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Length: 13 miles round-trip (with options to extend or shorten)
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Why we love it: Although a little lengthy, the Golden Gate Canyon State Park Loop is rather gentle and offers near nonstop, marvelous views of the Rockies to the west, north, and south, where aspens blaze yellow and red.
When to go: Spring through late fall or in winter with microspikes or snowshoes
Pre-hike fuel: Swing by cult-favorite Bonfire Burritos in Golden for the chorizo-loaded Chupacabra. We recommend ordering online ahead of time—this spot is known to draw crowds.
Post-hike buzz: On the way back, stop by Golden’s Cannonball Creek Brewing Company to enjoy a generous pour of Dad Squad, a light German-style pilsner with a dry finish that makes for easy drinking. Post up on the dog-friendly patio, and sop up your suds with the brewery’s rotating cast of food trucks.
Restrooms: None at the trailhead, however, you will pass pit toilets at the Ole Barn Knoll and Panorama Point parking areas
Dogs: Allowed, but must be on a six-foot leash
With roughly 40 miles of trails, Golden Gate Canyon State Park offers some of the best hiking, leaf-peeping, and wildlife watching near Denver. Choosing which routes to travel might feel a little daunting, but to soak in the most gorgeous views with minimal grunt work, opt for Golden Gate Canyon State Park Loop.
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The circuit takes hikers around the highest peak in the park: 10,388-foot-tall Tremont Mountain. You’ll likely share the scenery with mule deer, elk, and the occasional moose, as well as Abert’s squirrels, Steller’s jays, and foxes. (Bears, bobcats, and mountain lions are also known to inhabit the area, so keep an eye out.)
From the trailhead at the Ralston Roost parking area, set out on Black Bear Trail, which is initially peppered with young aspen and then steadily climbs into a coniferous forest. About 2.5 miles in, veer left at the intersection to take Mule Deer Trail. From there, you only have a little more uphill exercise to do before the trail dips down, crosses the narrow road near the Ole Barn Knoll area, and descends into a drainage meadow interspersed with aspen and willow brackets. While you weave through the field, draw in the crisp autumn scent of fallen leaves before the trail heads north, crossing small wooden bridges and gradually gaining elevation until you’re back among the spruce and pine forest.
Shortly after crossing over Gap Road, you’ll come to a junction with the Raccoon Trail Loop. Stay right to keep on Mule Deer Trail and the path to Panorama Point’s overlook. The nearby benches afford an ideal spot for a break and to capture the grandiose views of the snowcapped Rockies and the Continental Divide with your camera. An interpretive sign will help you locate Longs Peak and Mt. Evans among the summit-sprinkled skyline.
Now that you’re well-rested, continue east on what is now the combined Raccoon/Mule Deer Trail for a relatively flat stroll through pine forest dotted with colorful aspen. At around the 7.5-mile point, hang a right at the eastern junction with Raccoon Trail to stay on Mule Deer Trail. Soon, you’ll enter the first of two aspen-rimmed meadows that yield views of the rocky-topped Tremont Mountain to the right.
Three miles later, you’ll meander into the second: Frazer Meadow, named after John Frazer, an early settler who—despite having only one working leg—cleared the meadow and established a small farm in 1865 with the help of Samuel Parker, a Black settler. Today the remnants of Frazer’s barn are still evident.
For the best continuous views of resplendent foliage and the mountains beyond, follow the signs for Mule Deer Trail when you come to the first junction with Horseshoe Trail. At the second junction, take a left and follow the path all the way to the Horseshoe Connector Trail. Once there, turn right and walk about 0.3 miles. Here, the route meets back up with where you began this journey: Black Bear Trail. Turn left onto Black Bear and follow the familiar route back to the parking lot.
Getting there: From Denver, take U.S. 6 West to CO 93 North. Turn left onto Golden Gate Canyon Road and head west for 12.8 miles. Take a right on Crawford Gulch Road and drive 0.2 miles before parking on either side of the road. If you don’t have a state park pass, you can purchase a day pass for $10 at the kiosk before Crawford Gulch Road or in the visitor’s center.