The Many Wonders of Eldorado Canyon State Park

It’s yet another post about hiking in the mountains.  Rest assured that it may be the last for now, as our Colorado hiking days for 2018 are numbered.  Snow showers are in the  forecast, and this couple doesn’t do outdoor activities in cold weather.  So I hope you will stick with me as I share the highlights from our super nice hike on a fantastically sunny and unseasonably warm October day.

We made our first ever trip to Eldorado Canyon State Park, located just outside of Boulder, and hiked the Rattlesnake Gulch trail – a 3.8-4.0 mile trek with an elevation gain of 1,000-1,200 feet, depending on which source you believe.  Not too easy, not too hard, it was just right.

The road to Eldorado Canyon passes through the small community of Eldorado Springs, population 585.  In the early to mid-1900s, the town was a thriving tourist destination, with two hotels, three swimming pools, two dance ballrooms, two skating rinks, cabins, stables and many other amenities.  For 41 years, an aerialist named Ivy Baldwin entertained guests with his daring high wire act, described by Colorado Parks & Wildlife as follows:

“Thousands of people gathered on weekends and holidays to watch Ivy Baldwin walk across a 7/8-inch thick, steel cable stretched from the top of Castle Rock (the Bastille) to the Wind Tower, 672 feet across and over 400 feet above South Boulder Creek. Ivy Baldwin took six and a half minutes to walk to the middle of the stretched cable, bow, and then stand on his head, before continuing to the opposite side, the entire time without a safety net. In 1948 this incredible man celebrated his 82nd birthday by walking the wire one last time.”

Today, Eldorado Springs’ claim to fame is that it’s the source for Eldorado Natural Spring Water, widely available at Colorado retail stores.

After passing through the fee station at Eldorado Canyon State Park, we made our way to the Visitor Center and assessed the various hiking options, settling on the Rattlesnake Gulch trail.


Rattlesnake Gulch is known as a lollipop loop hike, which means there’s a loop trail (the “lollipop”) at the end of an out-and-back trail (the “stem”).  The stem part of the Rattlesnake Gulch hike is a 1.2 mile uphill climb featuring inspiring views of the park’s interesting rock features and Colorado’s eastern plains.

The trail levels off just before reaching the Crags Hotel site with panoramic views in all directions.  The short-lived luxury hotel in this most unlikely location opened for business in 1908 but was destroyed by fire just four years later.  All that remains today are a few ruins, an informational signboard about its past, and the view.

The Crags Hotel site also marks the start of the loop portion of the trail, which climbs sharply toward a set of railroad tracks visible in the distance.

It turns out that the railroad line in this seemingly remote area dates back to the early 1900s, when it was part of the Moffat Road.  Now owned and operated by Union Pacific Railroad, Amtrak’s California Zephyr passes through here every day, once each way.

We didn’t see any trains during our hike, but back in January we rode the Amtrak on this very route from Denver to Glenwood Springs for a weekend getaway.  Such a relaxing way to travel through the Colorado Rockies – superb scenery punctuated by about 30 tunnels.  I found some photos from our January weekend trip, and yes, we saw all this and more during our six-hour journey (one way).

Now back to our hike.  Shortly beyond the intersection with the Union Pacific property, we arrived at the Continental Divide overlook, where we ate our picnic lunch and soaked up the sun and the views for the next half hour or so.

Then it was time to finish the loop part of the trail and retrace our steps from the Crags Hotel site back to the parking lot.  On the way down, we spotted (and heard) numerous rock climbers in the area shown in the photo below.  The park is a premier rock-climbing destination, with over 500 technical routes available to aficionados of all skill levels.


Rock-climbing area at Eldorado Canyon State Park

No rock-climbing for us, however.  Not today or any other day, but it’s fun to watch!

If in fact Rattlesnake Gulch was the last hike of the season for us, it was a good way to end.  But just perhaps we can squeeze in another hike or two before the snow flies . . . .

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