Golden Gate Canyon State Park: The Complete Guide

photo of a snow-dusted cabin in the park during winter
•••   Colophotos/Getty Images 

You don’t have to venture deep into the mountains to enjoy a mountain getaway. There’s a state park a short drive from Denver and Boulder that has everything you need for an outdoor adventure, except the long drive into the mountains.

The Golden Gate Canyon State Park is convenient (just 30 miles from Denver in the town of Golden) and offers a variety of ways to embrace the state's beautiful nature.

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.

How to Get There

Driving is your best bet. The Golden Gate Canyon State Park is located northwest of Golden along the Colorado Front Range. It’s less than a half-hour drive from Golden, which is home to the Colorado School of Mines. It’s close enough to Boulder and Denver but it feels like a world away.

About the Park

  • 36 miles of hiking trails
  • 22 miles of horse-riding paths
  • More than 100 campsites
  • More than 100 picnic sites
  • About 12,000 acres of nature and open space

Things to Do in the Park

Go hiking year-round on 35 miles of trails (feel free to bring your dogs on a leash). There are a variety of different trails to choose between. The Mountain Lion Trail is a popular one. It’s a moderately difficult, 6.8-mile loop that draws a lot of people.

Beware of mountain lions in the area (hence the name of the trail). Dogs are welcome if kept on a leash. Another lovely trail with mountain views is the Raccoon Trail. You can also combine several different trails to make your own length and challenge. There are hikes of all levels, from easy to difficult.

Go fishing in the stocked ponds before taking a cooler to one of the 125 designated picnic areas for lunch. This park is also popular for gatherings and special group events; you can reserve certain facilities, including camp areas and picnic spaces.

In the park, you can also ride horses (certain campgrounds even have horse-trailer parking), go rock climbing, or mountain biking on specific trails. During the hunting season (Labor Day through Memorial Day), you can go hunting in the park. The park also offers several types of archery ranges.

This park really caters to families. During the summer, it offers special kids’ “campfire presentations” where kids can learn about the region. Also, stop by the cute visitors' center, near a fish pond where you can feed the fish out of a little food dispenser. It's cheap and fun for kids. The visitors' center itself is informative and worth a visit. 

In the winter, you can go snowshoeing, sledding, ice skating, or cross-country skiing in the Golden Gate Canyon State Park. You can even go ice skating on the frozen lakes. 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.

No matter the time of year, make sure you go on a scenic drive up to the Panoramic Point Scenic Overlook and take photos of the Continental Divide. Pack a jacket and dress in layers, as temps can change quickly, especially this high up.

In addition to the dramatic views, you are likely to also see wildlife, so keep a camera ready. Wildlife-viewing is one of the best things about staying in a state park. In Golden Gate Canyon State Park, you may see deer, elk, moose, black bear and mountain lions (take smart precautions!). This region is also home to squirrels and a wide range of birds. Bird-watchers will love the feathered friends here. Never feed wildlife, and don't put your life at risk by trying to take a moose selfie. Don't be that tourist. 

Where to Stay

There are more than 130 campsites to choose from here in two different campgrounds, including 20 different backcountry sites and four backcountry shelters.

You can camp in the campgrounds from Memorial Day through early October and backcountry year-round. The campgrounds do have toilets nearby and some sites have electrical hookups. 

Or 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. 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. 

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 for you. The guest house has its own full kitchen and two private bathrooms. It can sleep eight.

If you're rolling on big wheels, you can also rent electrical RV sites, which have access to water.

Camping with a group? Ask about the group camping areas, ideal for family reunions, corporate gatherings, or casual weddings.

Other Things to Know

There is no wifi or reliable cell service here (although if you're lucky, you might catch a weak signal) so plan accordingly. Leave your technology at home. You don't need it here anyway.

Campsites book out quickly, so plan far in advance. In fact, the park can get pretty busy. 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 leave no trace. For your safety, make sure you store your food properly because this area is visited by bears.

This is common courtesy and common sense for hiking and camping in all Colorado mountains.