Top 12 Things to do on your Visit to Golden Gate Canyon State Park
June 27, 2021
Updated June 2021
Travel date August 2020
Golden Gate Canyon State Park offers a variety of recreation within an hour of Denver or Boulder. Dense forests, meadows and high alpine peaks provide infamous beautiful Colorado scenery to those who visit Golden Gate Canyon.
In researching state parks near the Western Front in Colorado, I discovered the nearby highly rated Golden Gate Canyon State Park. After seeing pictures and reviews online, I was excited to visit.
According to Culture Trip, Golden Gate Canyon State Park is ranked in the 10 most beautiful state parks in Colorado. The park is located between the Front Range foothills and the Rocky Mountains. We loved the variety of recreational activities available. However, rain and limited time in the park restricted our activities.
Golden Gate Canyon State Park is not free. Day use fees are currently $10 per day per vehicle.
Nine self-pay kiosks are located throughout the park for your convenience. Passes and permits can also be purchased at the Visitor Center during business hours.
Annual Colorado State Parks Passes range from $80 to $120. The annual pass price includes towed vehicles if they connected when entering the park. More park pass information, including discounts available, can be found on the Colorado Parks Pass page.
How far is Golden Gate Canyon State Park from Denver?
Golden Gate Canyon State Park is located 30 miles west of Denver. The park covers over 12,000 acres and has multiple entrances. Additionally, Boulder is only 24 miles from the park. The location is great for a weekend break from either city. Park temperatures are generally at least 10 degrees cooler than Denver.
How do you get to Golden Gate Canyon State Park?
Golden Gate Canyon State Park has multiple entrances. Do not blindly follow Google directions. The northwest entrance via Highway 119 at Reverend Ridge campground is the best approach for RVs or oversized vehicles.
Mountain Base Road leads from the visitor center on the south side of the park to Reverends Ridge on the north side. Mountain Base Road is closed to vehicle traffic in winter. Oversized vehicles are restricted year-round due to steep grades and tight curves.
What city is Golden Gate Canyon in?
Golden Gate Canyon State Park is located outside the town of Golden, Colorado.
The Golden Gate Canyon Visitor Center is very nice. It shouldn’t be missed. Operating hours are 9 am until 4 pm, 7 days a week. Indoor educational displays including wildlife, ecology and geology topics. It is like a free mini-museum experience about the area.
Additionally, they track animal sightings in the park. It was very exciting to add our moose sighting to the tracking board.
The show pond in front of the visitor center has the park’s only wheelchair-friendly trail. Staff told us moose had been frequenting the pond due to the recent drought conditions.
2. Don’t Miss the Ranger Programs
Reverend’s Ridge Campground hosts ranger programs on summer weekends. The program topics vary but are always family-friendly. Check at the visitor center for the current program schedule.
3. Drive to Panorama Point
The Panorama Point viewpoint is one of the most popular attractions at the park. It’s a definite can’t miss stop on any visit to Golden Gate Canyon. The viewpoint has handicap-accessible parking and the wooden boardwalk has wheelchair ramps.
From Panorama Point, visitors get year-round spectacular views over 100 miles of Colorado’s Continental Divide. The mountain views are breathtaking during clear days. However, poor visibility on cloudy days can obscure many of the distant mountains.
4. Golden Gate Canyon Historic Sites
Gold miners were attracted to the area’s fresh creeks in the 1800s. As a result, the park is home to multiple historical sites.
The Tallman Homestead in the Forgotten Valley can be accessed from the Buffalo Trail. The buildings are not open the public.
Several buildings were moved from Golden Gate Canyon to the Golden History Park including the Pearce Ranch. The Pearce Ranch was one of the largest in the area by 1912. Visitors can stroll around the historic buildings at the Golden History Park in the nearby town of Golden, CO . Admission is free.
5-7. Trails at Golden Gate Canyon State Park
Golden Gate Canyon State Park has over 42 miles of trails for hiking. 27 miles of trails are designated for multi-use including equestrians and mountain bikers. Trailhead parking areas are easily accessible from the main roads in the park.
Golden Gate Canyon State Park Trail Summary
Hiking Trails: 42.4 miles Multi-use trails open to Horseback and Biking: 27.5 miles Cross Country Skiing/Snowshoeing Trails: 42.4 miles Total Trails: 42.4 miles
Hiking is a popular activity at the park. Multiple trails are available for varying fitness levels. However, none of the park’s trails are rated easy due to elevation and hilly terrain. We personally hiked seven miles in the park during our two-day stay.
Multi-purpose trails are open to mountain bikers throughout the park. If less experienced, I recommend checking trail ratings before starting a ride. In summary, we found the elevation change on the trails to be challenging enough during hikes. I was thankful I wasn’t on my bike.
7. Horse Trail Rides
Multi-purpose trails are open to horses throughout the park. Horse trailer parking is available at the Nott Creek trailhead located near the Red Barn Group Picnic Area and at Kriley Overlook above Kriley Pond.
8. Winter Activities
Golden Gate Canyon has an abundance of Winter activities including cross country skiing, snowshoeing, sledding, snow tubing, ice fishing and ice skating. However, Mountain Base Road is closed to vehicle traffic from December 1st until spring.
All 42 miles of park’s trails are open in winter for cross country skiing and snow shoeing.
Sledding and snow tubing on the park’s snowy white slopes is also popular during the winter season.
Many people visit Golden Gate Canyon once the park’s ponds freeze for ice fishing and ice skating.
Golden Gate Canyon State Park allows fishing in all streams and ponds except the Visitor Center’s Show Pond. There is a four fish daily limit. A Colorado fishing license is required.
Park ponds include Kriley, Slough, Dude’s Fishing Hole, Forgotten Valley and Ranch Ponds. The ponds are regularly stocked during the spring and summer. The fishing pier at Kriley Pond is wheelchair accessible.
10. Wildlife Watching
Golden Gate Canyon State Park is home to a wide range of creatures making it a perfect place to visit for wildlife watching and wildlife photography. We were super lucky to see a few of the resident moose during a hike and it made our day. Our spotting did not surprise the park rangers. They acted as if this was a common occurrence.
Per Colorado State Parks, larger residents include moose, bighorn sheep, black bears, mule deer and elk. Some of the smaller mammals in the park include the snowshoe hare, coyote, bobcat, beaver, weasel, marten, fox, marmot, and porcupine. Some of the more common birds in the park include Blue Grouse, Ptarmigan, Golden Eagle, Bald Eagle, Steller’s Jay, Gray Jay, Chickadee, Rosy Finch, and several species of waterfowl. Fish species in the park include brook trout, cutthroat trout, brown trout, rainbow trout and arctic grayling.
11. Rock Climbing
Multiple climbing routes are located throughout the park. But the park does not maintain or monitor the climbing areas for safety. All climbing areas require backcountry hiking. Permits are required to place fixed or permanent climbing hardware in the park.
Hunting season is open in the Jefferson County portion of the park the Tuesday after Labor Day through the Friday prior to Memorial Day. Hunters must sign in at the visitor center. The park limits access to 35 hunters daily.
A raffle is held each August 1st for elk hunting on the Green Ranch Property.
Lodging at Golden Gate Canyon
Golden Gate Canyon State Park offers many lodging choices for your next visit. There are accommodation options to meet all budgets and comfort levels.
Before visiting, I could only find a single night mid-week campsite reservation. It wasn’t ideal but I booked it hoping we could book another night upon arrival.
Thankfully, the camp host was really helpful when we arrived. She provided a list of a few sites that were rated for shorter rigs but could easily fit Pippi in real life. Sadly, she wasn’t able to make the reservation due to the Colorado state park reservation system. We called the reservation hotline from the campground to book a second night.
Cabins, Guest Houses & Yurts
The most luxurious park accommodations include rustic Golden Gate Canyon State Park offers yurts, cabins and a guest house for rent. These are open year-round for guests and require a two-night minimum stay. Expect no cell service at the park. More park lodging details are available on the park website.
The park contains three campgrounds, Reverends Ridge, Aspen Meadow, Rifleman Phillips Group Campground with over 150 campsites. Advance reservations are required. The campground office cannot even book same-day sites. Therefore, all campsites must be booked either online or via the phone reservations hotline at 1-800-244-5613.
Reverends Ridge has 38 tent sites and 59 sites with electrical hook-ups. There are also bathrooms with running water, an ice machine, and a laundry facility. RVs, sleeping in vehicles, and rooftop tents are allowed not in the park’s tent-only sites.
Aspen Meadow has 35 tent-only sites and is open seasonally. Water pump and vault toilets are available. Each campsite has a table and a fire ring. RVs, sleeping in vehicles, and rooftop tents are allowed not in the park’s tent-only sites.
Rifleman Phillips Group Campground is designed specifically for groups of up to 75 people. Tent camping only is allowed at Rifleman.
Backcountry camping offers the least amenities of all accommodations. Both backcountry shelter and tent sites are bookable for your next visit to Golden Gate Canyon. All backcountry sites are hike-in only and are not accessible by vehicle. Most backcountry sites are located one to two miles from parking.
Guests must reserve backcountry camping facilities online or via the phone reservations hotline at 1-800-244-5613. No campfires are permitted in the backcountry.
The park is located in bear country. In short, take proper safety precautions during any visit to Golden Gate Canyon. Store food and any scented items in bear-proof canisters.
Backcountry shelters are three-sided structures that accommodate up to six people without a tent. They are built in the style of Appalachian tail-huts with roofs and wood floors.
Backcountry tent sites are open year-round. The 20 sites are primarily located in large, scenic meadows surrounded by 10,000-foot peaks. Site limit is 6 people max.
Tips for Your Visit
Cell service is limited and sporadic in the park.
Confirm the best route and park entrance for your destination and vehicle size.
Trail conditions vary. Check online or at the visitor center before starting any trip.
Don’t miss the free ranger programs at the Reverend Ridge campground.
Leashed dogs are allowed on trails.
Book campsites in advance to ensure lodging.
Pack layers of clothing as temperatures vary throughout the park.
Summary of our Golden Gate Canyon Visit
In addition to the scenic beauty, there is an abundance of things to do on your next visit to Golden Gate Canyon. We spent two summer days at Golden Gate Canyon State Park near Golden Colorado but could easily spend more time there. The park offers something for everyone throughout the year.