Pets allowed
Allowed with Restrictions
Elevation Gain
1,240.00 ft (377.95 m)
Trail type
Loop
Distance
4.50 mi (7.24 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

Located approximately 30 minutes outside of Golden, Colorado, up a very twisty drive lies Golden Gate Canyon State Park. This state park is beautiful any time of year, but during autumn, it truly lives up to its name. Honey-colored aspens flow like rivers of sunshine against dark evergreens and pool in the valleys below. Follow any of the many trails located within the park and with some effort, you'll find yourself immersed in one of those enchanting golden spaces.

With its seasonal beauty and proximity to the Front Range, expect trails to be heavily trafficked. Mostly, that is. There are loops that veer off the more popular trails that provide relative solitude and peace and the only sound you hear is the wind in the trees and wildlife noises. The combination of Black Bear and Horseshoe Loop serves up both. 

The Golden Gate Canyon State Park Visitor Center is located on the corner of Route 46 and Crawford Gulch Road. If you don't have a Colorado State Park pass, you'll need to stop at the Visitor Center and purchase one (as of 2020, day passes cost $9 per vehicle). The trailhead is located down the road a few hundred yards. (No, there is no parking anywhere just outside the park. Pay the fee and support your trails). This featured trail moves you through a variety of terrain, aspen groves and pine tree groves (sometimes mixed) rocky outcrops, endless vistas, and rock scrambling. Due to elevation, age, or a combination, the aspen groves are different heights. In some places, you will be dwarfed and surrounded by stately white trunks and in others, the golden leaf crowns will be at your eye level for an entirely different perspective. 

From the trailhead, the trail climbs quickly for a roughly 300 foot elevation gain until you get to a "T." Go left and follow the Black Bear Trail, essentially tracking the loop in a clockwise direction. This choice gives you the steepest scrambles on the first half of the hike and a more mellow, ambling descent on the back half. Within a mile you'll be treated to a sweeping view of the valley along Crawford Gulch Road. This view is the first of many that seem to get increasingly more impressive with each turn as the trail slowly climbs and follows the contour of the first of two modest peaks. 

Pay extra attention to the trail markers. The trail slowly becomes a serious of rocky outcrops, nearly disappearing entirely. Scramble from one marker to the next. At one point the trail becomes a short traverse across a rocky ridge before it begins its descent. The trail winds through young aspens reclaiming old meadows and older pine forests. 

For the shorter, 4.5 version of the loop, stay to your right at each of the junctions. If you want a longer hike, around 6.5 miles, you can loop around Greenfield Meadows. When Black Bear junctions with Horseshoe, the foot traffic immediately gets considerably heavier. Follow Horseshoe until you reach a junction that indicates the trailhead straight ahead. Unless you parked further up Crawford Gulch turn right to complete your loop. If you miss this turn, it just means you can get back to your car following the road for about one-half mile instead of the trail. 

Dogs are allowed but must be leashed. The rock scrambling along the higher elevation is not suited for dogs that have difficulty jumping or are prone to slipping. There is a trash can in the parking lot but none located on the trail. There are no drinking fountains. There is a stream but expect it to be dry in the late summer and early autumn months. 

 

 

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Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Summer
Fall

Congestion

Moderate

Parking Pass

Car fee

Open Year-round

Yes

Pros

Autumn color. Spectacular vistas. Trail variety.

Cons

High traffic in spots. Minimal parking.

Trailhead Elevation

8,200.00 ft (2,499.36 m)

Highest point

9,320.00 ft (2,840.74 m)

Features

Backcountry camping
Big vistas
Old-growth forest
Wildlife

Typically multi-day

No

Permit required

No

Location

Nearby Adventures

Nearby Lodging + Camping

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