Golden Gate Canyon State Park – Mountain Lion Loop to Windy Peak
We’ve been hiking a lot in Rocky Mountain National Park and Indian Peaks Wilderness, so it’s been on our mind to explore some other parks nearby. There were great reviews online about Golden Gate Canyon State Park near Golden, which is about 50 minutes drive from Boulder, so we decided to check it out.
Golden Gate Canyon State Park features over 12,000 acres of forest and meadows, with over 35 miles of hiking trails. 19 miles of the trails are open to mountain biking and horseback riding. The park is dog friendly.
We went around the loop counter-clockwise, but clockwise can work well too. The Mountain Lion Trail is straightforward and clearly marked with metal posts that have a mountain lion paw print on it. About halfway through the hike you get the option to hike to Windy Peak for some summit views.
The Parking Lot
We thought this park would be like Rocky Mountain National Park and Indian Peaks Wilderness, where you have to arrive at the trailhead early in order to get a parking spot. However, when we arrived at the trailhead around 6 am and there were only two other cars there. Even when we finished around noon, the parking lot was not even half full.
There are still benefits to starting the hike early, such as less people on the trail, and less sun exposure, but you don’t have to rush to get there so early.
There are restrooms at the parking lot.
Starting Out on Mountain Lion Trail
If you go around the loop counter-clockwise, as we did, the trail starts on the northern edge of the parking lot.
There is a short climb on a grassy hill. Because we arrived early we got to see a lovely red sunrise beyond the hills.
The gentle trail continued around, with some views of the surrounding hills –
The light from the sunrise on the hills was lovely –
About 2 miles into the hike, after you have entered a forested valley, you start finding access to backcountry campsites along Deer Creek.
These campsites are off the main trail and come with a metal box for storing food and other scented items away from bears. In addition to the park entrance fee, you have to pay $18 to stay at a backcountry campsite and get a permit.
When we visited on Labor Day there were several campsites that were occupied, but there were plenty of campsites that were still available. Since Labor Day weekend is a popular weekend for camping, this park likely usually has availability, if you are having trouble finding a campsite elsewhere.
The only thing I would caution against would be the water sources – when we visited there was barely any water running in Deer Creek by the campsites. If you stayed at one of these campsites, you would either need to walk a bit to find water upstream, or bring your own water. Since the trail is not difficult and the campsites are not very far from the trailhead, perhaps bringing water with you would be the best option.
Golden Gate Canyon State Park does offer other options for group camping, cabins, yurts, guest houses, and RV sites – you can see the costs for all these facilities here.
Continuing on Mountain Lion Trail
It was still early morning as we continued on the Mountain Lion Trail, and the valley was chilly without any sunlight.
The trail passed by this stone cliff –
But most of the trail through the valley looks like this – a narrow dirt trail in the forest. The scenery reminded us a lot of Shenandoah National Park.
At about 3 miles in, you start climbing uphill in the forest –
Visiting Windy Peak
At mile 3.6 we came upon a junction with a trail that leads to Windy Peak. The sign said it would be 0.5 miles to the peak. Since the Mountain Lion Trail is relatively easy and we wanted to see a view, we decided to add the extra 1-mile-round distance to our trek and check it out.
After continuing through the forest on Burro Trail for about 0.1 miles, you turn off onto the trail to Windy Peak. The trail is a bit rocky, but not too strenuous. From the junction to the peak you climb a total of about 300-400 ft.
You can see 360 degree views from the summit of Windy Peak, with the view to the south being the best –
We stopped here to eat our PB&J sandwiches and drink some instant coffee (hot water made with a JetBoil). It was a nice spot to relax and enjoy the views.
There were a couple other groups who were at the summit with us. They had taken different routes to get there – Mountain Lion Trail clockwise, and the Burro Trail. There are several ways you can get to Windy Peak, if you want to make that your destination.
Looping Back on Mountain Lion Trail
After our break at the summit, we headed back the way we came to continue around the Mountain Lion Trail loop. After the junction with Mountain Lion Trail, you climb up a little again before starting the descent.
As you head downhill, there are views of the surrounding hills –
The area also features aspen trees –
And an abundance of wildflowers, especially in the grassy meadows –
The trail is relatively easy the whole way.
At around mile 6 you pass by an old homestead. The homestead belonged to a Swedish immigrant by the name of Tallman. His family lived there for several generations from 1876. The homestead was sold to a developer in 1955, and then Colorado State Parks in 1970. Tallman Ranch is registered as a State Historic Property.
An old schoolhouse was converted into a house, which looks like it has been maintained –
You can walk around the homestead and view the historic buildings. This building held the old stables –
There is an interesting sign that features information about the history of the ranch –
Last Stretch of Mountain Lion Trail
The last 2 miles of the trail continues on through mostly sunny areas with little shade –
And to your right you see the some nice views of the mountains –
Recommended as an Easy Hike
Golden Gate Canyon State Park is a lovely place to visit if you’re looking for an easy or family-friendly hike. The scenery is varied and there are many options for trails to explore. The 8-mile Mountain Lion Loop and detour to Windy Peak is a good option if you want an introduction to the park.