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
—Photo by Sarah Boyum
Eldorado Canyon State Park
Sitting a stone's throw from Boulder on the edge of Eldorado Springs is one of Colorado's most scenic canyons. Layers of sandstone jut skyward from the banks of South Boulder Creek, which rushes with clear snow-melt. When the sun hits the west-facing canyon walls just right, it reflects off the yellow lichen that covers the rock, creating a golden glow that gives credence to the name "Eldorado"—as in the Amazon's fabled El Dorado, or "Lost City of Gold."
The Draw World-class rock climbing. More than 750 technical climbing routes draw chalk-fiends from around the world.
The Terrain It's trad climbing or bust here—sport and top-rope routes are few and far between. Read: Few bolts, few permanent anchors, just you and the walls. The infamous Naked Edge (5.11b) is almost 500 feet of vertical, south-facing, exposed sandstone that's both forbidding and irresistible if you're inclined to test your limits.
The Alternative Not a climber? Not a problem. Bring your mountain bike and head for the Rattlesnake Gulch Trail for a vigorous three-mile workout. Or pack a lunch and settle in at one of the canyon's 33 picnic tables along South Boulder Creek before testing your fly-fishing prowess in the trout-laden stream.
Pit Stop The park closes at sunset, but don't call it a day without sliding by South Boulder's Southern Sun Pub and Brewery for a juicy jalapeño burger and a pint of Colorado Kind Ale.
When to Go Be forewarned: Eldorado Canyon is only a short drive from Denver and Boulder, and it's a true crowd-pleaser, which means it almost always reaches capacity during weekends in the summer. Go before Memorial Day or after Labor Day for smaller crowds and cooler weather—most of the walls face south or southwest, which makes for oppressively hot climbs on sunny days. Try the north-facing Peanuts Wall for shady climbing, and always roll up early.
Get There Take I-25 to U.S. 36 west. Exit at Louisville/Superior, turn left at the light, then right onto Marshall Road/Highway 170. Continue 7.4 miles until 170 becomes a dirt road at the town of Eldorado Springs. The park is at the end of the dirt road. For more information, call 303-494-3943.