Golden Gate Canyon State Park has pretty much everything you could want in a hiking destination. Just a short drive from the metro area, and you find yourself engulfed with the panoramic scenery of the Continental Divide- with a multitude of hiking options. Golden Gates: an ever-changing land scape from glaciers, that features carved-out prominent rolling saddles and steeply eroded canyons- just for our enjoyment, or so it seems. Topping it off with Thorodin as its centerpiece; legend has it, the first settlers could not decide on “Thor” or “Odin,” so they compromised: Thorodin! With its three summits protruding out of the tree line, Thorodin can be seen for much of the southern route of the Peak to Peak Hwy. It’s easy to spot from afar- we affectionately call it “Sleeping Homer.” The only thing missing from Golden Gate is a great summit hike, which it just so happens I would like to share…
I don’t know…what do you think?
- Getting there via Panorama Point
- Raccoon Trail Loop
- Mule Trail
- The Ascent
- Summit-Thor & Odin
- Heading back…
- Roy’s Last Shot
- Strategery and Waypoints
Getting there- Golden Gate Canyon State Park is halfway between Black Hawk and Nederland on Highway 119, part of the Peak to Peak Scenic Bi-way. You can skip the first set of pay stations, and make your way to Panorama Point- there’s one there. Pay the seven-dollar parking fee (cash or check) at the unmanned pay station. And don’t think you can get by without doing this, the park rangers are very astute. In and of itself, Panorama Point is a great location to spend the day if your health, or altitude stamina, doesn’t allow you to hike. It has an enormous deck with plenty of room, and telescopes for kids to check out the continental divide.
Raccoon Trail Loop- Finding the trail is a bit deceptive. You can always spot new-comers to the hike, wandering around, searching for the entrance. Head in front and below the deck- or next to the outhouse, to get on the trail head. I started in front of the deck to make the hike a little longer. The trail drops quickly into one of the many canyons in the park. An abundance of towering aspens, pine trees, and wild flowers (depending on the season) meet you along this trail. A few trails break off from this one, but if you always stay to the right, there should be no confusion. Along the way, notice all the scrapings on the aspens. Moose and elk scrape and eat the bark in the winter time. So far, you’ve been either descending or hiking fairly flat terrain. You get to make it up all at once as you round the bend. Reminding you you’re still alive, your legs start to really burn as you make the steep ascent back up the canyon. Make time to turn around- the Continental Divide peeks out at you from behind the trees from time to time.
Mule Trail- After the trail levels back off, the next trail that breaks off to the left is the Mule Trail. A set of switchbacks awaits you as you begin this route. You will pass two bridges along the trail. After the second bridge, go two more switch backs- keeping your eye trained to the left. Nothing more than a stump, and some trail rocks piled up, are your sign for the summit hike.
The Ascent- There are three summits on Thorodin- each with their own, unique personality. I nick named them from north to south: Thor, the tallest, Odin, the second tallest, and finally the Red Headed Step Child- just not worth your time. From here on out you will be bushwhacking it. As it comes with bushwhacking, the chance of you coming up to a furry friend increases. Some, not so friendly- I find it important not to get in too much of a tunnel vision as you hike. Keeping aware of your surroundings is my best advice. Some people wear bear bells, but as the old adage says, “the difference in black bear poop and grizzly poop is: grizzly poop has bear bells in it.” The route is laid out in a saddle, that corkscrews in a counterclockwise fashion. Follow the small creek bed and keep to the left, but not so far as to get into the boulders. You won’t understand why you should stay to the left, until the way back down. Keep working until you get about half way up, then start working your way to the right now. About this time, you should be able to see the Red Headed Step Child- don’t be fooled by heading that way. Just keep continuing up and to the right, up and to the right. All along the way, you should be noticing the little piles of rocks, maybe even some broken sticks and such. I like to think of it as a scavenger hunt- work about every 20 or so feet, and scan for the trail rocks or saddle line. Eventually, you begin to see the top of the saddle, about 200 feet up. Now is the time to make a decision- Thor to the right, or Odin to the left.
Odin- Although Thor is the tallest, Odin is my favorite of the two summits. Odin can be a lot of fun- with more interesting rock formations, and just enough scrambling for a novice like me. Stay on northeast side of the summit as you work your way up. At the top, you are greeted with a panoramic view all to yourself. From the east clockwise, you can see Denver and the Front Range, Mount Evans, James Peak, South Arapahoe, Longs Peak- and I’m damn near sure Wyoming. Take a seat- there are lots of great rocks, cut out into perfect seats, for you to relax and take it all in. Not tall enough to bring the chilling wind and cold of a 14’er, Odin truly is a great place to relax. Bring a book, picnic, or whatever fits your fancy- I brought some W.B. Yeats. Looking out over the Continental Divide, a passage perks my attention:
“I only ask what way my journey lies, For He who made you bitter made you wise.”
Not sure what that means, but from up here it sure sounds good.
Thor- A small summit with big views, Thor is the tallest of the three. Work all the way up to the top of the saddle. Bits and pieces of the Divide tease you on what awaits. Take a right-face, and head straight up the summit. Not quite a scramble, Thor is still a longer ascent and it makes you earn it. As you make the summit, you actually head down a bit toward the west, to a rock shelf. From here, you can look down to the left of the shorter summits. A smaller area than Odin, it looks like someone cleared the area out for a tent, making it a perfect camping spot. With more trees than its counterpart, it also makes a great place to set up a hammock.
Heading Back- It’s fairly straight forward heading back. Just head back the way you came. While on the way up, you had to scan for the route. On the way back, the route seems to open up for you. You start noticing a lot more trail markers along the way, it seems. Follow the route of least resistance, until you make it about three-quarters of the way down. From here, you find out why you hung to the left at the beginning of the ascent. The Least Resistance brings you to a meadow- ahead of that is a marshy, boggy area, with poor footing. Skirt it to the right, and head to the trail head. If you’ve had your fun, head to left and make you way to the road- which leads you back to the parking area. If not, head right and take the trails back to Panorama Point.
Roy’s Last Shot- After any good hike, the beer just seems to taste that much better. Roy’s is perfectly located (just 2 miles) from Golden Gate to relax and enjoy some libations. Stepping into the bar, you immediately notice this is not your average bar and grill. Roy has an eye for art, and has filled his bar from top to bottom with it. All the wood work is custom, and the bar itself is built from large, old growth trees. An impressive deck with pleasant views awaits you- make sure to take advantage of it.
All in all, the hike took about three hours and four miles to complete. Adding a summit hike to Golden Gate turns a good park into a great one!
Thanks for reading!
Waypoints (click on each picture to get gps coordinates)
Special Thanks to Editor Andi