Pine Valley Ranch Park Hike

Pine Valley Ranch Park has become one of our family's favorite parks near Denver. Pine Valley Ranch Park boasts several hikes, a beautiful lake, a lot of history, a small island with a gazebo, and the best picnic area on the Front Range of Colorado. If that's not enough, the North Fork of the Platte River runs through the park, lined with enormous spruce trees and granite cliffs. Explore the trail profile below for hiking options, trail map, driving directions and more.

Trail Snapshot: Pine Valley Ranch Park Trail

Hiking Options at Pine Valley Ranch Park

#1 - Park View Out-and-Back Hike - Approx. 2 Miles Round Trip

The Park View trail can be located on the other side of Pine Lake (not the far side). Take the narrow gauge trail across the bridge and you'll locate the trailhead just on the other side of a shelter that sits along Pine lake. The trail is moderate to strenuous and will take you up to some great views of the surrounding Pike National forest and the Platte River. You'll get views of the extensive Hayman Burn, the burn scars left from the 2000 fire.

#2 - Full Park View Loop - Approx. 2.5 Miles

If you would like to take a longer loop hike, take the Park view trail (.8 mile) up to the strawberry jack trail (.5), which will connect you to the Buck Gulch trail (.4) which will take you back down to Pine Lake. The Strawberry Jack trail will take you out into Pike National Forest. Be sure to have a map you--which you can pick up at the park--because a wrong turn onto the Buck Gulch Trail can take you far out of the way.

#3 - Pine Lake Loop Hike - Approx. .7 mile

You can take a leisurely hike around Pine Lake at Pine Valley Ranch. Go early (before 7:30AM) to catch site of the birds and wildlife around the lake.

#4 - Narrow Gauge Trail Hike - .5 to 3.8 miles

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This is the hike that our kids most enjoy. We like to hike the southeast segment that takes you along the North Fork of the South Platte River. There are willows to pass through, and probably some good trout fishing along the banks. The Narrow Gauge trail stretches about half a mile in this direction and is surrounded by granite cliffs, pine, and spruce.

If you hike the Narrow Gauge trail to the West, you'll follow the river past Pine lake for about 1.5 miles, then can hike it back.

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Pine Lake at Pine Valley Ranch Park

Pine Lake packs out with fisherman on the weekend but can be a great quiet escape on the weekdays, especially in the mornings and evenings. The lake has a fishing pier and a great shelter. In the winter months, there is ice fishing and skating. The shoreside shelter at Pine Lake has several picnic tables and a fireplace.

The Best Picnic Area Near Denver

pine valley ranch picnic area
As our family explores hikes and parks near Denver, we get to see a lot of picnic areas. See our Seven Great Picnic Areas Near Denver post. The picnic area at Pine Valley Ranch Park is hands down our favorite. A few reasons why: 1) It's along a river, 2) it's surrounded and shaded by enormous spruce trees, 3) has great facilities: two large covered shelters, and 4) there are a lot of activity options for families.

girl on trail with black dog in colorado mountains spruce tree in foreground and snow and evergreen trees in background

Tips & Resources for Hiking the Pine Valley Ranch Park:

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  • Gazebo: There are some hidden treasures at Pine Valley Ranch. One you can't miss is the gazebo. Behind the large picnic shelters you'll find a small trail that leads to a bridge. The bridge leads to an small island in the Platte River and a beautiful old gazebo. The island is man-made and was created to contain the domesticated goats that used to roam the ranch.
  • River's edge: The Platte river can swell and be quite dangerous, especially in the Spring and after heavy rains, so keep a close eye on children along the river's edge.
  • Eagles: Keep your eyes peeled for bald eagles and osprey
  • Use sunscreen: Though there are a lot of trees, like most Colorado hikes, most areas are exposed to the sun, so hike early and use sunscreen.
  • Handicap accessibility: This would be a great place for family with physical limitations or who are wheelchair bound. I should point out that the park is not built around handicap accessibility, but we saw several people fishing from wheelchairs along the lake, and there is a lot of beauty to take in without having to go far or negotiate obstacles.
  • Historical significance: Pine Valley Ranch is replete with historical significance. The best place to start is to take a tour of Baehrden Lodge, a 27 room estate perched over the top of Pine Valley Ranch Park that is now in the care of Jefferson County Parks.
  • pine valley ranch park narrow gauge trail

  • Carved initials: Look for initials carved into trees a long the paths of Pine Valley Ranch. These go back many decades to when Pine Valley Ranch was a resort and folks would take the train from Denver to escape into the mountains.
  • Dr. Robert Dudley: We want to express our gratitude to Dr. Robert Dudley, who in the 1970's kept the park from being parceled out to the highest bidder, and to the Jefferson County Parks staff for the care they give to keep Pine Valley Ranch Park available to the public.
  • After the Hike: Aspen Perk Cafe
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • Trail Map for Pine Valley Ranch Park: Trail Map Link

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Horseshoe Trail at Golden Gate Canyon Park

The Horseshoe Trail in Golden Gate Canyon State Park is a wonderful hike for older kids, experienced and non-experienced hikers. It's a great trail for spotting wildlife, from birds to deer, viewing fall colors and wildflowers, and taking in the beautiful scenic view along the trail. Several of the backcountry campsites areas are also accessible from the Horseshoe trail. We'll detail those locations, provide links to a trail map, driving directions and more in the trail profile on this Colorado hike.

Trail Snapshot: Horseshoe Trail at Golden Gate Canyon Park

horseshoe trail golden gate canyon state park

Golden Gate Canyon's Horseshoe Trail is a 3.6 mile out-and-back hike (1.8 miles one-way). We've rated it as moderate in difficulty because of the 900+ feet of elevation gain. The Horseshoe Trail is popular because it follows the beds of several small streams, winds through groves of aspen trees, and leads to beautiful meadows, as well as three of Golden Gate Canyon State Park's backcountry camping areas.

To get to the trailhead (first,use our driving directions). Once in the park, exit to the right out of the Visitors Center--you'll want to stop here first to pick up a map. You'll find the Frazer Meadows parking area and trailhead for the Horseshoe Trail on the left-hand side of the road. Keep in mind that parking is limited, so it would be best to arrive early. There are also restrooms at the Horseshoe trail trailhead and we found them to be kept up and clean.

peak along horseshoe trail in golden gate canyon state park

One of the highlights of this trail are the streams that run along it. You'll find that there are several small bridges to cross as you make your way up the trail. Seasonal streams also mean that sections of the Horseshoe trail will get muddy on after rains and during the Spring melt-water runoff. But water also means wildflowers, and this trail comes alive with them in late Spring through the Summer.

The Horseshoe Trail also leads you to access trails for three of the five Golden Gate Canyon backcountry camping areas. Use this link to the backcountry camping brochure to get details on cost per night and how to make campsite reservations in Golden Gate Canyon State Park. The first campsite access trail is at 1.1 miles and will take you to Greenfield Meadows, which has 4 campsites. Continuing on the same spur, you can hike further in to the Frazer Meadow campsite which has 4 campsites and one backcountry shelter. If you continue on the Horseshoe trail, you'll come upon the access trail for Rim Meadow campsite at 1.3 miles. Rim Meadow also has 4 campsites.

girl on trail with black dog in colorado mountains spruce tree in foreground and snow and evergreen trees in background

Tips & Resources for Hiking the Horseshoe Trail:

  • Park Pass: A Colorado State Park Pass is required to enter Golden Gate Canyon State Park. Check the Golden Gate Canyon Fees page for details on park passes. Some trails offer passes at self-serve dispensers.
  • Printed map: The trail forks to the left, make sure to have a printed map on hand which you can pick up at the Visitors Center.
  • Bug spray: for hot summer days not a bad idea.
  • Sun protection: The trail is often shaded--a rare thing for Front Range hikes--but be sure to bring sun protection because it is almost 4 miles round trip and there are areas exposed to the sun.
  • No cell phone: There is no cell phone coverage at Golden Gate Canyon State Park.
  • Download our Dayhikes Hiking Guide for a day hike packing checklist
  • After the Hike: Windy Saddle Cafe in Golden
  • Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • Trail Map for Golden Gate Canyon State Park: Trail Map Link

A big thanks goes out to Lisa Palmer, a member of our Dayhikes Pathfinder Team, who hiked this trail with her family, gathered the information for the trail profile, and took the photos for this post.

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