Golden Gate Canyon State Park: The Complete Guide

view of a hiking trail in Colorado
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Golden Gate Canyon State Park

Address
92 Crawford Gulch Rd, Golden, CO 80403, USA
Phone +1 303-582-3707
4.2

There’s a state park a short drive from Denver and Boulder that has everything you need for an outdoor adventure. In addition to the dramatic views and about 12,000 acres of nature and open space, you are likely to also see wildlife like deer, elk, moose, black bears, and mountain lions, so keep a camera ready. Here’s a closer look at the Golden Gate Canyon State Park and how to plan your next getaway there, whether you’re seeking an easy staycation from Denver or you’re craving a full Colorado camping experience.

Things to Do

In this state park, you can go hiking year-round on 35 miles of trails or fishing in the stocked ponds before taking your lunch to one of the 125 designated picnic areas. You can also ride horses (certain campgrounds even have horse-trailer parking) and there are also 22 miles of horse-riding trails. On other specific trails, you can go rock climbing and mountain biking and in the winter, you can go snowshoeing, sledding, ice skating, or cross-country skiing. Many trails are open year-round but make sure to ask a ranger first before heading out, as some trails may close due to mud, ice, or avalanche danger. Hunting season lasts from Labor Day through Memorial Day.

Best Trails & Hikes

There are hikes of all levels from easy to difficult and you can easily combine different trails to set your own challenge. Trails are named after different animals and marked with that animal's footprint. Trailheads can be accessed from the main roads in the park. Mountain bikes are permitted on multiple-use trails like the Blue Grouse and Raccoon trails.

  • Mountain Lion Trail: Popular, but moderately difficult, this 6.7-mile loop draws a lot of hikers, horseback riders, and mountain bikers
  • Raccoon Trail: This 2.5-mile moderate loop is open to horses and bikes and is famous for the Panorama Point destination, which is especially beautiful in the fall.
  • Black Bear Trail: This one-way trail is 3.4 miles long and considered the most difficult in the park as it requires some bouldering at the start of the trail. At Rim Meadow, you'll have a nice view of Mount Evans and Golden Gate Canyon.
  • Blue Grouse Trail: Mountain bikers and horse riders are also allowed on this .07-mile one-way moderate trail that passes through an aspen grove.
  • Burro Trail: This 4.5-mile loop is of moderate difficulty but finishes at Windy Peak, which has a 360-degree view.
  • Horseshoe Trail: This hiker-only trail is moderately difficult and 1.8-miles long.

Where to Camp

There are more than 130 campsites to choose from here in two different campgrounds, including 20 different backcountry sites and four backcountry shelters, plus a group campsite for large parties. You can camp in the campgrounds from Memorial Day through early October and in the backcountry year-round. The campgrounds do have toilets nearby and some sites have electrical hookups. There are 20 backcountry tent sites and four shelters. All campsites require reservations.

  • Reverends Ridge: This campground has 38 tent sites and 59 sites with electrical hook-ups for RVs. Here there are also bathrooms with running water, an ice machine, and a laundry facility.
  • Aspen Meadow: Here there are 35 tent-only sites with access to vault toilets and a water pump. Each campsite has a table and a fire ring.
  • Rifleman Phillips Group Campground: This campground is designed specifically for groups of up to 75 people. Only tent camping is allowed here.

Where to Stay Nearby

If you prefer to sleep in a bed rather than a sleeping bag, reserve one of the two yurts, guest houses, or five cabins in the park. If you want all of the amenities of a hotel with the views and trail access of a campsite, the guest house is the best option with a full kitchen and two private bathrooms. Since it's only about a half-hour drive from Denver and Boulder, you could also find accommodation in town and drive in for the day.

  • Cabins and Yurts: The cabins and yurts can sleep six people each and have heat, electricity, furniture, and an outdoor grill. There’s a toilet and running water nearby but not in the cabins themselves. Some cabins and yurts allow dogs, so ask first before booking if you're traveling with a furry family member. 
  • Harmsen Ranch Guest House: This four-bedroom, two-bathroom guest house is available for rent through the park website.

Read more about which hotels in Denver have the best views.

How to Get There

The Golden Gate Canyon State Park is close enough to Boulder and Denver but it feels like a world away. It's located less than a half-hour drive from the town of Golden and just 30 miles from Denver so you can be there in under an hour. The Visitor Center is located at the intersection of Golden Gate Canyon Road (Highway 46) and Crawford Gulch Road.

From Denver, take US-6 west until you can take CO-93 north and then take the exit onto Golden Gate Canyon Road. From this exit, you'll only have 12 miles to go until you reach the park. From Boulder, you're even closer to the park. You can take CO-93 south until you can take the exit for Golden Gate Canyon Road. Or, follow CO-119 west for the more scenic route that will take you past the Boulder Falls and through the town of Nederland that sits next to the Barker Meadow Reservoir.

Accessibility

Residents of Colorado with a "total and permanent" disability are eligible for the Columbine Park Pass, which offers discounted annual entry into the park. The only trail that is accessible for wheelchair users is the Show Pond Trail, which can be accessed from the visitors center. It's a quarter-mile long and paved with a view of the trout-filled pond. You can also drive up Gap Road to Panorama Point, where you'll find accessible parking, picnic tables, and a boardwalk that leads out to the overlook. There is also one wheelchair-accessible yurt (Bobcat) which has private parking and a ramp that leads up to the front porch.

Tips for Your Visit

  • Dogs are allowed on trails and campgrounds but must be leashed at all times. Visitors are reminded that all waste must be disposed of properly.
  • There is no Wi-Fi or reliable cell service here (although if you're lucky, you might catch a weak signal) so plan accordingly.
  • Campsites book out quickly, so plan far in advance. The park can get pretty busy, so don't expect total privacy and solitude on the campgrounds.
  • If you stay in the backcountry, don’t set any campfires. Always clean up your trash and messes and make sure you store your food properly because this area is visited by bears.
  • Educational programs are typically hosted at the Reverend's Ridge amphitheater in the summer.
  • No matter the time of year, make sure you drive up to the Panoramic Point Scenic Overlook and take photos of the Continental Divide. Pack a jacket and dress in layers, as temperatures can change quickly, especially this high up.
  • Trail conditions are updated on the park's official website and are worth checking before you head out for a hike.

Read more about the most beautiful places for hiking and camping in the Colorado mountains. 

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The Complete Guide to Golden Gate Canyon State Park