Golden Gate Canyon State Park may only be 13 miles from Golden, but it's a nice escape from the city. The park features hiking, biking, camping, fishing, rock climbing, horseback riding and hunting.
For hikers, the park has 12 trails, each named for an animal and marked with the animal's footprint. In some cases, like the Burro Trail and the Mule Deer Trail, it can be hard to tell the trails apart on the map. However, many of the trails interconnect allowing you to turn off your planned trail and create a longer hike, or find another trail to turn back if you decide you'd like a shorter hike.
One of the popular and challenging loops in the park is the Windy Peak loop. Using the Mountain Lion and Burro Trails, the hike visits a historic farm and tops out on a peak with a great view of the surrounding area.
The hike starts at the Bridge Creek Trail (directions below). Walk past the bathrooms, through the picnic area, over a bridge and begin climbing the trail up the hill. The trail quickly gains 100 feet in elevation in just the first quarter mile, so the hike may be difficult for children.
Hikers follow the Burro Trail 0.75 miles to the Mountain Lion Trail. Turn left on the Mountain Lion Trail. A few steps away, you'll see a second sign and a trail split for the Mountain Lion and Burro Trails. Remember this spot, you'll be finishing the loop portion of the hike here. For now, walk straight ahead for the Mountain Lion Trail.
The Mountain Lion Trail appears to be an old Jeep road. After a short climb, the trail drops a bit before climbing up to Forgotten Valley.
As you hike up the tree-lined road, suddenly the view opens up and you will see a large pond and several buildings in the distance. This is the Tallman Family Ranch. A sign explains the history of the buildings including how the family channeled the creek into their milk house to keep eggs, butter and milk cool and fresh.
It's worth the short detour to hike to the house, the barn and another structure. After exploring, return to the main house. You can look in the windows, then have a seat on the porch. Enjoy a snack as you look over the same pond Andres Tallman looked at. According to the book, Walking Into Colorado's Past, Tallman suffered a stroke in 1890, but would spend his days sitting on the porch with a gun shooting elk and deer that strayed into his potato field.
After exploring, return to the Mountain Lion Trail and begin climbing up the valley. You'll pass the Buffalo Trail and continue climbing. After hiking on an old Jeep road for the last mile or so, the trail soon becomes a rocky, single-person wide trail. There are some nice stands of aspens here that likely make this a nice hike in the fall.
As you're enjoying the views, you may notice you're breathing harder. This is where the hike becomes a work out. From the Tallman Ranch, you'll gain about 750 feet in elevation in the next mile. While there's a short section of downhill trail, it doesn't last long. Bypass the turnoff for several campsites, and then start the next steep climb to the Windy Peak turnoff.
This turnoff is about the half-way spot for this hike. At this point, you'll have hiked about 2.8 miles and the sign says you have 2.9 miles to go. Add another 0.8 miles roundtrip for this spur trail to the Windy Peak summit.
Let's head that way. Take the Windy Peak spur trail.
Because you're climbing a mountain, the trail isn't easy. You're going to add another 260 feet of elevation gain in the 0.4 miles hike to the top. But this is a very pleasant section. The trail winds through a thick forest, and at the top, the trees suddenly open up and you can enjoy views of the park below you and the mountain ranges around you.
After a break and a snack, it's time to head back down. Back at the last trail split, it's decision time.You can return the way you came or turn on the Burro Trail here to create a loop hike. We choose the loop option.
The Burro Trail is listed on the map as difficult, so expect some steep sections as you hike down. There are some interesting rock formations along the way if you want a place to stop and maybe explore.
About a third of a mile from that Windy Peak Summit Trail, there's another trail split. This may be a bit confusing because it says the Burro Trail in both directions. That's because this is where the Burro Trail becomes a loop. Turn left to go to the Nott Creek parking lot, but turn right to continue on the loop we're creating and to return to the Bridge Creek Trailhead.
This next section winds through the forest. While there are no "views," there is plenty to see. We spotted a teepee made of tall trees. We spotted the skeleton of an animal. And we saw lots of mushrooms.
Soon the forest opens up and you'll find yourself winding through sections of forest and sections of meadows as you hike down the other side of the valley. Along this trail, you'll get a good view of the surrounding peaks and valleys that make up Golden Gate Canyon State Park.
At the bottom, about 1.75 miles from the Windy Peak turnoff, you'll come to another Burro Trail split. Turn right, again toward Bridge Creek. This trail will cross Nott Creek on a small bridge, then begin to climb up one more steep section, back to the trail split we saw near the beginning of the hike. Just follow the signs for Bridge Creek.
Details: The Mountain Lion - Burro loop with spurs trails to the Tallman Ranch and Windy Peak creates a hike of about 6.6 miles with 1600 feet of elevation gain with all the ups and downs.
Admission: Park admission in 2014 was $7 per vehicle.
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Directions: From Highway 93 In Golden, take Golden Gate Canyon State Park Road about 13 miles to Crawford Gulch Road. Turn right, then take the next right into the Visitor Center parking lot. After paying the entrance fee at the Visitor's Center, take Crawford Gulch Road about 2 miles to the Bridge Creek Trailhead