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Tucked into a dramatic setting south of Boulder, Eldorado Canyon State Park is a great place to spend a day amongst nature. While small in size, the Park caters to anyone with an interest in beautiful rock formations, creekside trails, and abundant scenery. It’s also very accessible, an hour from most parts of Denver north to Fort Collins.
Primarily known as a rock-climbing destination, the park also provides some excellent trails with options to extend into neighboring areas like South Boulder Peak and Walker Ranch. By starting at Eldorado, you can combine trails to take your day anywhere from 6-26 miles. It’s the trail options, stunning rock formations and ease of access that really set Eldorado apart.
Like most Colorado State Parks, Eldorado Canyon is a pay-to-play area, and therein lies another potential advantage. While it’s never fun paying to recreate, paid areas usually fill later than free areas, especially near big cities like Boulder and Denver. In short, paying opens up a slew of possibilities and combinations that are not accessible to recreationists who start from trailheads outside of the Park.
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Eldorado Canyon State Park is not hard to find. From downtown Boulder, head south on CO93 until hitting the intersection with CO170. Take a right onto CO170, also known as Marshall Road, and head west until the road enters the Park. Along the way, you’ll pass the trailhead for South Mesa, another popular access point for this area.
From Denver and points south, take a left at the junction of CO93 and CO170, proceeding down to the State Park. It is $10 to enter a vehicle into Eldorado Canyon. More information can be found on the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website.
Eldorado Canyon State Park is one of three major rock-climbing meccas in the hills around Boulder. Like the Flatirons and Boulder Canyon to the north, Eldorado Canyon contains hundreds of stellar rock-climbing routes in a beautiful setting. The State Park also contains the Eldorado Canyon Trail, a beautiful out and back option that climbs behind the canyon and into the foothills. For the more ambitious, the Eldorado Canyon Trail can be combined with Walker Ranch Loop. The resulting combination is a tough but rewarding 16.6-mile adventure.
Although tucked into a canyon, this area receives a ton of sunlight in the summer and can get quite hot, bring sunscreen and lots of water. Rattlesnakes are also quite active here. Before you get to the trailhead for the Canyon Trail, consider walking along the Streamside Trail for wonderful vantage points of South Boulder Creek as it cuts through impressive rock formations. On busy days, you’re likely to see dozens of rock climbers tackling complex routes.
The best place to check area weather is the Eldorado Springs extended forecast. The town sits right at the base of the canyon. You can also check Boulder’s extended forecast since the city is quite close. Start early to minimize heat exposure and afternoon thunderstorms in the middle of the summer.
Like most hikes in the area, staying in Boulder is your best bet. The town has a ton of options. Eldorado Canyon is also within an hour of most of the northern Denver metro area, Longmont, Golden, Lyons, Berthoud, Loveland, and the southern reaches of Fort Collins. Camping is possible in some places near Boulder, but they would all require a bit of a drive. Some OK options include Gross Reservoir sites, Gordon Gulch Dispersed Area, and near the Switzerland Trail on Sugarloaf Mountain.
The parking lot closest to the trail can fill up on weekends; get there early. Once parked, the trail will be easy to spot as it heads north from the Visitor Center.
You begin gaining elevation almost immediately.
You’ll also pass a couple of mountain lion signs warning of their active nature in the area.
As you ascend, you’ll be offered views to the south, where keen eyes can spot the cut in the mountain where Union Pacific train tracks run on their way to pass under the Continental Divide at Moffat Tunnel.
As you climb, you’ll weave in and out of treed areas bathed in wonderful morning color.
There are even a couple of benches placed alongside the trail for your enjoyment.
The trail continues on, edging westward with good views up the canyon.
A few large switchbacks ease passage up the rocky slope.
As the elevating gain begins to lessen, you’ll pass rock climbing access to the Rincon Wall.
The next 1.2 miles of trail will pass around the curves of two drainages and maintain roughly the same elevation, a welcome reprieve from the first two miles of climbing.
You’ll also leave the boundaries of Eldorado Canyon State Park and enter Boulder Open Space & Mountain Parks land. This stretch features a more mature forest lining the trail and provides some brief relief from the sun.
Before the trail begins its descent to Walker Ranch, spectacular views back east open up on a meadowed hillside.
The trail officially ends at its confluence with the Walker Ranch Loop.
Unless continuing around Walker Ranch, this is the turnaround part of the hike. If you’re looking for a prettier turnaround point, take a left on the Walker Ranch Loop, proceeding for a little less than 0.1 miles until reaching a beautiful bridge across South Boulder Creek.
When you’ve had your fill, turn around and head back to Eldorado Canyon. The first part back is uphill but not nearly as strenuous as your first ascent from the parking lot.
Right before the climber’s trail to Rincon Wall takes off, you’ll reenter Eldorado Canyon State Park.
Enjoy the downhill portion back to your car and see if you can spot any rock climbers on your drive back out of the park.
Skyblue Overland founder Brian Hamilton hiked this trail on May 27, 2021. The Eldorado Canyon Trail is an awesome and challenging hike that is close to Boulder, Colorado. The scenery was incredibly beautiful on this partly sunny, spring day with TONS of wildflowers. Brian, an engineering geologist, spend nearly a year working in the early nineties with the railroad crews on the UPRR route across the valley. Watching trains go by while hiking in Eldorado Canyon brought back many memories of these adventures.
Photography for this article provided by Brian Hamilton. Skyblue Overland uses SmugMug, a paid image sharing, image hosting service, and online video platform on which users can upload photos and videos. The SmugMug also facilitates the sale of digital and print media for amateur and professional photographers. See Skyblue Overland’s Adventure Photo Galleries from the Best Trails in Colorado at SmugMug.com. Here is the entire Eldorado Canyon Trail Gallery:
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As with each guide published on SKYBLUEOVERLAND.com, should you choose to this route, do so at your own risk. Prior to setting out check current local weather, conditions, and land/road closures. While taking a trail, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, carry proper safety and navigational equipment, and of course, follow the #leavenotrace guidelines. The information found herein is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this route, associated GPS track (GPX and maps), and all route guidelines were prepared under diligent research by the specified contributor and/or contributors, the accuracy of such and judgement of the author is not guaranteed. SKYBLUE OVERLAND LLC, its partners, associates, and contributors are in no way liable for personal injury, damage to personal property, or any other such situation that might happen to individuals following this route.