Horseshoe Trail (1.8 miles) to Mule Deer Trail (~0.5 mile) to site 8 in Frazer Meadow, then Mule Deer Trail (~0.75 mile) to Black Bear Trail (2.8 miles) to Black Bear / Horseshoe connection (~0.5 mile) Golden Gate Canyon State Park, Golden, CO (45 minutes / 30 miles from Denver)
Here’s the trail map (PDF), backcountry information (PDF), and details on the campgrounds and permits. During visitor center hours, you go in and get your $7 daily park pass and your $12 backcountry permit (between May 1st and Sept. 30th, $10 otherwise). When the visitor center is closed, there’s a table on the visitor center’s deck with permits. The backcountry spots are reserved first come first served and there’s a sign in sheet with what site you’ll use for which nights. There’s 20 backcountry spots and 4 shelters, and shelters usually consist of a wood floor, three walls, and a roof. There’s a few campgrounds on the north side of the park, too.
This was our first official backpacking trip and as you can see, you end up with a lot of stuff. Some of it will be pared down and customized based on the trail and conditions expected. This photo doesn’t show the sandals we bring with to wear around camp, the Helinox camp table we bought, the Camelbak bladders, trekking poles, the boots we wore out, and probably a few other things.
With everything packed up (including one day’s worth of food but not water), we’re looking at about 50 lb of gear between us. Surprisingly, this is actually okay for midweight backpacking. Split up between the packs, Daniel carried about 19% of his body weight and I carried around 15% of mine. Note that he carried the full bear canister (~5 lb, I forgot to weigh that beforehand) and his pack lightened over the trip. Eventually the goal is to get that base weight down a bit.
Anyway, this was a pretty successful trip. Hiking is obviously much more difficult with a 25 lb pack than a 10 lb day pack, especially at the beginning of the season when we’re in shape for snowboarding but not hiking. It took us about 3 hours to hike 6 miles over both days on some fairly rough terrain. In our defense, it was at least 85°F with very little wind in the valley.
- Tea sort of works! We swapped the paper bags for cheesecloth and used twine to tie them, and it’s entirely too much work for a mediocre cup of tea. We’re back to the drawing board for this one.
- The Platypus filter is awesome. We had no issues filling it up in a 6″ deep stream. The clean bag is the one on the bottom. And yes, it’s clean. The filter is good down to 0.2 microns which more than covers all the nasty beasties (Giardia, Cryptosporidium, E. coli, or Salmonella) you’ll likely encounter in the states. If the water has any minerals or passed through organic matter, it’ll retain a bit of a tint. You may have to get used to not having crystal clear water, although this tasted better than any municipal water either of us has encountered.
- We’re used to carrying full water bladders (a 3 L and a 2 L) but this isn’t necessary when there’s streams and rivers everywhere. For comparison, our Platypus filter weighs 11.5 oz (0.71 lb), while a liter of water weighs 1 kg (2.2 lb). We used about 10 L for cooking, rinsing dishes, and washing hands. So in the future we’ll carry what we need for the day, then filter water and refill the bladders as needed.
- We had our sleeping bags in their stuff sacks so they’d stay compact when we tossed them in tent while getting camp set up, but it’s a pain to get them back into the stuff sacks the next morning. We’ll probably pick up some compression straps instead.
A few notes on the area:
- Maybe we were unlucky, but this is in a valley and there were a ton of mosquitoes. Bring spray and your preferred method of dealing with bites.
- There are bears, moose, elk, and more in the park. If you’re backpacking, check around your site for bear poles. We have a canister and put it at least 100′ from the tent if possible, along with our cookware. We ordered some adhesive reflective tape after this trip because it’s nearly impossible to spot the canister in the dark otherwise.
- There’s a ton of Aspen trees around here. We’re planning on coming back in mid-September when they turn.