Golden Gate Canyon State Park Hiking Trails

6 Hikes in Golden Gate Canyon State Park

Located less than an hour from Denver and Boulder, Golden Gate Canyon State Park is a remarkable treasure. The park offers over 30 miles of hiking trails and some of the most accessible backcountry camping opportunities near Denver. Golden Gate is full of seasonal creeks and wildflowers, as well as promontories that open out to views of the snow-capped and lead-blue rock faces of the Rocky Mountains. The park is open year-round; however, during many years, snow may cover trails from as early as October through May. Explore this page to get familiar with several hike options and the camping facilities available in the Park.

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Raccoon Loop Trail - Shaded and Family Friendly

Distance: 2.5 Miles

Difficulty: Easy

The Raccoon Loop Trail is an easy, 2.5-mile loop hike in Golden Gate Canyon State Park. Because it's short and has a variety of scenery, the Racoon Loop makes for an enjoyable hike for families. Most hikes near Denver are quite exposed to the sun, but this hike offers a good deal of shade. The trail boasts panoramic views of snow-capped peaks, glades of aspen trees, wildflowers, and seasonal brooks.

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Blue Grouse Trail - A Short Adventure

Distance: 1.6 Miles Round Trip

Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

Blue Grouse Trail in Golden Gate Canyon State Park is another short hike of easy to moderate difficulty. If you are looking for a short adventure to gains views of green foothills and changing aspens, then this is for you. While not a spectacular hike, the Blue Grouse trail is easy to access and can be used as an access point to other trails and camping sites available in the park.

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Forgotten Valley Hike - Homestead Ruins

Distance: 3 Miles Round Trip

Difficulty: Moderate

A favorite destination hike in Golden Gate Canyon State Park, hikers can put together a segment of the Burro Trail and Mountain Lion trail to access this old homestead and pond situated in Forgotten Valley. Nearby are several reservable campsites and a backcountry shelter, making this area a perfect place to camp before exploring the many miles of trails in the park.
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Horseshoe Trail to Frazer Meadow

Distance: 3.6 Miles Round Trip

Difficulty: Moderate

Another trail to some of Golden Gate Canyon's camping areas, this out-and-back trail takes hikers through Greenfield Meadows and terminates at Frazer Meadow. Much of the trail follows alongside a seasonal creek that runs through the main valley. Aspen trees, meadows, wildflowers, and shaded trail segments are all highlights of this hike in the heart of the park.

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Beaver Loop Trail

Distance: 2.8 Miles

Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult

The Beaver Loop trail can be picked up right from the visitor center at Golden Gate. It is a 2.8-mile loop with an out-and-back option of hiking over to Slough Pond. While it's a short hike, it requires about 1000' of elevation gain, making it a more demanding hike. Like so many of the hikes in Golden Gate, the Beaver Loop offers a beautiful panorama of distant, snow-capped mountains in the west.

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Windy Peak Trail - A Great Vantage Point

Distance: 6.4 Miles

Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult

Another great destination hike, the way up to Windy Peak combines a few trails to create a loop hike with a spur trail leading to the top of Windy Peak. Windy Peak is an incredible vantage point for taking in the snow-capped Rockies and western skies. The eastern segment of this hike is replete with wildflowers during the summer.

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Camping in Golden Gate Canyon State Park

Golden Gate Canyon offers a variety of camping options, making the park a great place for those new to backpacking to test their equipment and to get a feel for what a longer trip into the mountains might require. Families looking to try out camping for the first time can car-camp or hike short distances to some of the backcountry sites. All sites require reservation and a Colorado State Parks Pass. There are less demanding options such as cabins and yurts available. All sites, cabins, and campsites can be booked at the Colorado State Park's reservation page. Here's a quick overview of the camping options at Golden Gate Canyon State Park:

  • 20 Backcountry Campsites: Brochure and Map of Backcountry Sites
  • 5 Cabins: Located at Reverend's Ridge, no hike in required, year-round, max occupancy of 6, heated, electricity, water and restrooms nearby, showers available in Summer season
  • 2 Yurts: Located at Reverend's Ridge, No hike-in required, year-round, max occupancy of 6, heated, electricity, water and restrooms nearby, showers available in Summer season
  • 97 Campsites at Reverend's Ridge: No hike-in or short walk required, accommodates campers, trailers, and some RV spaces, limited sites available during Winter months, max occupancy of 6 per site, water and restrooms nearby, showers available in Summer season
  • 35 Campsites at Aspen Meadows: Tent camping only, closed during Winter months, max occupancy of 6 per site, water pump and vault toilets
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      Map & Driving Directions


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Beaver Loop Hike in Golden Gate Canyon

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The Beaver Loop is a moderate 2.3-mile loop hike in Golden Gate Canyon State Park views of the snow-capped Rocky Mountains in the West. Add a short segment to Slough Pond to make this a 3-mile hike. Explore the trail profile for a trail map, driving directions, and tips for this hike near Golden, CO
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Trail Snapshot: Beaver Loop in Golden Gate Canyon State Park

Parking & Trailhead Information for the Beaver Loop Hike

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From Denver, take US-6 West to Golden. Just outside Golden, US-6 will turn left (West) into Clear Creek Canyon; it's at this intersection that you'll continue North on 93. After 1.3 miles on 93, turn left onto Golden Gate Canyon Road. Now, prepare for the rest of your drive being pretty windy. After 12.7 miles on Golden Gate Canyon Road, it will intersect with Crawford Gulch Road on a wide curve. Turn right onto Crawford Gulch road and the visitor center for Golden Gate Canyon State Park will be on your immediate right. This is the best parking area for the Beaver Loop. However, the parking here fills up fast, especially on the weekends. Another option is to park at the Ralston Roost Trailhead, located about 0.2 mile further down the road (see the State Park Map Link above). A third option is to begin your hike at Slough Pond. This will add about 3/4 of a mile to your hike, making it closer to a 3-mile trip.
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The Beaver Loop Trailhead Across Golden Gate Canyon Road from the Visitor Center
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The Hike: The Beaver Loop Hike in Golden Gate Canyon

The Visitor Center at Golden Gate is worth exploring. Kids will be fascinated by the trout in the man-made creek and small pond surrounding the building. The Beaver Trail can be picked up just South of the Visitor Center by taking one of the paths around the perimeter of the building. The trail begins under the powerlines on the opposite side of Golden Gate Canyon road. Exercise caution crossing the road as vehicles may be descending the hill and not be looking out for pedestrians. Be alert for cyclists, as they frequent the road and come down the hill at high speeds.

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First Trail Fork on the Beaver Loop
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At the first trail fork, hikers have the option of taking the loop clockwise or counter-clockwise. I hiked this clockwise, taking the trail towards the shelter. The clockwise route offers a more gentle ascent, but steep descent on the back side of the loop. Taking it counter-clockwise will mean a steeper ascent and a more gentle descent on the way back, which is probably easier on the knees, but a more demanding climb.

You'll notice that the State Park trail map rates this trail as "most difficult." It's important to note that these ratings are relative to the other trails in the park. I 've classified the Beaver Loop as medium/moderate because, while it does have over 1000' of elevation gain, it is only a 2.3-mile hike. Add about 3/4 of a mile if you make the out-and-back trip out to Slough Pond. See our Hikes by Difficulty page for more hikes and the basic criteria we use to classify hikes. It should be noted that difficulty will differ by persons, so be sure to review the details of a hike before attempting it.

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Sign Indicating Spur Trail to Shelter
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At approximately 1 mile into the loop, hikers will encounter a sign (pictured above) pointing to a 0.5-mile spur trail leading to a backcountry shelter. A permit is required to camp here and can be purchased online at the Golden Gate Canyon fees page. Continuing on the loop, the trail will soon lead to an overlook of views to the West. During most of the year, snow-capped peaks appear above a verdant green valley in these western foothills.

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After the overlook, the trail begins a steep descent. I had brought my trekking poles (I always bring them), and was glad that I did. I would imagine that this trail gets slicked over with ice and hardened snow during the winter, making it really difficult to navigate. The trail then leads down to an intersection with the Slough Pond trail.

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Downhill Trail Segment on the Beaver Loop
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At this intersection at the bottom of the hill, you have the option of making the trip over to Slough Pond. The hike over to Slough Pond is pleasant and mostly flat. At the pond, a quaint creek flows out of the pond and under a footbridge. Slough Pond is a popular fishing spot and a great place for kids to learn to bait a hook. As mentioned above, adding this out-and-back segment to the hike, makes this closer to a 3 mile hike.

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Tips & Resources for Hiking the Beaver Loop Hike

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Map & Driving Directions


Click for Driving Directions to Visitor Center

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Windy Peak Hike in Golden Gate Canyon

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Windy Peak is a summit hike in Golden Gate Canyon State Park. A moderate to difficult 6.4-mile loop hike that follows meltwater creeks, crosses green meadows replete with wildflowers, and offers great views at the summit of the snow-capped Rocky Mountains in the West. Explore the full Windy Peak Hike profile for trail map, driving directionsRead more


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Gregory Canyon Hike to Realization Point

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The trail up Gregory Canyon is a moderately challenging hike to Realization Point Trailhead where hikers can pick up two different loop trails. Both loops offer expansive views of the Rocky Mountains in the West and wildflowers along the trail. Explore the full Gregory Canyon-Realization Point hike profileRead more


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Seven Falls Hike in Colorado Springs

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The hike to Seven Falls in Colorado Springs follows a paved canyon trail 0.8 mile to this famous tiered waterfall. After severe damage by the floods in 2013, the Broadmoor Resort purchased the property and has made significant improvements, including trail and site repairs, as well as creating an on-site restaurant. As in the past, there is an access fee to this Colorado Springs attraction. Explore the full Seven Falls hike profile for 4 different hike options,Read more


Helen Hunt Falls in Colorado Springs

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Helen Hunt Falls in Colorado Springs is a 35 foot waterfall requiring only a short walk from the parking area. For a longer and more demanding hike, visitors can take the 4 mile Columbine Trail from the bottom of Cheyenne Canyon to Helen Hunt Falls. This strenuous option affords and experience of the rich ecosystem of this canyon at the base of Pikes Peak. Explore the full Helen Hunt Falls hike profile below for trail map, driving directionsRead more


Deer Creek Canyon Loop Hike

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his loop hike in Deer Creek Canyon offers a quick getaway from the city of Denver and its surrounding suburbs. Because Deer Creek Canyon Park is tucked away in the entrance of the canyon, you can completely immerse yourself in the foothills and the valley that lies between Littleton and the park.[/twocol_one] [twocol_one_last]
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Deer Creek Canyon Loop Trail Profile

This 2.7 mile loop hike in Deer Creek Canyon is made by combining two trails. The Route: Start on the Meadowlark Trail (1.6 mile trail) until you come to the Plymouth Creek Trail junction. Go left onto the Plymouth Creek Trail for 1.1 miles back to the trailhead.

This hike is relatively easy, characterized by mostly gentle slopes and a very few rock scrambles. It's perfect for kids, and older outdoor enthusiasts. Pathfinder, Joe Q., scouted this hike for Dayhikes Near Denver and went about a week too late to catch the peak of the fall colors; however, as he reported, "Even when I went the array of reds, oranges, and yellows were a great exemplification of Colorado’s fall beauty."

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The Meadowlark Trail is a hiker only trail, however, the Plymouth Creek trail does allow mountain bikes. As you hike, you'll encounter some faint side-trails where people choose to depart from the true trail to see a new vista view or viewpoint. These are pretty clearly not trails and will end within 100 feet. If you are ever questioning whether or not you’re on the true trail, you probably aren’t. The true trail is very well worn, well maintained, and is pretty obvious.
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The Plymouth Creek Trail follows the creek for a while, and gives lots of views to small cliff walls on either side. In the lower portions of Plymouth Creek the trail runs adjacent to private residences, but the trail remains clearly marked.

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Tips & Resources for Hiking Deer Creek Canyon Loop:

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  • Parking at Deer Creek Canyon: There is ample parking, but it's possible that the lot could fill up on holidays and weekends.
  • Getting There: GPS may give you incorrect directions to the trailhead. If you are traveling westbound on Deer Creek Canyon road, turn left on Grizzly; you'll find the Deer Creek Canyon Park Trailhead on your right.
  • Rattlesnakes: There is a higher than usual presence of rattlesnakes in the lower regions of Deer Creek Canyon Park. Rattlesnakes are a normal inhabitant of the foothills and plains along the front range, but some areas--like this on--may have higher concentrations. They tend to sun themselves on rock and the warm gravel of trails--so keep your eyes peeled as you hike.
  • After the Hike: Spur Coffee in Littleton
  • Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • Trail Map for Deer Creek Canyon Park: Trail Map Link
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    Thanks goes out to Joe Q. who hiked this loop, and took the trail notes and photos to produce this trail profile.

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    Map & Driving Directions


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Hiking Green Mountain Near Boulder

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reen Mountain in Boulder, Colorado is a strenuous hike that offers fantastic views of the Front Range, Flatirons, and a wide panorama at the top of Green Mountain. The trails around Chautauqua park offer a several options to summit Green Mountain, letting you take your trail of choice, but in the trail profile below, we'll point out the most direct route. Explore the full Green Mountain hike profile below for trail map, driving directions, and all the details you need to conquer this hike near Boulder.[/twocol_one] [twocol_one_last]
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Green Mountain Near Boulder Trail Profile

DSCN4000-1-newParking was EXTREMELY busy when I visited on a Sunday morning, I had to park along Baseline road and many people were parking along residential streets. Don’t be turned off by this though, many come for the lower hikes, and visitors noticeably thin off as soon as you enter Gregory canyon to make your way up to the summit of Green Mountain. Gregory Canyon has its own trailhead parking area which requires a fee.

The 2013 flooding has closed the Gregory Canyon parking lot, but it's a small lot anyway and most hikers will need to park along the road as I did--unless you plan to hit the trail before 7am. You can also begin your hike at Chautauqua park, and take the ski jump trail to the bluebell trail which will lead you to the Gregory Canyon trailhead. This will add 1.2 miles round trip to your hike, but will afford you great views of the Flatirons at the beginning of the hike.

Another option is to park along Flagstaff road near Realization Point, and to completely bypass Gregory Canyon and take only the Ranger Trail up. However, this trail profile of Green Mountain will feature a loop hike taking the following trails: Gregory Canyon to the Ranger Trail to the Summit, returning via the E M Greenman trail, then back down via Saddle Rock for a total of around a 5.5 mile hike. See the map link above to get a visual of the route.

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Starting at the Gregory Canyon trailhead, you'll notice that the first portion of the hike is very sun exposed. However, the Gregory canyon and Ranger and Greenman trails are probably ~80% shaded. There is some flood damage from 2013 floods, but the trail markings have been updated and are very clear (just make sure you read all posts at each intersection). The Gregory Canyon trail, like many others in the Chautauqua park area, has an orchard-like aroma because of all the flowers and fruit growing along the trail.

I noticed several families with children hiked Green Mountain from the Flagstaff Rd parking area, but noted that the smaller kids had to be carried at some points.

For Summiting Green Mountain you have two choices, Ranger or Greenman. Ranger has more carved steps and is mostly switchback in nature. Greenman seems to be fewer switchbacks, in favor for a more gentle climb. For this loop hike, take the Ranger trail up, and descent via the Greenman trail.
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At The Summit of Green Mountain

green-mountain-boulder-summit-peaks-dialThe summit of Green mountain gives you a panorama view to both into Boulder in the East, and to the Rocky Mountains in the West. There is a unique bronze disk set into the granite at the summit. It points out and identifies the different peaks in the distance. Most of the year, except in July through most of September, you'll be able to take in the snow-capped ridges and peaks of the Indian Peaks Wilderness area.

The Return Hike Down Green Mountain

Of course, you could descend the way you came, but why not take in some new trails and views. You can make this a loop hike by descending the Greenman trail. After about 1 mile, the trail will intersect with the Saddle Rock Trail. Take the Saddle Rock Trail back down to the Gregory Canyon Trailhead.
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We want to thank Joe Quintana, a member of our Dayhikes Pathfinder Team, who hiked Green Mountain, gathered the information for the trail profile, wrote portions of this post, and took the photos for this hike. Thanks, Joe!
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Tips & Resources for Hiking Gregory Canyon to Green Mountain:

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Map & Driving Directions




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Hiking Beautiful Waterton Canyon

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The winding dirt road trail of Waterton Canyon takes you along the South Platte river and into a canyon where you might spy some Bighorn sheep or catch the sight of massive eagles soaring on the warm air currents rising from rock. It's an out-and-back hike, and you have a lot of options, from a short hike in to have a picnic, all to way to 12.4 mile round trip adventure to the Strontia Springs Dam. You can hike, bike, and fish on this hike near Denver. Explore the five different options we have detailed below. We'll describe the location of a few destinations, including the best places to rest and have a picnic, and some of the other trails that join up with this Colorado canyon hike.
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When you set out to explore Waterton Canyon, there are plenty of things that you can expect. We've hiked this three times and have spotted Bighorns on two of those hikes. The trail is a wide dirt road that gives Denver Water access to the dam at the top end of the canyon. So, this makes for a great stroller hike, if your stroller has a way to give the kids some shade from the sun. It's also a really enjoyable mountain bike ride because it's not too steep--well, at least not until just past the dam--and the downhill ride back down is easy and fun. Here are are over five different ways you can hike this great hike near Denver, Colorado.
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Hiking Options at Waterton Canyon Trail

 


1. The Shorter Hike in Waterton Canyon
The first mile or two of Waterton Canyon takes you to an old water conduit pipe that juts out over the trail, and your best chance to catch the site of Bighorn Sheep and Golden Eagles. The trail quickly goes from a paved road to a dirt fire road, then begins following the course of the South Platte river. The canyon itself starts low and shallow, and grows higher and more rugged the deeper you venture into Waterton.
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After about 15 minutes of hiking, keep your eyes peeled on the green hillsides on your right (see photo above). This is where we most often spot bighorn sheep and their lambs. Scan the skies, too, for gigantic golden eagles that hover on the hot air that rises from the canyon walls in the afternoons.

You'll find the first picnic area just about 1/2 of a mile into Waterton Canyon.

2. Waterton Canyon Picnic Area - 3 Miles Round Trip
This section of Waterton makes for a great evening picnic. You'll find it on your left just after the Highline Canal Diversion Dam. It's a great place to skip rocks with the kids and to watch the light soften on the canyon walls as the sun sets over the distant mountains. Continuing past this picnic area, the next feature you'll pass is the Marston Dam. There is another picnic area at approximately 3.75 miles into Waterton Canyon (see the pdf map), that's also a great little spot, but if you get in that far, you'll want to keep exploring.
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If you hike further up into Waterton Canyon, the river grows both wider and wilder. Cedars and pines grow along the banks and canyon sides, and the cliffsides become steep and jagged. It's here, around mile 4, that things start to get interesting.

3. Fishing Hole and Picnic Table at Mile 4.5
The next destination worth mentioning is a secluded spot on the river where you'll find a deep fishing hole on the right side of the road. There is a picnic table hidden down among the willows (it's hidden well enough that it doesn't show up in the photo below). There is a restroom just about 150 yards upriver from the spot.
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The trail just keeps getting better after you pass this fishing hole. At mile five, we saw a lot of big horn sheep sign, flowering bushes, and wildflowers. Hummingbirds were buzzing along the trail in a furious search for nectar. Folks who fish Waterton Canyon often ride their bikes in and start fishing at the dam, then work their way back downstream.
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4. Hike the Entire Trail to the Strontia Springs Dam - 6.2 Miles
The Strontia Springs Dam is an imposing structure, looming over 200 feet high above the trail with water gushing from its release pipes into the river.Accessing the 7700 acre Strontia Springs Reservoir is extremely difficult, though not impossible. However, its banks drop straight off into the water making it a pretty inhospitable place, but it can be fished for perch, trout, and walleye. One fisherman on a Colorado fishing forum commented that you have to really "WANT to get there" because it's so tough to access.
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5. Hike the Colorado Trail
Most people turn around at Strontia Springs, but the trail doesn't end there. In fact, Waterton Canyon is the eastern gateway to the close to 500 mile Colorado Trail. The Colorado Trail starts here in Denver, then weaves it's way all the way to Durango. You can download a Trail Map of the Colorado Trail here. You really have several options at this point. You can continue onto segment one of the Colorado Trail on Trail #1776.
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Segment one of the Colorado Trail will take you out of the canyon and onto US Forest Service land where you can camp near Lenny's Rest. It's important to note that camping is prohibited in Waterton Canyon, so this area at Lenny's rest should be your goal if you plan to overnight. Another option is that you can hike down into Roxborough State Park on the Roxborough Connector section of the Indian Creek Trail #800. Yet another option--and this option is way more than a dayhike being well over 28 miles--would be to hike the full Indian Creek Trail loop, then to exit at either Roxborough or back down through Waterton Canyon. However, Indian Creek does have it's own campground, so you could make it a long weekend trip. Of course, your final option is to hike out the way you came through Waterton Canyon. Click here for a PDF map of the first segment of the Colorado Trail that shows the connections to both Roxborough and the Indian Creek Campsite.
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Tips & Resources for Hiking Waterton Canyon :

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  • No Dogs: Because of the bighorn sheep and other wildlife, dogs are not allowed in Waterton Canyon.
  • Fishing: If your goal is to go fishing in Waterton Canyon, then start early and ride your mountain bike the 6.2 miles up to the dam and fish your way down.
  • It Gets Hot: Don't hike this in the middle of the day. Waterton Canyon is close to 100% exposed to the sun, so it's best to start very early or to hike later when the sun is moving itself to end the day.
  • Did I Mention It Gets Hot? Bring sunscreen and a hat
  • Bring Water: Bring plenty of water. You can say this about every hike, but it's especially important because of the sun and heat.
  • Dusk: It gets dark quickly after sunset. Because you're in a canyon, once the sun sets beyond the foothills, the canyon becomes a land of shadows.
  • Watch for Bikes: Watch for mountain bikes, especially those headed down and out of the canyon. The road is wide enough to accommodate a lot of traffic in Waterton Canyon, but you want to be sure that you are staying to the right as you hike so that you can give a wide berth to the bikes that are letting it rip as they leave the canyon.
  • Trail Map for Waterton Canyon: Trail Map Link
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: Spur Coffee in Littleton

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Map & Driving Directions


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Guide for Hiking Hanging Lake in Colorado

Hanging Lake is a short hike to two waterfalls and one of the most beautiful lakes in Colorado. On the same hike, you can explore Spouting Rock Falls, and even walk behind the waterfall. It’s not a day hike near Denver, but it’s definitely worth the nearly three-hour drive to the Hanging Lake Trailhead just outside of Glenwood Springs.
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e've attempted to create the definitive guide to hiking the Hanging Lake Trail. In this guide, you'll find: 10 hiking tips, notes on driving directions to Hanging Lake, and tips for parking--which runs out fast. You can download the Hanging Lake trail map, find tips on photography at the lake, and some notes on hiking this trail with kids. If you are planning a Colorado vacation, there is helpful information for planning both your hike and trip to this Colorado destination. This guide is extensive, so we have created a table of contents help you navigate your way around.

HANGING LAKE 2017 CLOSURE DATES
On the following dates, the trail to Hanging Lake will be closed for trail maintenance.
- June 5 - 8, 2017
- Sept 9 - 10, 2017

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Hanging Lake Guide Contents

1. Trail Snapshot
2. Driving Directions
3. Parking & Trailhead
4. Hiking the Trail
5. At Hanging Lake
6. Spouting Rock Falls
7. Photography
8. Hiking with Kids
9. For Out-of-State Hikers
10. Ten Hiking Tips
11. Fishing Prohibited
12. Dogs Prohibited
13. Camping Nearby
14. Lodging Nearby
15. Things to Do Nearby
16. Proposing
17. History and Geology
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Hanging Lake Driving Directions

Driving Directions for Hanging Lake Header

Driving to Hanging Lake from Denver (the east) can be a bit confusing. Here’s why: you have to drive past the trailhead because there is not westbound exit, then take exit 121, go under interstate 70 and get back on eastbound I-70. Then you’ll take exit 125 to the Hanging lake Trailhead. I’ve posted a map below that shows all this in detail.

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When leaving the Hanging Lake Trailhead, you can only exit onto the Westbound lane of interstate 70. So, you’ll have to do the same thing and take exit 121 again to double-back and head back to Denver. If you are coming from Glenwood Springs or the west, then things are pretty straightforward. Driving from Denver, this maps out as a 2.5 hour drive using Google maps, but be sure to add time for construction.

Parking and Facilities at Hanging Lake Trailhead

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We arrived at the Hanging Lake Trailhead parking lot at 8AM on a Saturday morning in July. The first parking lot was full, and by 8:30, the second lot was nearly full. Beginning in 2015, a gate has been installed to close the lot when it is full.The restroom facilities were large enough to serve the number of people who frequent this popular Colorado hike, and were well kept. This is important: if you get there when the lot is full, you will either need to try again later, or make other plans. An alternative is to rent bikes in Glenwood Springs, to bike in, and lock up your bikes at the trailhead (be sure to get locks at the rental shop).

There were a few shaded picnic areas near the parking area, and some unshaded ones along the river. On our way out, the parking lot was at full capacity with cars having to turn around and leave because there was no place to park. Parking is prohibited along the the I-70 exit ramp, so if the parking lot is full, your best bet is to drive into Glenwood Springs, grab something to eat, and try back later. Don't wait idling or clog the ramp, it prevents emergency vehicles from accessing folks who really need their help. It's also important to note that recreational vehicles and trailers have been banned from parking at the hanging lake parking lots as there is not sufficient space for turn around.
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Guide for Hiking the Hanging Lake Trail

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The Trailhead begins along the Colorado River with a paved bike path surrounded by the banded rock walls of Glenwood Canyon. The morning air was cool, and steam was lifting from the warm surface of the Colorado River. After about a quarter-mile you’ll see a bike rack and the Hanging Lake Trail on your left. This is the beginning of Dead Horse Creek Canyon, the canyon that you’ll follow for about 1 mile up to Hanging Lake, then to Spouting Rock Falls.
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Depending on your pace, it may take you anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour and a half to get to the top.Though the prize at the end of this hike are two breathtaking Colorado waterfalls, one of our favorite features of the Hanging Lake trail is that it follows and crosses a mountain stream all the way up to the lake. In fact you’ll cross seven bridges on your journey up to Hanging Lake. You’ll be refreshed by the sights and sounds of cascades and the cool air of the canyon.
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Most of the hike is in the shade of towering spruce, cedar, and fir trees. You’ll find several benches and rocks where you can stop and rest. If you are acclimated to the altitude, the hike up the Hanging Lake is relatively easy and short, but it is steep and there are a lot of rocks to negotiate, so we have categorized the Hanging Lake trail as a moderate hike.

If you are not acclimated to the altitude, or not a regular hiker, this Colorado hike will be a real workout, so you may classify it as difficult. If this is you, then be sure to read our Tips for For Out-of-State Hikers. The piece you may find most challenging is just how slippery some of the rock can get. I hiked this in Chaco sandals, which had great grip, but I got a few blisters on the descent. I’d recommend wearing a shoe or a boot that you know won’t be prone to slipping.The piece you may find most challenging is just how slippery some of the rock can get. I’d recommend wearing a shoe or a boot that you know won’t be prone to slipping.

At bridge three you’ll come across a beautiful cascade. The canyon soon opens to display clifftops that look like the ancient ruins of some abandoned castle. In areas where the sunlight breaks through, you may find raspberries along the trail in the latter half of the Summer. You’ll find more cascades near bridge number five. Dead Horse Canyon is a particularly lush ecosystem packed with spruce trees, moss, lichen, ferns, and sweet woodruff. As our six-year old daughter hiked into this part of the trail, she looked up to me and said, “It’s a rainforest, Dad!”
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07_hanging-lake-colorado-raillingClose to the one-mile point, you’ll climb a steep staircase of rock complete with handrails. While the handrails are helpful, it would be easy for a child to slip over one.So, we’d recommend that you keep smaller children on the inside of the steps as you ascend and hold their hand. It’s a sheer drop on the other side of the handrail.At the top of the stairs follow the path about 100 yards to Hanging Lake. On the way, just before Hanging Lake, you’ll notice a sign to Spouting Rock. We’ll detail this trail in a moment, but you absolutely must hike this short 200 yard trail to this waterfall hidden behind Hanging Lake.
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At Hanging Lake

Hanging Lake is a masterpiece of the natural world. You could spend the entire morning staring into its waters and discovering new things. We spotted trout in its green and blue waters, and dippers, little birds that create nests right on the rocks along the water. There are a variety of moss, ferns, and wildflowers all along the lake. Because of all the traffic at the lake, we saw a bit of trash floating at the base of the waterfall. Dayhikes Near Denver would like to challenge you to look for a piece of trash at the lake and to pack it out with you. Of course, don't go in for it, but pick up what is along the trail and edge of the lake. If we all do this, we can do a little part to help keep this natural wonder beautiful. With 130,000 people visiting a year, the impact adds up fast.

86_hanging-lake-colorado-waterfallatlakeThe back side of Hanging Lake was my favorite spot. The light play and the water spray made for great photos (see our photographing hanging lake tips below), and it gives you a real stunning perspective of the waterfalls pouring into the lake.

You may notice what looks like a huge chain-link cage along the canyon wall above Hanging Lake. It’s there to hold back the rocks that are prone to pile up and roll downhill toward the lake.

Stay off the Log

There is a log that stretches out into the lake, and its tempting to walk out onto it. However, it’s important to know that the oils and detergents on our bodies and clothing--even our shoes just touching the water--can damage the sensitive ecosystem of Hanging Lake. So, as cool as it might be to get that pic of you out on the log, it’s even cooler to help preserve this place for the next generation who gets to see it.

So, as cool as it might be to get that pic of you out on the log, it’s even cooler to help preserve this place for the next generation who gets to see it.

Spouting Rock Waterfalls

On your return, be sure to hike the short spur (about 200 yards) up to Spouting Rock Falls. That’s right, it’s plural--there are multiple falls. This set of waterfalls is much higher than the Bridal Veil falls at Hanging Lake, and instead of pouring over the cliffside, the falls shoot out from holes that the water has carved through a sheer wall of limestone. When the water is really flowing (which is most of the time), an additional gusher of a falls spills out from the heights above Spouting Rock, creating a breathtaking series of waterfalls.

Photography: How to Get Great Photos of Hanging Lake

09_hanging-lake-colorado-indispoutingfallsThe key to getting the best photos of Hanging Lake is to go very early or later in the afternoon when the sun is close to setting. We hit the trail around 8:30 AM, and by the time we got to the lake, there was direct sun on the waterfalls pouring into Hanging Lake.

The real problem is that part of the waterfalls and lake are in direct sun and part in in the shadow of the canyon walls. This makes for two very different exposures within the same frame. So, that’s why we recommend that you go earlier or much later when the sunlight is still indirect and diffused. For some incredible shots, be sure to walk over to the back side of hanging lake where you can take photos that reveal the area carved out under the falls--but be sure to keep out of the water.

You will find the light at Spouting Rock Falls much more forgiving. Spouting rock is shaded more by both the canyon walls and trees that surround it. However, I would expect that light might be a bit harsh around midday.

Hiking with Kids at Hanging Lake

Hanging lake9smallfor postingThe trail is steep and the rock steps are high, so if you are bringing your kids, be prepared to hike at a slower pace and for a lot of people to be passing you. Be aware that there is a lot of slippery rock along the trail, so both good hiking shoes with grip and close supervision of kiddos are important. We brought our 4-year old and 6-year old with us and they did fine. Take into account that we have been hiking with our kids since they were a few weeks old, so this is more normal for us. We read an online comment where another family recommended this hike only for kids 10 and up. If your kids are young, I wouldn’t recommend this as a first hike.

The experience of hiking the Hanging Lake trail with our four-year old was a bit like hiking with a marionette. A lot of the rock steps on the trail were above her knees, so we were helping her up most of the way. This eventually turned into a game of leapfrog, as there were a lot of folks visiting from out-of-state who quickly became winded and needed to take stops, too.
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The trail got busy quickly, so we found ourselves stopping often and stepping aside to let others pass us. Our children were particularly taken with the snails we found along the trail when we took breaks. The snails are easy to miss, but if you just stop and look around for a moment, they seem to appear from out of nowhere.[hr]
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Visiting Hanging Lake From Out-of-State

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  • Be ready to feel winded by the altitude change. You can help yourself adjust to altitude and to have a successful hike up to Hanging Lake by getting a good nights rest, drinking lots of water, and by going at a slower pace than you may be used to. This is good basic advice for anyone vacationing in Colorado.
  • As I mentioned earlier, the rock on the trail can be wet and slippery, so make sure that you have footwear that can grip the rock.
  • If you are overweight or have knee or ankle problems, then trekking poles are an absolute necessity. Coming down the trail is tough on the joints, and you’ll be weary at that point, so it’s easy to turn an ankle (I did, but that was probably because I was wearing Chaco sandals).
  • Don’t give up. We saw several people about 400 yards shy of the lake talking about turning around and heading back. They were so close. Of course, if you think that your health would be compromised by continuing, or if a bad lightning storm is rolling in, then it’s always wise to turn around.
  • If you are from out-of-state, or just not in the best of shape, plan for your hike to take longer. And definitely get to the parking lot early, 7AM, to avoid the heat and crowds. If you would consider yourself very out-of-shape, I’d recommend building up to this hike. See our Easy Hikes Near Denver or Short Hikes Near Denver pages for a good place to start.

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Ten Hiking Tips for Hiking Hanging Lake

Because there are a lot of first-time hikers on this trail (and you might be one), we wanted to share a few tips.
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    • If you find that you are going at a slow pace, step off to the edge of the trail to let other groups pass.

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  • If you are going at a faster pace, simply say, “Pardon us as we pass on your left.” Just like driving, always pass on the left.
  • Take your time and don’t pass folks on the handrail section. It gets crowded here, but it’s just a short jaunt, so take your time so that everyone can make a safe passage of it.
  • Don’t feed Bucky: We encountered one woman who had tried to feed an almond to a squirrel, but the squirrel mistook her finger for the nut. As a rule, you don’t want to be feeding wildlife because it makes them dependent upon an unnatural food source (especially fingers), but it’s also not a good idea because you could get bit.
  • Make sure to bring a snack and some water. Be sure to pack out your plastic water bottles and other trash.
  • Hike the Hanging Lake Trail early in the morning, not just because of parking and traffic, but to cut down on the heat and humidity of the day. Depending on when you hike this trail, it can feel like two completely different experiences. If you hike in the early morning, the canyon is cool and refreshing. Hike it after 11am in the summer and it can feel more like a sauna.
  • This is one of the most popular if not the most popular hike in Colorado, so avoid holiday weekends. Or go very early, by 7am, if you want a parking spot.
  • Don't forget to bring a camera.
  • There will likely be snow on the trail in the Spring, Fall, and of course Winter, so we advise bringing a traction device like YakTrax and trekking poles.
  • Don’t cut through the switchbacks, these are here to cut down on erosion, which can be significant with around 130,000 visitors hiking the trail each year.

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Fishing at Hanging Lake

There are trout at Hanging Lake, but fishing is NOT allowed because of the lake’s unique and fragile ecosystem. However, if you would like to add fishing to your day, I’d recommend fishing the Colorado River along the Hanging Lake trailhead. I’ve not fished this section of the Colorado River, but I saw trout rising while we were walking past, and there looks to be some pretty good access to the river banks.

Dogs Not Allowed at Hanging Lake

You’ll have to leave Fido at home for this one because dogs are not allowed on the Hanging Lake Trail. In fact, the forest service sites that dogs, and the trash left by visitors, are biggest threat to the sensitive environment of Hanging Lake. A lot of people ask if you can swim in Hanging Lake, but for the same reasons swimming is prohibited. In fact, the US Forest service details that there is to be no bodily contact with the water.

Camping Near Hanging Lake

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We decided to camp with our family on Friday night, then to get up early on Saturday to do the Hanging Lake hike. I was surprised by how difficult it was to find a campground near Glenwood Springs.

However, we eventually found and reserved amazing campground. In fact, it’s so good that I’m hesitant to share it. We booked a campsite at Bogen Flats Campground along the Crystal River. It was a 1 hour drive from the campground to the hanging lake trailhead. Though, not as beautiful, you could camp at Redstone Campground, which is a bit closer. We would also recommend (if you have a good clearance 2WD vehicle), the Avalanche Creek site--no reservations required.

Lodging near Hanging Lake

If you don’t want to rough it, there are plenty of lodging options in Glenwood Springs and great places to stay.
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  • You can rent a private cabin or home using VRBO - Vacation Rentals By Owner (affilate link).
  • The Glenwood Springs Inn gets some really good reviews online, and it’s close a lot of the attractions in Glenwood Springs. This place is family owned and operated, a rare find these days.
  • The Glenwood Hot Springs Lodge is upscale, right there at the hot springs, and more pricey. Again, we’ve not stayed here but it looks great.
  • The Hanging Lake Inn The Hanging Lake Inn is a locally-owned and family operated business. Be sure to read their TripAdvisor reviews; they get excellent ratings.
  • The Caravan Inn in Glenwood Springs is an affordable, family-owned option that has a solid reputation with TripAdvisor.

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Other things to Do in Nearby Glenwood Springs

If you are driving from the east, there is a good chance that you may want to spend the weekend or a couple vacation days in Glenwood Springs. If you are looking for some things to do, here are a few suggestions.
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  • The Hot Springs at Glenwood Springs - Sit back and soak in the main attraction and namesake of Glenwood Springs, Colorado. This is a perfect way to recover after your hike up to Hanging Lake.
  • Glenwood Caverns Cave Tours and Adventure Park - Go on one of the many different cave tours, or seek some above ground thrills on the parks many rides and attractions.
  • Rafting - There are a ton of rafting outfits in the Glenwood Springs area. Check out this Glenwood Springs page for a listing of Colorado guided rafting tours.
  • A Whole Lot More - Glenwood Springs was voted as one of the best vacation spots in the West--there is just a surprising amount of fun to be had in this Colorado town. The best place to really explore and find out more about the area’s attractions, see the Visit Glenwood site and begin planning your trip.

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Check out the rest of our Hanging Lake images on our Pinterest board

Follow Dayhikes Near Denver's board Hanging Lake Hike, Colorado on Pinterest.

Popping the Question at Hanging Lake

Hanging Lake is a picture perfect place for an engagement. The downside is that there is a lot of traffic on this popular Colorado trail. So, here are three tips that should help you out.
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  • Go early on the weekend, on a weekday, or off-season. By early, I mean parking the car by 6:45 AM.
  • Hanging Lake is great, but Spouting Falls is, in my opinion an even more spectacular spot for an engagement, especially because you can walk underneath the waterfall.
  • There are some rocks on the back side of Hanging Lake that you could scramble up with your significant other and get engaged under the spray and sound of the waterfall along Hanging Lake.
  • For a great example of engagement photos, check out Kristen Hakes Photography's photo shoot at Hanging Lake and Spouting Rock.

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History and Geology of Colorado’s Hanging Lake

Hanging Lake was formed in a really interesting way. At some point in it’s geologic history, about 1.5 acres of the valley floor dropped out and formed the bed of the lake. This happened because it sits right on a fault line. The blue and green colors in the lake is a result of the carbonates, minerals that have dissolved in the water. Most of the rock in this area is travertine, a kind of limestone that often precipitates out of hot springs and mineral springs.

It was supposedly first discovered by an early pioneer prospecting for gold in the area. He and his family lived on the real estate near Glenwood Springs for some years before the city of Glenwood Springs purchased it as a park. Hanging Lake is now under the authority and management of the White River National Forest. In 2011, Hanging Lake was declared a National Natural Landmark.
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Links & Resources for Hiking Hanging Lake :

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  • After the Hike: After the Hike: Burgers at Grind Glenwood
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • Hike Trail Map for Hanging Lake: Trail Map Link
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    Weather

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    Map & Driving Directions


    Click for Driving Directions

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