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The steep walls and gentle trails of Eldorado Canyon.

The challenge of hidden overhangs, sheer faces, and steep sandstone walls lures some of the world's best rock climbers to Colorado's Eldorado Canyon State Park. But now the park is facing its own challenges. One is the threat of an expansion by a nearby mine (on hold pending litigation); another is a fight over whether to allow "bolting"-a climbers' practice that's a hot issue all over the state.

Now is a good time to visit the park; May through September is peak climbing season here, and you may see as many as a hundred enthusiasts spidering across forbidding formations like the Bastille and the Wind Tower. July temperatures can reach into the 90s, so you'll find the climbers (and some respite) on the shaded north-facing walls, which can be 10 degrees cooler. Besides watching climbers (bring binoculars) you can hike on some 8 miles of trails or stop at the many picnic spots along rushing South Boulder Creek. From Denver, the park is a 25-mile drive northwest. Elevation is about 6,000 feet; hikers should bring water, a hat, and sun screen. The 845-acre state park sits high in the Flatiron Range west of Boulder. If you drive in, entry costs $3 per car; if you simply park down the road and walk in, it's $1 per person. At the gate, you can pick up a free canyon map. Eldorado Canyon Park Road forms the main artery. As you head up it, you'll see how South Boulder Creek sliced the alluvial fans of red sandstone into a narrow canyon.

Immediately off to the right is the Wind Tower; climbers usually make ascents in the morning, since it gets early light and warms up first (and afternoon can bring tricky winds). Farther up, a bridge crosses to one of the beginner areas, where low, craggy faces studded with good handholds are patchy with years of accumulated climbing chalk. Across is the Bastille, well known among climbers. You shouldn't see climbers "bolting" here; it's banned while the issue is being studied. (The term refers to the practice of using drills to affix permanent bolts to rock walls, enabling climbers to scale routes impossible with traditional hammer-and-piton techniques. Detractors say it allows climbers to create too many routes, and leaves unsightly bolts permanently in rock faces.)

About 1 mile from the entry gate, hikers reach a rock cut to the east, signed Rattlesnake Gulch Trail. The 3-mile (out and back) trail climbs gradually up to the ruins of the old Crags Hotel and just beyond to great views of the Continental Divide. Backtrack to Eldorado Canyon Park Road.

You can also get a good view of the climbing walls by hiking the easy 2/3-mile (one way) Streamside Trail, which begins across from the main parking lot. It winds along South Boulder Creek.

More parks on the drive to Eldorado Canyon

To get to Eldorado Canyon from Denver, drive northwest on US. Highway 36 toward Boulder. Take the Eldorado Springs exit onto State Highway 170 and proceed 6 miles west to the park.

On the 6-mile stretch before the park entrance, you pass three small City of Boulder Open Space areas with hiking trails. From the Mesa Open Space trail-head parking lot, a 1/2-mile nature loop leads to an old stone homesteader's cabin; or continue on the Mesa trail all the way to Chautauqua Park (6 miles one way).
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Title Annotation:Colorado
Date:Jul 1, 1990
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