Colorado Hike : Eldorado Canyon State Park

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Last week a friend tipped us off to the awesomeness that is Eldorado Canyon State Park, in particular, Fowler Trail. As an active 2.5-year-old, Alex is really excited to get outside and do whatever we’re doing. Translating this to hiking, it means that he’s much happier walking along with us than riding in the backpack. Unfortunately, his little legs get tired fairly quickly, so I’m always on the hunt for trails that are not that steep or long. Fortunately, Fowler trail is both short* and relatively flat! As you’ll see in the photos, it also provides outstanding views of canyon walls filled with climbers, making it extra exciting for our little adventurer. One look at the climbers and he exclaimed, “wow, that’s wild!”.


We started the trail from within Eldorado Canyon State Park. The trailhead is in the second parking area that you come to after the entrance booth (you’ll have to pay an $8 day fee to enter the park). Parking can be hard to find, but we noticed that while the lots were full, there seemed to be steady traffic coming and going, so spots open up regularly.

This section of Fowler trail is relatively wide and flat with plenty of view areas. The park has two different lookout points with binoculars for visitors to be able to look across the canyon, where you will be able to see the cliff walls full of climbers (can you spot them in the photo below?). If you’re lucky, you may also catch a glimpse of some wildlife. Along the trail, you’ll see waypoints that correspond to a free guided walk brochure available in the visitors’ center.


As you can see from these photos, much of the trail within the state park is shaded, both by the canyon walls and the trees along the trail. It makes the hike a bit cooler, so you’ll want to dress in layers, but it’s also nice because you don’t have to worry about sun protection in this area.


The trail’s cut into the mountainside, so you get great views of the geology whether looking up, down, or out to the neighboring canyon wall! I found a great description of what the geological history of the area at this site, and I’m copying it verbatim in the box below.

“The striking walls above reveal the canyon’s 1.7 billion year history in a very short space. Exposed granite at the canyon’s west end was formed by seeping magma that cooled and solidified quartz, feldspar and biotite into igneous rock. Over this graniteis 1.6 billion year old quartzite, which began as a thick layer of eroded sand that was buried, compressed into sedimentary rock and pushed closer to the earth’s core. Rising heat and pressure transformed this layer into metamorphic rock. 

300 million years ago the Ancestral Rocky Mountain uplift bore mountains of granite that slowly eroded, depositing thick layers of sand and pebbles downstream. These sediments were compressed into a layer of sandstone known as the Fountain Formation, famously exposed in Boulder’s Flatirons and Golden’s Red Rocks Amphitheater. Hematite, or iron ore, gives these rocks a distinguished red hue. Most of Eldorado Canyon’s highest cliff walls are part of this formation. 

280 million years ago sand blew west from eastern deserts, settling as dunes over the Fountain Formation and compressed into sedimentary rock over the next 40 million years. This newest layer, known as the Lyons Formation, is visible at the mouth of Eldorado Canyon. 65 million years ago a second Rocky Mountain uplift forced horizontal layers of the Fountain and Lyons formations upward, exposed today by the erosive force of South Boulder Creek. These tilted layers usher water 8,000′ underground, where it’s forced back to the surface as an artesian spring in the historical town of Eldorado Springs.”



This is an out-and-back trail, which is sometimes a downer, but I really liked it, because you saw the neighboring canyon walls from two different perspectives when walking in each direction. If you want to make it a longer loop, there are ways to do that. See the bottom of this post for details. Since it is out-and-back, you have the luxury of making this hike as long or as short as you want. It’s about 0.7 miles to the park boundary, which is where we turned around. 

Before turning around, we stopped by the trail for a little snack. As you can see, everyone was excited to pose for the picture ;-). And unfortunately, as every parent likely knows, once you stop for the snack, everyone, particularly the littlest hikers get tired. So Alex talked his way onto Calder’s shoulders.


The last bit of the trail was narrower and rockier, but still relatively easy for little legs. It was also sunnier, so if you’re going this far, which you probably are, hats and sunscreen are advised.  If the photo below, you can see the trail’s path on the far hill as it winds around the valley.




… and eventually, things started to get silly, but this turned out to be a perfect morning hike for our guys. We tired little A out and still made it home for him to take a long nap in his bed.


If you’re in the Boulder/Denver area and have little hikers, I highly recommend this hike. The trail is easy, the views are awesome, and you don’t have to spend too much time in the car to get there and back. If you’re looking for a longer adventure. The park has many trails, much more vigorous than Fowler Trail. It also has fantastic picnic areas along the South Branch of Boulder Creek, giving you a place to cool off on hot summer days!


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