Ultimate Guide to Golden Gate Canyon State Park – By Locals
Golden Gate Canyon State Park in Colorado is a picturesque destination that offers a diverse range of outdoor activities. Located in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, this state park provides visitors with stunning views of the surrounding peaks and valleys. If you’re looking for the perfect place to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life, Golden Gate Canyon State Park is the ideal destination.
Living less than an hour from the park, we are lucky to visit it often! Located just outside of Denver and near many other front-range mountains. (like Golden, Boulder, Idaho Springs, Nederland, and more), Golden Gate State Park is a Colorado outdoor destination whose grandeur isn’t sacrificed by its convenience.
In. this ultimate guide to Golden Gate Canyon State Park, we cover all of the best things to do in the park, everything you need to know about logistics and planning, and even wrote a one-day itinerary for you to make it extra-easy for you to make this adventure happen!
Best Things to Do in Golden Gate Canyon State Park
Wondering what the best things to do in Golden Gate Canyon are? Whether you hike, bike, fish, or simply want to frolic among the foliage, we’ve got something you’re sure to love. Keep reading for our recs on the best activities in the park!
1. Hiking in Golden Gate Canyon State Park
Hiking is one of the most popular activities in Golden Gate Canyon State Park. The park has over 36 miles of hiking trails that range from easy to difficult, meandering through meadows, forests, and mountains, with breathtaking views along the way. Some of the best hikes in the park are the Raccoon Trail and any of the trails leading to John Frazer Cabin.
One of the best things about hiking in Golden Gate Canyon State Park is that so many of the trails are interconnected, so you can take the Blue Grouse Trail to the Mule Deer Trail, for example. Below is a summary of every trail in the park per Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and an official park map, so you can take one of the recommended hikes or plan out your own custom route!
Trails in Golden Gate Canyon State Park
- Beaver Trail – a 2.8-mile loop trail that starts at Slough Pond and passes through Aspen groves and grassy areas, providing views of Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, The Continental Divide, and Tremont Mountain. The trail branches off to the Beaver backcountry shelter.
- Black Bear Trail – a 3.4-mile one-way trail starting at Ralston Roost trailhead. The trail requires bouldering at the beginning and reaches a summit at mile 2.25, opening up at Rim Meadow with views of Mount Evans and Golden Gate Canyon. The trail ends at the Mule Deer trail.
- Blue Grouse Trail – a 0.7-mile one-way trail starting at Kriley Pond. The trail passes through a small Aspen grove and is suitable for young children.
- Buffalo Trail – a 1.2-mile one-way trail for hikers, horses, and mountain bikes, starting at Rifleman Phillips parking area. The trail passes historic buildings, Aspen groves, and seasonal streams, providing access to backcountry shelter #3 and the Forgotten Valley backcountry camping area. The trail ends overlooking the Tallman Ranch and Forgotten Valley, intersecting with the Mountain Lion trail.
- Burro Trail – a 4.5-mile loop trail starting at Bridge Creek trailhead. The trail is shaded by Aspen, Willow, Adler, and Blue Spruce trees and provides the option of climbing to Windy Peak for a 360-degree view of the mountains. The trail intersects with the Mountain Lion trail.
- Coyote Trail – a 2.1-mile one-way trail starting at Bootleg Bottom. The trail provides access to the Frazer, Rim, and Greenfield Meadow backcountry campsites, passing through evergreen forest and Aspen groves, with steep gains and loose rocks near the crest of Promontory Ridge requiring caution. The trail opens out at Frazer Meadow, intersecting the Mule Deer trail.
- Horseshoe Trail – a 1.8-mile one-way trail starting at Frazer Meadow trailhead. The well-shaded trail is edged by seasonal streams and is full of wildflowers in the spring and early summer. The trail passes through Aspen groves and fern-covered understory, with spur trails leading to backcountry camping areas at Greenfield, Frazer Meadow, and Rim Meadow. The trail meets the Mule Deer trail at mile 1.9.
- Mountain Lion Trail – a 6.7-mile loop trail that starts at Nott Creek trailhead and passes through undulating hills, open meadows, aspen groves, and dense evergreen forests. There are several spur trails for great views.
- Mule Deer Trail – a 7.4-mile loop trail that starts and ends at Ole’ Barn Knoll trailhead and passes through open meadows, evergreen forest, wildflowers, and aspen groves. There are several spur trails that provide access to backcountry areas.
- Raccoon Trail – a 2.5-mile loop trail that starts behind the office at the Reverend’s Ridge campground and passes through blue spruce, douglas fir, and groves of aspen trees. There are great views of the Continental Divide from Panorama Point.
- Snowshoe Hare Trail – a 3-mile loop trail that starts at the Aspen Meadow campground and passes by Dude’s Fishing Hole. You can extend the hike by following the Mule Deer trail to Panorama Point.
Short Walks in Golden Gate Canyon State Park
The below trails are not really hikes, but are short walks that show off some of the park’s natural features in an easier-to-access way.
- Visitor Center Show Pond Trail – a 0.25-mile interpretive walk around the Visitor Center show pond that is easy and ADA accessible. It provides information on local plant and animal life at Golden Gate.
- Visitor Center Nature Trail – a 0.10-mile interpretive hike behind the Visitor Center that identifies the different plants at Golden Gate.
- Reverend’s Ridge Nature Trail – a 0.25-mile interpretive walk. Pick up a trail guide at Reverend’s Ridge park office.
Golden Gate Canyon State Park Trail Stats
I’m a visual person, and I love being able to compare information about different options at a glance. I made this table to make it easy to see how the trails compare to one another with regard to length, difficulty, etc.
|Trail Name||Permitted users||Total distance||Degree of difficulty||Starting elevation||Elevation gain|
|Beaver Trail||Hikers only||2.8 mile loop||Most Difficult||8,200 feet||1,050 feet|
|Black Bear Trail||Hikers only||3.4 miles one way||Most Difficult||8,200 feet||1,120 feet|
|Blue Grouse Trail||Hikers, horse and mountain bike||0.7 miles one way||Moderate||8,200 feet||700 feet|
|Buffalo Trail||Hikers, horse and mountain bike||1.2 miles one way||Moderate||N/A||510 feet|
|Burro Trail||Hikers only||4.5 mile loop||Difficult||7,860 feet||980 feet|
|Coyote Trail||Hikers only||2.1 miles one way||Most Difficult||8,860 feet||600 feet|
|Horseshoe Trail||Hikers only||1.8 miles one way||Moderate||8,140 feet||910 feet|
|Mountain Lion Trail||Hikers, horse and mountain bike||6.7 mile loop||Difficult||7,720 feet||1,230 feet|
|Mule Deer Trail||Hikers, horse and mountain bike||7.4 mile loop||Moderate||8,200 feet||880 feet|
|Raccoon Trail||Hikers, horse, and mountain bike||2.5 mile loop||Moderate||9,120 feet||500 feet|
|Snowshoe Hare Trail||Hikers, horse, and mountain bike||3 mile loop||Difficult||8,700 feet||320 feet|
|Visitor Center Show Pond Trail||Walkers only||0.25 miles||Easy||8,200 feet||–|
|Visitor Center Nature Trail||Hikers only||0.10 miles||Moderate||8,200 feet||–|
|Reverend’s Ridge Nature Trail||Foot||0.25 miles||Moderate||9,200 feet||–|
2. Scenic Drives in Golden Gate Canyon
Golden Gate Canyon State Park is a beautiful destination for scenic drives in Colorado. Here are some of the best scenic drives to take in the park:
- Golden Gate Canyon Road: This is the main road through the park and offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. The road winds through forests of aspen and pine, and offers great opportunities for wildlife viewing.
- Gap Road: This scenic drive offers some of the most breathtaking views in the park. The road winds through a series of switchbacks, offering panoramic views of the Continental Divide and the surrounding mountains. When on the north side of Gap Road, don’t miss the Panorama Point Scenic Overlook. This is our favorite view in the park. You can see the white tops of the Rockies in the not-too-far distance and get an expansive view of the valley below. We always stop here when hiking the Raccoon Trail, but you can drive there too. So you may as well stop!
- Crawford Gulch Road: This scenic drive takes you through some of the most remote areas of the park, offering stunning views of the surrounding wilderness. The road winds through dense forests, open meadows, and alongside rushing streams.
3. Camping in Golden Gate Canyon State Park
If you’re heading to Golden Gate Canyon State Park to get away from it all and really surround yourself in nature off the grid, you should consider camping! The park has two campgrounds, offering visitors a chance to spend the night surrounded by nature. The campgrounds are well-maintained and have a range of amenities, including picnic tables, fire pits, and restrooms. The park also has backcountry camping options for those looking for a more remote experience.
Reverend’s Ridge features 97 campsites, with some offering electric hookups for RVs and tents, and others are tent-only. Flush toilets, showers, laundry facilities, and a dump station are available, but some amenities might be closed during the winter season.
Aspen Meadows has 35 basic tent-only campsites, a water pump, vault toilets, and designated camping areas with fire rings and tables. No rooftop camping is allowed, but two sites can accommodate horses.
If you’re looking for a more primitive experience, try the backcountry camping with four shelters and 20 tent sites accessible by foot. Keep in mind that fires are not permitted, and you must use the bear boxes to store food and trash. You’ll also need a permit and reservation for backcountry camping.
If you’re bringing your furry friend, know that dogs are allowed in both campgrounds and backcountry areas, but they must be leashed at all times, and you can’t leave them unattended. Don’t forget to clean up after your pup to keep the campsite clean.
Also, please be aware that tying hammocks or anything to the trees is prohibited in both campgrounds.
Find out more about camping and fees here.
4. Fishing in Golden Gate Canyon State Park
If you’re looking for a great spot to cast your line and enjoy some peaceful fishing time, Golden Gate Canyon State Park offers several streams and ponds where fishing is permitted. In fact, all of them allow fishing except for the Visitor Center Show Pond.
Golden Gate Canyon has a daily bag limit of four fish, so make sure to keep that in mind when planning your fishing trip. The park also has an ADA-accessible fishing pier at Kriley Pond, so everyone can enjoy the fishing experience.
There are several ponds in the park that are regularly stocked with brook trout, cutthroat trout, brown trout, rainbow trout, and arctic grayling during the spring and summer months, including Kriley, Slough, Dude’s Fishing Hole, Forgotten Valley, and Ranch Ponds. These ponds offer a serene and picturesque setting to reel in some fish.
Keep in mind that you’ll need a Colorado fishing license as well as a daily or annual vehicle pass to fish in the park.
Overall, fishing in Golden Gate Canyon State Park is a rewarding experience for anglers of all skill levels. With beautiful scenery and a variety of fish species, the park’s waterways provide a peaceful and enjoyable escape.
5. Mountain Biking in Golden Gate Canyon State Park
Golden Gate Canyon State Park’s trails are popular among mountain bikers. The trails offer a range of terrain, from smooth and easy to steep and challenging. Mountain bikers can explore the park’s trails and take in the stunning scenery along the way. With 19 miles of trails ranging from easy to difficult, there’s something for everyone here.
If you’re up for a challenge, hit the Burro, Snowshoe Hare, or Mountain Lion Trail. These trails offer plenty of technical sections that will get your adrenaline pumping. And, of course, the views of the surrounding mountains and valleys are nothing short of breathtaking.
But don’t worry if you’re not an experienced mountain biker. Raccoon, Mule Deer, and Buffalo Trails are all more moderate routes.
If you don’t have your own bike with you, you can rent a mountain bike from one of the bike shops in nearby Nederland or Golden. And, if you’re feeling extra adventurous, why not book a guided tour of the park? You’ll get to explore the trails with a knowledgeable guide who can show you all the best spots and tell you about the park’s history and ecology.
6. Horseback Riding in Golden Gate Canyon State Park
If riding horseback through the Rocky Mountains is on your Colorado bucket list, Golden Gate Canyon State park has approximately 19 miles of horseback riding trails! Some of the most popular trails for horseback riding include the Raccoon Trail, Buffalo Trail, and Mountain Lion Trail, which offer beautiful views of the park’s lush valleys and rolling hills.
Horseback riders should always follow park regulations and remain on designated trails. It’s also important to be aware of other park visitors, including hikers and mountain bikers (both of which share trails on all horseback riding trails in Golden Gate Canyon State Park), and to yield to them when necessary.
Parking for horse trailers is available at Nott Creek, Kriley Overlook, and the entrance to Aspen Meadow Campground.
7. Wildlife Viewing
Golden Gate Canyon State Park is home to a variety of wildlife, many of whom are frequently spotted throughout the park.
Majestic elk and graceful mule deer are often grazing in the meadows, while black bears and mountain lions are sometimes spotted in the forested areas. You might even catch a glimpse of a bobcat, coyote, or red fox as you explore the park. All of these animals can be very dangerous (some more than others – I’m looking at you, mountain lion) so NEVER approach them and always maintain a distance.
Keep an eye out for the park’s smaller inhabitants, too. Yellow-bellied marmots and Abert’s squirrels can be seen scurrying across rocks and trees, while golden-mantled ground squirrels may pop up to say hello.
Bird enthusiasts will be delighted to see the various species of birds that call the park home, such as the Steller’s jay, mountain chickadee, and golden eagle.
8. Leaf Peeping and Fall Colors in Golden Gate Canyon State Park
Golden Gate Canyon State Park is hands down one of the most magical places to be in September and early October when the thousands of acres of aspen trees turn golden yellow. The Raccoon Trail and Blue Grouse Trail to John Frazer Cabin both meander through aspen groves. We’ve hiked each of those trails in the fall and would definitely recommend them for leaf peeping! Just be sure to arrive at the parking lots early and be prepared for crowds. Like most aspen-dense locations in Colorado in the fall, Golden Gate Canyon gets pretty busy!
9. Snowshoe or Cross-Country Ski in Winter
In the winter, Golden Gate Canyon State Park transforms into a winter wonderland, offering visitors a chance to try cross-country skiing or snowshoeing! All of the hiking trails in the park are open to either activity, so here are some recommendations to help you decide:
- Horseshoe Trail to Frazer Meadow – a moderate 1.7-mile trek with flat terrain to explore in the meadow.
- Raccoon Trail Loop – a moderate 2.5-mile loop that provides good snow and stunning scenery.
- Mule Deer Trail from Reverend’s Ridge to Ole’ Barn Knoll – a moderate 1.7-mile trip with two route options to choose from. Additionally, the Mule Deer Trail offers a 3.8-mile route from Panorama Point Scenic Overlook into Frazer Meadow with varying levels of difficulty.
- Reverend’s Ridge Campground – the perfect choice for beginners. The terrain is mostly flat and the snow generally holds all season, making it an ideal play park for those just starting out.
Tip: Consider staying a couple nights in one of the cabins or yurts located in the campground for a fun winter getaway.
Getting to Golden Gate Canyon State Park
Golden Gate Canyon State Park is located in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, approximately 30 miles west of Denver. The closest major airport is Denver International Airport (DEN), which is approximately 60 miles east of the park. From the airport, you can rent a car.
From Denver, take US-6 west to CO-93, then turn left onto CO-93 south. After approximately 7.5 miles, turn right onto Golden Gate Canyon Road and continue for about 13 miles to the park entrance.
We do NOT recommend taking an Uber or a Lyft to Golden Gate Canyon State Park. Although you may be able to get a driver to take you there, you will not be able to request one to pick you up. The park is outside of the service range, and there is little to no cell phone reception in Golden Gate Canyon anyway.
You need either a Colorado State Parks Annual Pass or a daily pass to visit Golden Gate Canyon State Park.
- Daily Vehicle Pass: $10
- Annual Pass: $80 (affixed) or $120 (hang tag)
- Aspen Leaf Annual Pass (64+) : $70
For the most up-to-date and comprehensive information on all fees and permits, including campground reservations at Golden Gate Canyon State Park, check their official website here.
When to Visit
Golden Gate Canyon State Park is a beautiful place to visit any time of year, but the best time to go really depends on what you’re looking for.
In the summer, the park is absolutely gorgeous with wildflowers in full bloom, green forests, and plenty of sunshine. Fishing ponds are also stocked regularly during the spring and summer. The downside is that summer can be hot, which can make hiking less comfortable.
In the fall, the park is transformed into a stunning display of autumn colors. The aspen trees turn a bright yellow, making for some of the most picturesque scenery you’ll ever see. The cooler temperatures also make for great hiking weather, and the park offers a variety of trails that are perfect for taking in the fall foliage. It’s our personal favorite time to be in Golden Gate Canyon.
In the winter, the park turns into a winter wonderland with snow-covered trees and trails. The park offers several trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Keep in mind that changing weather conditions can make these activities unpredictable, so be sure to check the park’s conditions page for up-to-date trail information.
Finally, in the spring, the park comes back to life with the blooming of wildflowers and the return of wildlife. The weather is still cool enough for hiking and the ponds start to get stocked with fish again.
Where to Stay
Golden Gate Canyon State Park offers a range of camping options for visitors who want to stay overnight and fully immerse themselves in the park’s natural beauty. Here are some of the best places to stay in and around the park:
Where to Stay in Golden Gate Canyon State Park
- Campgrounds: The park has two campgrounds that offer a total of 152 campsites. These campsites range from primitive sites for tents to sites with electric hookups for RVs. The campgrounds also offer amenities such as restrooms, showers, and fire pits.
- Cabin or Yurts: For visitors who prefer a more comfortable lodging option, Golden Gate Canyon State Park has cabins and yurts (YES YURTS!) available for rent. There is just something extra charming about sleeping in a yurt, and getting to do it in a park surrounded by forest is just perfection! Plus, most of them are pet friendly. Just be sure to let them know if you are bringing a pet when you book.
- Backcountry Camping: For visitors who want a more rugged and secluded experience, the park also offers backcountry camping opportunities. These campsites require a permit and are only accessible by hiking or horseback riding.
Where to Stay in Golden, Colorado
If staying in Golden Gate Canyon State Park itself isn’t your jam, the nearby city of Golden has plenty of great hotels. Bonus: You can explore the charming downtown area after your adventures in the park!
Check out these highly-rated (9 out of 10 or better!) and well-located hotel options in Golden:
- Golden Hotel Ascend Hotel Collection
- The Eddy Taproom and Hotel
- Origin Red Rocks a Wyndham Hotel
- Table Mountain Inn
What to Pack and Wear
- Day Pack: It’s so helpful to have a good day pack to carry everything you need. I’ve had the Osprey Skimmer 20 for Women for years and it’s held up on every adventure! And here’s the Osprey Talon 22 Pack for Men!
- Water Reservoir: If your day pack doesn’t have a water reservoir in it already, you can buy one separately to slip into your bag. It’s absolutely NECESSARY that you bring water with you on every hike. Here are our favorite 2-liter reservoir and 3-liter reservoir!
- Sun Protection: This is so important year-round – even more so in winter when the snow can reflect the sun back up to your skin, multiplying your exposure! Sun Bum is our favorite sunscreen brand.
- Hiking Boots: I always hike in my Columbia hiking boots. I literally have these in multiple colors because I love them so much! You can’t beat the price for the quality, too. Tim always hikes in his Foxelli boots.
- Socks: I started wearing these double-layer Wrightsock brand socks when marathon training years ago and have never gotten a blister with them! In winter, I might mix it up with merino wool socks, too.
- Sunglasses: I love these wooden frame sunglasses, so they are my go-to.
- Hiking pants: These hiking leggings are my favorite in winter. In summer, I usually hike in biker shorts or leggings.
- Moisture-wicking layers: I wear this pullover all the time (it went around the world with us in 2014 and is still in great condition) and their wool t-shirts are great base layers. There are also SmartWool t-shirts for men!
- Jacket: I always pack my Columbia jacket when hiking in the mountains.
- First Aid Kit: An ultralight first aid kit is a must-have for every hike. You never know what can happen, and you’ll be glad to have a first aid kit if you need one!
- Camera: I always hike with my Sony a7iii. It’s a great full-frame camera for capturing all of our hiking memories!
- Snacks: Clif Energy Bars are our favorite hiking snack. It’s got the perfect mix of carbs, fats, and protein to power us through our hikes!
- Trekking poles: Many people like hiking with trekking poles to reduce the impact on the knees, especially going downhill. These Black Diamond Trail Back hiking poles are really popular!
- If you’re hiking the Raccoon Trail in winter, you’ll want to bring a pair of microspikes and/or snowshoes with you. These will slide over your boots and keep you from slipping on icy portions of the trail. Trust us, you’ll be able to enjoy your hike so much more if you aren’t worried about falling on the ice or snow!
Leave No Trace in Golden Gate Canyon
- Plan ahead and prepare: Before visiting Golden Gate Canyon State Park, research the park’s trails, campgrounds, and climate. Reading this post is a great start! Visitors should bring enough water, food, and appropriate clothing for the altitude, which ranges from 7,600 to 10,400 feet.
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces: Stick to established trails and campsites to protect fragile vegetation and wildlife habitats. There’s really no reason to go off-trail here! In addition to over 36 miles of hiking trails that wind through rugged mountains and alpine forests, Golden Gate Canyon State Park has 132 campsites, many of which are located in scenic areas with stunning views of the surrounding mountains.
- Dispose of waste properly: Pack out all trash and litter, including food scraps and biodegradable items. Restroom facilities are available, and visitors should use them to avoid contaminating natural water sources like streams and ponds.
- Leave what you find: Golden Gate Canyon State Park is home to a wide variety of natural and cultural resources, including wildflowers, rock formations, and historic cabins. Visitors should avoid damaging or removing these resources to help preserve the park’s unique character and history.
- Minimize campfire impact: Use established fire rings and bring your own firewood, as cutting or collecting wood from the park is prohibited. Visitors should also be aware of the park’s fire restrictions, which vary depending on the time of year and weather conditions. Please note: NO fires are permitted at backcountry campsites (or anywhere in the backcountry).
- Respect wildlife: Golden Gate Canyon State Park is home to a diverse array of wildlife, including elk, deer, black bears, and mountain lions. Visitors should observe wildlife from a safe distance and avoid feeding or disturbing them.
- Be considerate of other visitors: The park is a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts, and visitors should be mindful of others’ experiences. Keep noise levels down, respect other visitors’ privacy, and avoid crowded areas during peak times. Remember, no one else wants to hear your music!
One Day Itinerary for Golden Gate Canyon State Park
Okay, so we covered all of the best things to do in Golden Gate Canyon State Park plus logistics for planning your visit. Now let’s put it all together for you with this one-day itinerary! If you only have one day to spend at Golden Gate Canyon State Park, here’s how you can make the most of your visit:
- Start with a Hike: Golden Gate Canyon State Park has over 36 miles of hiking trails, so start your day by picking a trail that suits your skill level and interests. The Raccoon Trail is our personal favorite year-round. If it’s fall, we’re partial to heading out to find John Frazer’s Cabin.
- Enjoy a Picnic Lunch: After your hike, find a scenic spot to enjoy a picnic lunch. The park has several picnic areas with tables and restrooms, so you can relax and refuel before your next adventure.
- Choose your Afternoon Adventure: Horseback riding, fishing, or mountain biking are all great options! Pick what most interests you and arrange either a tour or gear rental for the activity of your choice.
- Go for a Scenic Sunset Drive: Take a drive on the park’s scenic byways. These roads offer stunning views of the surrounding mountains, valleys, and meadows. We recommend Golden Gate Canyon Road if you hiked by Panorama Point on the Raccoon Trail this morning. If you hiked to John Frazer Cabin instead, drive Gap Road and make a stop at Panorama Point!
Guided Tours in Golden, Colorado
Booking a tour with a local guide is an excellent way to fully immerse yourself in all that Golden, Colorado has to offer. No matter your interest, whether it be hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, or whitewater rafting, there’s a tour catered to your desires. Check out some of the popular options and search for even more below!
Final Thoughts on Golden Gate Canyon State Park
Golden Gate Canyon State Park offers an incredible escape to nature for anyone seeking to explore the beautiful outdoors. Whether you’re interested in hiking, fishing, camping, or just taking in the breathtaking scenery, this park has something for everyone.
And if you have extra time, consider checking out nearby destinations like Rocky Mountain National Park, which offers even more opportunities for adventure and exploration. So pack your bags, grab your camera, and get ready to create unforgettable memories in Golden Gate Canyon State Park and beyond!