Friday, June 12, 2015

Day Trip to Golden Gate Canyon State Park

View from Panorama Point
My wife and I drove to Golden Gate Canyon State Park for a day trip and had the most wonderful time! I had written about hiking here back in March HERE.  Getting there was half the fun.  We drove north on I-25 from Castle Rock, taking CO-470 west and following it to US 6, where we exited at Golden.  We drove north on CO-93 through Golden and turned left onto Golden Gate Canyon Road right next to Mt. Galbraith Park which we followed almost 30 miles to the visitor center in the park.  The visitor center staff were friendly and very helpful in helping us plan our day.

Looking Northeast to Starr Peak from Gap Road
Looking Southwest from Panorama Point toward Mount Evans
From there we turned right and followed CO-46 a few miles to turn right at Kriley Pond onto Mountain Base Road, a narrow, steep, winding meander through the park.  Here is where it became interesting with pull-out after pull-out, picnic areas, trailheads, and views upon more views and even more views.  We climbed uphill by Promontory Ridge.  The pine and aspen trees, 10,200 foot Tremont Mountain looming above us, the rocks and grasses, the sneak peeks of mountains in the distance, all were very scenic. This road is so narrow, twisting, steep and winding that RV's, motor homes and over-sized vehicles are not allowed. The grades reach 19% along the narrow switchbacks. An alternate route is to follow CO-46 from the welcome center to CO-119, turn right and then turn right again at Gap Road to reach the Reverend's Ridge Campground, Panorama Point and other Gap Road sites.

Panorama Point views go on forever
More views...
When we reached Gap Road, we turned right to get to Panorama Point, and what a view. Rocky Mountain Peaks from Mount Evans to Arapaho Peak to Longs Peak filled the sky with many more mountains between them.  A free viewer brought the mountains closer and signs along the viewing deck showed us where Rollins Pass was and what mountains we were looking at.  I took lots of photos, but the clouds had already come in so they don't look as beautiful as we were seeing them.

Thorodin Mountain just north of Gap Road
Pinnacle above the Harmsen Ranch
From Panorama Point, we drove east along Gap Road (gravel) to the Harmsen Ranch Guest House and outbuildings.  You could tell this was a working ranch at one time and the guest house can be rented nightly.  This used to be the home of the family who started the Jolly Rancher candy company.
East along Gap Road on the right was Aspen Meadow Campground with 2 loops for tents, pit toilets and lots of aspen trees.  It backs up to a meadow and seems very peaceful, especially the last 2 sites. There is a trailhead here for the 3 mile Snowshoe Hare Trail.

Along the Buffalo Trail next to Nott Creek
Once someones home, now an unmarked Historical Structure
Looking back uphill on the Buffalo Trail
Back to Gap Road and the next campsite on the right is Rifleman Phillips Group Campground.  A group was camped there, but they were not at the site when we were hiking from the trailhead there. We followed the Buffalo Trail which parallels Nott Creek on its journey downhill and southeast which lead toward Forgotten Valley.  Rainy weather turned us back to the car but we did get to see some Historical Structures and turned around at the Gilpin/Jefferson county line.

Our next trail from the Reverend's Ridge Campground, Raccoon
Nicely marked, moderate Raccoon hiking trail to Panorama Point
We then drove back west along Gap Road to Reverend's Ridge Campground.  What a nice campsite and how well it is setup with coin showers, flush toilets, laundry, yurts and cabins.  There are full electric RV sites, tent sites and another welcome center.  No wonder this place is all about camping! While there were only a few brave souls camping when we were there, the campground was full when we checked on the following Tuesday after the weather warmed up.  The Raccoon Trailhead in the campground runs about 2.2 miles to Panorama Point and back, which we partly hiked.

More Raccoon Trail on the return trip
Interesting tree cut, where 2 small trees grew together, creating a third set of tree rings
As we left the campground area, we found a Gilpin County Library a few miles south on CO-119 with wireless Internet access, another public campground, gas and a store, all very convenient.
Alternately, you could follow Gap Road and Twin Spruce Road east to Coal Creek Canyon road where there are stores and coffee.
Our return trip was Gap Road west to go south on CO-119 through Blackhawk.  Outside of Blackhawk we took US-6 to the right through Clear Creek Canyon and Johnson Gulch back to I-70, then followed the Interstate back east to Denver, then south on CO-470 and south on US-85 to Castle Rock.  What a great day trip!

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