To outdoor-recreation enthusiasts, Colorado is known for its fourteeners: mountain peaks that exceed 14,000 feet. But take a drive through the Denver area, and you might notice how the elevation varies — even all the way down here.
Finding the highest-elevation points in metro Denver counties takes you to places that you might not expect to hold the top spots. Some sit in areas that make for great photos or bike rides.
Here’s a look at the highest points in several metro counties and information about their surroundings.
Unless you live in the immediate area, there’s a good hance you’ve never passed by Arapahoe County’s highest stretch.
It sits near the edge of far southeast Aurora, just outside of Blackstone Country Club, amid the maze of twisting suburban streets.
Douglas County sits a few blocks to the south across County Line Road — and Elbert County sits a short drive to the southeast.
Michael Hubbard, a geographic information system analyst with Arapahoe County, believes that the highest point in the county sits near the intersection of Powhaton Road and Otero Drive, at around 6,220 feet above sea level.
Hubbard said he determined that location from “our 10-foot elevation contours that cover the entire county.”
Near the high point, the south Aurora area features the large Southlands outdoor mall but quickly gives way to the plains to the east.
The high point is not far from where Smoky Hill Road ends, dipping south of Arapahoe Road.
The Smoky Hill Trail, once the shortest route to Denver from Kansas, ran roughly along parts of what is today Smoky Hill Road, according to the Aurora History Museum. The route was used from the 1850s until 1870, according to a guide from the museum online.
“Archaeological evidence found near (a historical) marker indicates that native peoples occupied the area approximately 850 years before the first European American immigrants arrived,” the guide says.
Another place where the suburbs meet the plains, Adams County’s highest point, just off of Interstate 70, is not far from an industrial area.
Drivers can access the area off a frontage road along I-70 — Colfax Avenue, which, after some twists and turns, continues east past the I-70/E-470 interchange and crosses Powhaton Road.
Based on the county’s contour map, the highest point in the county is northeast of that crossing. It is 5,670 feet in elevation, located on 26th Avenue, approximately 2,680 feet east of Powhaton Road, said a statement from county spokesperson Amber DiGiallonardo.
Signs advertising new homes in the area sit at the intersection of Powhaton Road and 26th Avenue, a mark of the continuing suburban sprawl.
At first glance, the area of Kipling Street and Belleview Avenue looks like a nondescript suburban intersection: a Taco Bell here, a King Soopers there.
Walk a couple blocks north, though, and you’re out of Jefferson County and back in Denver, close to Denver’s highest point.
“The highest point within the City and County of Denver is somewhere along the south and/or west fence lines behind the residence 4899 S. Johnson St.,” a statement from Denver staff said. “These fence lines are along the boundary between Denver and Jefferson counties, and elevation continues to rise to the south and west. The elevation here is approximately 5,684 feet -5,685 feet.”
If you don’t pay close attention to the look of the street signs, you wouldn’t know you’re back in Denver.
The spot is part of the area where Denver’s boundaries snake farthest southwest. Parts of that general area were annexed into Denver sometime in the 1970s, according to materials on the Denver Public Library’s website.
On the other end of Denver near its southeast edges, another high point sits near where Interstate 25 meets Belleview Avenue.
“Honorable mention should be given to the building site at 6900 E. Layton Ave. in the Belleview Station area,” Denver’s statement to Colorado Community Media said. “Prior to the development of this block, city contour data showed a couple of small domes exceeding 5,685 feet. It is unlikely that these survived development.”
Elevations at other points of interest in Denver, according to the city, include:
• Loretto Heights Park, just to the west of the Loretto Heights campus, rises to approximately 5,510 feet. The “historic building(s)” on the campus sit at about 5,490 feet. The 70-acre campus, a former Catholic college that grew out of an effort by the Sisters of Loretto that dates back to 1891, sits off Federal Boulevard and Dartmouth Avenue.
• Inspiration Point Park summits at approximately 5,415 feet. The park sits along Sheridan Boulevard just north of I-70 and offers compelling views.
• The old radio station at the southwest corner of Ruby Hill Park is at 5,395 feet. The park sits in southwest Denver near the Overland Golf Course.
• Denver International Airport ranges from 5,300 feet to 5,400 feet.
All elevations shown in Denver’s statement were derived from the “2014 1-foot contour GIS layer created in conjunction with the 2014 Denver Regional Aerial Photography Project.”
Broomfield’s highest point sits near Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge, a place with a complicated history.
The high point sits at 5,851.11 feet, according to a statement from the city and county.
“General location is south of state Highway 128 and east of Indiana Street. The elevation point was derived from (the) Broomfield 2006 Aerial/lidar mapping project,” the statement from spokesperson Carolyn Romero said.
Rocky Flats was once a U.S. nuclear weapons plant that from 1952 until 1989 manufactured the plutonium detonators, or triggers, used in nuclear bombs. Production was halted amid an investigation of the plant’s operator, Rockwell International Corporation, for violations of environmental law, according to the Britannica online encyclopedia.
The site was one of 13 nuclear-weapons production facilities in the United States during the Cold War and was managed by the Department of Energy, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website.
The plant operated from 1952 to 1994, with manufacturing activities taking place in the center portion of the site with a large buffer zone around the area, the website says.
“Dismantling of the plant and cleanup of the highly contaminated site was undertaken in the mid-1990s and declared completed in 2005,” Britannica’s website says. “Two years later, most of the site was designated a national wildlife refuge, with areas set aside for eventual recreational use, while the remainder was permanently closed to the public.”
Whether the remaining contamination constitutes a significant risk to public health is a matter of dispute, Britannica’s website says.
Visiting Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge is free.
“Discover the 10.3 miles of year-round hiking trails for wildlife viewing, photography, and to connect with nature,” the refuge's webpage says.
The highest point in Douglas County is near Thunder Butte, according to a statement from county spokesperson Wendy Holmes.
The spot’s elevation, according to the “LIDAR 2020 Contours,” is 9,836 feet, the statement said.
A butte is an isolated hill with steep sides and a flat top, similar to but narrower than a mesa.
The next-highest point is near Devils Head, at an elevation of 9,748 feet, according to the county.
Both points sit in the southwest part of the county. Thunder Butte is located west of State Highway 67, southwest of the Town of Larkspur, according to a map provided by the county.
Devils Head sits far south of where state Highway 67 meets Rampart Range Road. It’s east of Rampart Range Road, west of Larkspur.
The highest point in Jefferson County is Buffalo Peak at 11,589 feet — also known as Freeman Peak, according to a statement from county spokesperson Julie Story.
“Buffalo Peak is part of the Kenosha Mountains and is located (about) 2.5 miles south of Wellington Lake, just east of the Jefferson-Park county line, in the Lost Creek Wilderness of Pike National Forest,” the statement said.
Some other relatively high summits in Jefferson that are closer to the Denver area, according to Jefferson’s statement, include the following spots:
• On Green Mountain at 6,855 feet
• North Table Mountain has three peaks; the highest is at 6,575 feet
• South Table Mountain has two peaks; the highest is at 6,335 feet
• On Mount Carbon at 5,772 feet
The information in the county’s statement came from a data set from the United States Geological Survey dated 2010, according to the county.
Clear Creek County
This story is intended to highlight lesser-known points of high elevation in counties, but the highest elevation in Clear Creek County is 14,278 feet at Grays Peak, according to a site that says it is “the official travel planning website for tourism in Clear Creek County.”
MORE: Man visits every county in the US, ends journey in Clear Creek
Asked about Elbert County’s highest point, Greg Thompson, county planning manager, pointed to a map on peakbagger.com. He said he doesn’t necessarily have any more specific information than that site would have.
The Elbert County high-point elevation is given as around 7,360 feet on this webpage on the Peakbagger site. That spot is near the Elbert-El Paso county line, according to the webpage’s map. Elbert meets Douglas County some distance to the west, according to the map.
“It was interesting to see how the contours changed from one end of Elbert County to the other,” Thompson said, speaking about the map. “The high point in the south end is about 1,000 feet higher than Kiowa and 2,000 feet higher than Limon. It’s a more pronounced elevation change than I would have anticipated!”