With the end of summer rapidly approaching, there are only a few weeks left to complete your summer camping bucket list. Nestled in between the historic Georgetown and the town of Grant is Guanella Pass. This scenic byway is famous not only for its views of Mount Evans or Mount Logan, but also its camping and hiking opportunities. It is also great drive for leaf peepers. As fall and the cold weather move in, Guanella Pass is the perfect way to enjoy the remaining days of summer in the Rocky Mountains.
Approximate drive time from Denver: 1 hour 15 minutes
There is no shortage of places to set up camp on the way to and from Guanella Pass. Located off of Highway 103 at the base of Mount Evans sits the West Chicago Creek Campground. In the heart of central Colorado, this hiking and fishing hot spot sits in the Arapahoe and Roosevelt National Forests. Offering 16 campgrounds, West Chicago Creek is perfect for tent or RV camping with a unique opportunity to set up along the campground’s namesake creek. West Chicago Creek Campground is an ideal summer campsite either on the way to or from Guanella pass. The scenic campground is also one of the most affordable end-of-summer camping options, only charging $18 per night. West Chicago Creek Campground is open through next weekend officially closing on September 23.
One of the largest and most popular campgrounds west of Denver on the way to Guanella Pass is Columbine Campground. The 46-site campground is one of the larger campgrounds you’ll find and is a popular spot to take your car off-roading. The camp sites are split into two loops, with almost every spot being suitable for RVs or tents. Each site comes with its own picnic table, campfire ring, and grill with other amenities including water spigots, restrooms, and even a trash service. Through September 22, Columbine Campground will only run you $19 per night to stay at one of the camp sites. With plenty of hiking, fishing and off-roading possibilities, along with Golden Gate Canyon State Park being a short drive away, Columbine Campground is one of the better camping steals to finish off your summer.
Just an eight-mile drive north of Columbine Campground is the Cold Springs Campground. With many of the same nearby activities as Columbine, this campground offers another cheap ($20 per night) camping option providing another 38 camp sites. Also located in the Arapahoe and Roosevelt National Forrest, there are plenty of hiking and fishing opportunities around the campground. Cold Springs, much like Columbine Campground, provides picnic tables and fire rings at each camp site along with tent pads, water hydrants and a trash service. Cold Springs Campground also closes September 22, meaning you’ll need to act quick if you want to take advantage of these great and affordable campgrounds.
There are also up to 30 dispersed and open campsites located off of Geneva Road, a quick 20-minute drive from Grant. These sites are first-come first-serve and can be occupied for up to 14 consecutive days for those looking for a more authentic and hardcore camping experience.
[Update September 17, 2018, at 10 a.m.: The Forest Service told 303 Magazine that developed campgrounds are still open up until this weekend, if the weather permits. Dispersed camping off Naylor road has been closed. We have updated the article accordingly.]
What to Do
There is plenty of hiking, fishing, wildlife viewing and scenic driving to do along Guanella Pass. Being tucked between the towns of Georgetown and Grant, there are plenty of other activities to keep you busy on your trip.
Historic Georgetown – At the northern end of the Guanella Pass is the town of Georgetown. One of Colorado’s most treasured and historic locations, Georgetown offers a variety of summer and winter, family-friendly activities. Including a scenic train ride, several historic museums and white water rafting there is no shortage of fun things to do in the historic town. If you aren’t the camping type, there are seven hotels located in Georgetown and a brewery appropriately named Guanella Pass Brewing Company. If you find yourself driving north on Guanella Pass, historic Georgetown is not somewhere you’ll want to miss.
Fourteeners – Near the Mount Evans Wilderness, there are several close 14ers campers can conquer on their trip along Guanella Pass. The most notable of these mountains are Mount Evans Mount Bierstadt. The two can be hiked within the same day, as campers will travel across the sawtooth that splits the two mountains. Either summit will offer a challenge to visitors rewarded with tremendous views of the Mount Evans Wilderness.
Along the 22 mile-long Guanella Pass there is a wide variety of hiking trails giving visitors the chance to explore any of the surrounding areas. Campers can experience a variety of different hikes, ranging from the difficulty of a simple loop trail to summiting a 14er.
Mount Bierstadt Trail (6.9 miles, Hard) – The first of these numerous hiking trails is also the hardest. Mount Bierstadt trail leads hikers straight to the summit of both Mount Bierstadt and Mount Evans. The sawtooth, or the point separating the two mountains, is also the point that can turn many inexperienced hikers away. This trail will test your hiking skills as well as your strength at elevation. If you are not an experienced hiker or climber and have not climbed a fourteener before, this may not be the trail to try for your first time. Luckily there are a number of easier hikes for those looking to just take in the scenic views.
Silver Dollar Lake Trail (3.9 miles, Moderate) – One of the simpler hikes along Guanella Pass is the Silver Dollar Lake Trail. The out-and-back trail is located between Guanella Pass and Montezuma, Colorado. It trail offers breathtaking views and a slighter easier ascent. With two lakes along the trial, there is also a third lake for those looking to go off-path. This trail is child and dog-friendly, making it a much easier hike for the less experienced hiker.
Herman Gulch Trail (6.3 miles, Moderate) – Just a short drive past historic Georgetown is the Herman Gulch Trail. This out-and-back trail also features a lake view and a waterfall. The hike is slightly uphill making it fairly more difficult than your typical moderate trail. However, the hard work done along the trail is rewarded at the top with more views of the surrounding Arapahoe National Forest.
South Park 600 to Square Top Lakes (4.1 miles, Moderate) – The square top lakes are one of the multiple scenic locations along Guanella Pass. The South Park 600 is an easy out-and-back trail that takes hikers directly to the lakes. This trail, in particular, features very little tree coverage making it tougher on the hotter days. So, if you plan on hiking to the Square Top Lakes make sure to bring plenty of sunscreen.
Shelf Lake Trail (6.8 miles, Moderate) – While the trailhead for Shelf Lake Trail can be difficult, the roughly eight-mile trail rewards hikers with another beautiful lake view. Although this hike is listed as moderate, it can be slightly challenging due to some steep stretches. Along with the lake at the end of the trail, Shelf Lake Trail also features forest views, a stream along the trail, and even several waterfalls. The Shelf Lake trailhead is combined in an area with the trailhead for South Park trail.
As the summer comes to a close, many of these available campgrounds and hiking trails will close as well. As the cold weather creeps in, several sections of Guanella Pass will shut down as well because of unsafe driving conditions.
If you’ve spent your summer camping, hiking and exploring across Colorado, Guanella Pass will be a perfect way to close out an active season. Between the towns of Georgetown and Grant, there are endless activities for campers to enjoy whether by themselves or with the family. Soon the opportunity to explore this beautiful part of Colorado will be put on hold until the cold weather passes. Whether you are looking for a simple and quiet camping spot or are looking to conquer several 14ers, Guanella Pass will provide you with all your camping and hiking needs to close out the summer.