Hiking Golden Gate Canyon State Park: Black Bear Trail to Ralston Roost

Last year around this time, as spring weather and brighter mornings rolled in, I challenged myself to do something new every weekend. It didn’t have to be a big something, even visiting a new coffee shop would suffice. But it encouraged me to explore more of Colorado, break out of the Boulder Bubble, run a new trail, take a day trip, or put my national park pass to good use. Part of my move to Colorado was to run away from a relationship I ruined—unfortunately—and to leave behind a big part of myself I wasn’t proud of anymore. Another was to heal from that and create space for new experiences and friendships that would help me become the compassionate, selfless person I should’ve been and so wished I was in Florida—in that relationship.

Anyway. I’m doing that again this year. New Things 2.0. So this past weekend I kicked it off with a hike on a new trail in Golden, CO.

After a fast ride on Saturday, I woke up with heavy legs and a tired body on Sunday morning, both of which make another day on the bike, well, not fun. There was a great group ride scheduled at the Rapha Boulder Clubhouse, but the thought of getting in a kit and riding even five miles made my legs throb. I’ve been beating myself up lately with morning and evening workouts, and on Sunday my body was telling me to get out on the trails and slow it down a little.

Something new…I wondered.

I popped open the AllTrails app (have I raved about this thing enough yet?) and found the Travois Trail in Centennial Cone Park. It’s a 13-mile loop with sweeping views of nearby mountaintops and Clear Creek Canyon. Sold.

Forty five minutes later I was at the trailhead staring a BIKES ONLY sign and a threatening $50 penalty for anyone who didn’t follow trail rules. Apparently, I learned later, the trail is only open to runners and hikers on odd numbered days; it was May 12thand I was out of luck.

AllTrails came to the rescue once again because with the little service I had high above Golden, I found another trail up the road in Golden Gate Canyon State Park.

Around 9:45 a.m. I made it to the Black Bear trailhead near a pretty impressive visitor’s center. In another life, I’d like to work for the National Park Service, educating tourists and even locals about some of the most beautiful places on earth and even in their own backyards.

I easily found a parking spot because I’m learning that the higher up you go into the mountains, the thinner the crowds get. I was at about 8,200 feet at the start. When I stepped out of the car, a chilly breeze blew across the parking lot and goosebumps dotted my arms and shoulders; I didn’t even need to check the elevation to know we were several thousand feet above Boulder’s mild 60* temps.

From the get go, the trail snaked up into the thick trees, and even though my legs were feeling the past few days of training, I knew it would level out halfway through and I could cruise down the mountain over the second half.

Another thing about trails way, way up high is that sometimes they’re not as well marked as other trails. That, of course, varies a lot but, surprisingly, Black Bear was one of the most well-marked trails I’ve ever been on since living and exploring out here in Colorado. I’d say every 50 feet or so there was a trail marker making sure hikers were headed the right way, which was so helpful. There were sections where I questioned which way to go, but sure enough there would be a marker nearby keeping me on trail.

As I climbed and climbed, the sun cut through the chilly weather pretty quickly, and even though there was still quite a bit of snow at the top, my long sleeve tech tee was feeling like a lot. I wore trail running shoes without spikes or Yaktrax and was totally fine even through the snowy and slippery spots.

My favorite part of the trail was running over a wind-y trail between the trees at the very top of the mountain. The sky was bright blue, the sun was shining, and I felt like the only one up there. What a treat.

I thought about my college running days—my best running days—when our team would pump through a long 12-miler on the sandy singletrack trails outside of Tampa. We were so strong—I was so strong. A long line of us would snake through the woods, over rocks and mud, under a canopy of palms, legs and lungs and arms pumping. We tiptoed the line of comfortable and too fast. It was so effortless, clicking off one training mile after another. I was so free then.

And then I thought about a podcast interview I listened to recently with Ryan Hall. He doesn’t like to run much anymore, even though he misses it. He says it’s not comfortable now that he’s gained muscle and has slowed down quite a bit. He wants to remember those beautiful, fast days as they were. My heart aches for those smooth running days again, just as his does occasionally. When I was dystonia-free, I felt unstoppable. He doesn’t run to preserve those memories, but I run to hopefully get them back one day—to make them real again. Winding my way through the trees let me re-live those moments in my mind for just a few seconds. What I would give…

Eventually I started snaking my way back to the trailhead on a rocky but flowy descent along a bubbly stream. I took out a headphone just to listen.

I was able to run more of the descent but it was a lot on my quads, my toes, and the bottoms of my feet. It was just steep enough where I needed to stop myself more than propel myself, which did a number on my lower half.

In total, I covered just over 6 miles, which is less than half of what I planned on running/hiking that morning, but I had to take into account the climbing I’d done the first half.

Back in a much-warmer Boulder, I stopped at my favorite local trail to hike a bit, listen to podcasts, and spend a bit more time in the sunshine. That’s the thing about Colorado—it’s really hard to just be lazy! Sometimes I rejoice when we get a rainy day because it doesn’t happen often and, honestly, what’s better than an afternoon on the couch with a cup of coffee and a book?

Trail rating: I’d give this one a 6.5-7/10…ish. It’s not extremely difficult, the views at the top are beautiful but not much different (or better) from other peaks I’ve hiked up to, it’s easy to find parking (but it’s not free without a pass), there are bathrooms at the visitor’s center, and there are tons of other trails connected to Black Bear to make it a longer day.

Not sure I’ll be back to this one, specifically, but it’s a good one to take family and friends, especially when others are more crowded.

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