Rattlesnake Gulch at Eldorado Canyon

Eldorado Canyon is a true Colorado gem. The secret has been out since the late 1800s, when a railroad project blasted the geologic marvel, opening the gates to civilization. Dreams of resorts were followed by dreams of adventure.

The soaring rock became a climbing epicenter after World War II, the decades giving way to new styles and legendary achievements. Skills are still tested and proven at Eldo, as Boulder locals know the state park unlike any other.

The mighty canyon has resisted development and infrastructure. No pavement runs through the mouth. At the Fowler trailhead, there is no room for a parking lot — only pulloffs with limited space. So the less-busy winters are a great time to go, though beforehand you’ll want to check road conditions at the park’s website.

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From Fowler Trail, the canyon’s sharp crown is seen scraping the sky, the plains pouring beyond, between the walls. On the no-traffic weekday we visited, we enjoyed a symphony of rushing water and singing birds.

We turned onto the Rattlesnake Gulch Trail, designated for hikers and mountain bikers. The latter will struggle to ride on the initial ascent, steep and rocky. The terrain hardly ever levels, making the descent on wheels fun and technical at times.

In less than a mile, the trees clear for more amazing views. A bridge serves as a flat respite for the journey that continues upward, following switchbacks to the ruins of a short-lived hotel from 1908. We continued another half-mile to the grand panorama: the canyon in one direction, the Continental Divide in the other.

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Just before the overlook is one end of a 0.8-mile loop, which tours tall woods toward the old train tracks. We took it, circling back to the hotel site and returning back on Rattlesnake Gulch.

Trip log: 3.9 miles (“lollipop” loop), 965 feet elevation gain, 7,021 feet max

Difficulty: Moderate-difficult

Getting there: State park at 9 Kneale Road, Eldorado Springs, 80025

FYI: Day pass $9 per vehicle. Park open dawn to dusk daily. Dogs on leash. Trails icy in winter; use traction.

SETH BOSTER, THE GAZETTE

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