Colorado is known for its abundant sunny weather, mountain views and nearly year-round hiking opportunities. Hikers will enjoy pleasant spring weather along the Front Range and stunning summers and autumns in the mountains. Even in the winter, the Front Range sees plenty of mild and sunny days when the trails dry out enough for a […]
Colorado is known for its abundant sunny weather, mountain views and nearly year-round hiking opportunities. Hikers will enjoy pleasant spring weather along the Front Range and stunning summers and autumns in the mountains. Even in the winter, the Front Range sees plenty of mild and sunny days when the trails dry out enough for a hike. Or you can grab a pair snowshoes or skis to explore the snow-covered trails of the higher elevations. Be sure to check with the local land manager for the most current trail conditions.
Whether you are looking for easy day hikes, gorgeous multiday backpacking trips or views (and elevation gain) that will take your breath away, the Centennial State does not disappoint. From easygoing hikes in the many state and local parks within driving distance of major cities like Denver, Fort Collins, Boulder and Colorado Springs, to the hidden backcountry gems found in the remote wilderness and national forest areas, you have your pick of some of the best hiking in the Mountain West. To get started, check out these 10 popular hikes as voted on by the Hiking Project community. These favorite hikes boast a wide range of terrain, distance and difficulty to kickstart your Colorado adventure.
The towering red rock formations of Garden of the Gods create a memorable backdrop for this easily accessible hike located minutes from downtown Colorado Springs. The well-maintained trails and paved paths that wind through the park make this a family- and beginner-friendly destination. While the park is popular enough that you won't have the trails to yourself, there are miles of trails to explore so you can pick and choose your own route to either escape the crowds or follow the well-used paths to the popular viewpoints. Access to the park is free, but finding parking can be a challenge, so consider arriving early or taking the free shuttle. Don't forget to bring your camera! For an added bonus, time your hike to catch the sunrise or sunset.
The Garden of the Gods Inner Loop starts on the Perkins Central Garden Trail, a paved lollipop loop that is wheelchair- and stroller-accessible. This short loop packs a scenic punch as it passes some of the largest rock formations in the park. On the west side, you will spot the famous Kissing Camels, and to the east, White Rock. Near the southern end of the loop, you can branch onto the Sleeping Giant Trail, a short loop off the main paved path that leads to the base of the Sleeping Giant rock formation. This trail is dirt and has some stairs to help with erosion, so if you prefer to stick to the paved path, you can bypass this trail and stay on the Perkins Central Garden Trail. After passing by the Sleeping Giant, continue past the base of the Three Spires and Cathedral Spire. You then connect back to Perkins Central Garden Trail to return to the trailhead.
Located about one hour from Denver, this popular hike leads to an extraordinary destination—Devil's Head Lookout. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this fire tower was one of seven built in the early 1900s. Now more than 100 years old, this is the one remaining fire tower in service. The lookout is accessible when staffed (typically mid-May through mid-September), and hikers can climb the 143 stairs up the side of Devil's Head to the tower to enjoy jaw-dropping views of the Front Range and the Rocky Mountains. Be sure to arrive early to find a parking spot as space is limited and the trail is busy during the summer. Additionally, the road to the trailhead is closed seasonally, usually from December to April.
The hike starts on the Devil's Head Trail #611, a steady uphill trail that gains around 850 feet as it climbs from the trailhead to the base of the stairs at Devil's Head. The shaded trail passes through conifer forests interspersed with rock formations and outcroppings. In the spring, you may spot wildflowers like columbines, and there are a few groves of aspen that give a pop of golden color in the fall. Once you reach the base of Devil's Head, you can't miss the red stairway snaking up the side of the large rock outcropping. The stairs are steep, and while there are railings the entire way, those who fear heights may choose to enjoy the view from the ground. Also, don't attempt the climb if there is a chance of a thunderstorm—a fairly common summer afternoon occurrence. Once you reach the fire tower, which is situated at 9,748 feet, the 360-degree views are fantastic. With staple 14ers like Pikes Peak and Mount Evans towering above the Front Range and the Rocky Mountains to the west, the views on a clear day are astonishing.
With more than 300 miles of trails and some of the best-known scenery in the state, Rocky Mountain National Park is a well-loved hiking destination for locals and visitors alike. If you are searching for a first-time hike or are visiting the park for a single day, look no further than the hike to Emerald Lake. This spectacular out-and-back starts from Bear Lake before climbing to Dream Lake and Emerald Lake, two of the jewels of Rocky Mountain National Park. You will need a park pass and, as this is a popular trailhead, be sure to arrive early—especially in the summer months. If you are looking for a shorter or easier outing, the Bear Lake Trail, which leaves from the same trailhead and loops around Bear Lake, is a family-friendly option.
From the Bear Lake Trailhead, start on the Dream Lake Trail. This wide and well-traveled trail leads south from Bear Lake through pine and aspen forests before skirting around the northeastern shore of Nymph Lake. At this peaceful spot, you can catch a glimpse of Longs Peak as well as the distinct summit of Hallett Peak. The Dream Lake Trail continues to climb from Nymph Lake up into Tyndall Gorge, crossing Tyndall Creek before coming to the eastern edge of Dream Lake. The west end of this narrow lake is framed by Hallett Peak and Flattop Mountain. On a calm, clear day the mountains' reflections in the lake makes for a picture-perfect setting. Continue on the Emerald Lake Trail, which follows the north shore of Dream Lake and continues to climb for another half mile. The trail heads deeper into Tyndall Gorge until reaching Emerald Lake, which is tucked under the rocky summits of Hallett and Flattop. The lake is located at just over 10,000 feet and there may be snow on the peaks late into the summer. Pack a lunch or snack to enjoy at Emerald Lake before your return journey.
Tucked between Interstate 70 and Colorado State Highway 470, Matthews/Winters Park is a surprising location for some beautiful Front Range trails. Situated north of Red Rocks Park, Matthews/Winters Park offers a unique vantage point looking south toward Red Rocks. Another unique feature is Dinosaur Ridge, a National Natural Landmark with preserved dinosaur tracks, to the east. This ridge is a segment of the Dakota Hogback, a distinct, fin-like ridge that marks the edge of the mountains and the plains. The park is easily accessed off of County Road 93 and has several large parking areas with ample room. While you won't fully escape the traffic noise of the nearby highways, the park is still a pleasant and convenient getaway due to its proximity to Golden and the western suburbs of Denver.
From the trailhead, the hike starts with an easy stroll on the Village Walk Trail, a flat, wide and easygoing path. From here, you briefly connect to the Red Rocks Trail before the serious climb starts on the Morrison Slide Trail. This section is the most challenging part of the hike, with loose switchbacks and rocky stairs to navigate. You will be rewarded for your efforts with scenic views to the south toward the distinctive, slanted rock formations of Red Rocks. The views are particularly stunning in the spring with the stark contrast between the red rocks and the green hillsides. Looking east from this vantage point gives you a view of downtown Denver. The hike then loops back north along the Red Rocks Trail to return to the trailhead. Be aware of rattlesnakes in the warmer months as they often sun themselves along the trails. You may spot deer and coyotes in the area as well.
Located in the mountains west of Boulder, Indian Peaks Wilderness is a remarkable wilderness area with miles of pristine trails and many access points on both sides of the Continental Divide. If you are looking for the quintessential Indian Peaks hike, the out-and-back to Crater Lake from Monarch Lake offers a great mix of scenery and terrain, as well as a stunning destination. If you are planning to do the hike as a quick overnight backpacking trip, you will need a permit, and all visitors will need to pay the small fee to park at the Monarch Lake Trailhead.
The hike starts from Monarch Lake on the Cascade Trail on some easy switchbacks through aspen and pine groves, winding along Buchanan Creek. In the summer, wildflowers are abundant. Also, keep an eye out for moose and other wildlife. There are several large waterfalls along the way including the trail's namesake, Cascade Falls, a particularly scenic multitiered waterfall that you will get an up-close look at as the trail switchbacks from the base of the falls to the top. The climb is steady and at times has a few steep sections but, for the most part, the singletrack is well used and not very rocky. A little more than 6 miles in, you will turn onto the Crater Lake Trail. This trail appears to dead-end at Mirror Lake, a small lake with Lone Eagle Peak in the background. Don't stop here, as another singletrack trail on the west side of Mirror Lake heads on to Crater Lake and reveals the even more stunning view of Lone Eagle Peak and Mount Achonee towering above the lake. Backcountry campsites are available by permit if you need more time to enjoy the view!
Located minutes from downtown Colorado Springs, Bear Creek Canyon Regional Park is tucked away in the rolling and forested foothills of Pikes Peak. The easily accessible trails at Bear Creek are some of the most popular in the area, for both locals and visitors. While this loop will take you away from the hustle of nearby Colorado Springs, don't expect to be alone, as this popular trail can get quite crowded, especially in the evenings and on the weekends during the summer. There are several parking areas located along Gold Camp Road and while none are very large, you will have a few lots to choose from.
This loop is a mix of aerobically challenging climbing combined with pleasant views. If hiking the loop counterclockwise, start on the Palmer Trail, which is best accessed from the Section 16 Trailhead on Gold Camp Road. The first mile is a gentle climb, winding through red rock formations and scrub oak. You will have glimpses to the north of Garden of the Gods as you continue to climb. The next mile is the most strenuous, and where you will gain most of the loop's 1,200 feet of elevation. The trail reaches its peak elevation around 7,800 feet at 2.5 miles with noteworthy views to the south. After this, you will enjoy a long, mostly mellow descent back to the trailhead. After completing the Palmer Trail, you will turn briefly onto High Drive, a wide dirt road that connects back to the trailhead.
Quandary Peak is one of the most hiked 14ers in Colorado. At just over 6 miles round-trip and located about a 90-minute drive from Denver, this peak is one of the more accessible 14ers in the state. That doesn't mean this is an easy undertaking, though, and hikers should come prepared with plenty of food, water and extra clothing as hiking any 14er in Colorado involves some degree of risk due to elevation, weather and exposure. That being said, for hikers with a reasonable level of fitness who are acclimated to the altitude and prepared with the Ten Essentials, Quandary makes a great first 14er to tackle. Additionally, be sure to check the weather and plan to leave early enough to avoid afternoon thunderstorms, which can move in rapidly at high elevations.
Located in the Tenmile Range, Quandary Peak tops out at 14,265 feet, making it the 13th highest peak in Colorado. The trail to the summit gains 3,229 feet over the course of just over 3 miles. The first mile of the trail climbs, at times steeply, through sparse forests that become progressively thinner as you climb. Around 11,700 feet, the trees thin out entirely, and you can see the ridge that you will be climbing to the west. The trail becomes rockier as you climb. To the south, you will have views of Blue Lakes and North Star Mountain across the valley. As you climb, keep your eyes open for yellow-bellied marmots and pikas. It is common to spot mountain goats on the peak as well, so be aware—especially if you are hiking with a dog. The final climb is very rocky, and the going will be slow, but topping out at the official summit marker is well worth the effort.
Known as a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts, Boulder could keep you occupied for weeks with its multitude of trails in close vicinity to downtown. Chautauqua Park is one of the highlights of the area, located at the base of Boulder's iconic Flatirons. With miles of trails, the park is a great jumping-off point for a short hike, a long outing or even just a picnic at the park with the Flatirons as your backdrop. The hike to Royal Arch hits all the highlights in a fairly manageable distance, but the incline isn’t easy, so come prepared for a leg-burning climb. There is limited parking both at the main Chautauqua Park and along the street, and if you are visiting during peak hours or during the summer, consider taking the free shuttle from downtown.
Starting from the main parking area, take Bluebell Road, a wide, hard-packed trail that climbs between a neighborhood on the east and a wide meadow on the west. As the slope increases, you will climb toward the ponderosa pines and wooded slopes of the Boulder foothills. From Bluebell Road, turn onto the Royal Arch Trail. In just under a mile, this trail gains an astonishing 905 feet in elevation. Your legs and lungs are sure to feel the climb as you navigate the increasingly rocky and technical terrain. The trail ends at the natural rock arch of Royal Arch, which offers a unique vantage point of Boulder and views to the north and south along the Front Range. While you will have to watch your footing on the way back down, the views on the return hike are even more spectacular than on the way up.
This 27-mile loop is most commonly backpacked as a three- or four-night trip. This route is one of the most popular hikes in the state with the stunning Maroon Bells as a backdrop, abundant wildflowers in spring and summer, hillsides of aspen in the fall, and four passes to climb and descend on this spectacular loop. “Breathtaking” is an appropriate way to describe the loop in many ways, as the route gains more than 7,300 feet and climbs above 12,000 feet at four different passes—Buckskin, Trail Rider, Frigid Air and West Maroon. If you are planning an overnight trip, you must self-register at the trailhead, and bear canisters are required. Be sure to park in the designated overnight parking lot. On crowded weekends or in the summer from June through October, you will need to take a shuttle from town.
You can hike the loop in either direction, but by hiking counterclockwise, you’ll tackle the two highest passes first. Buckskin Pass Trail takes you up and over Buckskin Pass with amazing views in all directions before descending to the scenic Snowmass Lake. Enjoy the easier hiking at lower elevations while you can, as the Geneva Lake Trail quickly has you climbing back to 12,000 feet over Trail Rider Pass. Once over your second pass, you get a bit of a respite on the Fravert Basin Trail, which traverses a wide, high-altitude basin that is carpeted in wildflowers in season. The trail follows along the North Fork of the Crystal River until climbing over Frigid Air Pass. You will spot one large waterfall about a mile east of Hasley Basin where the panoramic view also includes the backside of the Maroon Bells. From here, you have one final pass to complete—West Maroon Pass on the West Maroon Trail. Once you have traversed the high-alpine tundra of the pass, the trail descends along a creek before ending at Crater Lake. From here, follow the Buckskin Pass Trail back to the trailhead to complete the loop.
Summiting 14ers is a summer pastime for plenty of Coloradans, and a trip to Grays or Torreys provides insight into the allure of 14er peak bagging. Grays and Torreys are so commonly hiked together that many refer to the two 14ers inseparably. Situated along the Continental Divide about an hour drive from Denver, this hike is very popular. On a clear summer day, you will likely join a line of hikers on the way to the summits. As with all above-treeline routes, start early to avoid afternoon thunderstorms and be sure to pack appropriately with food, water, sunscreen and extra layers. The road to get to the upper trailhead is notoriously rugged, so if you have a two-wheel-drive or low-clearance vehicle, plan to park at the lower trailhead and add some mileage to your hike.
The hike to Grays, and then onto Torreys gains a total of 3,479 feet in a little over four miles, following a section of the Continental Divide Trail. The start of the trail is fairly well-packed singletrack. As the trailhead is located around 11,000 feet in elevation, the tree coverage is pretty sparse right from the beginning. The trail climbs gradually for the first 2 miles, heading south around Kelso Mountain before turning west, where you will spot the two 14ers and the saddle connecting them. This section of the hike passes through a verdant high-alpine meadow where the wildflowers are plentiful in season. Around 2 miles in, the climbing begins in earnest, and the trail changes to a rock-filled talus slope. You will need to watch your footing on the slope of Grays as you climb to the summit at 14,270 feet. From Grays, continue down the north ridge across the saddle between the two peaks to climb Torreys. Although only a mile apart, this traverse will take some time. Torreys sits at 14,267 feet and offers equally stunning views. Once you are done enjoying the rewards of your climb, retrace your steps back down the saddle to connect to the main trail and return to the trailhead.
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