On the recommendation of a friend, I visited Golden Gate Canyon State Park to hike Raccoon Trail. After all, there is likely a reason it is named “Golden”. The state park includes several trails and features many golden aspen trees.
While I have hiked some of the options, I hadn’t tackled Raccoon Trail as it is located near its northwestern entrance, much farther away than its other access points from Denver.
The Raccoon Trail is a moderate 4-mile lollipop loop. Being located next to a campground and a park visitor center, it is a popular selection among many visitors. My first loop through the small parking area didn’t warrant me a spot.
As a result, I looped through the campground, used the facilities, and pulled up All Trails to find another option. The alternative hikes in this portion of the park were long, and I only planned on a short hike with Annie today, so we tried again.
Upon my return to the parking, I lucked out. Many spots had opened up. I suppose I timed my afternoon visit perfectly. The morning crew had finished. Normally, I prefer morning hikes, but it wasn’t in the cards today.
After I finished paying the $9 day fee, which didn’t work on the outdoor machine, so I had to go into the office, I retrieved Annie and off we went on the Raccoon Trail which is located in between the pay station and the visitor center.
The trail is extremely well marked and maintained, a positive for hiking in most state parks. Though a multi-use trail, today I only saw hikers most of whom were leaf peeping. Having said that, many of the trees had already succumbed to high winds, thus much of the aspen grove encompassing the trail was leafless. It didn’t stop me at least snapping a few colorful photos.
The trail begins at around 9,000 feet and descends for the first ½ mile. While an early descent lets the legs warm up, the final return can be a bummer when tired! In this case, the short length of the trail made the return reasonable though the half-mile immediately following the descent on the loop taken in a clock-wise direction climbs steeply. This portion is probably how the Raccoon Trail earned its moderate rating from All Trails.
The dirt and sometimes rocky path loops around through evergreen forest with occasional views of granite cliffs and the valley below. The best views are at Panorama Point which is a nice place for a picnic and may also be reached car for the less mobile. Overall, the Raccoon Trail affords a nice hike.
Had I hiked Raccoon Trail a week earlier, toward the end of September in this dry year, it would have featured hillsides of golden aspen and garnered two thumbs up. ETB
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