Just 30 miles northwest of Denver, Golden Gate Canyon State Park spans two Colorado counties and straddles the American Continental Divide.
The seemingly endless wilderness makes it easy to see why visitors flock to this state park for hiking, horseback riding, cycling, and other outdoor activities. It is definitely for a beginner preparing for a more difficult hike or for families just wanting to have a great time.
If you're considering a trip to Golden Gate Canyon in Colorado, you're in luck: we've got the low-down right here.
What You Need to Know About Golden Gate Canyon State Park
This state park spans 12,000 acres of virtually undeveloped wilderness in Gilpin and Jefferson counties. Anyone who's planning a trip to Denver and loves to hike or do anything remotely outdoorsy should plan a leg of their trip through this park.
With plenty of places to stay, things to do, and incredible natural sights to see, you could disappear for quite some time in this massive and marvelous state park.
Places to Crash at Night
Remember: this park stretches 12,000 acres of aspen-laden backwoods landscapes. Why limit yourself to a daytrip out of Denver when you have plenty of places to stay inside the park? Just make sure you have the proper camping gear.
- Campsites: Those looking to rough it (or somewhat rough it) can opt for a campsite at their choice of two campgrounds: Aspen Meadows and Reverend's Ridge. Campsites accommodate trailers, pickup campers, and tents. The campsites are dog-friendly and offer special spaces for horses. You can also bring your own bivy bag if you prefer.
- Backwoods Campsites: If you want to escape from the world for a few days, a backcountry experience might be right up your alley. Golden Gate Canyon State Park offers four backwoods shelters and 20 campsites to meet your needs.
- Group Camping: Grab a group of friends or plan a family reunion and choose between two group campgrounds. Group sites can accommodate anywhere from 30 to 75 guests. Who's ready to plan their wedding reception?
- Cabins and Yurts: Focus on enjoying yourself instead of setting up and breaking down your campsite by renting a cabin or yurt for your stay. These facilities offer basic amenities like flushing toilets, showers, and running water. Just make sure to bring a cooler for food and don't expect any cell phone service or Wi-Fi.
- Guest House: Treat your family to a comfortable experience in the Golden Gate Canyon State Park guest house. Unlike the cabins and yurts, a stay here includes a full kitchen and linen services.
36 Miles of Hiking Trails in Golden Gate Canyon State Park
Rejoice: Golden Gate Canyon State Park is a hiker's paradise filled with 36 flowing miles of trails. These 12 trails offer breathtaking scenery no matter which time of year you visit. Although, it's hard to beat the autumn colors.
Inside the park, you'll have a hard time picking which trails to traverse. Some pass hidden lakes and watersheds while others straddle the southern Rocky Mountain Range and Continental Divide.
If you're new to hiking or have mobility concerns, consider selecting your hikes based on difficulty to help narrow down your choices. Fortunately, Golden Gate Canyon offers a broad variety of hikes around all portions of the park ranging from easy, moderate, and difficult.
Black Bear Trail, for instance, stretches seven miles in a loop – and you should expect to feel the intensity of trekking over 1,100 feet. Remember: these are the Rocky Mountains we're talking about here. The Reverend's Ridge trail, on the other hand, only spans a quarter-mile and is easily accessible.
Exciting Animals and Plant Life
Wildlife photographers should have no trouble developing a new portfolio filled with the park's unique animals and plant life.
Don't be surprised if you stumble across some larger animals like moose, elk, and even black bears. You also might run into a plethora of smaller friends like foxes, bobcats, and beavers. There's a good chance you could even witness a flying bald or golden eagle – what a sight!
Golden Gate Canyon State Park is also home to seemingly infinite species of plant life and interesting geological formations. A variety of pine trees like Douglas firs, blue spruces, and Ponderosas engulf the jagged mountain terrain.
There's nothing quite like the aspen in Golden Gate Canyon during the fall months. If you visit during this time, you'll truly understand where the "golden" part comes from – it's simply spectacular.
Even the rocks and dirt are interesting in Golden Gate Canyon. Make sure to look for the natural quartz and other Precambrian rocks.
Stunning Views of the Continental Divide
The Continental Divide runs all the way from Alaska down through the tip of Chile. In Golden Gate Canyon State Park, you can check out the world-renowned views for yourself.
At least two of the park's 12 trails provide you with views of the Great Divide: Racoon Trail and Beaver Trail. (Fun fact: all the trails are named after animals in the park.) Although both of these trails are under three miles, they range between moderate and difficult. If you're feeling nervous, go with the moderate Racoon Trail.
Interesting Activities to Keep You Busy
You could probably hike this park for a week and still not see the whole thing. Nevertheless, Golden Gate Canyon State Park provides ample opportunities to enjoy a broad range of activities.
- Horseback Riding: Why walk the trails like a peasant when you could traverse them on a horse like royalty? Roughly 19 miles of trail are accessible via horseback. Some campers even bring their own horses.
- Rock Climbing: Where better than the Rocky Mountains to squeeze in some rock climbing? Make sure to grab a permit for this activity.
- Fishing: Fishing is encouraged in all ponds and streams which are well-stocked during the warm weather months. Check out the hidden fishing gems like Dude's Fishing Hole.
- Biking: Just as with horseback riding, you can feel free to peddle away down 19 miles of designated paths. Make sure to research the trails you'd like to bike before heading out. Weather conditions can affect the paths' accessibility for bikes or anything with wheels.
- Hunting: Yes, you can hunt inside Golden Gate Canyon State Park. Just make sure to understand the state rules and regulations and pick up a permit.
Other Attractions Near the Park
If you manage to sneak out of the park for an afternoon, head over to some of the neighboring towns for some action.
Idaho Springs is a historic town and the self-proclaimed home of the Colorado gold rush. The town is filled with interesting museums and historic sites. It's definitely worth an afternoon out of the park if you feel up to it.
Nederland is another town just outside the park. Head here to catch a movie and grab a bite to eat. Don't forget to take a ride down the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway while you're here.
Read: Colorado Hanging Lake
Basic Golden Gate Canyon State Park Information You Need to Know
Golden Gate Canyon is a very large park. Keep a few things in mind before you plan your trip.
- No Phone Service: Sure, it's nice to unplug for a while but you also can't call for help in the event of an emergency. Plan ahead.
- Pet-friendly: The entire park is very friendly to dogs. Just make sure to keep your furry friend on a 6-foot leash. Keep in mind that dogs are allowed on just 19 miles of trail – so don't drag your pooch onto a prohibited trail.
- Navigation: This is the kind of setting horror movies are made of. Get a compass and detailed trail map from the visitor center (general maps won't cut it). Make sure you know how to use a map and compass together.
- Food and Water: You'll be hard pressed to find any food for sale inside this park. Get yourself a nice cooler and plan how to eat in advance. You can always rent a yurt or campsite to store your goodies for the duration of your trip. Remember that hikes often take longer than expected so always pack enough food and water.
- First Aid: At the very least, you should carry some bandages, antiseptic, and mild painkillers. Accidents happen and they're much easier to manage when you're well-prepared.
- Fire: Fires are not allowed outside of designated grills and firepits. During very dry seasons, Golden Gate Canyon State Park may ban fires entirely so check the conditions before embarking on your trip.
- Get Legal: Do some basic research to see if you need any kind of permit for your activities. Remember that Colorado state has its own regulations and park policy might fluctuate.
Plan Your Trip to Golden Gate Canyon State Park
Fall, winter, spring, summer: no matter when you visit, Golden Gate Canyon is a stunning park filled with interesting wildlife and activities to keep you moving.
From the snow-capped mountains and vibrant fall colors to the bubbling brooks and soaring bald eagles, there's excitement at every turn. Grab your camera to snap some shots of the Continental Divide and spend a week (or month) navigating the backwoods trails.
Get out there and enjoy the trip of a lifetime.
Featured Image: CC 2.0, Brian, via Flickr