GOLDEN, Colo. - Basics:
Distance: 3 miles roundtrip, but can easily be extended to include several more miles and even a 9,000 foot peak
Elevation change: About 400 feet
Location: Golden Gate Canyon State Park, about 15 miles from Golden. Specific directions and a trail map below.
Dog rules: Dogs allowed on all trails, they must be leashed.
Entry Fee: $7 per vehicle.
You never know who will give you a good hiking suggestion. This one came from my dental hygienist. My 70-year-old dental hygienist. She always raves about Golden Gate Canyon State Park. This specific hike was listed in at least three of my hiking books, including a book with history hikes, so I figured why not explore the Forgotten Valley.
Swedish immigrants settled the Forgotten Valley in the 1880s. The main home left in the valley belonged to Anders Tallman. He converted it from a one room schoolhouse into his family's home, which he lived in until the late 1950's. The Tallman Ranch was listed on the Colorado State Register of Historic Properties in 1995.
The visitor's center is a good place to start your day. It's right at the entrance to the park. There is an entrance fee for the park. You can pay at a kiosk on the right side of the road just past the park sign, or turn right at the next intersection, then take a quick right into the visitor's center parking lot and pay inside.
There are so many trail options here. All the trails here are named after animals, the trail signs have the animal name and their footprint. The ranger on duty when I visited suggested two places to start a hike to Forgotten Valley.
Option #1 and the most direct route is to park at the Bridge Creek trailhead, take the Burro Trail to the Mountain Lion Trail to Forgotten Valley. From the car to the front porch of the old Tallman family home is about 1.5 miles.
Option #2: Park at the Nott Creek Trailhead and take the Mountain Lion loop all the way around. That's 6.7 miles and will take you by Forgotten Valley. On this trail, you can take a short side trail to the top of Windy Peak, topping out at about 9,000 feet.
There are many more options, such as taking the Mountain Lion Trail west to Forgotten Valley, then north to Windy Peak. Then instead of continuing on the Mountain Lion Trail, you can come down the Burro Trail. Pick up a park map and take any turn that piques your interest.
I chose the shorter route. I parked at the Bridge Creek Trailhead two miles from the visitor's center. Don't worry about those signs saying you're leaving Golden Gate Canyon State Park, there's just a short stretch of private property here. The road goes back into the park about a mile or so later.
The Bridge Creek Trailhead is small. It's three pull-outs with about seven parking spaces each. Here you'll find bathrooms and several picnic tables, but why eat next to the road? Take your picnic on the hike and enjoy it in Forgotten Valley.
The Burro Trail begins at the bridge over the creek and it starts climbing quickly. Stop often to catch your breath and take in the scenery. There are valleys, peaks, and a lush forest in each direction.
It's easy to stay on the trail here. Not only is the trail easy to follow, there are a lot of signs. Each one has a paw print on it for the animal trail you're following. At each trail junction, I found not only signs saying which way to go, but also mileage, so it was easy to decide if I wanted to try Windy Peak or a different trail.
After about 3/4 of a mile, the Burro Trail meets the Mountain Lion Trail. Here, it's just another 0.7 mile to forgotten valley.
As you walk into the valley, you'll see a lake and the historic buildings of the Tallman farm. Walk a few more feet and there's a sign with a photo showing the five buildings that use to make up the farm.
I saw two solid structures and a barn that was falling down. Building No. 2 in the picture is missing. The building was close to the Nott Creek because the family would channel the creek into the "milk house" to keep the milk, eggs, butter and meat cool. The sign says the meat even attracted bears!
The Tallman Family home is still standing. When I was there, there were swings on the front porch so I decided to sit and enjoy the view of the lake and the surrounding valley.
The Colorado Historical Society has a sign here saying lottery money helped fix the building and it asks that nothing be damaged or removed. I agree, I hope this building is here to be enjoyed by generations. It's a great spot to bring the kids and let them imagine life back in the late 1800s. How would they go to the market? What kind of games would they play with their friends? How far away would their friends live? What kind of chores would they have had to help the family survive? Can they imagine winter here at 8,000 feet?
Before you head back down, take a look at the map and decide if you want to try Windy Peak, adding about 5 miles to the hike. Or on the way back down the Mountain Lion trail, you may want to take the detour to City Lights Ridge, adding about one mile to your hike. There are lots and lots of options and the park rangers are more than happy to help.
If you want a drive without a hike, consider driving back to the visitors center and up Mountain Base Road to Panorama Point. (Get good directions from the rangers) I went there a couple years ago and the view of the nearby mountain peaks was great.
As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts, comments, questions and even your trail suggestions, just e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My advice: arrive early. Parking is limited.
Directions: Take U.S. 6 (6th Avenue) into Golden. At a stop light in Golden, U.S. 6 will turn west towards the gambling towns, go north on Highway 93. Drive 1.4 miles miles to Golden Gate Canyon Road, turn west. (There's a good sized brown sign saying Golden Gate Canyon State Park before the turnoff). From this intersection it's 11 miles to the visitor's center. From the visitor's center, turn right and drive another 2 miles to the bridge creek trailhead.
Find more hikes and great places to explore in Colorado on our Discover Colorado page.