Distance: 4.25 miles roundtrip
Elevation Gain: About 1,000 Feet
Location: Eldorado Canyon State Park, Boulder County
Entrance Fee: $6-$7 depending on season
Trailhead: Signs, trash cans and a couple parking spaces
Dogs: Allowed on leash
I love a hike with history and Rattlesnake Gulch in Eldorado Canyon State Park has a lot of history.
A hotel was built in 1908 about 800 feet up from the canyon floor. The Crags Hotel was accessed by an incline railway from the bottom, a driving road or from the train tracks above.
The hike starts at the Rattlesnake Gulch trailhead in the park. While there are only a couple parking spaces right at the trailhead, the woman at the front gate suggested we go just past the trailhead and park at the next turnout. That worked and we found a spot.
The hike starts on the Fowler Trail, named for the family that owned and ran the pool, skating rink, restaurant, etc. in the area from the 1940s to 1983, when they sold to the Eldorado Springs water bottling company.
As you hike the Fowler Trail you'll see numbered signs. Pick up a brochure at the ranger station that explains each sign.
A short distance up the Fowler Trail, you'll see the sign for the turnoff to the Rattlesnake Gulch trail. That trail takes hikers and bikers up to the Crags Hotel ruins.
At the ruins, you'll find a sign explaining how guests reached the hotel and even a layout of the old hotel. Read the sign, then start exploring. You should find the remnants of the old fountain that was once in the courtyard of the hotel. If you walk further, you'll likely spot the old fireplace. The sign says the fireplace was actually a baking oven and was used by the kitchen staff. The sign suggests you look closely for pieces of the dinnerware used in the hotel. The dishware dates back to 1896.
From here, you can return back down the trail or continue on to the Rattlesnake Gulch Loop or go up to the Continental Divide overlook. The trail to the right leads to the overlook about a quarter of a mile away. If you do the loop, you can go either way. We went left first. From here, get ready for a workout.
The loop trail gets quite steep as it climbs toward the Union Pacific Railroad tracks at 6,100 feet. These are the same tracks you ride if take the Ski Train to Winter Park or Amtrak. The tracks are also used by coal trains. We saw two coal trains during our hike.
As you get near the tracks, you'll see the trail is blocked off for your safety and because the tracks are Union Pacific property. This area is between tunnels 9 and 10, so if you ride the train, look for the canyon below as you go between the tunnels.
At the place where the trail is blocked, you'll see a switchback/turn to continue the loop. I have to warn you, the sign for the loop said it is 0.8 of a mile. My GPS showed it was more like 1.5 miles. Now we did take a detour. After almost a mile of hiking the loop, we saw a trail going up a hill to some rocks. We went up there for the Continental Divide view.
It turns out, you actually start going downhill about a .25 mile to a sign pointing to the overlook. From here it's about a 0.25 mile back to the Crags Hotel and then 1.4 miles back to trailhead.
From the overlook, it's all downhill. As you hike down, imagine Ivy Baldwin. He spent years walking a tightrope stretched 672 feet across the canyon and 400 feet up above the creek. He started in 1907 and even celebrated his 82nd birthday by walking the wire one last time in 1948. He walked the 7/8-inch thick steel cable and even took a bow and stood on his head in the middle! Read more history on the state parks Web site.
Also look carefully at the rock walls, especially when you get back to the Fowler Trail. Eldorado Canyon is very popular with technical climbers. There are some 500 technical climbing routes in the park.
By the way, an important warning about the park. It is small and parking is limited. The park's Web site says specifically, if you come May through September on the weekends, the park often reaches capacity and drivers are only admitted if space becomes available.
I welcome your questions, comments and hiking trail suggestions, just email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previous hiking reports:(lower elevation hikes have a star) Boulder: Heil Valley Ranch*, Hall Ranch*, Eldorado Canyon State Park*, Caribou Ranch*, Royal Arch*, South Boulder Peak*, The Boulder Flatirons*, Walker Ranch*, South Boulder Trailhead*, South Mesa Trail*, Mallory Cave*, Forsythe Canyon*, Bear Peak*, Rabbit Mountain*, Bald Mountain*, Betasso Preserve*, Wonderland Lake*, Marshall Mesa* Golden area: Forgotten Valley, Chimney Gulch*, Apex Park* Jefferson County: Mt. Falcon*, Elk Meadow* I-70 area: Herman Gulch, Chicago Lakes, Chief Mountain, Hells Hole Rocky Mountain National Park: Calypso Cascades & Ouzel Falls, Finch & Pear Lakes, Flattop Mountain, Gem Lake, Granite Falls, Twin Sisters, Bierstadt Lake, Chasm Lake, Lulu City & Little Yellowstone, The Loch & Andrew's Glacier, Sandbeach Lake Indian Peaks/James Peak Wilderness: King, Bob & Betty Lakes, Forest Lakes, Arapaho Lakes, Mitchell & Blue Lakes, James Peak Area, Heart Lake Northern Colorado: Homestead Meadows, Devil's Backbone*, Lake Agnes Summit & Eagle Counties: Booth Falls, Missouri Lakes, Mohawk Lakes & Continental Falls, South Willow Falls Grand County: St Louis Lake, Waterfall At Snow Mountain Ranch, Granby Ranch Other: Harmonica Arch, Exploring Fulford Cave, Our Favorite Hikes, Our Favorite Bike Rides