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First-Timer’s Guide: Golden

This outdoorsy town might be just a short drive from Denver, but it’s a world away from city life. 

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It may be mud season in the high country, but in the foothills of Golden, the trails are primed for the influx of hikers, bikers, climbers, and horseback riders who flock to the area in the spring. While only a short 25-minute drive from Denver, a visit to Golden is a necessary escape from city life. With 402 acres of open space, an interconnected trail system of 24 miles (and close proximity to many more), Golden is a go-to for Denverites who want to take advantage of the town’s unparalleled outdoor recreation, without making the trek up I-70 into the Rocky Mountains. Plus, Golden is home to the Colorado School of Mines, tasty restaurants, one-of-kind breweries, unique shops, and lots of historical adventures—more than enough to fill a day (or a weekend). Here, our quick guide to making the most of your trip to the Golden City.


The Odometer: 15 miles, one-way

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Name Game: No, Golden did not get its name from the metallic glow that eclipses over the mesas during sunset (although, it might as well have). In truth, the town was named for Thomas L. Golden, one of the first prospectors to pan for gold in the area, back when it was dubbed “Golden City.”


The view from the top of North Table Mountain (see tiny Denver in the distance?)

Get Outside: There’s so much incredible outdoor recreation in and around Golden that it’s close to impossible to do it justice in a short guide. First and foremost, we recommend hiking up North Table Mountain (also great for climbers) and South Table Mountain Parks—both offer exquisite views of Golden, the Foothills, the metro area, and, on a clear day, downtown Denver. You could spend a whole day exploring just one of these spaces, both of which summit at breathtaking mesas and are home to plenty of wildlife, including coyotes, birds, mule deer, and rattlesnakes (be sure to watch your step). Another option is Apex Park, which is perfect for trail runners and can be followed up to Lookout Mountain. For a challenge, scramble up hiker-only Mount Galbraith or head to Golden Gate Canyon State Park (not technically in the city of Golden, but close enough), which offers 36 miles of hiking trails for all levels and a plethora of camping spots in more than 12,000 acres of dense forest.

And, one more awesome way to earn sweeping views of Golden and far beyond: paragliding from the top of Mt. Zion.

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(Check out 50 urban adventures to try now)

The scene from inside D’Deli at lunchtime.

Eat: There’s no shortage of places to get your food fix. Start your day at Windy Saddle Café, which serves a vast array of tasty coffees, as well as breakfast burritos, croissants, scrambles, and pastry items baked in-house. For truly unique sandwiches, head to D’Deli, a Golden standby since 1975. We tried the Aspen Buddha and the Jewzer, but for something different, give one of their sandwiches with smoked corned elk a taste. For dinner, you can’t beat Indulge Bistro & Wine Bar, a favorite of locals and visitors alike. Start with the charcuterie and antipasto plates and then try one of their signature dishes: chicken gnocchi or beef bourgignon. If you’re looking for something unique, head to Sherpa House Restaurant & Culture Center, which is owned by a Nepalese family. Visit for the authentic Himalayan cuisine, and stay for the cultural experience.

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The beer-infusion machine at Barrels & Bottles, plus wines on tap in the background.

Sip: In Golden, it’s all about the brews. Yes, the world’s largest single-site brewery, Coors, is located here (and the tour is epic, by the way). But you can also visit some local spots. Our favorite is Barrels & Bottles, which offers a rotating selection of 22 craft beers, a beer infusion tower, plus 24 wines on-tap, as well as delicious wine slushies in both red and white varieties. Enjoy one while lounging on their fenced-in patio (dogs welcome). Other hoppy options: Golden City Brewery, located jut a few blocks from the Clear Creek Trail, Cannonball Creek Brewing, near North Table Mountain, and The Mountain Toad on Washington Avenue.

Stay: Sure, you can take a day trip from Denver. But why rush? If you want to extend your visit, book a room at the Table Mountain Inn, an authentic Southwestern-style hotel located in the heart of Golden on Washington Avenue. Another option is The Golden Hotel, which has the feel of a mountain lodge and offers comfortable guest rooms and suite that overlook the bubbling Clear Creek. Both places are complete with delicious in-house restaurants (Table Mountain Inn’s Grill and Cantina and Bridgewater Grill, respectively).

The Mt. Everest model inside the Bradford Washburn American Mountaineering Museum. —Photo by Dan Ham, courtesy of the American Mountaineering Museum

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History Lessons: Golden is home to 10 museums—and none of them are to be missed. The Bradford Washburn American Mountaineering Museum opened its doors on 10th Street in 2008, and is the only museum in the country dedicated to preserving the achievements of the world’s mountaineers. Marvel at a scale model of Mt. Everest and equipment from the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division, in addition to taking in the museum’s changing exhibits and get ready for fourteener season. If mountaineering isn’t your thing, grab the kids and head to the Colorado Railroad Museum—featuring 12 acres of trains, cars, and artifacts—and Dinosaur Ridge, an archeological wonder containing more than 100 perfectly preserved dinosaur tracks. If you’ve never been, Buffalo Bill’s Gravesite and Museum is worth a stop, if not for its historical significance than for the breathtaking views of the Denver Metro Area from Lookout Mountain.

The Clear Creek Trail, with Mt. Zion (emblazoned with the Colorado School of Mines “M”) in the background

If You Do One Thing…: Take a stroll down Clear Creek Trail, a paved, multiuse walkway that runs along Clear Creek from the canyon and through the town (the creek itself flows all the way to the South Platte River in Denver). Here, you can bike, skate, or walk under the shade of trees, wade in the creek’s cool waters, access neighboring trails and open spaces, and stop to take in the Colorado-esque scene of kayakers, fishers, and more. If you have time, pass through the Clear Creek History Park, which features original 19th century cabins relocated from the old Pearce Ranch in Golden Gate Canyon.

 

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Erin Skarda, Digital Editor

Erin oversees the editorial strategy for 5280.com, manages multimedia projects, and writes and edits articles for the website.

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