Excerpted from Canine Colorado by Cindy Hirschfeld
Golden Gate Canyon State Park
This 14,000-acre mountainous park offers almost 35 miles of trailsall with animal namesthat you and your dog can enjoy together. One particularly nice hike follows the Horseshoe Trail, a 3.6-mile round-trip route to Frazer Meadow and back. To reach the trailhead, turn right at the T-intersection just after the visitor center, pass the Ralston Roost trailhead on the left, then pull into the next trailhead parking area on the left. You'll ascend a moderate hill alongside a creek for most of the hike, then will reach a large meadow flanked by stands of aspen. Head right for a few minutes on the intersecting Mule Deer Trail to view the old homestead in the meadow.
Maxwell Falls Trail
One of the closest national forest trails to Denver, the Maxwell Falls Trail has recently been rerouted (including a new trailhead) because of some private-property issues along the old trail. This 3.5-mile round-trip hike features plenty of access to water, lots of trees to sniff, and a brief scenic vista. Begin by heading up the path marked by the brown carsonite post in the southwest corner of the parking area. You'll make a moderate ascent through a forest of fir, pine, and aspen, contouring southwest across a hillside and following the route of an unnamed creek.
The trail eventually fords the creek and switchbacks up to a clearing on a small saddle (this is where you'll get the view). Cross an old dirt road and follow the trail down the other side of the saddle. From here the trail stays fairly level as it goes into the Maxwell Creek drainage. After crossing the creek, head left (upstream); you've now joined up with the original portion of the Maxwell Falls Trail. The falls themselves are about a quarter mile ahead.
After viewing the falls, you can either return the way you came or, if your dog is up for a longer hike, follow a loop that adds about 1.25 miles to the total distance. To access the loop, backtrack from the falls a few hundred yards to an intersection. Follow the intersecting trail as it switchbacks uphill and then runs above the creek. In about a third of a mile, this trail ends at the upper trailhead for Maxwell Falls, at an unmarked parking pullout off of Brook Forest Road. Before reaching trail's end, however, ford the creek and head left on a wide dirt path that doubles back along the creek. This path, which is actually the old dirt road that you crossed earlier in the hike, starts to head away from the creek. After about a mile, you'll come out on the same saddle that you traversed earlier. Look for the intersection with the Maxwell Falls Trail (unmarked) and go right to return to the lower trailhead parking area.
Elk Meadow County Park
This 1,280-acre Jefferson County Open Space park has 11.5 miles of trails, including a 4.7-mile (one-way) ascent of 9,600-foot Bergen Peak for a panoramic view of the Continental Divide. Your dog might be most interested, however, in sniffing out the off-leash area. To access it, cross Stagecoach Boulevard from the parking area and go through the gate. A quarter-mile trail leads off to the right, with signs for the dog training area. The training area itself is a large field, bordered by aspen along one side. Though a couple of footpaths lead into the field, it's not really a hiking areabut it's a fine place to let your dog go through his paces, retrieve a stick or ball, or play with another four-legged friend. And if he needs to pause for a drink, there's a running spigot alongside the access trail for easy refreshment.
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