Eldorado Canyon State Park

Eldorado Canyon State Park scenery

Eldorado Canyon State Park is a day-use park that offers many things. Although best known for rock climbing, this Colorado State Park also offers hiking trails, streamside picnic tables, bird watching, and if you’re lucky, you might see mule deer. We saw two of them near the Rattlesnake Gulch trail.

Eldorado Canyon State Park is near Boulder so I’ll give you the directions from there. They are: follow Colorado 93 south to Colorado 170 and turn right. Follow Colorado 170 to the small town of Eldorado Springs, then just keep going until you reach the entrance to the park. The visitor center is located at the end of the park road and is a good place to pick up information about the park.

Eldorado Canyon State Park is another park that allows dogs but do remember that they must be leashed here. So, if you’re ready for a dog friendly hike, here’s the first one:

Rattlesnake Gulch Trail
Hikers and bikers welcome
Start: Rattlesnake Gulch trailhead
End: Rattlesnake Gulch trailhead
One-way distance: 1.4 miles
Difficulty level: moderate
Approximate round-trip hiking time: 1 hour and 40 minutes
Directions to Rattlesnake Gulch trailhead: from the entrance to the park, follow the only road through the park for about 0.6 mile to the trailhead. It’s on the left, (south), side of the road.

There is only room for about 7-8 cars in the small parking area, so as always, get an early start. Before you begin your hike, you might enjoy a short walk along the park road, which parallels South Boulder Creek. If you walk back down this road from your car, there is a small but pretty falls that you might want to see. Here's what it looks like:

South Boulder Creek falls, Colorado

The Rattlesnake Gulch trail takes you to the ruins of what used to be the Crags Hotel. It was a luxury hotel but unfortunately, it burned down in 1912 after only four years of operation. All that remains are parts of the foundation, a fireplace, and the basin of a fountain. You’ll find an interpretive sign at the site, telling you about the history of the place.

This is my favorite hike in Eldorado Canyon State Park and other than seeing the two mule deer, we also heard many types of birds, including a hummingbird. The beginning of the trail is very easy but it soon starts to climb its way steadily up the mountain. There are enough trees along the way for shade but also plenty of open areas for viewing the beautiful scenery around you.

Rattlesnake Gulch trail scenery, Colorado

Before you know it, you’ll reach the ruins of the Crags Hotel at a flat, open area with a few trees growing in and around it. After you finish exploring, you might be interested in taking a 10 minute walk, (approximately), to the Continental Divide overlook. It’s especially pretty in the spring when snow still covers the mountains. That's when I took this picture:

Continental Divide overlook, Colorado

Fowler Trail
Hikers welcome + the first half is wheelchair accessible
Start: Fowler/Rattlesnake Gulch trailhead
End: Fowler/Rattlesnake Gulch trailhead
One-way distance: .7 miles
Difficulty level: easy
Approximate round-trip hiking time: 1 hour
Directions to Fowler trailhead: please see the directions for the Rattlesnake Gulch trail, (above), since the Fowler trail starts there too.

Fowler trail scenery, Eldorado Canyon State Park

Since the first half of this trail is wheelchair accessible, it’s a very easy walk. But there is one thing you might want to know about it: if you don’t like heights, then you might not like this one. That’s because there’s a steep drop off on one side, for about the first half of the trail.

Anyway, if you don’t mind heights, then it’s a very nice trail. It starts out from the Rattlesnake Gulch trailhead and after about .2 miles, you’ll reach the fork in the trail. Follow the left fork and you’ll be on your way to sweeping views of the canyon.

You will also have great views of the rock climbers on the opposite side of the canyon from where you are. You’ll be able to watch them for about the first half of the trail since there are few trees along this portion. The scenery also includes interesting rock formations and at one point, there’s a bench where you can sit and take in everything you’re seeing.

Fowler trail scenery, Eldorado Canyon State Park

We heard and saw lots of chickadees along this trail and even a hummingbird too. At the .7 mile mark, you’ll see a backwards facing sign saying that you’re on the Fowler trail in Eldorado Canyon State Park. This is your turn-around point unless you want to continue on. The trail continues on to Boulder Open Space land and you’ll see a sign there that says “Eldorado Mountain".

Eldorado Canyon Trail
Hikers and horses welcome
Start: Eldorado Canyon trailhead
End: Continental Divide vista point
One-way distance: 3.0 miles (approximately)
Difficulty level: moderate to difficult
Approximate round-trip hiking time: 3 hours and 50 minutes
Directions to Eldorado Canyon trailhead: from the entrance to Eldorado Canyon State Park, follow the one road through the park until you reach the visitor center, then look for a good parking spot. The trailhead starts to the right of, or just east, of the visitor center.

At the sign for the Eldorado Canyon trail, just climb the stairs and cross the dirt road to access the trailhead itself. From there, the first part of the trail is rather steep and open. Bring plenty of water!

This Eldorado Canyon State Park trail is the longest but also the most scenic in the park. Beyond the first portion, the path becomes less steep as it starts to switchback its way up the mountain. Along the way, you’ll have wonderful views of the canyon around you. In late May, the wildflowers will have started blooming, so bring your camera.

Eldorado Canyon trail boulders

Although the trail is fairly open, there are enough trees to provide shade. You will also see a few huge boulders near the trail.

At one point, we saw one that was resting up against another one, and it looked like it would have been a good spot to get in out of the rain, if necessary. But it wasn’t necessary on this day.

Eventually, you’ll reach a point where you get your first glimpse of the Continental Divide. This isn’t your turn around point though. (Unless you want to.) Just keep following the trail down and back up again as it crosses a couple of ridges. In a short time, you’ll reach the main vista point which is a good turn-around spot. Have fun…

Continental Divide, as seen from Eldorado Canyon trail

By the way, we saw several male western tanagers during this particular hike at Eldorado Canyon State Park. They are beautiful birds to see if you're lucky enough to spot them. They are yellow birds with a red head, black back, tail and wings. Then we saw another bird that could have been a female western tanager but I couldn't be sure.

I consulted my "bird book" and it showed a photograph of a female western tangager. That photograph looked very similar to the bird I saw. The problem was, that on the next page of my bird book was a photograph of a female orchard oriole. And guess what? That photograph also looked very similar to the bird I saw! But if I had to choose one, I'd say it was a female western tanager since I know that males were in the area.

If you're interested in watching birds at Eldorado Canyon State Park, you can get a bird list from the park visitor center. The brochure is called: Birds of Eldorado Canyon State Park. Also, my "bird book" that I use is called "Birds of Colorado", and the author is Stan Tekiela. It's a nifty little field guide full of photographs of Colorado birds. Highly recommended!

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