Golden Gate Canyon State Park offers more than 35 miles of hiking trails ranging from 0.8 miles to 9.1 miles and trails rated as moderate to most difficult.
The Beaver Trail, near the Visitors Center, is a hiker-only trail rated as most difficult. While it’s never really steep, it does steadily gain 940 feet over 1.7 miles.
The trail starts right on Golden Gate Canyon Road. There’s a sign, but no parking, so you’ll need to park at the Visitors Center or Slough Pond. The Visitors Center is a good choice, because you can stop inside and ask the ranger about the trail. When I visited, the ranger gave me some great advice: 1) Expect to see no one else on the trail and 2) At the shelter, walk a short distance for a great view of the Continental Divide.
To start the hike from the Visitor Center, walk south, slightly around the building and head for the road. Look for the pullout southeast of the Visitor Center. The Beaver Trailhead sign and trail are directly across the road from the pullout. Be careful crossing the road, drivers do not slow down in this area.
Follow the trail behind the sign as it switchbacks (crisscrosses) up the hill. In winter, the trail can be hard to follow in the snow, but there are brown trail markers quite often to make sure you stay on the right path. The summer trail is slightly sunken, so in winter, the trail is mostly easy to follow because the snow on the trail is slightly lower than the surrounding area.
A short distance up the trail, you’ll come to a sign. Follow the arrow toward the shelter – your eventual destination. At 0.2 miles from the Visitors Center, you’ll come to another trail split and another sign. Again, follow the arrow to the shelter. Notice the sign also says Slough Pond. That was the other parking lot. You’re now on the Beaver loop.
The trail follows the side of a mountain, winding through the trees. You may hear the sound of traffic because the trail is above the road you drove in, Golden Gate Canyon Road.
About 0.85 miles from the Visitors Center, the trees open up. Now you can see the road below you and the scenery around you. Soon you’ll reach what seems like the top of the mountain and hike across what feels like a ridge. Turns out, you’re only on the flat area for a few steps and suddenly, you’re back in the trees and hiking uphill again. Enjoy the quiet and the forest.
1.2 miles from the start, you’ll come to your next trail split. This is the turnoff for the shelter. If you hike the Beaver Trail Loop, the hike is about 2.5 miles. The hike to the shelter is an out-and-back trail that adds about a mile to the hike.
The shelter trail is similar to the loop trail. It winds through the trees and has a steady elevation gain. There are more Aspen trees along this part of the hike, making this a nice place to hike in the fall.
It’s about a half mile to a wooden shelter. The shelter is a nice spot, with a floor and roof, to have a picnic lunch, if no one has it reserved.
However, take the ranger’s advice I got. Walk behind the shelter about 50 steps to a pile of rocks. As you get closer, you’ll see the view through the trees — that’s the snow-capped peaks of the Continental Divide. I had to climb up a couple steps on the rocks to get the best pictures of this scenic view.
Honestly, the hike in the forest was nice, but the viewpoint was the highlight.
After some photos and a break, it was time to head back to the loop. On the way down, I was surprised to find myself jogging downhill from the momentum of the elevation drop. It wasn’t much, but it was enough.
Back at the main loop, turn left to complete the loop and get ready for some serious downhill. You’re going to drop about 600 feet in the next 0.65 miles. While the trail down is a bit steep at times, it’s in a nice, forested valley.
At 2.9 miles, the trail dead ends at a split. Turn left here, if you parked at Slough Pond. Turn right, if you parked at the Visitors Center.
Note, this next section of trail has some short uphill climbs as it contours around the side of the mountain to the end of the loop about 0.4 miles away. At the end of the loop, turn left and head back to the Visitors Center, once again being careful crossing the road.
Details: The Beaver Trail loop with the out-and-back to the shelter is about 3.5 miles with 1,000 feet of elevation gain.
Learn about the trails at Golden Gate Canyon State Park here and get directions here. In the park, my favorite hikes are Forgotten Valley and Frazer Meadows.
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