Small Town Fun and Scenic: Hikes in Golden, CO

Once the territorial capital, geography kept tiny Golden, CO from maintaining its political prominence when the territory became a state in 1876. Golden’s history is peppered with tales of the Wild West, and Buffalo Bill’s grave is located within its bounds.

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 The city is proud of its colorful history, and works hard to preserve the stories and buildings of yesteryear, with tourist destinations such as the Golden History Center, the Astor House Museum, and the Colorado Railroad Museum displaying pieces of the area’s past. However, the best of Golden is found outdoors. Bordered by two mesas to the East and the foothills of the Rocky Mountains to the West, the city is divided into North and South by Clear Creek.

The natural majestic beauty of this landscape is actively preserved courtesy of the Jefferson County Open Space program, which protects and maintains parks in the area. This city of roughly 17,000 inhabitants boasts more than 20 miles of trails. Wildlife, including deer, butterflies, birds, and foxes, are frequently spotted in the city and along the trails. The occasional bobcat, mountain lion, and bear also pass through the area. For a day hike with impressive views that won’t wear you out, check out the

Lookout Mountain Nature Center. This small reserve has two main trails, neither of which is very taxing. On the Meadow Loop, you’ll have an incredible vista of Denver, CO and if you’re lucky, a deer herd may pass through. The Forest Loop boasts fragrant Ponderosa pines – hug one of these red-barked evergreen trees to get a whiff of vanilla and sugar cookies. For a more intense hike in the area, the Windy Saddle Trail is perfect. You’ll see how the Rockies got their name, and wear yourself out on some of the tougher trail sections. Wear good hiking shoes, as some sections of this trail are boulder piles and others are loose gravel, dirt, and mud.

White water rafting, river tubing, and fly fishing are common activities along Clear Creek. Art lovers will enjoy the Foothills Art Museum and the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum, as well as the numerous galleries and antique shops found on Washington Avenue, in the heart of Golden. If you’re a beer fan, check out the Coors brewery tour. When Coors claims to “tap the Rockies,” they mean it – the brewery uses water from Clear Creek to craft its internationally famous beers. The Coors brewery in Golden is the world’s largest single-site brewery, but visitors must be 18 years of age or older. Early in the day, grab a cup of coffee at the Higher Grounds Café, where Jeff Goldanloo serves a mean espresso and a warm smile to his clientele daily. Higher Grounds is more than a café in Golden – it’s an integral part of the community.

Politicians, professional bike racers, soccer moms, scientists, and professors frequent this small café. It’s just a few minutes’ walk from Clear Creek, the Colorado School of Mines (and its impressive gemological museum that no rock lover should miss), and the USGS National Earthquake Information Center (NEIC). You’re certain to meet and chat with some of Golden’s most fascinating residents while sipping your coffee or tea at Higher Grounds. Watch out for the burritos, though – they pack a surprisingly strong, spicy hot punch. If you’re hungry, consider visiting The Briarwood Inn. An iconic dining facility that is frequently listed among the best in the nation, The Briarwood offers afternoon tea and fine dining for every style – al fresco on the patio, indoors in the great room with its impressive fireplace, in the European-style tavern, or the main restaurant. Lisa Paterson, owner of The Briarwood Inn, works hard to maintain her father’s legacy, while modernizing its website and services to meet the needs of today’s guests. She advises tourists to visit during the summer months for live music on the patio, or in winter for the holiday season.

The Briarwood Inn is a premier Denver metro location for Christmas celebrations, with elaborate décor and a cheerful holiday atmosphere. For more casual dining, check out Woody’s Wood-fired Pizza and witness one of Colorado’s unique culinary twists. You’ll notice a bottle of honey on your table. Drizzle it on your pizza crust like the locals do, and have dessert and dinner on the same plate. Woody’s offers an all-you-can-eat pizza and salad buffet that includes a decadent beer cheese soup – with Coors (and several microbreweries) a few blocks away, who can blame them?

Another good option is the Table Mountain Inn Grill & Cantina. This restaurant is a local favorite, known for its scrumptious, melt in your mouth biscuits, and southwestern fare. Whimsical western touches like bandana napkins and hand-painted tiles make this dining spot a feast for your eyes and your stomach. Now that your hunger is quelled, take a walk around the city. The Golden Visitor Center offers a guide book to the city’s homes. You’ll learn the year each property was built, and in some cases, the history of the building. Meander through the Clear Creek History Park to see what life in Golden was like in the late 1800s, feed the park’s chickens, and walk across the bridge to visit the city’s rose garden and creek- side sculptures of fish, deer, pioneers, and Native Americans. Once you’ve made a little room for dessert, head over to Golden Sweets on Washington Avenue.

This old fashioned ice cream parlor serves over 32 flavors at any given moment, as well as milkshakes, chocolates, fudge, cupcakes, pies, and salt water taffy. Formerly the Golden Sweet Shoppe, this tiny dessert parlor is also a great place to pick up souvenirs and memorabilia. Penn Burris, who shares the ownership of Golden Sweets with his wife, advises guests to “Try everything. Samples are free, so give all our ice creams a shot. Ask questions. And don’t be afraid to order vanilla. It’s still our bestseller. Same as with life – try everything!” Golden’s charm is infectious, and the town is known for its peaceful stability. Once the abode of biker gangs and some of the most notorious outlaws and heroes of the Wild West, Golden is now a community where people leave their homes unlocked, and even petty crime is a shocking event. It’s the kind of town where you can put your feet up, relax, converse easily with strangers who soon become friends, and let stress melt away. Prices for a vacation rental property in Golden, CO range from $89 – $700 per night. Please click here to start your Golden Colorado adventure

By: Christina Boyes

Photographs: Christina Boyes

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