With a limited time frame on Saturday 11/21, we took a 50 minute drive to Golden Gate Canyon State Park. Nestled along Crawford Gulch between Golden and Black Hawk, this is a great hike near Denver. Our destination for the day was Windy Peak, a 6.8 mile loop.
There are several paths leading to this popular summit, and we opted for the Burro Trail and Mountain Lion Trail Loop originating from the Bridge Creek Trailhead. Golden Gate Canyon State Park requires an entrance fee of $9, which can only be paid with cash or check, large bills are also not accepted.
Mountain Lion Trail
We arrived at the trailhead just before 7, and there was one other vehicle in the parking lot. The temperature was a brisk 35 degrees, but the sun was rising, there was little wind and the sky was clear – a great day for hiking. Elevation is required right from the get-go, with 300 feet of elevation gain in just under 0.7 miles where the Burro Trail and the Mountain Lion Trail converge.
From here, the Burro Trail splits right and the Mountain Lion Trail continues straight towards Forgotten Meadow. We switched over to the Mountain Lion Trail and left the Burro Trail for the return trip, traveling counter-clockwise. (Note: hiking in this direction includes a short, moderate uphill on the return trip).
The Tallman Ranch
Other trails branch off Mountain Lion Trail, but we stayed the course until reaching Tallman Ranch. One log cabin, a chicken coop and the remains of the homestead circle an unnamed pond in a meadow of tall grass. We stopped to take footage on the wooden swing adorning the porch before making our way back on-trail.
The Buffalo Trail deviates here and leads to other portions in Golden Gate Canyon, we continued on Mountain Lion Trail up through several switchbacks and another 300 feet of elevation gain. Before reaching the turnoff and the final 0.5 mile climb to the summit, the trail levels out and morphs into the Burro Trail, while the Mountain Lion Trail makes a swift turn left and down a hill.
Hike to Windy Peak
The final 0.5 mile push to the top is the most strenuous portion of the hike, but we would still give this a moderate rating. True to its name, the top of Windy Peak (9,138 ft) was indeed windy. From here, we were rewarded with a view of a snow-capped Continental Divide, and the rolling hills of Golden and Black Hawk. Dave snapped photos and tried to eliminate harsh shadows before we headed back to the Burro Trail. As we were exiting the summit area, we saw two other hikers, our first of the day.
While the Mountain Lion Trail mostly crossed through meadows and stunted trees, the Burro Trail wove through a forest of mature trees that created excellent lighting. At the start, the trail is a mixture of uphill, downhill and flat portions before finally succumbing to a steep downhill leading to a dried creek bed. There are two intersections with offshoots of the Burro Trail, but there is adequate signage indicating trailheads and other points of interest. We also consulted our maps to solidify our turns.
A bridge crossing a dried creek and a final uphill push with 200 feet of elevation returned us to the finger of Burro Trail leading back Bridge Creek Trailhead. This is a great area to explore close to Denver with lots of options for hiking.
Due to the abundance of trails and interlocking loops, hikes can be short and sweet, as well as long and challenging. There are campsites dotted throughout the park for weekend warriors looking to stay overnight in Golden Gate. The visitors’ center seems to be a popular destination, as evidenced by the vehicle traffic on our way out. Our hike today measured in at 6.8 miles round trip, with an elevation gain of 1,710 feet. Though we did not need traction or flotation, we are excited to explore Golden Gate Canyon State Park later in the season, as the trails look great for hiking in the snow.