A hike in Eldorado Canyon State Park takes you back in time to the early 1900s — a time when Eldorado Springs was nicknamed the “Coney Island of the West.”
A railway made nine trips a day from Marshall to Eldorado Springs, bringing thousands of people to swim, dance and hike. They could also stay the night in the 40 rooms at the Crags Hotel, 800 feet above the canyon floor. While the Crags Hotel burned down in 1912, visitors can hike to the hotel’s ruins.
The hike starts on the Fowler Trail. Walk about an eighth of a mile to the turnoff for the Rattlesnake Gulch Trail and turn right. The Rattlesnake Gulch is a workout. The trail climbs about 625 feet in the next mile to the ruins of the Crags Hotel. There is a sign at the ruins with pictures of the hotel and a map of what buildings once stood here. Explore around the site to find the old fountain, fireplace and even dishware left behind. From here, you can return back down the trail for a 2.8 mile hike.
However, there’s also a nice loop trail here. Take the trail behind the bench for the Rattlesnake Gulch Loop. While the sign says it’s .8 of a mile, my GPS said it was more than 1.5 miles.
On the loop trail, there are three turnoffs. The first one is about a half mile from the hotel. You’ll see a trail sign and a partial fence. If you walk through the open area of the fence, you can hike up to the Union Pacific Railroad tracks. However, there are no trespassing signs near the tracks, so please don’t get too close. Also, be careful up there. At least two hikers in my group spotted a bear on the tracks.
As you continue around the loop, on the downhill section, you may see an unsigned turnoff. This is a short hike to a rocky outcropping with an impressive view. Back on the trail, there’s one more turnoff. That leads to a bench and the official overlook of the canyon. From the overlook, it’s all downhill past the hotel ruins and back down the way you came.
As you hike down, imagine Ivy Baldwin. He spent years walking a tightrope stretched 672 feet across the canyon and 400 feet up above the creek. He started in 1907 and even celebrated his 82nd birthday by walking the wire one last time in 1948. He walked the 7/8-inch thick steel cable and even took a bow and stood on his head in the middle! Read more history on the park’s website.
Also, as you hike here, look carefully at the rock walls on the opposite side of the canyon, especially when you get back to the Fowler Trail. Eldorado Canyon is very popular with technical climbers. There are some 500 technical climbing routes in the park.
By the way, an important warning about the park. It is small and parking is limited. The park’s website warns, if you come on the weekends, the park often reaches capacity and drivers are only admitted if space becomes available.
Details: The hike to the hotel, around the loop and back down is about four miles with 1,000 feet of elevation gain.
Fees & Directions: Get directions and info on the latest park fees on the Eldorado Canyon State Park website. Find more hikes in Colorado State Parks and Colorado hiking trails in this list of 400+ trails. Don’t miss any of my trip reports, sign up for an email alert by clicking on subscribe at the bottom of this article and follow me on Facebook.