Rattlesnake Gulch Loop

Rattlesnake Gulch, Boulder, Colorado, Julie Kruger Photography

Located in the stunning Eldorado Canyon State Park, this easy trail follows along a narrow gulch with views of the canyon’s famed rock climbing walls.  In the early 1900s, this trail brought visitors to the once popular hot spot of Crags Mountain Resort.

Rattlesnake Gulch Loop, Boulder, Colorado, Julie Kruger Photography

Rattlesnake Gulch Loop, Boulder, Colorado, Julie Kruger Photography

Elevation Gain:  1,304 feet
Start to End Elevation: 5,775 feet to 5, 849 feet (Max Elevation 7,079 feet)
Rating:  Easy to Moderate
Round trip distance:  5.3 mile loop
Nearest Landmark:  Eldorado Springs
Hiking Time:  2-3 hours
Season:  Year round
Popular:  Hikers, Trail Runners, Mountain Bikers, Leashed- Dogs Permitted, No Horses

How to Get There:   Eldorado Canyon State Park is located about five miles southwest of Boulder. Take Broadway /State Highway 93 south from Boulder, turn west (right) onto Colorado 170 and continue about three miles to the town of Eldorado Springs.  Highway 170 dead-ends at the town and a dirt road continues.  The park is located at the end of the dirt road on the left.    The daily vehicle parking pass is $8.

Trailhead GPS:   N39 55.766 W105 17.402

The Hike:   From the entrance, you can park in the first parking lot and walk up the dirt road to the trailhead or drive up and see if there is parking by the trailhead.   I prefer parking here and walking up to take in the gorgeous South Boulder Creek and view the rock climbers.   Pass a towering rock wall on the left which is called the Bastille.  These rock walls offer some of the best rock climbing in America.

Continue till you see the Fowler – Rattlesnake Gulch Trailhead.  Follow the Fowler Trail 0.1 mile east to the Rattlesnake Gulch signpost and turn right.  The trail passes talus slopes and steadily gets steeper as it heads into the gulch.  At 1.5 miles, arrive at the ruins of the Crags Mountain Resort, once a thriving hotel completed in 1908.   The hotel stood on this spot for four years before it was destroyed by a mysterious fire.  The hotel was reached by foot, burro, train or tramway (more on the history below).  Explore the cement fountain basin, a standing brick and stone fireplace, and foundation walls.  The entire site is littered with nails, brick fragments, and pieces of ceramic dinnerware.

Once you are done exploring the old Crag Hotel ruins, you can do the Rattlesnake Gulch loop two ways.   I recommend taking the upper loop by turning left from the Crags Hotel site so that you are going in a clockwise direction of the loop.  Soon, you will see Moffat Road’s railroad tracks, which cling to Eldorado Mountain’s steep northern slope.   If you are lucky, a train might pass through the ravine.    You will see a fenced off area which is the Scenic siding,  where passengers got off the trail before hiking or riding burros down to the hotel.   Do not leave the trail to investigate the tracks or tunnels; the slopes and tunnels could be dangerous and are outside of the park’s boundaries.

Continue about ¼ mile and as you are walking downhill through the forest, on your left, you may see an unmarked sidetrack.   I decided to be adventurous and see where this side track would take me.   Just up a hill and over a peak of rocks is a beautiful panoramic view of the Indian Peaks.    I am not sure why this side track is not marked because it is quite stunning.   Continue back to the main Rattlesnake Gulch loop trail.

The trail comes to a T Junction, here take a left and check out a circular Continental Divide overlook.  When you are ready, turn around and go straight downhill where you will soon return to the Crags Hotel site again.  Retrace your steps back to the trailhead.

Comments:  Parking is limited in front of the trailhead, but there are many additional parking spots in the park.  Restrooms are available close to the entrance as well as farther up the park road at the Visitor Center.

This trail gets little sunlight in the winter months so slick, snowy conditions are likely from October to April.  Traction devices such as yak-traks or similar are suggested during this time.

In Spanish, Eldorado means “the golden one” and if you come around late afternoon, early evening, the sunset makes an amazing glittering light on the rock walls in Eldorado Canyon State Park.

History:  One late fall evening in 1912, a peculiar glow was coming from these canyon walls.  A mysterious fire destroyed the once luxurious Crags Mountain Resort.    Four years previous in 1908, you would find folks singing, dancing and playing poker.

A.D Stencel bought the Crags area in 1907 and remodeled it into a first-class hotel with rustic cabins and furnished tents.  The two-story establishment featured rooms on the first floor with private baths and screened sleeping porches on the second floor.   With great views of the Eldorado cliffs and the South Boulder Creek below, this getaway attracted many city dwellers from Denver and abroad.

The resort offered free dancing and a restaurant.    For $1, passengers could purchase a round-trip ticket for the Denver, Northwestern & Pacific trains which travelled daily to Moffat Road and arrive at the Scenic siding on the north side of Eldorado Mountain.  From here, they either walked or rode burros down a half-mile trail to the hotel.

Other guests could ride the funicular tramway from the canyon floor to the resort.  This rail system traveled up the side of the mountain by counterbalanced cars on parallel sets of rails with cables and pulleys.  As one passenger-filled car ascended up the mountain, another went down.  Engineers filled a water tank on empty downward-moving cars to equalize the weight.

Guests who preferred getting their exercise could also walk to the resort along the Rattlesnake Gulch Trail which was then called Crags Boulevard.

During this time, Tuberculosis, also called “consumption” or “the white plague” was taking many lives.   Before the discovery of effective drugs, “fresh, dry mountain air” was recommended by some doctors.   Thousands of tuberculosis patients left their homes and rushed to the Colorado.   Many of the wealthier patients lived in the mountain hotels for extended periods.    Stencel capitalized on this and made his resort a healthy haven for tuberculosis patients.    Other attractions were the crisp climate, pure mineral water and healthy activities.

But by 1912, the business climate had turned sour and the visitation rate from out-of-state TB patients and Denver tourists had declined.  According to historian Joanna Sampson, locals noticed a mysterious couple get off the train at the Scenic siding and hike down to the resort in November of that year.  They departed by train hours later.  That evening, a fire consumed the resort.   Local historians suspect that the unprofitable hotel was burned for insurance money.    It still remains a mystery as to the cause of the Crags Hotel fire.

Print Rattlesnake Gulch Info and Map

Rattlesnake Gulch Loop, Boulder, Colorado

Rattlesnake Gulch Loop, Boulder, Colorado, Julie Kruger Photography

Old Fountain of Crags Mountain Resort, Rattlesnake Gulch Loop, Boulder, Colorado

Old Fireplace of Crags Mtn Resort, Rattlesnake Gulch Loop, Boulder, Colorado

Old Fireplace of Crags Mtn Resort, Rattlesnake Gulch Loop, Boulder, Colorado

Moffat Road, Rattlesnake Gulch Loop, Boulder, Colorado

Moffat Road, Rattlesnake Gulch Loop, Boulder, Colorado

Wild Flowers, Rattlesnake Gulch Loop, Boulder, Colorado

Unmarked Side trail took me to this rock ridge, Rattlesnake Gulch Loop, Boulder, Colorado

Eldorado Canyon, Rattlesnake Gulch Loop, Boulder, Colorado

View from top, Rattlesnake Gulch Loop, Boulder, Colorado

Rattlesnake Gulch Loop, Boulder, Colorado

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