Ascending Mount Zion on the Chimney Gulch Trail. Photo credit: @texpatcolo, Instagram
Chimney Gulch Trail
Rising 2,000 feet from downtown Golden, this 2.3-mile trail offers not only a killer workout but a beautiful vantage point of the city. The Chimney Gulch Trail starts off Highway 6 and switchbacks up Mount Zion as it meanders through open hillside and shady pines before ending at the Windy Saddle Park trailhead. Ambitious hikers can carry on the Beaver Brook trail to Gennesee. But after this calf burner, you’ll likely want to return to town for a cold IPA.
Insider tip: Parking is available off Highway 6. But we like to start downtown and take the Clear Creek Trail (southside of the creek) to a marked junction where a narrow footpath leads you under Highway 6 to the start of the climb.
Distance: 4.6 miles out and back
The Mount Galbraith Loop Trail circles the 7,260’ summit. Photo credit: @noche_elaine, Instagram
Mount Galbraith Lollipop
Drive up Golden Gate Canyon Road on a nice Saturday and you’ll see a parking lot bursting at the seams. Welcome to Mount Galbraith Park. The popularity of this trail speaks to its quality. The 4-mile lollipop loop climbs sharply toward the 7,260’ summit, eventually looping you around Mount Galbraith and down the way you came. Along the way, you’ll bear witness to awe-inspiring views of the canyon as you negotiate the often rocky and forested terrain.
Insider tip: Skip the crowded parking lot on Golden Gate Canyon Road and approach Mount Galbraith from Nightbird Gulch Trail. The terrain and distance are similar, but the parking is less chaotic.
Distance: 4-mile lollipop loop
A sunny fall day in downtown Golden. Photo credit: colorado.com
Clear Creek Trail
You haven’t experienced Golden until you’ve walked the Clear Creek Trail. Less of a hike and more of a stroll, this flat, paved, creekside trail is a Golden landmark, providing access to Clear Creek for swimming, tubing, fly fishing, kayaking and infinite summer fun. The trail extends 20 miles from Golden to Denver, but most Goldenites will repeat the 2-mile loop from Washington Street into the foothills where the trail turns into a gravel path and continues up Clear Creek Canyon for nearly a mile.
Insider tip: Leave the creekside for the tourists and divert off the trail for a micro adventure. Cross the westernmost bridge and climb up Mount Zion toward the Canal Zone rock climbing area. From here, check out the climbers then traverse east around the mountain to Chimney Gulch Trail. Or jump on a bike and head east to New Terrain for a thirst quenching microbrew!
Distance: 3.5-mile loop in downtown Golden
Golden Gate Canyon State Park is a hiker’s paradise, with 35 miles of scenic hiking and biking trails
Golden Gate Canyon State Park: Black Bear to Horseshoe Loop
With 35 miles of scenic mountain trails, Golden Gate Canyon State Park is the crown jewel of Golden hiking. Located 20 minutes up the canyon from town, the park feels more alpine than any park in Golden. That’s because it is: Tremont Mountain reaches 10,400 feet – the high point of any park in Golden. The trail system is intertwined, providing a wide selection of loop options, but we like the black bear to horseshoe loop. It’s four miles, scenic, a good mix of shade and sun, and just hard enough to be rewarding. Park at Ralston Roost and head up Black Bear Trail. When you reach Mule Deer Trail after 1.5 miles, bear right and continue right onto Horseshoe Trail and back to your car.
Insider tip: During the hike you’ll encounter several backcountry campsites. These are great spots for an overnight family adventure! Take a minute to scout your favorite, then swing by the visitors center on your way out to grab your $8 camping permit for next weekend!
Distance: 4-mile loop
The Peaks to Plains trail will eventually connect Loveland Pass to downtown Denver
Peaks to Plains Trail
Eventually the Peaks to Plains Trail will stretch 65 miles from the headwaters of Clear Creek at Loveland Pass to the South Platte Trail in downtown Denver. For now, hikers can enjoy the existing 4-mile stretch of paved trail in Clear Creek Canyon Park. This up-and-down, multi-use trail twists and turns along Clear Creek beside Highway 6. Don’t be surprised to see whitewater rafters, rock climbers and other adventurous types out enjoying this beautiful canyon.
Insider tip: There are parking areas at both ends of the 4-mile stretch. The western lot is typically crowded with rock climbers. Park at the less crowded Big Easy Trailhead with ample parking, bathrooms, picnic tables and easy river access for the kids.
Distance: 8 miles out and back
Rawhide Trail starts as a gravel road and becomes a dirt path in White Ranch Open Space Park
White Ranch Open Space: Rawhide Trail
Similar to Golden Gate Canyon State Park, White Ranch Open Space is tucked away in the hills of Golden and brimming with miles and miles of pristine hiking trails. Sweeping alpine valleys are home to abundant wildlife and colorful wildflowers. Experience the best of White Ranch on the 5-mile Rawhide Trail, a supersampler of all the park has to offer. Start at the west trailhead and walk the loop clockwise to save the best for last. There are several ways to shorten or lengthen the loop, so take a photo of the signboard map at the trailhead to keep your options open.
Insider tip: Masochists will enjoy the relentless upward grind offered by the east trailhead. For the levelheaded population, start at the west trailhead where up-and-down loop hikes of any distance can be strung together. Use the Trail Forks app for free, offline trail navigation.
Distance: 5-mile loop
The 1.5-mile Meadow Trail in Lookout Mountain Nature Preserve is an easy walk for families
Lookout Mountain Nature Preserve
Sharing our beautiful city with visiting family and friends is a privilege for those of us lucky enough to live here. Sometimes out-of-towners need a gentle foray into the great outdoors and Lookout Mountain Nature Preserve is a perfect option for hikers young and old. From the Lookout Mountain Nature Center, take the 1.5-mile Meadow Loop Trail. This mellow dirt path winds through forests and open space, providing visitors with a just-enough outdoor experience.
Insider tip: Bringing the kids? Swing by the Lookout Mountain Nature Center after the hike. Interactive exhibits describe the local flora and fauna, while a hands-on play room inspires children to connect with the natural world. Hours are limited so check the website first.
Distance: 1.5-mile loop
The Elk Range Trail is an exposed, 3.1-mile trail in Centennial Cone Park
Centennial Cone Park
Ready for a challenge? The 12-mile grand loop around Centennial Cone Park is a stunning walk that rewards all contenders with dazzling views of Clear Creek Canyon, craggy mountain cliffs and vast open valleys. The loop can be started from any of the park’s three trailheads, though the Mayhem Gulch trailhead is the steepest climb and tightest parking. This mostly-exposed trail demands plenty of water and sunscreen, so come prepared for a big day out!
Insider tip: The loop is off limits December through mid-June due to seasonal closures. During the rest of the year, weekends are alternate use, with odd numbered days reserved for hikers.
Distance: 12-mile loop