Trail Guide: El Dorado Canyon State Park

In the spirit of working off the countless amounts of carbs I (happily) took down on Thanksgiving, I spent my Black Friday hiking with my better half in El Dorado Canyon. Despite the less than encouraging name, the Rattlesnake Gulch trail was a perfect post-Thanksgiving day hike.

The best part about El Dorado Canyon State Park was that (like Staunton State Park) it’s less than an hour from Denver. The drive is super easy, except for the fact that the last mile of road isn’t paved. As long as it’s not super muddy or bad weather (why would you be hiking in that situation anyways?) you should be fine, even if you don’t have four wheel drive. There was a Camry parked next to us that presumably survived the drive up and back.

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El Dorado Canyon is gorgeous, and in addition to Rattlesnake Gulch, Fowler’s Pass is a great option for anyone looking for a super easy, flatter hike. That being said, I found Rattlesnake to be just the right amount of challenge.

The trail zig zags up the canyon until you reach a stunning overlook, but you’ve got to work for it. 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! It got my heart pumping and I was huffing and puffing a few times, but making stops for photo ops/water kept me from feeling overwhelmed.

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Plus, the view is 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. This was a big moment for me because I finally figured out how to use the panoramic feature on my iPhone. Because that’s what’s important, right? Kidding.

The trail is pretty well maintained, but does get rocky in some places. Because of the recent snow, the trailhead and the parking lot were both pretty muddy, so make sure you wear shoes you’re okay with getting dirty! Better yet, get yourself some hiking boots (here’s how to know what you’re looking for).

Don't worry,  I know him.
Don’t worry, I know him.

Make sure to pack plenty of snacks, water, and anything else you think may need on your day trip because the town of El Dorado 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!

Round trip, you’re looking at up to four miles and about two hours. We did not do the entire loop at the end of the trail (see map below) – instead we just hiked to the outlook and turned around. It took us about an hour and a half with breaks. We continued north after the Crags Hotel Ruin (which was admittedly underwhelming) to the Continental Divide Overlook before turning straight for home.

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There is an entry fee of $7 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 $70 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!

Like I said, if you would prefer an easier hike (Rattlesnake Gulch is moderate in difficulty), than I would suggest Fowler’s pass, which is also accessible from the Rattlesnake Gulch trailhead. Don’t be afraid to take on Rattlesnake, though! The challenge is the best part, plus it makes reaching that overlook all the more satisfactory.

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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