Travel Tips and Green Living

Speak softly to the bears

Speak softly to the bears.

[DENVER] The signs on the side of the visitors' center at Golden Gate Canyon State Park just outside Golden, Colorado, are huge--impossible to miss. They warn hikers and campers about the risks of running into mountain lions, moose and black bears in the park. And they're a little scary. 

Hiking in Golden Gate Canyon State Park.  

It doesn't help that Golden Gate is a bit remote. It's just 13 miles off the highway, but those 13 miles are windy and twisty and slow. And in early May, there aren't many people braving the mud and leftover snow in the park. The friendly rangers at the visitors' center are a welcome sight. But they go home at 4, and you're on your own once you leave the building. There's no cell service in the park, either. I was glad that this time I had my day pack, stocked with a whistle, extra food, matches in a waterproof case, fire paste, an emergency shelter blanket, a rain coat, water purification tablets, some first aid supplies, tissues, hand sanitizer and the kitchen sink. (Kidding about that last one. Though it felt like it.)

But I really wish I had brought my bear spray. 

Those signs mention that sightings aren't frequent. Does that matter if you're the 1 in 100, though? I tried to memorize the suggestions:

If you meet a mountain lion, stay calm. Don't run. Stop or back away slowly. Face the lion, avoid eye contact and try to appear as large as possible. Fight back if attacked. 

Listen, I keep my nails very short. I don't think it's much of a contest here. 

Then there are the tips for greeting a bear:

Back away slowly and give the bear plenty of room to leave. Step to the downhill side of the trail. Stay calm. Don't run. Speak softly to let the bear know you're present. 

So what do you say at that point? Hi there, Mr. Big Black Bear. How's your day going? I saw some excellent looking berries way back in the opposite direction. You should really check those out. Ok-thanks-bye.

I decided to hook my whistle on the outside of my pack and forge onward.

Hiking the Burro Trail in Golden Gate Canyon State Park.

This hike was nearly as quiet as my last, though I did see signs of life along the way. The trail follows a service road for a bit. And I did pass four people at various points. Thankfully, I only crossed a stream a handful of times. Sometimes the trail became a stream, but I now have Wet Wipes and plastic bags in the Jeep to deal with mud.  

The Burro Trail in Golden Gate Canyon was well-marked. 

I hiked the Burro Trail, which was relatively well-marked. Whenever I got a little turned around, I could usually find that little burro's butt and get back on track, though the snow obscured the trail entirely in some spots.

Snow obscured the Burro Trail in places in Golden Gate Canyon State Park.

It's rated difficult, I'm guessing because it was steep enough that I felt as if I should get on all fours at times, and it was quite rocky. In the exposed areas, it was hot. But on the dark side of the mountain, under the trees, the snow was deep and the air quite cool.  

Snow deeper than my boots on the Windy Peak spur in Golden Gate Canyon State Park.

In fact I wanted to branch off and take a trail spur out to Windy Peak, approximately a half-mile each way. And I got about three-tenths of a mile there, oh-so-close....but I was constantly sinking into snow well over my boots. At that pace uphill, I was worried about losing daylight. Plus, it stopped being fun right about then. So I turned around and made my way back down, for a total distance of about 5.9 miles.  

Evidence of moose on the Burro Trail in Golden Gate Canyon State Park.

 Fortunately, I didn't see any mountain lions or bears, even in the rocky outcroppings that the mountain lions seem to favor. But I did see ample evidence of moose, which I really don't care to meet up close either.  

No mountain lions in sight on the Burro Trail in Golden Gate Canyon. 

Of course, no hike near Golden is complete without a beer and the pizza buffet at Woody's Wood-Fired Pizza. I managed to snag a prime seat on the patio and a New Belgium Hop Kitchen. Interestingly, they serve honey with their pizza, so you can dip your crusts in it. And fortunately, the only bears around here are in bronze.  

Hop Kitchen beer and the pizza buffet at Woody's Wood-Fired Pizza in Golden after a hike.


Julianne, founder of, hiking the Burro Trail in Golden Gate Canyon State Park.


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