With 11 trails at Golden Gate Canyon State Park, how do you pick one? I decided to hike the Snowshoe Hare Trail because it had a lake called Dude’s Fishing Hole AND the map showed a historic structure.
The hike starts on the north side of the park at a trailhead on Gap Road (directions below). The “trail” is the dirt access road for the Rifleman Phillips group campground. Drive, or hike the road to the bathrooms at the group campground and a circle parking area. Near the bathrooms you’ll find the Snowshoe Hare Trail, but we decided to finish the loop here and instead, we followed the parking lot circle around to the Buffalo Trail.
The Buffalo Trail is an old road. Walk downhill a short distance and turn right at the sign that says “Snowshoe Hare Trail 0.1 miles.”
After hiking on the access road, then the Buffalo Trail Road, the Snowshoe Hare Trail is different – it’s a rocky trail in the forest. Cross over a small bridge and begin hiking uphill. At a trail split, you’ll start the Snowshoe Hare Loop. We’ll return here at the end of the loop.
The trail continues winding through the forest and past rock outcroppings. This is a pleasant trail in the trees, but it does have a moderate elevation gain at times, so it’ll get your heart pumping.
About 1.1 miles from the Snowshoe Hare Trail turnoff (about 1.3 miles from Gap Road), we started spotting piles of yellow rock/dirt. Exploring just off trail, we found several of these piles. It was likely some kind of test dig for a mining operation, but there are no signs explaining the piles.
Another tenth of a mile, we passed a sign that said “Mile 1 snowshoe hare.” From here, it’s another 0.6 miles to Dude’s Fishing Hole.
Dude’s Fishing Hole is more of a pond than a “hole.” Golden Gate Canyon State Park’s “conditions” webpage says Dude’s is open year round and tells you the last time the pond was stocked. If you have a fishing license, you’re allowed four fish per day with a maximum of eight in your possession.
Dude’s has a sandy beach and some nice rock outcroppings. This is a nice spot to sit and enjoy lunch, or a snack.
As you leave the pond, to continue the loop, you’ll pass a sign that tells you it’s 2 miles back to the Rifleman Phillips, but it’s also about two miles if you continue on the loop, so head for the Aspen Meadows Campground.
Just a few steps from the fishing hole, you’ll spot a historic structure. This area was once owned by Thomas Belcher – a Welsh immigrant, mechanic, miner and homesteader. He was 50 years old when he moved to this valley and built a home, barn and fences and planted crops, the sign explains. In 1907, he “proved up,” meaning he owned the land.
The sign says Belcher had a sawmill he used to cut planks for his structures.
“One day, when not a soul was nearby, the boiler blew – sailing away over the tall pines, never to be seen again,” the sign explains.
After reading the sign and exploring a bit, it’s time to head up the hill on an old road. However, as you hike up, you’ll want your park map because the trail is about to get a bit confusing. We passed one unmarked turnoff, then a second turnoff with an arrow to the Mule Deer Trail. After plenty of debate, we decided to stay on the main road.
The road/trail ended at a dirt road with some bathrooms. This is the Aspen Meadow Campground. However, there were no signs telling us which way to go. I decided, since I was going clockwise around the Snowshoe Hare Trail, to turn right. At the next road, about 0.2 miles away, there was a sign, but it wasn’t much help. It was just directions for the campground visitors. Again, I decided to turn right. Here we found ourselves on the Rimrock Loop at the campground. After walking about a tenth of a mile on the Rimrock Loop, we passed a sign that said “Snowshoe Hare Trailhead.” We were in the right spot!
This next section of trail passes through a thick forest with a nice Aspen section. About a half mile away from that last campground, you’ll come to another trail split. This is the end of our loop. (You may remember this trail split from earlier.) If you continue straight ahead, you’ll go back to the Buffalo Trail we started on, but we turned left toward the group campground. That trail came out by those bathrooms we started at this morning. Then it was just a short walk down the access road to our vehicles.
Details: The hike via the access road, then around the Snowshoe Hare Trail is about 3.5 miles with 750 feet of elevation gain with all the ups and downs.
After the Snowshoe Hare Loop, if you want another hike, consider taking the Buffalo Trail to Forgotten Valley. Also in the park, don’t miss the Mountain Lion Trail to Forgotten Valley, the Windy Peak loop, and Frazier Meadows. Find more hikes at Colorado State Parks and across the state in this list of 200+ hikes. Don’t miss any of my trip reports, sign up for an email alert by clicking on subscribe at the top of this page and follow me on Facebook.
Admission: Admission was $7 in 2014. Get the latest on admission fees on the Golden Gate Canyon State Park website.
Directions: Golden Gate Canyon State Park is about 13 miles west of Golden. The best way to get directions to this trailhead is to google Rifleman Phillips campground. The directions should take you close to the trailhead on Gap Road.