Golden Gate Canyon State Park

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I left Eldorado Canyon with enough time left in the day to visit another nearby Colorado State Park.  South of Boulder and northwest of Golden, you’ll find Golden Gate Canyon State Park, in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.  Since I had already paid my admission to Eldorado Canyon, I could get into Golden Gate without paying again, so naturally I took advantage of the opportunity.

Probably the best view in the park is at Panorama Point, which is located in the northwest corner of the park.  Here, you’re supposed to be able to see 100 miles of the Continental Divide.

There may be a few trees in the way, but if it’s a clear day, you’ll see plenty of peaks in the distance.

From Boulder, take Colorado Highway 93 south, to Golden Gate Canyon Road (it turns into CO 46 once you get near the park).  From Golden, take 93 north to Golden Gate Canyon Road.  To get to Panorama Point, turn onto Mountain Base Road, one mile beyond the Visitor’s Center.  At the end of Mountain Base Road, turn right on Gap Road and drive to the top of the hill.

On my way into Golden Gate Canyon Park, I stopped at the visitor’s center and asked for recommendations on what to see.  I told them I had already done some hiking at Eldorado Canyon, but I wouldn’t mind hiking a couple more miles.  They recommended I drive up Mountain Base Road (more on it in a moment), and stop at Panorama Point, then take the loop trail that begins and ends there.  They said it was one of their most popular trails.  Hey, with a trail that begins at a place called Panorama Point, how could I go wrong?

Raccoon Trail

The loop trail that you can access at Panorama Point is officially called the Raccoon Trail — and I soon learned that this trail had nothing to do with panoramas.  The Raccoon Trail, in my opinion, is a whole lot of work with very little reward.  From the viewpoint, it goes downhill…

… at first following an old jeep trail, then a more narrow path.  All the way down to its low point, you’re surrounded with trees.  There’s no great views, no waterfalls, no cliffs, no caves, no boulders — none of the things that really fun trails offer.  Instead, I spent all my time thinking about how much altitude I was losing, and therefore, how much climbing awaited me on the other end of the trail.

Shortly before the trail’s low point, I reached a clearing, and an intersection.  A side trail led to the Reverend’s Ridge Campground.  Maybe this explains the popularity of the trail, since it’s easy to access from the camping area.

While in that brief clearing, the trail crossed a creek at its lowest point, then headed into a grove of aspen trees.  I had a brief glimpse of the rocky ledges of Tremont Mountain to the south.  Panorama Point is up there somewhere, too.

And then, the climb began.

I won’t complain much more about this trail, because the truth is, the second half was more beautiful than the first.  There were an abundance of butterflies checking out the wildflowers…

… and I enjoyed passing through several dense patches of aspens.

I’d guess this area would be quite beautiful in the fall, when the leaves turn.

Near the top, the Raccoon Trail continued through the trees.

Back at the top of the hill, the trail parallels Gap Road for a while, on its way back to Panorama Point.  I decided it would be better to walk along the edge of the gently-sloping road, rather than stay on the up-and-down path.

Being on the road gave me a much clearer shot of the surroundings, including (once again) Tremont Mountain.

The Raccoon Trail Loop is 2.5 miles, and it loses and gains 500 feet in elevation along the way.  Keep in mind, your starting point is at 9,120 feet, so you might notice the thin air if you’re more accustomed to life at sea-level.  You might also experience the symptoms of altitude sickness (headache, weakness, flu-like nastiness).  If you do, head for lower ground.
Once you’re back at the car, you could travel on out Gap Road (there are some more campgrounds and trails, then eventually you’d run into Highway 72). Since the day was growing short, I needed to head towards my hotel for the night in Silverthorne, so I made my way towards Central City and I-70 — which meant backtracking down Mountain Base Road.

Bootleg Bottom

There are several places worth stopping along Mountain Base Road, especially if you’re looking for a place to picnic.  I had heard about an old bootlegger’s shack, not far from the road, near Bootleg Bottom, so I stopped for one more quick hike.

Just behind the rest area at Bootleg Bottom, you’ll find this well. Pump it a few times, and clean, delicious water will start flowing out of the fountain.  Once you’re refreshed, search for the trail that’s nearby.  You may need to go to the right, towards the picnic tables, then over the hill and down, but you’ll eventually locate it.

It’s less than a 10 minute walk out to this old cabin.  I was somewhat disappointed to discover that, in the effort to preserve it, the park had made it very un-photogenic.  The modern plywood that had been slapped over the windows and doors, along with the numerous “no trespassing” signs, took away some of the fun of discovering a ghost-building in the woods.

You can easily peek inside, though, by looking over the top of the walls.

The trail continues beyond the old bootlegger’s cabin, but I was finished hiking for the day.  Once I made it back to the car, I drove on down Mountain Base Road…

… which is certainly one of Golden Gate Canyon State Park’s most enjoyable features.   You’ll get a good look at it in the Drivelapse video, down the page a bit.  This narrow road twists and turns downhill from Panorama Point, to Highway 46.  Just before you get there…

… be sure to check out the viewpoint over Kriley Pond.

Drivelapse Video

Here’s the time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive from Eldorado Canyon to Golden Gate Canyon, ending with the drive up Mountain Base Road:

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