Some call the Beaver Brook Trail, “the best backcountry hiking experience along the Front Range.” That’s likely because the trail winds through a thick forest with some open areas that the highlight scenic views of the nearby foothills.
You can start the 8.5-mile from either end -- Genesee Park/Chief Hosa or Windy Saddle. If you start on the Windy Saddle (east) side, you’ll go through the rocky, scrambling section first, while you’re still fresh, but there’s an 800-foot climb in the last 1.5 miles which can be tough when you’re tired.
I prefer starting at Genesee Park/Chief Hosa (west) side. While it begins with a big drop in elevation to Clear Canyon Canyon and ends with some rock scrambling when you’re tired, I prefer not to have the big elevation gain at the end.
The west trailhead is off at I-70 at the Chief Hosa exit (directions below). The parking lot has no amenities. There’s no bathroom -- it’s 0.3 miles down the trail. There’s just a couple signs. One sign says the hike is seven miles -- it’s not. It’s 8.5 miles according to my GPS. Note, there are several signs along the trail that list mileage. Some are right, some are wrong.
The hike begins along the Braille Nature Trail -- a trail with a vinyl-coated cable that leads sight impaired people on a nature hike. As they follow the cable, there are signs explaining the surrounding ecosystem like the trees, meadows, even gophers. The signs are in regular writing and in Braille.
The Braille Nature Trail starts with a drop in elevation. At 0.3 miles, the trail suddenly turns left and crosses a bridge. At this spot, you may see some picnic tables. The bathrooms are near the picnic area.
Cross the bridge and you’ll see a sign that says “Beaver Brook Trail” with an arrow. Continue downhill, through the forest. It’s about another 0.85 miles before you’ll reach your first mileage sign telling you have 8 miles to go. (It’s pretty close.)
The trail drops 800 feet in the first 1.5 miles to Beaver Brook. The trail is so steep there are stairs in a places, there are some switchbacks and if you don’t like exposure, you should know there are times the trail gets pretty skinny with a dropoff (see slideshow). Everyone in my group made it through those sections, but other friends said they would have turned around.
When you reach Beaver Creek, there’s a sign telling you that you’ve traveled 1.5 miles from the trailhead. My GPS agreed. However, the sign also said it was six miles to Windy Saddle. My GPS said it was seven.
I think Beaver Creek is a great spot to take a break. Walk a few steps off the trail and enjoy the little water cascade here.
After your break, get ready for a tough climb. You’re about to climb about 500+ feet in the next 0.7 miles. The trail climbs up a steep canyon, then around the side to Clear Creek Canyon.
At the top, the trees open up and there’s a nice rocky outcropping with a view. Look closely and you may even get a glimpse of Clear Creek and Highway 6 below.
When you’ve caught your breath, it’s time for more elevation gain. The trail switchbacks and keeps climbing for the next 0.8 miles to an elevation of 7,800+ feet at a second overlook. This overlook is at the 5.5 mile (accurate) signs.
This may be one of the best overlooks along the trail. There are lots of rocks and the views are incredible all around you. This is a great spot to explore, climb the rocks and take photos.
Finally, as you leave the overlook and continue on the trail, you get a break! After 1,200 feet of elevation gain, you finally get a chance to start downhill. The trail drops about 350 feet over the next half mile to the Gudy Gaskill Loop Trail. Gudy Gaskill was the first female president of the Colorado Mountain Club in 1977. Many consider her the person who not only made sure the Colorado Trail was built, she also recruited the volunteers and led the trail-building effort.
Now you have two options -- take the Gudy Gaskill Loop 2.5 miles or stay on the main Beaver Brook Trail 0.75 miles to the next trail split. Signs here tell hikers there’s a Clear Creek Overlook on the loop there. There is, and it’s nice, but not as nice as that last overlook at the 5.5 mile sign. While I have hiked the loop, and the overlook is a nice spot for lunch and a break, on this hike, we decided to stay on the main trail.
Finally, the trail became a lot easier. The ups and downs were smaller. We were hiking through the forest, with occasional meadows and scenic views. It was a pleasant section without all the hard work of the first few miles.
As you get about 2.5 miles from the end, the trail winds in and out of several canyons. Some have small water crossings, but most are dry. At a spot about 6.5 miles in, you will have to cross the water on some downed trees or walk through the water. This is actually one of my favorite spots because there’s a small waterfall/cascade here.
As you get closer to the Windy Saddle Trailhead, expect some rock scrambling. The trail can be a bit hard to follow at times through the rocks, but just look ahead to see the next section of trail, then go the best way. There are also two scree fields that you’ll have to cross. The scree fields aren’t tough, but when you’re tired, you have to watch your footing.
At 8.25 miles, we came to the last trail split with the Lookout Mountain Trail. From here, it’s just another quarter mile to your car at the Windy Saddle parking lot!
If you don’t have a shuttle vehicle, get the scoop on hiking a long loop from the west trailhead, a short loop using the Chavez Trail on the west side or the east trailhead starting at Lookout Mountain. Find more hikes in Golden and across the state in this article of 200+ hikes in Colorado. Don't miss any of my trip reports, sign up for an email alert by clicking on subscribe at the top of this page and follow me on Facebook.
Details: the hike from the Stapleton Drive/Chief Hosa/Genesee Park/Braille Nature Trail trailhead to Windy Saddle is about 8.5 miles with 2,000 feet of elevation gain with all the ups and downs.
Directions to Windy Saddle: From U.S. 6 in Golden, take 19th Street/Lookout Mountain Road west 3.4 miles to the Windy Saddle parking lot.
From the Windy Saddle parking lot, you’ll need to take another vehicle to the west trailhead. Turn right out of the Windy Saddle parking lot and follow Lookout Mountain Road about 4.3 miles to U.S. 40. Turn right and follow the road 1.2 to I-70. Take I-70 west to exit 253/Chief Hosa. At the off-ramp stop sign, turn right. Then take a quick right on Stapleton Drive, a bumpy dirt road. Take Stapleton Drive about one mile to the trailhead. There are about eight parking spots here.