Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Golden Gate Canyon State Park: Raccoon Trail

Distance: 2.7 miles round trip
Elevation: 9,313 ft - 8,889 ft (starts high)
Elevation Gain: 475 ft (cumulative)
Bathroom at Trailhead: Yes
Dogs: On Leash (State Park)
Date Hiked: 17 August 2014
Tags: #coloradostatepark, #goldengatecanyon

View from Panorama Point, the start of the Raccoon Trail in Golden Gate Canyon State Park
I took my parents on a road trip to Golden Gate Canyon State Park near Golden CO on sunny summer day in the hopes of taking them on a short walk before picnicking. While the Raccoon Trail is one of the "easiest" trails in the park, it turned out to be too rocky and steep for the parental units.

Heading down from the deck
The trail begins to smooth out
For the able bodied however, the Raccoon Trail is a pleasant, if rough, jaunt through varied terrain that is mostly trafficked by families or campers in one of the nearby campgrounds. If you hustle, you can complete it in an hour and still have time to break open the chips and dip.

Junction with the Mule Deer Trail
Emerging from the trees
The Raccoon Trail starts near the wooden deck at Panorama Point, a popular place for weddings, picnics, or fall color leaf-peeping. From this deck visitors can gaze at the Continental Divide all the way from Longs Peak in the north to Pikes Peak in the south.

Grasses and open skies take over
Taking a right turn to head back up the hill
From the deck, the trail descends sharply through a tall coniferous forest and over a series of eroded rocks. At 0.68 miles is the junction with the Mule Deer Trail, which is one of the longest trails in the park. The junctions in the park are well marked with clear names, animal track icons, and laminated maps indicating your location. By this point the trail had smoothed out significantly and I could  have driven a golf cart up the path.

The uphill climb is very eroded in parts
Junction at the top with the Mule Deer Trail. Route goes to the right.
A short distance beyond this point the trail changes microclimates as it begins to parallel a drainage. The trees disappear and thick grasses intrude while the humidity soared. At 1.4 miles is a spur heading off the Reverend's Ridge Campground. The area was so overgrown I almost missed it. The Raccoon Trail continues straight before making a sharp right turn and and heading steeply uphill on another rocky, eroded segment. This area was particularly bad and looked like it might have been damaged in the September 2013 floods.

The best part of the trail, is the last segment along a shelf with stellar views.
This Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel (learn more about these colorful denizens of the forest) wanted to join the party but we said no to feeding the animals.  Besides, I don't share that well!
The hectic ascent moderates slightly until another junction with the Mule Deer Trail (at 2.2 miles). From this point on the route follows a shelf with large rocks and occasional views of the Continental Divide. It comes out in the parking lot near the bathrooms, but technically crosses the pavement back to the deck.

While my parents could not do the trail, I managed to scurry along without them. By the time I returned to the parking area, they had already set up lunch on one of the many picnic tables scattered in the trees. The pine needles were sun-kissed, giving off that vanilla aroma that so reminds me of my childhood in the Sierra Nevadas. While short, the Raccoon Trail is a pleasant diversion. Bring along a lunch, linger, and lounge. There are few worse ways to spend a sunny, summer afternoon.

1 comment:

The Padre said...

Epic Photos Brother!! Thanx so much for sharing!! Have a Gr8 weekend!!! Cheers