Denver, CO: Golden's Castle Rock

Hoof it to the top of Golden’s South Table Mountain on this 1.5-mile out-and-back for close-up views of Colorado Landmarks—Golden, the Front Range, the Denver skyline, and even the Coors Brewery.
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Hoof it to the top of Golden’s South Table Mountain on this 1.5-mile out-and-back for close-up views of Colorado Landmarks—Golden, the Front Range, the Denver skyline, and even the Coors Brewery.

This hike, though it gains more than 500 feet in just over half a mile, is suitable for both novice hikers and seasoned vets looking for an easy escape from the city. Beginning at the small sign that serves as a trailhead (where 18th and Belvedere streets intersect) you’ll begin climbing gently through sagebrush and pass an interpretive sign before beginning a switchbacking ascent. Avoid the temptation to cut corners: restoration work is underway to protect and restore the trail which was first built in the 1960’s by a geology professor at the nearby Colorado School of Mines.
The trail skirts a seasonal spring about half way up the climb and passes a wooden bench—a good rest spot with an eagel’s eye view of Golden—before the trail cuts into the mountain's caprock on a short-but-steep stair-stepping section of trail. The rocky tranisition is over in less than 100 feet and lands atop South Table Mountain before rolling north. There’s a large junction at an open saddle where this route bears left toward Castle Rock. The final climb to the 6,319-foot summit is on an old, cement staircase. It’s just one of the handful of remnant features you’ll see on the top of the hill; remains of the tourist-attractions (including a funicular and dancehall) that stood here into the late 1910s. After wandering around the top of the open peak, re-trace your steps to the trailhead.
There aren’t any services at the trailhead or on the mountain, but with full sun and few trees, you’ll want to pack water for even the short trek. There is a grocery store just three blocks south of the trailhead on 18th Street where you can stock up pre-hike.
-Mapped by Kristy Holland

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 2.6

Waypoints

GCR001

Location: 39.752659, -105.211966

There is plenty of street-side parking on 18th Street just below the trailhead. Before you even hit the trail, look left for an imposing view of your destination, Castle Rock, looming over 500 feet above.

GCR002

Location: 39.752989, -105.211006

The trail begins at a small sign marking the Open Space boundary. Looking toward the eroded southern edge of South Table Mountain offers a view into the area's geologic history.

GCR003

Location: 39.753451, -105.208385

At the corner of this fourth switchback, you may notice denser vegetation. There is a small, seasonal spring here that also sometimes muddies the trail.

GCR004

Location: 39.754114, -105.207976

Turn left to stay on the main path toward Castle Rock. There are other marked and user-created trails toward the top of South Table Mountain, but erosion is a problem, so stick to main trails and avoid establishing lesser-used ones. This left-leading trail skirts a rest-worthy bench less than 100 yards from here.

GCR005

Location: 39.754284, -105.207524

There is a rocky 30-foot step to reach the top of the mountain, but the trail cuts through an easy (but rough) set of steps that curve north.

GCR006

Location: 39.75575, -105.209222

Follow the trail north and west through scrubby sage and occasional cacti. About 0.6 miles from the trailhead you'll hit this junction and a small saddle below the Castle Rock's summit. The trail here is wide and easy to follow, but 100 yards from here it narrows to ascend a set of long concrete steps leading the way to the top.

GCR007

Location: 39.755331, -105.210813

At the top of the sprawling basalt mountain top, you'll notice old beams, bolts, and other remnants of a funicular and dance hall that once sat atop the mountain. The scattered detritus doesn't detract from the sweeping 360-degree views into Clear Creek Canyon (across Golden to the NW), and even 12-mile views of downtown Denver's skyscrapers.

Roadside View

Location: 39.752651, -105.211837

Even from the street, there are excellent views of the mountain.

Trailhead

Location: 39.753001, -105.210988

The trail begins on the north side of Belvedere Street.

Education

Location: 39.753166, -105.210632

An interpretive panel just past the trailhead explains the area's geologic history.

Switchbacks

Location: 39.75342, -105.209551

Stick to the switchbacking trail to avoid trampling delicate native grasses.

Cacti

Location: 39.752882, -105.208935

You'll see cacti, sagebrush and occasional scrub-oaks on this trail, but there aren't any shade-giving trees.

Bench View

Location: 39.754408, -105.207884

Looking toward south Golden and Mt. Morrison from the trailside bench near mile 0.4.

Golden

Location: 39.754408, -105.207905

The view of downtown Golden and its nearest mountains, from left to right: Lookout Mountain, Windy Saddle, and Mount Zion.

Steps

Location: 39.75562, -105.210105

These concrete steps lead to the top of Castle Rock, they're leftover remnants of the tourist attractions, including a dance hall and funicular, built atop the mountain in the early 1900s.

Lichen

Location: 39.755356, -105.210877

Jagged, lichen-covered bits of the basalt caprock overlooking the city of Golden.