Eldorado Canyon’s Rattlesnake Gulch: a stunning starter trail

Eldorado Canyon State Park’s Rattlesnake Gulch Trail

By Isabella Scarpelli Aug 8 2019

Editor’s note: We’re profiling some of the local adventures Boulder has to offer in our Afield series. This is our second installment after Mount Sanitas. Follow along and consider submitting your own to us at team@bldrfly.com. 

Eldorado Canyon is no secret, but that doesn’t diminish its stunning magic. The sheer, spiring cliff walls as you walk in the main entrance, particularly on the north side, shift dimension and present an other-world.

First a retreat for the Native American Ute tribe, then a spiritualist haven, then a luxury getaway and finally a climber’s paradise, the canyon become a state park in 1978.

Its entrance — just footsteps from the glorious Eldorado Springs Swimming Pool (closed this summer for renovations 🙁 ) lays 20 minutes south from downtown Boulder and has trails for all levels of adventurers. The map at the state park’s entrance breaks down which spots are best for who, from mountain bikers, horseback riders and experienced climbers to people going on their very first hike.

Aside from being a beautiful natural retreat, the Eldorado Spring nearby even offers a facility to refill giant jugs of water if you bring your own for the crazy low price of $2.50!

Despite clusters of people, especially on the weekend, the park always seems vast enough to accommodate everyone: it has nooks and passages to make you feel removed and tuned in.

Rattlesnake Gulch Trail

Tucked into the canyon, the Rattlesnake Gulch Trail winds around to the Crags Hotel Ruin trail and the Continental Divide Overlook. It’s a great starter trail if you’re looking to spend time outside and not work up too much of a sweat. The trail itself feels flat in comparison to other steeper Boulder staples, but don’t let that fool you — it gains incline gradually and gives a sweeping view of the valley.

Eldorado Canyon Trail System. Source: Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Roundtrip, this lollipop, fairly moderate trail clocks in at 3.8 miles. It boasts gorgeous views, not a lot of switchbacks, and is wheelchair-accessible.

I keep this hike in my back pocket for all of its surprises.

After burning down in 1913, what’s left of the old Crags Hotel Ruins are all at once eerie and gratifying to happen upon. The Rattlesnake Loop trail, right after Crags, detours to the majestic Continental Overlook.

As the trail winds past the layers of soaring sandstone rock, rock climbers in fluorescent gear dot the rockface. I can’t help but imagine how rewarding their view of the canyon must feel, once they summit. After my hike, I cross down to the South Boulder Creek and cool off in the mountain’s brisk water.

Also, there’s talk about building a mountain bike link from Walker Ranch, a few miles away in the foothills to the west, to the canyon, which would make for an EPIC ride.

Walker Ranch-to-Eldorado Canyon mountain bike link closer than ever

Header image: View from Rattlesnake Gulch. Photo by Tatyana Sharpton