button Rock Preserve?
There are a lot of really cool trails in Colorado. So many, in fact, that it can be hard to pick which one you’d like to do. This is a particular problem when you have limited time in the state, and you have to prioritize. Button Rock Preserve (as much as I love it) can’t compete with places like Rocky Mountain National Park. And it isn’t the same kind of hiking as the famous 14ers. When it comes to moderate Colorado hiking, close to Denver, CO, though, this preserve is a great option.
Perfect for Family Hikes
For one, it doesn’t require reservations – which Rocky Mountain National Park does seasonally. If you happen to come and find out you can’t visit the National Park, it’s time for other options. Button Rock Preserve is a great spot. Sure, it isn’t home to craggy peaks, but is a beautiful riparian area encircled by the mountains. And it has hiking options for the whole family. For example, there are plenty of long trail options for the hard-core hikers. There is also a road that most of the trails start from, which travels along the creek to the dam. For folks into casual hiking, this is great. There is even a bathroom at the beginning of the trail and towards the dam. It’s perfect for the family as long as you are careful around the flowing water. And finally, there are even beautiful spots along the creek right at the trailhead. So, folks who don’t want to hike at all have some good options too.
History on the Land
Secondly, Button Rock Preserve is a prime spot for exploring the relationship that people have had with the land in this area. The dam is a massive, industrial element that shapes everything in this area. It is important to the water provisions of the communities here. And it makes for a really interesting and unique hike. That’s because the trail leads to the base of the dam. And you can follow another track up to the top too. From there, a spectacular lake will stretch off into the mountains. There is also a history of ranching here.
Free but No Dogs Allowed
Another nice thing about this spot is that it is free. And while it can get busy, it has a nice parking lot, so it is a great option if you don’t want to make a mountaineering start. That all being said, Button Rock Preserve is NOT dog friendly.
Sleepy Lion Trail Lollipop Route
As per 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Denver, I did the Sleepy Lion lollipop route (5.5 miles) when I visited Button Rock Preserve for some hiking near Lyons, CO. (Although the first time I went, we just did an out and back to the dam). For this route you will follow the dirt road that leaves from the trailhead along North St. Vrain Creek. Along this initial, road section, you will get to see Longmont Reservoir, and the lower part of the creek. In the summer, there are often fly fishers in this area, and sometimes people just relaxing along the waterway.
Sleepy Lion Trail
You’ve got to keep your eyes open though, for the junction to Sleepy Lion Trail, which branches off to your left before Chimney Rock Dam. There will be a sign, but it is still easy to miss. At this point, you will follow the trail up into the mountains. For a good mile, at least, you will be hiking upwards. Parts of this trail also follow an old ranching road, and you will run into junctions with trails for the Hall Ranch Open Space and Roosevelt National Forest. Be careful to stay on Sleepy Lion.
Eventually, you will top out after the trail weaves its way through some giant boulders, and past an iron gate protecting an entrance to another ranch. Then the trail will follow another rugged road through the shade of the forest, down to the dam. You have a couple of options here (easiest to see on AllTrails). On the typical route, you will stay on Sleepy Lion all the way to the bottom of the dam, and then you could either do a spur hike to the top, or you could head back. Alternatively, if you can find it on the way down, there is a trail that will cross briefly through the national forest and take you to the South Cove Trail. From here, you can walk across the top of the dam, and then hike down and back from there. That is the route that we did last time and I prefer it. It is very pretty, and avoids having you hike down and then back up the dam.
The Dam and Heading Back
From there, you will follow the road back to the Button Rock Preserve trailhead. And there is even a bathroom along the way! Some of my favorite sites along the trail here include the top and bottom of the dam. The lake at the top is really serene. And the bottom of the dam has this insanely powerful water outlet that just blasts into the creek bed. Other than that, the whole way to the trailhead is beautiful. I don’t prefer road hiking, but the St. Vrain creek and the surrounding canyon are really lovely. The road doesn’t hugely detract from that, and it makes this a nice option for moderate Colorado hiking.
Ralph Price Reservoir
If you are looking for a longer option for hiking near Lyons, CO, Button Rock Preserve has more trails besides this lollipop route. In fact, you could do everything described above, with the addition of a large spur. There is a trail that follows the northern shore of Ralph Price Reservoir, and there are trails that loop through the mountains above the lake at the end of this track. So you could do a lollipop inception if you so desired. I have yet to do this big add on, but it’s something that I’d like to do in the future. I especially think that hiking along the lake would be really enjoyable.
Need to Know Information (Sleepy Lion Route)
Difficulty Level: Moderate due to elevation gain and length of the trail
Entrance Fee: None
4WD Needed: No, but there is a dirt road you will need to take to the trailhead. We have successfully done this with a low car two times.
Bathroom at the trailhead? Yes! And there is also another bathroom further up the trail near the dam.
Accessibility notes: There aren’t paved trails in this area, but if you just need a wider, gravel trail, this might be a good option for you if you just go to the base of the dam and back. The Longmont Dam Road does have a slight incline but it is nicely graded.
How to Get There
For directions to this hiking near Lyons, CO, you can’t get better directions than from the official preserve website. “Button Rock Preserve is located in a quiet river valley about 7 miles west of Lyons. To get to the preserve from Longmont, travel west on Highway 66 to Lyons. Proceed west on Highway 36 for 4 miles. Turn left at Boulder County Road 80 and continue for 3 miles where you will arrive at a gate across the roadway which restricts vehicle access. Limited parking is provided and the preserve is beyond the gate.”
We’ve had good success using Google to get here. But note that the turn off from Highway 36 to the county road is VERY easy to miss. And it can be hard to turn around if you miss it. So, be careful switching from the highway to the much smaller and slower county road.
As always, the tips above are NOT comprehensive. This guide is not a guarantee of your safety. You need to take care of yourself on the trail. If in doubt, don’t go.
Some additional safety considerations for the Sleepy Lion Route at Button Rock Preserve, however, are (1) flowing water safety, and (2) hiking on active roads.
While St. Vrain Creek might look nice and calm, it is still a flowing creek. That means that it is more dangerous that you think it is. Keep your kids and yourself out of the water. It should go without saying, but the dam itself is also dangerous. Obey all signage, and stay on the trails.
The Longmont Dam Road is also an active maintenance access road. So, while there aren’t a lot of vehicles on this part of the trail, they do pass at times. I would suggest not wearing headphones in this area to make sure that vehicles can safely pass when needed.
Things to Eat in Lyons, CO
If you end up picking Button Rock Preserve for some moderate Colorado hiking, be sure to make some time to stop in Lyons. It isn’t a big town, but Lyons is really cute and has some nice food options for post-hiking celebrations. In particular, I like Oskar Blues. They have their own brewery, and their burgers are really luscious. They also have a big indoor space that is good for hot or cold days. If you sit on their patio, they are dog-friendly.
Main Stage Brewing, alternatively, is a good spot if you are looking for a big outdoor area. You order inside here and then sit outside. They have good snacks, nice pizza, and a great selection of beers on tap. This spot is dog-friendly.
One thing that is unfortunate about Lyons is that they lost their really good coffee shop in 2023. Hopefully another one will come in soon. There is a spot for coffee still in town, but I wasn’t a huge fan of it myself. And since it was the only one in Lyons, it was very crowded.
More on Colorado
I am slowly working on building out my hiking and travel guides to Colorado. You can check out my other posts about this beautiful state in my Guide to Colorado.
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