Beginner’s Trail Guide: Snowshoeing in Golden Gate Canyon State Park

After several weekends of hibernating with Netflix on my couch, I decided to be a real Coloradan and embrace winter.

After learning the basics from REI, I decided it was time to get out there and try it. Snowshoeing isn’t rocket science, but the two major blunders I made were picking a super hilly trail and forgetting poles. Both made for a strenuous, but doable, afternoon that was still a really fun way to enjoy the winter scenery.

REI rentals are super pricey, so if you’re headed in the direction of Golden, Bent Gate is your best bet. I found them on Google, and we got two pairs of snowshoes and powder tails (basically extra pieces of plastic to make your snowshoes stay on top of fresh snow) for $24, which coincidentally is the price of one rental at REI. If you don’t live near Golden, just Google snowshoe rentals near you and I guarantee you’ll find a more affordable place.

We headed to Golden Gate Canyon State Park, about an hour outside of Denver. It took us a little longer since we went to the main entrance of the park for some trail recommendations, and then had to drive all the way around to the trailhead at Rifleman Phillips Campground. Apparently, you can just drive to the campground straight from Denver:

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There’s a day fee for the park, so if you don’t have cash, you’ll also have to stop at Visitor’s Center and then went west, north, and back east to get to the trailhead (yellow circle). Our drive is outlined in blue below. The park’s roads were snowy, so I would recommend an all-wheel or four-wheel drive vehicle.

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We pulled into Rifelman Phillips Group Campground, where the Buffalo Trail leaves from (outline in purple above). The trail was absolutely gorgeous, but having it categorized as a moderate trail is a bit misleading, unless they were going for the average of “super easy” and “brutally difficult.”

The trail is basically all downhill all the way out, which is super easy, but then you’re hoofing it uphill the entire way back to the car (sweating, huffing and puffing, maybe some cursing). All of Golden Gate’s trails are pretty hilly, so I would recommend picking out a flatter park or trail for your first time out. Snowshoeing is definitely harder than hiking!

Snowshoeing is also more awkward than hiking. We walked around the campground a little bit just to get our bearings. It kind of feels like trying to walk in flippers or with skateboard decks attached to your feet, so it definitely took some getting used to. Also, the part where your foot straps into has sharp crampon spikes on the bottom to make getting through snow easier. It only takes one time to make sure you’re not clipping the inside of your ankle when you walk (I’ve got the battle scar to prove it!).

Once we were fairly confident we weren’t going to topple over, we started our trek. The trail started at a large green gate, which turned out to be the scenery that brought me to tears at the end of our hike. We quickly realized we had were hiking straight downhill. We passed a few snowshoers going the opposite direction and notice how winded they are. “Oh, they’re just olds. It can’t be that bad on the way back up, RIGHT?”

Spoiler alert: It was that bad! This is why you should choose a trail that is as flat as possible. Snowshoeing uphill was a million times harder than I thought it would be, mostly because we didn’t have poles. You can rent these with your snowshoes, or if you already have hiking or ski poles at home, use those, they’re all the same

woman snowshoeing

All complaining aside, it felt good to get sweaty (and by that I mean my base layers were completely saturated), and we had a blast snowshoeing. It’s a great workout, and snowshoes do really make it easy to navigate deep powder (I may have gone off the trail for a bathroom break). Falling in the snow doesn’t hurt thanks to all that white cushioney powder, which is nice if your significant other decides to give you a little shove:

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The views on the trail were gorgeous, and the solitude you get in winter is really something else. It’s just SO quiet and peaceful (well, in between our horsing around). Plus, after burning all those calories, I could totally justify inhaling half a pizza when we got back to Golden.

For snowshoeing basics, like what to wear and how to pack, read my previous blog.

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