This past weekend I thought I’d ring in the new year (and break in my new snow shoes) at Golden Gate Canyon State Park. About an hour west of Denver and a half hour from Golden, Golden Gate Canyon State Park offers 36 miles of trails to hike, bike, or horseback ride through and over more than 12,000 acres of forest, meadow, and rocky peak.
Golden Gate Canyon has an interesting history. Back in the late 1800’s, the Homestead Act promised settlers 160 acres of frontier land if they would farm it for 5 years. Some of that land is now part of Golden Gate Canyon, including land previously owned by John Frazer, a former miner, for whom Frazer Meadow is named. His barn still stands in the park as do a handful of other old buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Golden Gate Canyon was designated in 1960 and became only the second state park in Colorado.
It’s possible to enjoy true solitude at Golden Gate Canyon. Cell phone service is unavailable in most of the park and, for the majority of my hike, I had the Mule Deer Trail all to myself. Other than the occasional hiccup-like bark of the red squirrel or chickaree (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus), the creak of pines, and the buzz of small aircraft from the airports near Golden, the forest was largely quiet.
Though I didn’t see any of them on my trip, a number of animals call the park home, including bighorn sheep, elk, bobcat, and porcupine. The park also abounds with birds in the breeding season. In the winter, the avifauna is more limited, but I did see Steller’s Jay, Grey Jay, Mountain Chickadee, and White- and Red-breasted Nuthatch. Passing through lodgepole pine and stands of aspen, I tried to imagine what the park must look like in the full glory of spring and summer, its meadows decked out with black-eyed susan and yarrow.
A moderately difficult hike made somewhat more difficult with the snow, the Mule Deer trail makes for a good half-day excursion if that’s all the time you have. It’s a loop, but I chose to turn around and take a rain check for another, warmer time. I’ll definitely be back to finish it and experience the other trails in the park this summer though. Maybe I’ll see you there?
Like the other parks in the Colorado State Park system, entry to Golden Gate Canyon State Park costs a daily fee of $7 or you can purchase the annual park pass for $70, which grants you unlimited access to all the Colorado state parks within a calendar year. Camping in the park is a popular attraction all year round with several different types of campsites to choose from. Overnight options and picnic site rentals are available for an additional fee.