Aspen Meadows in Golden Gate Canyon State Park is a great beginner-friendly camping option for an overnight trip from Denver. It’s one of my favorite places to camp because Golden Gate has the perfect combination of both seclusion and convenience.
You’re only an hour from Denver, but also totally in the middle of nowhere with no cell service…and yet only 20 minutes away from a mini-mart and liquor store. Combined with stellar hiking and nice campsites, it’s not hard to see why this campground is my favey.
Golden Gate Canyon State Park is easy to get to from Denver. The drive is paved the entire way to the park. The road into Aspen Meadows is unpaved in sections but is flat, so you could easily take it on with a sedan.
If you have an annual state parks pass, you can drive directly to Aspen Meadows. Otherwise, you’ll have to stop at the Visitors Center but it doesn’t add a ton of time to the drive (plus you’ll pass right by aforementioned mini-mart and liquor store).
Aspen Meadows has several loops, and I’ve stayed on the Meadow Loop right at the entrance and the more secluded Conifer Loop. Almost all of the campsites are described as “walk-in,” but unless you stay all the way at the back of the Conifer Loop, you aren’t walking more than 10 feet.
The first time I camped was with my husband. I interpret the term “car camping” to mean “jam EVERYTHING YOU COULD POSSIBLY NEED into the car and bring it all with you.” The second time, I went on a girls trip, and my friends take campground drinks and snacks VERY seriously. Needless to say, on both camping trips I had a LOT of stuff to haul in, and I never thought the walk into the campsites was unwieldy.
All the campsites have fire rings, picnic tables, and tent pads. Almost all of them are also well-shaded, and whoever planned the campground did a really good job of spreading the campsites out enough that you don’t feel like you’re on top of eachother.
I stayed in site 2 on the Meadow Loop for the girls trip, which was in this great little aspen grove surrounded by tall grasses that made us feel like we had the place to ourselves. I know, totally unexpected for a campground called Aspen Meadow.
Campground Fees and Reservations
Since Golden Gate is a state park, you’ll need a parks pass to get in. If you are a frequent flyer of our state parks system (at least 6 times per year), an annual $70 pass is the way to go since it gets you unlimited visits to any of the 41 state parks in Colorado. If you’re just starting out, opt for the $7 day pass. The visitors center takes credit cards and cash.
You absolutely have to make reservations ahead of time. It’s $20 a night for Aspen Meadows, and it will sell out. If you want your pick of campsites and loops, you’re looking at reservations in January and February.
Very basic, and kind of a hike if you’re in Meadow Loop. Conifer Loop had its own bathroom right by where you parked, which was definitely more convenient. Neither toilet has electricity or running water, so don’t forget a headlamp/lantern/other lighting option and some hand sanitizer. (Need help packing? Check out my list)
The Mule Deer trail runs right by the Conifer Loop, so you can either start there and tackle as much as you want or drive a few minutes away to Panorama Point, where there is a great three-mile loop that’s beginner-friendly (purple on the below map).
My husband and I tackled a larger loop from the trailhead that left the campground. It ended up being at least six miles (yellow on the below map). It was tough but had beautiful views, taking you around Panorama Point, through aspen meadows and pine tree forests, through rockier sections, and eventually back to the campground. If you’re taking this on, I recommend bringing hiking poles.
Obviously, there are endless options for hiking. The only bad part about Golden Gate is the lack of flat trails. There are certainly options that beginners can do, but nothing that isn’t hilly. The park does have a few fishing spots if that’s more your style.
As someone who tends to forget things, the mini-mart is a total lifesaver. Plus, you can get gas and firewood there. It’s not only convenient, but just helps me feel more at ease about being out in the wilderness, since you’re really not too far away from anything if you forget or run out of supplies.
If you go hiking after packing up camp, stop at Woody’s in Golden for amazing pizza, beer, and mac and cheese (there are other options but those are my favorite post-hiking rewards).
You can’t beat Aspen Meadows access to the real world and beautiful scenery. Plus, Golden Gate is at about 8,000 feet of elevation, making it way cooler than the city. With hiking conveniently located and high-quality campsites, it’s the perfect weekend getaway.