North Table Mountain Park is a flat topped mountain, also referred to as a mesa, which was formed 60 some million years ago by lava flow from a nearby volcanic vent. The park hosts 17.2 miles of hiking trails, one of which includes Lichen Peak.
Lichen Peak is the tallest peak in North Table Mountain sitting at an elevation of 5,552 feet. A climb to the top provides great panoramic views, some of which overlook Golden.
The trailhead sits no more than 10 minutes from the heart of Golden or 30 minutes from downtown Denver making it an easy destination for a quick morning or evening hike.
In this trail guide we’ll cover parking, trail details, and the best time to hike up Lichen Peak!
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Lichen Peak Hike Stats
- Hiking Distance | 1.6 miles
- Difficulty | Moderate
- Elevation Gain | 443 feet
- Total Time | 60-90 minutes
- Permits/Fees | None
- Trailhead | North Table Loop Trailhead
- Road Conditions | Paved 2WD
- Dog Friendly | Yes
Below is a map of the route leading up to Lichen Peak. The red trail is the direct route to Lichen Peak and the blue trail is a short loop you can add for different views and a little more mileage if you choose.
The blue trail is a flat 0.5 mile loop around the Sea Cliffs. If you combine it with the direct route to Lichen Peak your total milage will be 2.1 miles!
Getting To North Table Mountain
There are several ways to access North Table Mountain Park but this particular trailhead is located on the west side of the mountain right off HWY 93. The parking lot here hosts North Table Mountain Park West Trailhead as well as the North Table Loop. The loop trailhead is the one you’ll be taking.
HWY 93 leads north from Golden and the parking lot will be about 10 minutes down the way on the right hand side. North Ford Street also can be taken from downtown to connect to 93 by turning right, and then the parking will be almost immediately on the right.
There also is a small parking lot off of Wyoming Circle, also accessed via North Ford Street. From this lot you can take a short connector trail to the North Table Loop!
Take note of the park’s hours!
North Table Mountain Park is open from one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset.
Best Time For Hiking Lichen Peak
North Table Mountain Park can be a very busy place due to the close proximity to Golden and Denver. It is always best to get there early in the morning to secure parking, or, sneak in after the crowds have left for a sunset hike. Weekends are typically busier than week days.
Lichen Peak can be hiked year round of course depending on weather. Always check the daily temperatures and weather forecast before heading out. During winter the mesa can receive snowfall and the trail can get icy. Microspikes may be needed at times.
Summer temperatures are usually not too high to hike but the sun exposure can be brutal! Avoid hiking during the hottest part of the day and bring sunscreen, a hat, and sunglasses.
If you’re hiking with your pup consider dog boots for those very hot or icy trail conditions!
Hiking Lichen Peak
Get ready for a steep initial climb to the top of the mesa!
From the parking lot North Mountain Loop trail leads you up a very steep grade that almost feels like it never ends. At first glance it doesn’t look too bad but once you begin hiking you’ll realize the trail wraps around and continues further than the eye can see.
Don’t be afraid to move slowly and take breaks as needed for your beathing may become labored and your leg muscles tighten. Many locals use this portion of the trail for hill workouts so try to stick to the side and give plenty of space when possible.
The views are absolutely stunning along this portion of the trail! The further you hike up the better it gets.
You can see the layers and cliffs along the edges of the mesa which make for interesting landscape. Once on top of the mesa it is pretty flat and the only ‘mountain views’ you get are the ones off in the distant skyline.
Just before the trail flattens out on the top of the mountain there will be a trail junction on the right side. This trail is called West Quarry Trail which you can take to create a 0.5 mile loop for different views and more mileage.
If you want to check out this little detour keep scrolling. If you’d prefer to head straight to Lichen Peak then skip the following section and jump to Lichen Peak below!
Sea Cliffs – West Quarry Trail
The West Quarry Trail runs along what the county park calls ‘Sea Cliff’s, which I believe are just cliffs left over from an old quarry mine. For some time North Table Mountain was homesteaded and mining also briefly took place.
Once you turn right to climb up the initial rock steps you’ll be on a flat trail that runs between quarries on either side. They are deep so be careful not to get too close to the edges. When I hiked here the sunlight was so harsh my photos didn’t turn out due to dark shadowing so I didn’t include them here. They’re just holes with rocks, nothing too deep, so you’re not really missing anything.
Once past the quarries the trail connects with the North Mountain Loop. Turn left to loop back to where you came from. This portion of the trail runs along the other side of one of the quarries and is very open and flat.
Not long and the trail will intersect with the Tilting Mesa Trail. Turn right to head to Lichen Peak.
From the trailhead the North Mountain Loop seems like it keeps going, but it actually veers right along the quarry in order to loop around all of the park. Looking at a map may help this all make sense, but if you’re coming from the trailhead, keep straight, and you’ll actually be on Titling Mesa Trail.
If you’re coming from the quarry loop, once you turn right to continue on to Lichen Peak you’ll actually be on Titling Mesa Trail.
It all sounds confusing but if you look at a map ahead of time or just hike it, you’ll see how easy it actually is.
On the left side of Tilting Mesa Trail there will be another trail with a sign for Lichen Peak. Turn here to hike all the way to the peak! This trail is only open to hikers, not bikers.
It is very important to stay on trail through this sensitive area. The ground on either side is like a garden of lichen covering the volcanic rock. Lichen is a plant like organism that is made up of one species fungi and one to two species of algae. It can be difficult to point out the Lichen but believe me, they are there. This is why the peak was named Lichen Peak!
What does Lichen look like?
Lichens come in a variety of rich colors. They could be bright red, yellow, orange, or even green, black, brown, silver, or gray. They can be embedded in the surface of rock, or grow on the ground. They somewhat resemble a dwarf shrub which has many small branches.
Eventually the trail leads you to a rocky peak which is easy to scramble up to. It is very rocky and pointy on the top with very little room to comfortably sit down for a break.
Luckily Monty and I had the peak to ourselves, otherwise if there were many other people up there with us it would feel very crowded.
This hike is perfect for sunset because you get an unobstructed view of the sun setting behind the mountain range in the distance.
No matter the time of day the views from the peak are surprisingly wonderful! You can see all of the North Table Mountain, into Golden, and beyond. It is hard to believe this little peak isn’t more popular.
Once you get your fill you just scramble back down to the trail and retrace your steps back to the trailhead. If you took the loop around the quarries at the beginning of your hike then the way back will seem much quicker.
Final Thoughts On Lichen Peak
Monty and I stayed in Golden, Co for three days and by the time we had to leave I was wishing we could stay longer.
North Table Mountain and Lichen Peak are so close to the small city which made it easily accessible for us after my work day. Working from a hotel room can get stuffy, so it was nice to be able to get out in the fresh air and see some new sights.
I can’t believe Lichen Peak isn’t more popular due to the short trail and amazing views from the top. We were lucky to have it all to ourselves for sunset. If we were locals we’d definitely frequent this mountain park. Maybe next time we’ll hike it for sunrise to see how the two compare!
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