Beginner’s Trail Guide: Rattlesnake Gulch in Eldorado Canyon State Park

Eldorado Canyon State Park was is less than an hour from Denver and offers stunning canyon views, an overlook at the Continental Divide, and well-maintained trails that are beginner-friendly. Rattlesnake Gulch is challenging because it’s all uphill on the way out, but as long as you take plenty of breaks along the way, you’ll be fine!

How do I get there?

The drive is super easy, except for the fact that the last mile of road isn’t paved. But, you don’t need four-wheel drive either. The road is dirt, but very packed down. There was a Camry parked next to us that presumably survived the drive up and back.

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There’s only one road into the park, so it’s impossible to take a wrong turn.

Where do I go?

The first parking area is where the bathrooms are, but if you’re hiking Rattlesnake Gulch I recommend driving a little further in so you don’t have to walk along the road for as long. The road is narrow, so this can be a little bit nerve-wracking and I try to minimize how long I’m on the road for. As a driver, keep an eye out for pedestrians and mountain bikers!

The visitors center is past the Rattlesnake Gulch trailhead, so if you want to try out a different trail, head there first. Fowler Trail and the beginning of the Eldorado Canyon Trail are great, flatter options. You’ll get a map at the park entrance, so you don’t have to stop at the visitors center if you don’t want to.

What is the trail like?

The trail zig zags up the canyon until you reach a stunning overlook at the Continental Divide. This means great views, but you’ve got to work for them. You’re going to be going uphill for most of the time on the way out. There are plenty of places to stop and admire the view, so as long as you bring plenty of water, it’s a great hike!

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It got my heart pumping and I was huffing and puffing a few times, but making stops for photo ops and water kept me from feeling overwhelmed.

Plus, the views are SO worth it. The trail eventually spits you out at an overlook that gives you panoramic views of the Continental Divide, the entire canyon you just climbed up (you badass you!), and the Eastern Plains.

The trail is pretty well maintained, but does get rocky in some places. If it has snowed recently, the trailhead and the parking lot will both be pretty muddy, so make sure you wear shoes you’re okay with getting dirty!

Don’t worry, I know him! Eldorado in the fall is my favorite time to visit.

If you do the entire loop at the end of the trail (see map below), it’s just under four miles. If you turn around at the Crags Hotel Ruin, you’ll hike for just over one mile, but it will take you a few hours still since it’s so uphill on the way out. The hotel ruins are also kind of meh, so I recommend continuing on to the Continental Divide Overlook before turning around.

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The Continental Divide Overlook in November during a year that we hadn’t gotten much snow yet. In 2019, we’ve already had three snowstorms in October so it may look different!

What should I wear and bring?

Make sure to pack plenty of snacks, water, and anything else you think may need on your day trip because the town of Eldorado Springs doesn’t offer much. And by that I mean there’s some sort of springs “resort,” a post office, an odd sculpture garden…and that’s it. No gas station, so be prepared!

Like I said, where shoes you don’t mind getting dirty. I’ve hiked in trail running sneakers and hiking boots, both of which were fine. Just make sure to wear something grippy because there are rocky, more technical parts of the trail. You can also bring hiking poles if you have them (or rent them from REI) to help you get up the hills more easily.

Make sure to dress in layers, too, because the shady parts of the canyon are quite cool! Here’s my guide to what to wear hiking >>

Is it crowded?

This is a very popular route, but it’s hiker-only which is nice. You certainly won’t be by yourself since you’re within an hour of Denver and this is a well-known hiking area. But, that just means you have plenty of people to take your photo!

Anything else I should know?

There is an entry fee of $9 per car since it’s a state park. If you plan on visiting multiple times or exploring several of Colorado’s beautiful state parks, I would look into getting an annual pass. It’s $80 per year, which gets you into every state park as often as you would like. The super nice woman at the park entrance suggested getting the pass on the first of the month — you get 13 months out of your pass that way!

Other Resources

Park Map
Colorado Parks & Wildlife Park Pass and other fee information
What snacks should I pack?
How do I stay hydrated on the trail?
What do I wear hiking?
How do I pick out good hiking boots?

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