From the rugged Medicine Bow Mountains of State Forest State Park to the frothy rapids of the Arkansas Headwaters, Colorado has a state park system that makes other countries jealous. Funny thing is, many Coloradans don't know about these outdoor gems. Here, we introduce you to the best of the best.
Golden Gate Canyon State Park
One of the closest mountain parks to the metro area, Golden Gate Canyon lies just northwest of Golden and tops out at an elevation of 10,200 feet. More than 12,000 acres of pine forest, aspen groves, rocky peaks, and subalpine wildflower meadows provide 35 miles of mostly wooded trails to explore, making it the perfect playground for outdoor enthusiasts of all skill levels.
The Draw Any kind of camping you can dream up. Choose from 156 sites, from backcountry clearings to RV hookups in developed campgrounds.
The Options Reverend's Ridge offers both tent ($14 per night) and electrical ($18 per night) sites, plus five camper cabins and two yurts ($60 per night, up to six people) for a more structured wilderness stay. Try Aspen Meadows for basic car-camping and sites that accommodate horses. Twenty backcountry tent sites and four primitive Appalachian-style lean-to shelters require a couple of miles of backpacking. Remember to pick up your backcountry permit at the visitor center. Reservations are recommended May through September, except in the backcountry.
Only Here Just last summer, the park began renting out the historical Harmsen Ranch guesthouse ($220 per night, up to eight people). The ranch house and horse corral were donated by the Harmsen family, founders of the Jolly Rancher Candy Company.
Don't Miss Panorama Point, a scenic overlook a half-mile beyond Reverend's Ridge that offers sweeping 100-mile views of the Divide.
When to Go Reverend's Ridge cabins, yurts, and a select few developed sites, plus all backcountry sites, are open year-round; Aspen Meadows closes for the winter. During the summer, pull on the boots and pack and start trekking toward Frazer Meadow or Forgotten Valley for backcountry options, as the campgrounds fill up quickly on the weekends.
Get There Take I-70 west to Exit 265 (Highway 58) and continue west to Golden. Turn right on Highway 93 and follow it one mile, then turn left at Golden Gate Canyon Road. Follow for 13 miles to the visitor center. For more information, call 303-582-3707.