Complete Guide to Hiking Trails at Golden Gate Canyon State Park: What to Expect Before You Go
June 28, 2021
Updated June 2021
Travel date August 2020
Golden Gate Canyon State Park is a great day trip from Denver or Boulder for hiking. Weekend camping trips to the park are also popular. With over 42 miles of trails, Golden Gate Canyon offers year-round recreation including hiking, biking, horse riding, snowshoeing and cross country skiing.
Golden Gate Canyon State Park
The park covers over 12,000 acres between the Front Range foothills and the Rocky Mountains. Proximity to Denver and Boulder makes Golden Gate Canyon an easy recreation option for city dwellers. The park is located less than an hour’s drive from both cities. Despite over a million annual park visitors, the trails were not crowded during our mid-week August trip.
Multi-use trails are also open to bicycles and horses.
Leashed dogs are allowed on trails in Golden Gate Canyon.
Snow can affect trail accessibility in the winter months. Check trail conditions before your visit.
Park entrances are several miles apart. Know where your trailhead is before visiting the park to avoid extra driving.
Mountain Base Road connecting the north and south side of the park is closed to vehicles from December until the spring melt. Oversized vehicles, including RVs, are prohibited year-round due to steep grades and tight curves.
Daily admission fees are required in Golden Gate Canyon. Self-pay stations are located throughout the park. Annual Colorado Park passes are also valid and can be purchased at the Visitor Center.
Cell service is limited. Download offline maps in preparation.
Golden Gate Canyon State Park Trails
The park’s twelve trails are each named for a native animal species. Trail signage is marked with the animal’s footprint. Some trails are connected and can be combined to increase mileage.
How long are the hiking trails?
The official Golden Gate Canyon park map (below) shows all of the trails along with rating and distances for planning purposes. However, beware the park literature shows one-way trail mileage for out-and-back- trails and roundtrip mileage on loop trails. It is confusing so I created the simple table above with total mileages.
Additionally, if you don’t want to plan your own hike, rangers at the visitor center can provide detailed guidance for good trail combinations based on your available time and fitness level. Be sure to clarify round trip distance versus one-way distance.
Are any of the trails handicap accessible?
The only wheelchair-accessible trail in the park is the 0.25 paved mile trail around the Visitor Center’s Show Pond. Park Rangers told us moose regularly feed in the show pond during summer drought conditions.
Golden Gate Canyon State Park Trail Map
Seasonal Trail Uses at Golden Gate Canyon
The 42.4 miles of trails at Golden Gate Canyon are open year round. Trail use varies based on weather conditions.
During the winter months when the trails are covered in snow, they are primarily used for snowshoeing and cross country skiing.
During less snowy times, 27.5 miles of the trails are designated as multi-use. All 42.4 miles of trails are open for hiking. Multi-use trails are available for bicycle and horse use.
What to expect when hiking Golden Gate Canyon?
Hiking is a popular activity at Golden Gate Canyon. However, hiking shouldn’t be taken lightly for less fit visitors. There are no easy-rated trails and I consider the moderate ratings to be Colorado-moderate.
Colorado-moderate means hikers should expect to be short of breath if not acclimated to higher elevations. We struggled a little even though we were in good shape from spending the summer hiking in Utah and Wyoming. Colorado elevation is no joke. Take it easy and don’t overdo it.
Hiking at Golden Gate Canyon
During our short visit to Golden Gate Canyon, we were able to hike two of the park’s moderate trails, Raccoon and Snowshoe Hare. Sadly, I cannot share personal experiences on the ten other park trails.
Our total mileage was seven miles but we did these over two different days. The Raccoon and Snowshoe Hare Trails offer quite different experiences. They are two great options for variety on a short trip without tackling the park’s more difficult trails.
With limited time in the park, we decided to take an afternoon hike after setting up camp. We packed our raincoats to check out the Raccoon Trail. The walk to the trailhead from our campsite added a little bonus mileage.
During our four-mile walk, we only saw a couple of other hikers. I suspect the forecasted rain and smoke from the nearby forest fires deterred most others. After a few minutes walking on the steep root-covered slopes in the forest, I quickly determined I would not be riding my bike on the park trails.
The Raccoon Trail is a moderate-rated shady evergreen and aspen forest loop. It starts and ends at Reverends Ridge campground. Panorama Point is the main attraction along the trail. Sadly, our first visit to Panorama Point at Golden Gate Canyon wasn’t magical. It was drizzling rain and visibility was very poor.
Snowshoe Hare Trail
After an evening of rain, we were greeted by a sunny morning with bright clear skies. The Snowshoe Hare trail is rated as difficult but only three miles long. The three-mile loop started and ended at Aspen Meadow campground. The start of the trail passes a popular fishing pond, Dude Fishing Hole.
During the hike, I was entertained by the granite bedrock visible along the trail. The rocks were very colorful and reminded me of the granite countertops in our old house.
I can’t remember why I chose this trail over the other options but I am still thankful. It was a great choice.
I don’t remember a lot about the trail because we saw three moose towards the end of the trail. That memory has overwritten everything else.
They were three males who appeared to be accustomed to humans. They were standing on the hiking trail. We were able to spend about half an hour watching them graze and lounge from a distance. Sadly my phone camera pictures are a little blurry because we were so far away.
In the end, we walked off the trail to get around them. No amount of noise-making on our part would encourage them to move along. As we were clapping and shouting to startle them, one guy actually laid down beside the trail.
These moose were a highlight of our two months in Colorado. Being able to watch them graze and rest in their natural habitat was amazing.
After our hike, we visited the park’s visitor center. They track wildlife spotting sin the park via a large paper presentation flip chart. I was overjoyed to add our sighting to the Wildlife Log in the visitor center.
The visitor center staff were not surprised by our moose sighting. I can’t remember the exact quote but their response was something like “oh yeah, those guys – they are there a lot”. The staff’s nonchalance had little impact on my excitement levels. I was ecstatic over our close encounter.
Park History and Homestead Ruins
The Golden Gate Canyon area’s fresh streams attracted gold miners in the 1800s. Many homesteaders followed the Gold Rush. One of the largest homesteads was the Pearce property. However, most of the Pearce buildings have been relocated to the Golden History Museum and Park in nearby Golden. Some historic ruins can still be found in the park.
The Buffalo Trail is a moderately rated hike. We did not personally hike this trail due to limited time in the park. However, the Tallman Homestead ruins are located in the Forgotten Valley along the Buffalo Trail. The buildings are not open for visitors but can be viewed from the outside.
Summary Hiking at Golden Gate Canyon
Golden Gate Canyon was one of our first hiking locations in Colorado. At the time, we thought the trails were steep but in hindsight, they were standard Colorado trails and we were still acclimating to the elevation. Spending time watching a herd of moose while hiking the Snowshoe Hare trail at Golden Gate Canyon made our experience special. We loved our time in the area and would recommend Nederland and Golden Gate Canyon for the epic scenery and wildlife.