Home » 2011 Cross Country Road Trip

Golden Gate Canyon State Park, CO

Wednesday, July 20, 2011 - 2:45pm by Lolo
82 miles and 3 hours from our last stop - 2 night stay


Lolo enjoying Boulder Falls mistLolo enjoying Boulder Falls mistBefore heading out to Golden Gate Canyon, we stopped briefly at Tommy’s office to meet his coworkers and boss and to collect Andrew, who had decided to spend the night at Tommy’s apartment in Boulder instead of sleeping in the Walmart parking lot with us – I can’t understand why.

Tommy had managed to get the following two days off to spend with us by adding an extra two days onto the end of his internship. Today (Wednesday), however, he was going to participate in his office’s team-building day before driving out to Golden Gate Canyon to meet us that evening. The teambuilding event was going to culminate in a 3-person team go-kart race that evening. Rumor had it that it got pretty intense, so he absolutely didn’t want to miss it.

Hiking the Raccoon Loop TrailHiking the Raccoon Loop TrailHerb, Andrew, and I set out on Boulder Creek Canyon Drive (Highway 119), which wound through Boulder Canyon along Boulder Creek. It was a beautiful drive, and I was intrigued by the walking/biking trail that ran along the creek for a good part of the drive. Boulder is a town known for its outdoor enthusiasts, and it appeared that many of them were out on that trail biking, walking, running, and just in general enjoying the beautiful scenery. The creek also looked like a fun place for tubing and kayaking, but this year it was still too high and fast to safely do that.

About 11 miles into the drive, we made a brief stop at Boulder Falls where North Boulder Creek plunges into Middle Boulder Creek. There is a short trail that leads to a viewpoint just below the 70-foot cascade. Continuing on, we came to a large reservoir near the town of Nederland before the road turned south toward Golden Gate.

Dad belaying Tom at Clear Creek Canyon - AJGDad belaying Tom at Clear Creek Canyon - AJGAlong the drive I kept anxiously looking at my cell phone to see if and where I got any coverage. It’s funny how we have become so dependent on constant access to the outside world. For years we traveled without cell phones and it never bothered me. Now, I go into a panic anytime those little bars disappear. My major concern was the ability to reach my 91-year-old mother, who although is in an assisted living facility, is very dependent on hearing from me about 20 times a day. I took note of the fact that I had coverage just a few miles south of Nederland, but then lost it from that point on all the way to our campground in the park. So, we turned around and drove back towards Nederland so I could call my mom and warn her that we might be out of touch for a few days.

We arrived at the Reverend Ridge Campground on Gap Road in the northwestern corner of the park, where I had reserved a site for two nights. A lightning strike the day before had taken out the campground water supply, but fortunately we had a full tank and could shower in the RV.

Tom descending Clear Creek Canyon climb - AJGTom descending Clear Creek Canyon climb - AJGFor the afternoon, I had selected what I thought would be the fairly easy 3.3-mile Raccoon Loop Trail. What I forgot to consider was that we had been at 200’ above sea level just yesterday morning and were now at 9100’. We are in pretty good shape—especially Andrew, so we couldn’t believe how big an effect the altitude had on us. We all had this annoying little headache and felt like we were dragging ourselves along the trail. I guess the good part was that the hike took up a greater part of our afternoon than planned. It was a lovely hike. It started at the campground and wound its way through beautiful aspen groves and wildflower meadows, across babbling brooks, and eventually to the highlight, Panorama Point, where we were rewarded with sweeping views of the Continental Divide.

Back at the campground, we relaxed in our forested site and awaited the arrival of Tommy after his tough day of teambuilding at the go-kart track. He arrived triumphant, having been part of the 3-person winning team.

The next day, Tommy was our planner and guide. During his summer in Boulder, his interest in rock climbing had really taken off, and he had gained a lot of local knowledge as to where to go. Herb had been an avid climber for 10 years before the boys were born, and was having a great time getting back into it as the boys took an interest in it as well. This part of Colorado has so many east-west canyon roads that wind along creeks surrounded by rock walls perfect for climbing—Boulder Creek Canyon, Coal Creek Canyon, Golden Gate Canyon, and Clear Creek Canyon, just to name a few. Clear Creek Canyon near Golden was our destination for the day. Since we could use Tommy’s car and leave the RV behind, we were able to drive the steep and windy, non-RV friendly, Mountain Base Road through Golden Gate Canyon State Park down to Golden Gate Canyon Road into Golden and then back out on Clear Creek Canyon Road. This place is really incredible.

Tom leading Clear Creek Canyon 5.10 - AJGTom leading Clear Creek Canyon 5.10 - AJGThe type of climbing that Tommy likes to do is called sport climbing. What that means is that rather than the traditional way of putting protection pieces in the rock as you climb to prevent you from falling, the bolts and protection are already permanently fixed to the rock. It’s a bit safer and quicker to set up a climb. Because of his newly found local knowledge, Tommy knew exactly where along Clear Creek Canyon to find the sport climbing wall, so it wasn’t long before we were settled at the base of a rock cliff and he was scampering up a 5.10 climb on the wall. Herb really enjoyed his first exposure to sport climbing as well. I enjoyed safely reading my Kindle on the solid ground below.

After the boys had their fill of climbing, we drove into Golden in search of the Coors Brewery—not too hard to find as it takes up most of the town. It is the largest single brewery facility in the world. We parked our car and got on line for the shuttle bus which would take us the few blocks to the brewery. After we were already in line, I noticed a sign that said that IDs were required to partake in the free sampling at the end of the tour. I panicked because I had left my wallet in the car, but Herb rightly assured me that (unfortunately) no one was going to question the fact that I was over 21.

The tour was pretty cool—self-guiding so you could take as long as you wanted to get to the end goal: the free sampling room. At one point in the tour, they handed out a little Dixie cup size sample of beer. We had heard that there were three free samples, so all we were expecting at the end were two more Dixie cups of beer, but to our surprise—and delight—the free samples included 3 full-size beers per person—quite a bit for those sea-level types not used to the high altitude. Since Tommy was only 19 and couldn’t partake in anything but free soda, he was immediately appointed our designated driver. Not being a particularly big fan of Coors beer before, I was pleased to find two beers that I really enjoyed: Killian’s Irish Red and Blue Moon.

Mom on Coors Brewery Tour - TJGMom on Coors Brewery Tour - TJGI’m actually pretty surprised they give away this much free beer, but I think I might have figured out why. At the beginning of the tour, they took a picture of each family in front of a green screen. When you got to the end of the tour and the end of your three beers (and sobriety), they showed you the picture of your lovely family (made lovelier by the beers) in front of a variety of backgrounds. For a mere $15, we bought the one where we were lined up in front of a stack of kegs. It just goes to show you that there is no such thing as a free beer. Proudly carrying what we thought at the time might become our family Christmas card photo, we stumbled out into the bright sunlight and walked the streets of Golden for a bit before driving back to our campground in Golden Gate Canyon.

Back at the campground, Herb and I decided to do some geocaching while the Tommy went for a run. Andrew had to make the tough call of running with Tommy or geocaching with us. He must have really been hurting from the high altitude, because he chose to come with us on an activity that he still thinks is pretty silly.

For those of you fellow travelers unfamiliar with geocaching, I seriously recommend learning more about it (see www.geocaching.com). It can be a life-changing event. No seriously, it is a very interesting concept that has brought us to some very interesting and out-of-the way places. Very briefly, geocaching is kind of a treasure hunt, sans the treasures. Geocaches are waterproof containers (ranging from tiny little containers to ammo boxes) that contain little trinkets for trading—items that you would just throw away if you found them in your house, but for some reason feel like treasures after having gone through so much trouble trying to find them. There are over a million geocaches hidden in over 100 countries throughout the world. People searching for them use a GPS to guide them to usually within 30 feet of the hidden cache. From there, clues help the seeker zero in on the find. I know it sounds a bit silly, but it is actually a lot of fun and has exposed us to a lot of great places that we would never have found on our own.

Parents geocaching - AJGParents geocaching - AJGThe clue this time was “green machine” and our GPS led us a short distance back down Mountain Base Road to a beautiful meadow overlooking the town of Black Hawk in the distance. See, already geocaching had brought us to a beautiful spot that we would not have discovered otherwise. We followed our GPS pointer part way down the hill and into the woods where we soon came across the wreck of an old green steamroller. I think we had found our “green machine.” Now the hard part began – finding a tiny 35mm film canister hidden somewhere within it. Andrew was truly amused by two grown adults, who he had known and respected his entire life, determinedly poking their heads, and sometimes entire bodies, into a rusty old wreck to find a hidden “treasure.” He even recorded it on his camera for posterity. He must have been so proud of me when I eventually cried out, “Found it!”


Lolo and Tom at Panorama PointLolo and Tom at Panorama PointGolden Gate Canyon State Park, located on the Front Range 30 miles west of Denver and 13 miles northwest of Golden , contains 12,000 acres of unspoiled landscape – rugged canyons, wildflower meadows, lodgepole forests, lush aspen groves, and meandering streams.

The Park contains 36 miles of hiking trails, 22 miles of which are also open to mountain biking and horseback riding. As the average elevation of the park is 9100 feet, hiking can be a challenge for those unaccustomed to the altitude. A major attraction is Panorama Point Scenic Overlook, where visitors can see 100 miles of the Continental Divide.

There are several camping options:

  • Reverend’s Ridge campground, just off Gap Road, has 97 tent and RV sites, 57 of which have electrical hookups.
  • Aspen Meadows Campground has 35 sites for tents only.
  • Backcountry Camping - there are four backcountry three-sided shelters which can sleep up to 6 people without a tent
  • In addition to the four shelters, there are 20 backcountry tent sites open year-round . Many of these sites are located in large, scenic meadows and are surrounded by 10,000 foot peaks. Backcountry camping permits must be obtained at the Visitors Center.
  • 5 cabins and 2 yurts, each of which accommodate 6 people

Side trips from Golden Gate Canyon:

  • Clear Creek Canyon is located along Clear Creek, just west of Golden. It is reached by taking US 6 West from the center of Golden. Besides being a beautiful drive, the walls of the canyon provide a playground for rock climbers. The following website provides details on the climbing routes available throughout the canyon : http://www.mountainproject.com/v/clear-creek-canyon/105744243
  • Golden is located 15 miles west of Denver, along Clear Creek Canyon at the foothills of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. The town was founded during the Pike’s Peak gold Rush in 1859 and served as the capital of the Territory of Colorado from 1862 to 1867. Its population is approximately 17,000. Today Golden is best known for its being home to the Colorado school of Mines and the Coors Brewing Company. Free 30-minute, self-guided tours of the brewery are conducted throughout the day. At the end of the tour, free samples of the various beers produced are provided.
Carston on November 5, 2012

You have been to Colorado seven time, either as a destination or passing through. Must be something very special about the place. Could you elaborate?

Herb on November 19, 2012

Hi Carston,

Sure,, Colorado is a fantastic place if you like the mountains and outdoors. Coming from the East the main routes west are 70 and 80... both bring you right to the Colorado Rockies. It is an outdoor lovers Mecca with lots of similarly minded people doing most every outdoor sport possible. Check out the photos from our trips and Tommy's trip out west for more details. It's also where Tommy spent the last two summers working in Boulder, so we had to spend one summer trip just visiting him.

Safe travels, Herb

Never Ending RV Trip on January 9, 2013

I sold my climbing gear a few years ago. This post makes me regret selling it. Your site is one of the sites that inspired me to start traveling full time with my family of 7. Thank you.

Herb on April 10, 2014

Hi Troy,

I don't know how I missed your comment the first time around, but I just did a system update and noticed that I had never responded.

I also checked out your blog, and was nearly brought to tears with your post "My No Scalpel Vasectomy!" - I could almost feel your pain.

We just got back from Florida so I need to review your site for some more tips on the state.

Safe Travels,


Golden Gate Canyon State Park location map in "high definition"

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