Sunday, November 23, 2014

Golden Gate Canyon State Park: Black Bear-Horeshoe Loop

Distance: 5.6 miles round trip
Elevation: 8,180 ft - 9,379 ft
Elevation Gain: 1,516 (cumulative)
Bathroom at Trailhead: No (closest is the visitor's center)
Dogs: On leash (State Park)
Date Hiked: 7 Sept 2014
Tags: #coloradostatepark, #goldengatecanyon

Rocks, pine, and lots of sky dominate the Black Bear Trail in Golden Gate Canyon State Park
Golden Gate Canyon State Park near Golden, CO is filled with numerous and varied hiking options...often on the same route. The Black Bear-Horseshoe Loop is a perfect example. Uphill, downhill, rock scrambles, and open meadows are just some of the features I encountered. The park has an amazing backcountry feel even though it is within spitting distance of the city.

The loop described here ascends the Black Bear Trail, turns right onto the Mule Deer Trail, continues past the Horseshoe Trail to a spur that goes through Greenfield Meadow, then down the Horseshoe Trail to a connector that goes back to the Ralston Roost parking area.
The route starts directly across from the Ralston Roost parking lot on a small dirt track. The first 0.34 miles is very steep and rocky with an immediate 215 ft of elevation gain. Like most of the route, it alternates between Ponderosa Pine, open grasslands, and small clumps of Aspen.

The start of the Black Bear Trail
Much of the early route is open Ponderosa Pine
At 1.0 and 1.3 miles are two viewpoints. The first is more of a jumble of rocks, while the second is a broad shelf looking down on the pastoral beauty of several ranches. From this point the trail begins to descend a bit and then gradually increases again to the highest point on the route at 2.0 miles. The route to this spot goes through a large pile of boulders (trail signs guide the way), and across a narrow strip of land where fins of knee-high rock extrude like scales on a dragons back. When the trees thin, you can see Mt. Evans as well as Grays and Torreys in the distance.

Looking down from the first view point. That is Golden Gate Canyon Road.
Can you spot the hiker in this photo? The trail goes around the boulder.
From the high point, the trail descends through Lodgepole Pine to the junction with the Mule Deer Trail at 2.6 miles. At this point the trail is wide and sandy. Don't get sucked off onto the spur trail to several campsites, which is 20 yards or so before the junction.

Route finding through the boulders
Looking down on ranch land
We chose to continue on the Mule Deer Trail past the connection with the Horseshoe Trail (at 3 miles) to a lesser used trail that travel down towards Greenfield Meadow and several more backcountry campsites (see map). Just before the Horseshoe Trail is a very large meadow whose tall grasses could have hidden an entire herd of Mule Deer. A small cabin and interpretive site marks the spot. The meadow was a Pleistocene paradise, a testament to the 2014 rains and our ever changing climate.

Walking across the dragons back
Now on the shady Mule Deer Trail
Getting to our turnoff for Greenfield Meadow involved switching from a single track through Aspen to a large dirt road. The transition was unexpected and we looked around a bit before proceeding. The trail to the campsites splits off from Mule Deer Trail only 0.3 miles beyond the Mule/Horseshoe so we eventually found the junction. A large green sign talking about campsites exists at a right angle to the road.

Meadow by the Horseshoe junction
Ahead the Mule Deer Trail goes left while the spur trail that becomes a dirt road goes straight.
From this point the trail gets a little rougher as it winds down and through small stands of Aspen. At 4 miles the trail rejoins the Horseshoe Trail. It is more of the same for another mile until the trail connecting back to the Black Bear Trail splits off. This short half mile trail heads uphill again through a dense Lodgepole forest with occasional traverses of open hillsides.

Heading up the dirt road
Heading back down the Horseshoe Trail
Since our dog is getting older and tolerates being on a leash more, I am getting to explore new areas including Golden Gate Canyon State Park. The Aspens in fall are very nice indeed and there are even camping yurts that might be fun to try out. Another long hike to do in the park is the Mountain Lion Trail with a side trip to Windy Peak.

The connector trail leading from the Horseshoe Trail back over to the Black Bear Trail is a total change. It is uphill and in a Lodgepole forest.
Almost back to the parking lot.


Joel said...

Hey, I had a great time reading your website. Do you have an email address that I can contact you on? Thank you and hope to hear from you soon.



sylvia murphy said...

Hi Joel,
Why don't you tell me a little about what this about. You might be a spambot :)