red rock formations along trail at roxborough state park

Roxborough State Park Hiking Trails

Roxborough State Park is widely considered Denver's Garden of the Gods. Secluded in the foothills south of Littleton, Colorado, Roxborough State Park can feel like stepping into another world, especially when a light fog rest on the tops of the red rocks of Fountain Valley. Roxborough State Park is home to a variety of wildlife and migratory birds find the park an ideal place to stop as they make their way along the Front Range. The park is one of our favorites for visiting friends and family because of its proximity to Denver and easy to moderate demand of the trails. In this page, we provide a short description of the 5 main trails in Roxborough. We have developed more detailed hiking trail profiles for each hike. These can be accessed by clicking through on any of the titles and photos below. It's important to note that Dogs are not allowed and that a fee is required to access the Park.

willow creek trail roxborough state park

Willow Creek Trail in Roxborough

Distance: 1.4 Miles

Difficulty: Easy

Willow Creek Trail is a short loop trail in Roxborough and is a recommended choice for beginners exploring the park. It's just a short walk from the trailhead but it still boasts the ever prominent red rock formations along with over 140 species of birds that flourish within this region. In the late Spring, Western Tanagers, like the one pictured above, can be spotted among the scrub oaks that fill the valley floor.

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fountain valley trail roxborough state park

Fountain Valley Trail in Roxborough

Distance: 2.3 Miles

Difficulty: Easy

The Fountain Valley Trail features the best part of Roxborough Park - it’s looming and massive red rocks. Ruins of an old estate can be found along the trail with interpretive signs that tell the history of the valley. Because the trail is relativily flat and gradual, this hike may be good fit for those visiting the Denver area from out-of-state. Because it's a loop trail, hikers are able to take in a variety of vantage points and views of the park.

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south rim trail roxborough state park

South Rim Loop Near Littleton, Colorado

Distance: 3 Miles

Difficulty: Moderate

The South Rim Trail at Roxborough State Park is a moderate loop hike offering a more wide-angle perspective of the formations of Fountain Valley and will expose visitors to more of the variety of landscapes in the park. We've found this to be a great family hike with our kids. There are a few benches along the way that offer both shade and great spots to rest your feet.

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elk valley trail roxborough state park

Elk Valley Trail Near Littleton, Colorado

Distance: 4.8 Miles Round Trip with Loop options

Difficulty: Moderate

The Elk Valley Trail in Roxborough State Park can be hiked as an out-and-back trail, but can be turned into one of two different loops. See our full trail profile for details. It's a lesser visited area of the park, and at the right time, you may be able to spot elk grazing in the meadows below the trail.

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carpenter peak trail roxborough state park

Carpenter Peak Trail Near Littleton, Colorado

Distance: 6.2 Miles Round Trip

Difficulty: Moderate

The hike up to Carpenter Peak in Roxborough State Park is a strenuous 6.2 mile out-and-back trip. This foothill summit overlooks the red rock formations of Fountain Valley, provides panoramic views to the city of Denver in the Northeast, and the mountains of Pike National Forest in the West.

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Roxborough State Park Parking and Trailhead Information

Roxborough State Park is located south of Littleton, Colorado, at the base of the foothills near Pike National Forest. The last two miles of the road into Roxborough State Park is a maintained dirt road, and this segment can become washboarded and can be tough on the car--but it is accessible for 2WD vehicles. The park can fill up during the busy weekend hours. If that's the case, you can wait in line at the gatehouse until vehicles exit and the ranger at the gatehouse gives you the signal to drive in. My guess is that the peak times are around 10AM-2PM, and weekends are about 5x busier than weekdays. If the line of cars looks long, you can always turn around and head over to nearby Waterton Canyon or to South Valley Park--both are great options.

Tips & Resources for Hiking Roxborough State Park Trails

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man painting red rocks at trading post trail in red rocks park near denver with red rocks in background hikes 30 minutes from denver


Golden Gate Canyon State Park Hiking Trails

6 Hikes in Golden Gate Canyon State Park

Located less than an hour from Denver and Boulder, Golden Gate Canyon State Park is a remarkable treasure. The park offers over 30 miles of hiking trails and some of the most accessible backcountry camping opportunities near Denver. Golden Gate is full of seasonal creeks and wildflowers, as well as promontories that open out to views of the snow-capped and lead-blue rock faces of the Rocky Mountains. The park is open year-round; however, during many years, snow may cover trails from as early as October through May. Explore this page to get familiar with several hike options and the camping facilities available in the Park.

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Raccoon Loop Trail - Shaded and Family Friendly

Distance: 2.5 Miles

Difficulty: Easy

The Raccoon Loop Trail is an easy, 2.5-mile loop hike in Golden Gate Canyon State Park. Because it's short and has a variety of scenery, the Racoon Loop makes for an enjoyable hike for families. Most hikes near Denver are quite exposed to the sun, but this hike offers a good deal of shade. The trail boasts panoramic views of snow-capped peaks, glades of aspen trees, wildflowers, and seasonal brooks.

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Blue Grouse Trail - A Short Adventure

Distance: 1.6 Miles Round Trip

Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

Blue Grouse Trail in Golden Gate Canyon State Park is another short hike of easy to moderate difficulty. If you are looking for a short adventure to gains views of green foothills and changing aspens, then this is for you. While not a spectacular hike, the Blue Grouse trail is easy to access and can be used as an access point to other trails and camping sites available in the park.

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Forgotten Valley Hike - Homestead Ruins

Distance: 3 Miles Round Trip

Difficulty: Moderate

A favorite destination hike in Golden Gate Canyon State Park, hikers can put together a segment of the Burro Trail and Mountain Lion trail to access this old homestead and pond situated in Forgotten Valley. Nearby are several reservable campsites and a backcountry shelter, making this area a perfect place to camp before exploring the many miles of trails in the park.
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horseshoe trail golden gate canyon state park

Horseshoe Trail to Frazer Meadow

Distance: 3.6 Miles Round Trip

Difficulty: Moderate

Another trail to some of Golden Gate Canyon's camping areas, this out-and-back trail takes hikers through Greenfield Meadows and terminates at Frazer Meadow. Much of the trail follows alongside a seasonal creek that runs through the main valley. Aspen trees, meadows, wildflowers, and shaded trail segments are all highlights of this hike in the heart of the park.

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Beaver Loop Trail

Distance: 2.8 Miles

Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult

The Beaver Loop trail can be picked up right from the visitor center at Golden Gate. It is a 2.8-mile loop with an out-and-back option of hiking over to Slough Pond. While it's a short hike, it requires about 1000' of elevation gain, making it a more demanding hike. Like so many of the hikes in Golden Gate, the Beaver Loop offers a beautiful panorama of distant, snow-capped mountains in the west.

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windy peak trail golden gate canyon state park

Windy Peak Trail - A Great Vantage Point

Distance: 6.4 Miles

Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult

Another great destination hike, the way up to Windy Peak combines a few trails to create a loop hike with a spur trail leading to the top of Windy Peak. Windy Peak is an incredible vantage point for taking in the snow-capped Rockies and western skies. The eastern segment of this hike is replete with wildflowers during the summer.

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Camping in Golden Gate Canyon State Park

Golden Gate Canyon offers a variety of camping options, making the park a great place for those new to backpacking to test their equipment and to get a feel for what a longer trip into the mountains might require. Families looking to try out camping for the first time can car-camp or hike short distances to some of the backcountry sites. All sites require reservation and a Colorado State Parks Pass. There are less demanding options such as cabins and yurts available. All sites, cabins, and campsites can be booked at the Colorado State Park's reservation page. Here's a quick overview of the camping options at Golden Gate Canyon State Park:

  • 20 Backcountry Campsites: Brochure and Map of Backcountry Sites
  • 5 Cabins: Located at Reverend's Ridge, no hike in required, year-round, max occupancy of 6, heated, electricity, water and restrooms nearby, showers available in Summer season
  • 2 Yurts: Located at Reverend's Ridge, No hike-in required, year-round, max occupancy of 6, heated, electricity, water and restrooms nearby, showers available in Summer season
  • 97 Campsites at Reverend's Ridge: No hike-in or short walk required, accommodates campers, trailers, and some RV spaces, limited sites available during Winter months, max occupancy of 6 per site, water and restrooms nearby, showers available in Summer season
  • 35 Campsites at Aspen Meadows: Tent camping only, closed during Winter months, max occupancy of 6 per site, water pump and vault toilets
views from carpenter peak in roxborough state park colorado granti boulders evergreen trees on mountains and blue skies with cirrus clouds moderate hike near denver

Carpenter Peak Hike in Roxborough State Park

The hike up Carpenter Peak in Roxborough State Park is a strenuous 3.1 mile journey (one-way) to a foothill summit that overlooks the red rock formations of Fountain Valley. You'll also gain 360 degree panoramic views of Denver, east to the plains, and west to distant snow-capped peaks. In this Colorado trail profile, you'll find driving directions, trail map, and more tips and details to help you enjoy this adventure in Roxborough State Park.

Trail Snapshot: Carpenter Peak Hike at Roxborough State Park

Parking and Trailhead Information

The last two miles of access road into Roxborough State Park are a maintained dirt road, but it can get washboarded and can be tough on the car. Still, it's not a long drive in. Undulating green hills can be seen in the east where deer and antelope graze. Roxborough State Park can fill up during it's busiest hours on the weekend. If that's the case, you can wait until enough vehicles exit the park then drive in. The peak times appear to be are around 10AM-2PM on the weekends. If the line looks long, you can always turn around and head over to Waterton Canyon or to South Valley Park--both are great options.

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The hike up to Carpenter Peak begins just southwest of the Roxborough State Park visitor center. Clear signage marks this access to Carpenter Peak, the Willow Creek, and South Rim Trails (pictured above). Soon the trail enters a corridor of scrub oak which provides shade for this first short segment of the hike. There is a great deal of poison ivy in this corridor, so be sure to avoid going off trail. Just short of 0.5 mile into the hike, the trail will open up to a large meadow among the red rock. Continue following the signs for Carpenter Peak.

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The trail will soon cross a dirt road and begin its way west. This is the most steep and demanding segment of trail. We've classified this as a moderate hike in difficulty, but for those who are from out-of-town or who are not in the best of shape, it may be considered difficult.

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At 1.7 mile, the trail will come to a Y intersection (pictured above). The trail to the left leads to Elk Meadows, and the trail for Carpenter Peak leads to the right. The trail now winds along the hillsides with switchbacks that open up to expansive views of the red rock formations that make Roxborough Park Denver's Garden of the Gods.

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After gaining the ridge at mile 3, hikers will encounter a final intersection. Again, there is clear signage pointing the way right to Carpenter peak, now just a few hundred yards further. At the summit, you'll be able to take in a 360 degree panorama of Denver, Roxborough State Park, the plains, and distant mountains in the west. I particularly enjoy the views from here over to the mountains that surround Waterton Canyon. In the Spring and early Summer, a few western peaks will still still show their snow caps.

The return route follows the same trails back down to the visitor center.

Tips & Resources for Hiking to Carpenter Peak in Roxborough

  • Posion Ivy: Because there is a significant amount of poison ivy that grows out to the edges of parts of this trail, it's wise to wash your clothing soon after your return home as poison ivy can affect people by indirect contact.
  • Hiking in Winter: If you plan to hike Carpenter Peak in the winter, it is advised that you have traction devices like YakTrax because much of the trail will be in shadow, and ice will likely form on the trail.
  • Trail Map for Roxborough State Park: Trail Map Link
  • Packing List: Always pack the 10 Essentials. Download our Hiking Guide to get list and dayhiking packing checklist.
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: Waterton Tavern in Roxborough

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man painting red rocks at trading post trail in red rocks park near denver with red rocks in background hikes 30 minutes from denver


snow capped front range mountains of colorado from panorama at golden gate canyon state park along raccoon trail hike

Raccoon Loop Hike in Golden Gate Canyon State Park

Our kids loved this 2.5 mile loop hike in Golden Gate Canyon State Park. The trail sports lots of shade, panoramic views of snowcapped peaks, wildflowers, and trickling brooks. Be sure to see the details below regarding an annual raptor closure that detours one segment of this hike. Explore the full Raccoon Loop Hike profile for trail map, driving directions, and many of the details you need to enjoy this adventure in Golden Gate Canyon State Park.

Trail Snapshot: Raccoon Trail Loop at Golden Gate Canyon

Parking & Trailhead Information for the Raccoon Loop Hike

You can begin your hike at either the Panorama Point Trailhead or at the Reverend Ridge Campground Trailhead. Our family hiked this from the Panorama Point Trailhead. Though parking is limited, there is additional parking located directly across the street in a dirt lot. Reverend Ridge Trailhead, while a larger parking area, can fill up fast because it is located at the campground. Either one, however, is a good option. Driving directions for both trailheads are located in the trail snapshot above.

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The Hike: The Raccoon Loop Hike in Golden Gate Canyon

We hiked the Raccoon Loop counter-clockwise from the Panorama Point Trailhead and found it to be easy to moderate in difficulty. Our kids (at the time of this post) are 5 and 8. Both were wearing tennis shoes and did well on the trail. There was a steep segment with loose rock, where our youngest needed me to hold her hand as she navigated here way down the trail.

The trail begins with incredible views of the snowcapped Indian Peaks stretched out against the western sky. Soon, views of Thorodin Mountain and Starr peak dominate the landscape as the trail winds to the east and crosses a seasonal brook. Raccoon Trail then gently drops into aspen groves and green meadows full of wildflowers.

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Entering a more mature stand of aspens, the trail begins a more steep descent. This is where hikers will want to watch their footing on the loose rock and gravel surface of the trail. After this short descent, the trail crosses another brook over a small footbridge, then begins to climb a bit further west before turning sharply to the south.

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Shortly after the brook is where we encountered the closure of approximately 0.5 mile of the Raccoon trail. These closures are announced on the front page of the Golden Gate Canyon State Park website, and we knew about it before making our trip.

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One of the Nesting Raptor Closure Signs

This rerouted us up to the Reverend Ridge Campground, then required that we hike down State Park Road for about 0.5 mile until we were able to pick up the Raccoon Trail again. Because the detour wasn't clearly marked, we've provided an image of the normal route vs. the detour route we took below.

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It probably goes without saying, but do exercise caution when walking the road, and assume that cars will not see you. There are several sharp turns/switchbacks. We were able to pick up the trail down where the road comes to a stop sign, then hike back to Panorama Point. The detour adds approximately 1 mile to the original hike, making this into a 3.5 mile loop hike.

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Where we picked up the Raccoon/Mule Deer Trail after Walking the Road Detour

This last section had some elevation gain, but still was moderate in difficulty. This is a great hike for visiting friends and family, but those who have not acclimatized to the altitude, or who are not in the best shape, may find this last part challenging. There is a bench strategically placed on the ascent, and rocks where you can rest your legs.

At Panorama Point, hikers will find a large deck and viewing area. It's one of the best accessible views you'll get of the Front Range near Denver.

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Tips & Resources for Hiking the Raccoon Loop Hike

  • Be Aware of Closures: The Raccoon Loop has seasonal closures when raptors are nesting. However, it's just one segment of the trail that is closed, and a (not-so-well-marked) detour is available.
  • Look out for Mtn Bikers: We always find mountain bikers to be considerate on the trails near Denver. There is an established etiquette and they will call their pass. Still, it's good to know that this trail is popular with both mountain bikers and hikers, so keep your eyes and ears peeled and give them plenty of room to pass.
  • Trail Map for Golden Gate Canyon State Park: Trail Map Link
  • Packing List: Always pack the 10 Essentials. Download our Hiking Guide to get the list and dayhiking packing checklist.
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: Windy Saddle Cafe in Golden, Colorado

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Rifle Falls Hike Colorado

Rifle Falls is a 70 foot, triple waterfall in Rifle Falls State Park. It's just .1 mile hike to the base of the falls along a paved, handicap accessible trail. The caves hidden along the waterfall beckon those looking for more adventure. Explore the full Rifle Falls hike profile below for trail map, driving directions, and more of the details you need for this short waterfall Hike in northwestern Colorado.

Trail Snapshot: Rifle Falls Colorado

Parking & Trailhead Information for Rifle Falls, Colorado

Because Rifle Falls State Park is one of the more popular State parks to visit in Colorado, it often has very limited parking. We highly recommend that you arrive when the park opens at 7AM. If you do not have a Colorado State Parks pass, then you will need to pay the access fee for the park at the kiosk. If the lot is full, visitors will be turned away. As with almost all trailheads in Colorado, Monday through Thursday are the best days for avoiding traffic. However, in the busy summer season, when the weather is amazing and vacation season is in full swing, the park is often at capacity.

The Hike: Rifle Falls

The base of the waterfall can be accessed via 1/10th mile hike on a paved trail that is considered ADA accessible. The falls launch 70 feet over a limestone cliffside, reminiscent of Hanging Lake, near Glenwood Springs. It is a segmented waterfall, breaking into three distinct waterfalls. The spray and mist from the falls makes the surrounding scenery unique. Moss covered rock, flowers, brush, trees, and the roar of the falls make this a real oasis in the oft dry landscape of western Colorado.

The Coyote Trail crosses the creek and leads hikers on a 1.5 mile loop that includes both caves and the area above the waterfall. Following the loop counter-clockwise, the caves will soon become visible on the left-hand side of the trail. After the caves, the loop continues back towards the top of the waterfall area and crosses the creek before making its way back to the shaded picnic grove and parking area.

Rifle Falls in Winter

Rifle Falls State Park is open all year round. It's Colorado, so expect snow and ice on the trail in the late Autumn through late Spring.

Camping at Rifle Falls

There are 20 camping spots at Rifle Falls State Park. Thirteen are drive-in camping and seven are walk-in sites. All are along Rifle Creek. A number of the sites are reservable from May 1 to Oct. 31, and others are available on a first-come basis. Weekdays have better availability than weekends, and the campsites are in less demand November through April. Because Rifle Falls State Park is open year-round, camping is available year-round as well. Pets are allowed, but must be kept on a 6' leash.

Weddings at Rifle Falls

The Waterfall is also a popular place to tie the knot. The Mountain Mist Amphitheater is reservable and has a capacity of 50. All arrangements must be made ahead of time with the parks office (970) 625-1607. All vehicles must pay the fee or have a Colorado State Parks Pass. Because of the limited parking, those coming for a wedding should plan to car pool or be dropped off at the park.

waterfall in canyon with bridge in foreground fish creek falls waterfall in colorado

Tips & Resources for Hiking at Rifle Falls State Park

  • Go Early: Rifle Falls State Park is small and very popular. The park opens at 7AM, and we recommend that you arrive early for parking.
  • Bring a Flashlight or Headlamp: If you plan to explore the caves, you'll need a light. Bring a flashlight or headlamp to light up some of the chambers you'll discover in the caves.
  • Trail Map for Rifle Falls State Park: Trail Map Link
  • Packing List: Always pack the 10 Essentials. Download our Hiking Guide to get list and dayhiking packing checklist.
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: Oliver Ridleys Coffee
  • Photo: We would like to express our gratitude to Jimmy Thomas for sharing such an amazing photograph of this hike.

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South Rim Loop Trail at Roxborough State Park

The South Rim Loop Trail at Roxborough State Park is a moderate hike that leads to breathtaking views of the red rock formations that make this Colorado State Park famous. It's a perfect hike for a weekend afternoon, or a great choice for visiting family and friends. We also put this on our list for great hikes to take if you want to acclimatize before hiking into higher altitudes deeper in the mountains. Read further to explore the trail details, tips, and to get the trail map for this adventure in Roxborough State Park.

Roxborough State Park is like the Garden of the God's of Denver. Nestled against the foothills south Littleton, Colorado, it makes for a quiet escape from the sounds of the city. The South Rim Trail provides some of the best vantage points for photography of the Fountain and Morrison formations, the same rock that forms sister parks, Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, and Red Rocks Park in Morrison.

Trail Snapshot: South Rim Loop Trail at Roxborough State Park

Parking and Trailhead Information

The last two miles of access road into Roxborough State Park are a maintained dirt road, but it can get washboarded and can be tough on the car. Still, it's not a long drive in. Undulating green hills can be seen to the west where deer and antelope graze. Roxborough can fill up during it's busiest hours on the weekend. If that's the case, you can wait until enough vehicles exit the park then drive in. My guess is that the peak times are around 10AM-2PM. If the line looks long, you can always turn around and head over to Waterton Canyon or to South Valley Park--both are great options.
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The South Rim trail begins just west of the visitor center and makes its way through tunnels of scrub oak. This first trail segment takes you to several different destinations: the Willow Creek Loop, Carpenter Peak, and Elk Valley.
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The trail will eventually come to a small meadow with a lone cottonwood tree. Here the trail forks and the trail to the lef leads to the rest of the South Rim Trail. It crosses a small brook via a footbridge and into an area that our kids kept calling the "magical forest." The way the light plays in Roxborough State Park is enchanting. I think it has something to do with how the hogback formations and the red rocks filter the light coming into the valley.

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About 1 mile into the hike, the trail begins to climb. We've rated this trail as moderate because the climb may be challenging for those not acclimated to the altitude or who are not in great shape. The great news is that there are benches placed at regular intervals along the trail. A couple of these bench sites offer incredible overlooks into the park and are ideal points for photographing fountain valley. Most of the benches offer shade in bowers under fir and scrub oak trees.

The South Rim Trail makes its way over the top of a bright and orange cliff band that dominates the southern end of the park for most of the hike. At the highest point, a very short spur trail affords hikers views to the east, and another viewpoint on the descent offers views to the north, all the way into the city of Denver.

Be mindful of the loose gravel as the trail descends back into the valley. Back on the valley floor, the trail will fork again. To the left (west) will take hikers onto the Willow Creek trail, adding approximately 1/2 mile onto the loop back to the visitor center, making it a 3.5 mile hike. Or you can continue North for approximately 1/2 mile back the the parking area.

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Tips & Resources for Hiking the South Rim Loop in Roxborough

  • Loop Hiking Direction: This description of the South Rim Loop is hiked as counter-clockwise. Just reverse the description for hiking the trail to hike the loop clockwise.
  • Hiking in Winter: If you plan to hike the South Rim Trail in the winter, it is advised that you have traction devices like YakTrax because much of the trail will be in shadow, and ice will likely form on the trail.
  • Trail Map for Roxborough State Park: Trail Map Link
  • Packing List: Always pack the 10 Essentials. Download our Hiking Guide to get list and dayhiking packing checklist.
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: Waterton Tavern in Roxborough

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Hiking Davis Ponds Hike at Staunton State Park

The Davis Ponds loop is a short and easy hike, perfect for young families. Davis Ponds is a great place to take your kids fishing near Denver. Explore the full trail profile below for all the details: hiking trails, trail map, and detailed directions to the trailhead.

Staunton State Park is one of Colorado's newest gems and located just 45 minutes from downtown Denver. It's a great park for outdoor activities, including hiking, mountain biking, and rock climbing. Staunton has some longer and more demanding trails, but this hike, the Davis Ponds Loop Trail, is a lighter option with some beautiful views to the mountains and the prominent Lions Head outcropping.

Trail Snapshot: Davis Ponds Loop at Staunton State Park

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The trail begins just to the north of the initial parking lot (pictured above). We hiked the trail clockwise, taking the trail to the left, but it can be hiked in either direction. The Davis Ponds trail is hiker-only, so you will not encounter any mountain bike or horse traffic, making this perfect for young kids. There is scattered shade as the trail winds in and out of meadows and pine forest. Deer make their way grazing near the trail and hummingbirds buzz by, finding nectar in the wildflowers growing out of the rocky soil.

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Before the ponds, there is a cut-through trail that can be used to shorten the hike by approximately 1/2 mile, but it's worth going all the way to Davis Ponds and to gain views to the west. The Davis Ponds were under construction and improvements while we were there, but they have now been finished and stocked with rainbow and cutthroat trout. If you are looking for a weekend destination near Denver to fish with your children, this may be one of the best.
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On the way back, the trail will merge again with the cut-through trail. The trail back to the trailhead bears left and slightly uphill.

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Tips & Resources for Hiking the Davis Ponds Loop :

  • TIP: Getting into the park can be slow at times, so be prepared to wait at the entrance on busy weekends.
  • Wildlife: You'll find that deer are out grazing in the early morning and closer to twilight.
  • Winter: During the Winter, park hours are 8am - 7pm.
  • Trail Map for Staunton State Park: Trail Map Link
  • Packing List: Always pack the 10 Essentials. Download our Hiking Guide to get list and dayhiking packing checklist.
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: Crow Hill Cafe in Bailey

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baby mountain goat on mount evans colorado more easy hikes


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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Golden Gate Sate Park Blue Grouse Trail Landscape

Blue Grouse Trail at Golden Gate Canyon Park

The Blue Grouse Trail is a short, 1.6-mile hike on the western edges of Golden Gate Canyon State Park. A pleasant trail with little gain in elevation and mellow terrain makes this a great escape from the city. The Blue Grouse Trail is a perfect hiking trail for spotting wildlife, from birds to deer, viewing fall colors and wildflowers, and taking in the beautiful scenic view along the trail. Explore the full hiking trail profile below for hike details, trail map, and links to similar trails near Denver.

Trail Snapshot: Blue Grouse Trail

Before you start this hike there are some things you should know - a Colorado State Park Pass is required to enter Golden Gate Canyon State Park. A day pass can be purchased at the Visitors Center upon entrance into the park. Some trails offer passes at self-serve dispensers, but the Blue Grouse Trail does not.

To get to the Blue Grouse trailhead, pass Kriley Pond and take the first right at Mountain Base Road. The trailhead parking area is to the right at the fork in the road. At the trailhead you’ll find picnic tables. There is a porta-let at Kriley Pond and there are restroom facilities at the Visitors Center. Below you'll find more details on the trail, Kriley pond, and some information on camping at Golden Gate Canyon State Park.

Hiking the Blue Grouse Trail

You'll make your way along a nice dirt path with a few rocky sections. The elevation gain is slight, and this short hike can be turned into a longer one by joining up with the Mule Deer Trail where the Blue Grouse trail terminates at .7 mile. Mule Deer Trail is a 7.4 mile loop, and there is a Golden Gate Park map at the trail intersection.
Blue Grouse Trailhead Golden Gate Colorado

The Blue Grouse Trail is a popular trail for mountain bikers who use it to access the longer trails in Golden Gate. Mountain bikers in Colorado are typically very considerate of hikers, but just be aware that you'll be sharing the trail with others. After the initial rise, the trail is more gentle as it ascends the hillside. You'll be drawn to the rock outcroppings ahead and a beautiful grove of aspens.

Blue Grouse Trail

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 Blue Grouse Trail:

    blue grouse trail marker

    • Trail options: View the Golden Gate Canyon Park map to see the various other trail options you have after hiking the .7 mile in on Blue Grouse.
    • Rim Meadows: a great destination if you would like to continue on the Mule Deer Trail but are not wanting to hike the entire Mule Deer trail loop.
    • Picnic: Because Golden Gate Canyon State Park is an hour drive, make a half-day or full-day out of your trip. Bring a picnic, and sling up a hammock for a nap in the shade.
    • Download our Dayhikes Hiking Guide for a day hike packing checklist
    • Sun protection: The trail is only partly shaded, so be sure to bring sun protection for the parts not covered.
    • After the Hike: Buffalo Moon Coffee
    • Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
    • Trail Map for Blue Grouse Trail: Trail Map Link

    Kriley Pond at Golden Gate Canyon State Park

    Kriley Pond is a popular fishing spot in Golden Gate Canyon State Park. In the fall, the hillsides are peppered with the golden glow of Aspens.The early morning hours are the best time to visit if you want to soak in the songs of Colorado songbirds before families and fisherman arrive. Fishing in Kriley Pond requires a Colorado Fishing License. There are several other ponds to visit at Golden Gate Canyon, including: Ranch Ponds, Slough Ponds, Dude's Fishing Hole, and the pond at Forgotten Valley.
    kriley pond at Golden Gate Canyon State Park

    Camping in Golden Gate Canyon State Park

    There are several camping options at Golden Gate. However, because this State Park is less than an hour from Denver, the sites can fill up fast in the busy summer months. There is a car camping area at Reverends Ridge, a tents only site at Aspen Meadows, 20 backcountry shelters, and a limited number of cabins and yurts that can be reserved. All sites require fees which are posted at the Golden Gate Canyon Camping page.

    We want to thank 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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elk falls waterfall spilling over granite cliff faces with evergreen trees in staunton state park colorado

Elk Falls - New Waterfall Near Denver

Elk Falls in Colorado's new Staunton State Park opened to the public in 2013. This highest waterfall near Denver had been unknown to most, and inaccessible, except to a few. Now it's an adventure waiting for able hikers! If you are a fan of waterfall hikes and you live near Denver, you'll know that it's kind of slim pickings; most of the best waterfalls in Colorado require driving beyond the Front Range, or into Rocky Mountain National Park. Elk Falls, is just 50 minutes from Denver! The 3700 acre Staunton State Park offers incredible hiking, rock climbing, and beautiful rock formations - all making for some great Colorado day hikes. Explore the full Elk Falls hike profile below for trail map, driving directions, and many of the details you need to enjoy this adventure in Staunton State Park.

Trail Snapshot: Elk Falls Overlook Hike at Staunton State Park

Parking & Trailhead Information for Elk Falls in Staunton State Park

The parking and trailhead area are immediately noticeable after the park entrance. On weekends, things can really back up at the entrance due to the number of visitors and those who need to purchase a parks pass. If you don't have your yearly parks pass, you can pick one up at a local Kings Soopers grocery store at the customer service area. Because your hike will begin with the Staunton Ranch Trail, the main artery of Staunton State Park, just look for the main trail which heads to the center of the park. If you've parked at the lower parking area, you'll have two Trailheads before you, the Staunton Ranch and the Mason Creek trailheads. Be sure to choose the Staunton Ranch Trail. The Elk Falls overlook can be reached by starting on the Mason Creek Trail, but its a significantly longer and more difficult 17 mile loop hike. Maps are available at the entrance and highly recommended for this hike.

elk-falls-overlook-hike-along-staunton-ranch-trail

The Hike: Elk Falls in Staunton State Park

The Staunton Ranch Trail leads hikers into the heart of Staunton State Park, through stands of ponderosa pine and past the Staunton Rocks climbing area. After 3.3 miles, the trail ends at a trail intersection with three new trails. The most direct route to the Elk Falls overlook is to choose the Bugling Elk trail which follows a small creek for 1.1 miles until it arrives at Elk Falls Pond, a good place to stop and Fish.

At Elk Falls Pond, a third trail, the Lion's Back Trail, leads another 1 mile up to the Elk Falls Overlook. Atop a highpoint, hikers will gain great views down to where Elk Falls drops from the cliff face into a beautiful mult-tiered waterfall. Out and Back, its a total of 10.8 miles.

Colorado State Parks is working on an Elk Falls Trail project that will eventually open access to the base of Elk Falls. This is projected to be completed and opened to the public in the Fall of 2016.

If you'd like to add a more challenging return segment to your hike and see new areas of the park, hikers can pick up the Marmot Passage trail until it meets with the hiker-only Scout Line trail, which eventually leads back to the main Staunton Ranch trail. This return route will add additional mileage, difficulty, and time to the hike back. Consult the trail map and topo lines to get a feel for the demanding nature of this option.

Tips & Resources for Hiking To Elk Falls Overlook:

  • TIP: Getting into the park can be slow at times, so be prepared to wait at the entrance on busy weekends.
  • Trekking Poles & Traction Devices are Recommended in Spring and Winter: During this time of year, there can be patches and even longer segments of snow and ice on the trail. Because of this, we recommend Trekking Poles and/or Traction Devices for this trail.
  • Trail Map for Staunton State Park: Trail Map Link
  • Packing List: Always pack the 10 Essentials. Download our Hiking Guide to get list and dayhiking packing checklist.
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: Crow Hill Cafe in Bailey
  • We would like to express our gratitude to Bill Chopp for sharing such an amazing photograph of Elk Falls.

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waterfall in canyon with bridge in foreground fish creek falls waterfall in colorado

Looking for more waterfalls near Denver? Explore our more than 50 Colorado Waterfall Hikes, our favorite Waterfall Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, or 7 Waterfalls within One Hour of Denver.