The tits chatter. The crows caw. And as the fog lifted, we saw a small pond under a steep outcrop. It was Dude’s Fishing Hole in Golden Gate Canyon State Park. This 12,119 acre park (only about a 40 minute drive from Boulder) is our favorite nearby place to hike in the golden aspen in late September.
The August monsoons meant we had a good mushroom season, and many were still scattered in the coniferous forest in mid-September, although now too dry to harvest. Instead, we feasted on ripe raspberries and feasted our eyes on aspen that was just beginning to color. Redbrushes, yellow and white asters, lavender bellflowers and goldenrod continued to bloom in the meadows.
The easy half-mile trail to Dude’s Fishing Hole is part of the grueling three-mile Snowshoe Hare Loop. Beginning at the Aspen Meadows Campground, the trail descends over an old service road and soon opens into a meadow where the historic ruin of Belcher’s Cabin sits beside an ephemeral creek. Tom Belcher applied for his citizenship and his farm on the same day in 1893.
Dude’s Fishing Hole sits just beyond the ruins and is stocked with rainbow and brown trout. Grass carp, which were stocked in the past to help reduce vegetation in the pond, must be released back into the pond if caught.
From there, you have several choices. You can continue on the Snowshoe Hare loop, marked as difficult on the park brochure. Or, you can retrace your route back to the campsite. Or, you can retrace your route a short distance and turn left onto the Mule Deer Trail, which later branches off with one branch leading to Panorama Point and the other to Frazer Meadow and beyond. One thing we love about this park is that there are many connecting trails that allow for a variety of loops.
We saw lots of moose, elk and deer droppings but missed the animals themselves. Instead, we ate breakfast watching a golden-mantled ground squirrel munch on a pine cone while vainly hoping for one of our muffins. Other creatures you might see include snowshoe hares, bears, weasels, chipmunks, and many more that are listed in the park brochure.
Pick up a brochure and map at the visitor center at the park’s southeast entrance or get them online. The exhibits in the Visitor Center are worth a visit, as is the short nature trail that circles a small pond where you can feed the trout.
To reach the northern end of the park, take the Colo. 93 south from Boulder to the Coal Creek intersection and turn right onto the Colo. 72 (Coal Creek Canyon Road). After approximately 11 km turn left onto Twin Spruce Road, which becomes Gap Road. Continue to the park entrance where you can purchase a day pass if you don’t have an annual pass sticker. Turn left at the sign for Aspen Meadows Campground and follow the road to a small parking spot for non-campers where the trail begins. When the campground is closed for the winter, park at the campground entrance and walk down to the trailhead. Remember to park only in designated areas and display a park pass.
An alternative route is to continue on the Colo. 93 to Golden Gate Canyon Road and travel 13 miles to the southeast entrance of the park and along the west and north sides of the park to Aspen Meadows Campground.
Ruth Carol and Glenn Cushman are the authors of “Boulder Hiking Trails”, published by West Margin Press.