If you are looking to take a well-deserved break from your busy work schedule or routine, hiking is among the best activity to engage in. Hiking offers you an opportunity to break free explore the beautiful outdoors as you bond with your family and friends. Additionally, hiking goes at greater lengths to enhance your overall body health, ensuring you’re healthy and fit. For instance, it lowers stress levels, reduces the risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure and improves your blood pressure as well as sugar levels.
From beautiful mountain passes with quirky sandstone monoliths to winding back-country trails and jaw-dropping mountain vistas, Colorado is among the most beautiful places in the U.S to take a weekend hiking gateway. Colorado’s relatively unexplored wilderness offers thousands of miles of hiking trails ranging from short, easy-going, family-friendly trails to tough, adventurous and isolated trails that will take your breath away.
While hiking adventures in Colorado is nearly limitless, there are a few hikes that stand out from the rest. The best hikes in Colorado are safe, iconic, adventurous, scenic, family-friendly and moderately easy to hike.
These hikes will take your breath away, leaving you yearning for more. We’ve compiled the best hikes in Colorado involving different difficulties, distance and a variety of natural settings, i.e. jagged rocky terrains, crystal-clear still alpine lakes, towering mountains, extensive views, waterfalls and mountain vistas etc.
Tips for Hiking in Colorado
Before heading out for a hike in expansive Colorado, it’s imperative to consider some few tips. These tips will enable you to hike safely in Colorado and avoid getting caught in bad weather or even getting lost.
Before you hit the trail, it’s crucial to plan early in advance. In planning, the first thing you obviously need to do is to choose the place you would want to hike. As mentioned earlier, Colorado offers boundless hiking options, and you would definitely be spoilt for choice. Nonetheless, you still need to decide where you want to go quite early. This will enable you to organize for accommodation, guides and itineraries etc. earlier on.
Carry Out General Pre-Hiking Routine
After choosing an ideal hiking location or trip, you would want to conduct general per-hiking routine. For instance, you can collect and get ready the necessary hiking gear, assess your fitness level, practice carrying gear or even train for your trip
Double Check the Weather Before Hiking
It’s always important to double-check the weather before heading out. Colorado’s weather changes in a second and storms come in real-quick. The afternoons are synonymous with thunderstorms which are quite dangerous, having killed a couple of hikers. Therefore, always check and double-check the weather before embarking on the hike. Also, keep an eye on storms mainly in the afternoon.
Head Out Early
To get sufficient time for hiking, you should arrive at the trailhead early enough, i.e. around 6 am or 7 am. Colorado hiking trails are usually full of hikers, and you may easily run into mountainside congestion.
Heading out early would give you sufficient time to explore the outside environment and also get a prime parking spot for your touring van. Additionally, you’re less likely to run into numerous people who may compromise your hiking experience.
Go with a Guide
If you’re hiking in a completely new location, it’s recommended to go with a guide to lead you along Colorado trails. Additionally, you should always check in with park stewards before embarking on the hike. Similarly, you should always be ready to listen to Colorado locals’ and expert advice regarding the hike. This will ensure you’re safe and can easily navigate the trail.
Watch Out for Signs of Altitude Sickness
Most hikes in Colorado are high altitude starting above 10, 000 feet above sea level. For most people, high altitude could cause several conditions such as dehydration and high-altitude cerebraledema (HACE) that poses a risk to their health. It’s therefore essential to watch out for symptoms of altitude sickness, especially if you’re not used to high elevations.
Some signs of altitude sickness include headache, malaise, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, sleep disturbance and anorexia. If you show any of these symptoms while hiking in high altitude areas, immediately descend to a lower altitude. Altitude sickness could be fatal.
Take Care of the Environment
When hiking trails of Colorado, try as much as possible not to pollute the beautiful environment. Always adhere to the leave no trace principles, i.e. respect wildlife, dispose of waste properly, leave what you find, travel and camp on durable surfaces and minimize campfire impacts etc. Most hiking trails in Colorado are fragile and therefore should be conserved.
5 Best Hikes in Colorado
Emerald Lake Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park
Location: Estes Park, CO, in Rocky Mountain National Park, 50 miles northwest of Boulder
Length: 3.3-mile round-trip out-and-back
Elevation Gain: 216m
Difficulty Rating: Easy/ Moderate
Trail Features: Alpine Lake, Wildflowers, Captivating Views, Cascade Waterfalls, Birds, Bears
Seasons: All Year
Tips: Go early as trails tend to get crowded. No dogs.
Emerald Lake Trail is a 5.0-kilometre trail located near Estes Park. It passes the base of Hallet Peaks in the Rocky Mountain National Park-a renowned hiking destination for visitors and locals alike. Emerald Lake Trail is rated moderate and offers some breath-taking views. The path being well-traveled, it’s relatively easy to hike with plenty of spots along the way to walk off and enjoy the sights and maybe take photos. Parking is located at Bear Lake. But if it’s full, you’ll need to park at the Park& Ride near the Bierstadt Trailhead and then take the bus to the trailhead.
The trails start from Bear Lake and climb around 800 feet through pine and aspen forests to Nymph Lake then to Dream Lake and finally to Emerald Lake. If you have time, you can stop at Bear Lake to check out the captivating views of the east shore before heading out to Emerald Lake. The trail from Bear Lake to Nymph Lake has been paved, and you could catch a glimpse of Long Peak through the trees. On the trail towards the south end of Nymph Lake, you can see stunning views of Hallet Peak, especially early in the morning.
At Dream Lake, you can enjoy the captivating views of Hallet Park and Flattop Mountain from the east shore of the lake. On a calm, clear day, the mountains’ reflection in the lake offers a picture-perfect setting. The trails from Dream Lake towards Emerald Lake gets deeper into the Tyndall Gorge with jagged spires of Flattop Mountain. You’ll pass through a lovely and remarkable pine forest before reaching Emerald Lake at an elevation of 10, 110 feet.
Emerald Lake is a true jewel in the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park. You get stunning views of the 12, 713-foot Hallet Peak which stands directly in front of you. Towards the right of the lake, marvel at the jagged spires of 12, 324-foot Flattop Mountain. Across the sub-alpine lake, you’ll hear the sound of a waterfall rushing down the gorge between the two mountains. The water originates from the melting Tyndall Glacier.
You’ll need a Park Pass to embark on the hike. No dogs are allowed, and you’ll need to arrive early to get a convenient parking spot and avoid mountain congestion, especially in the summer. Some of the activities you can do while hiking includes hiking, fishing and snowshoeing in winter. The Bear Lake Loop hike is a more family-friendly option and also handicap accessible.
Garden of the Gods Inner Loop
Location: Colorado Springs, CO, in Garden of the Gods, 6 miles northwest of downtown Colorado Springs
Length: 1.3-mile round-trip lollipop loop
Elevation Gain: 127m
Difficulty Rating: Easy
Trail Features: Huge Rock Formations, Wildflowers, Birds, Wildlife, Captivating Views, Meadows
Seasons: May 1-October 31 / November 1- April 30
Tips: Dog Leashed. Start Early due to heavy traffic
The Garden of the Gods Inner Loop is a 6.0-kilometre loop trail located near Colorado Springs. The hike offers a totally different landscape featuring towering red rock formations offering captivating views. Most of the trails in the Garden of Gods have been paved and well maintained, making it family-friendly as well as handicap accessible for a day hike. There are plenty of hiking trails, each involving different attractions and landscape features. The park tends to experience lots of crowds, and you can choose an isolated trail for the best experience.
The Garden of the Gods Inner Loop trail starts on the Perkins Central Garden Trail. This trail is paved, making it wheelchair and stroller accessible. From this trail, you can get a beautiful view of the Kissing Camels to the west and White Rock to the east.
As you continue to the southern end of the loop, you can branch onto the Sleeping Giant Trail-this trail is not paved and may not be stroller or wheelchair accessible. However, it’s still suitable for the entire family and has some stairs to enhance accessibility and prevent erosion. The trail leads you towards the base of the scenic Sleeping Giant rock formation. Past the Sleeping Giant towards the northern edge, you will spot the mainland formations, including Three Graces and Cathedral Spire.
The Sleeping Giant Trail rejoins the Perkins Central Garden Trail after about a third of a mile onward. Other captivating trails in the park include The Ridge Trail, The Siamese Twins Trail, The Palmer Trail, The Scotsman and Buckskin Charlie Loops and The Balanced Rock Loop Hike.
The Garden of Gods park is free to the public. However, rock climbing requires a permit. Try to arrive early to find a parking spot and avoid crowds.
Hanging Lake Hike
Location: 10 miles east of Glenwood Springs, Colorado.
Length: 2.4-miles Round Trip
Elevation Gain: 346m
Difficulty Rating: Moderate to difficult
Trail Features: Canyons, Creeks, Cascades, Lakes, Birds, Waterfall
Seasons: All season. Best from Match until October.
Tips: Leave early before the crowds—no parking allowed at the trailhead. No dogs allowed. Reservations and permits are required for hiking.
Wispy waterfall tendrils, lush green surroundings, gumdrop-green water and cliffside location, makes Hanging Lake among the best hikes in Colorado. Also, the short trail makes it ideal for a day hike. The lake received a National Natural Landmark ovation in 2011 for its incredible geological feature.
Hanging Lake is perched high in the mountains in the White River National Forest. The trailhead to the lake starts at the bottom of the Glenwood Canyon Bike and Pedestrian Path westbound on I-70. The trail follows Dead Horse Creek-a tributary of the Colorado Rivers and ascends 1, 000 feet (300 m) in elevation for 1.6 miles (2.6 km) to the lake.
Actual hiking begins over one-third of the restroom at the bottom of the Glenwood Canyon. Here, the trail begins climbing rapidly with a very rocky and rugged pathway. You’ll then cross over a magnificent footbridge- the first of seven footbridges that cross over Dead Horse Creek. The trail continues with the narrow climb towards the Deadhorse Creek Canyon. The path is quite shaded meaning you won’t feel much heat in the hot summer.
Roughly 1.4 miles into the trail, the path gets quite steep with very sharp drop-offs-you’ll need to be careful. To enhance safety, steep stairs have been curved and hand railings installed. The trail offers exhilarating views down the canyon. You also get to see creeks and descending cascades. Several benches have also been installed where you can relax and ponder on the unimaginable beauty.
As you reach the top of the canyon, a crystal clear, turquoise-coloured lake welcomes you. On the right side of the lake is the Bridal Veil Falls, which makes the lake even more stunning. The waterfalls feeding the lake are a thing of beauty. A side trail leads to Spouting Rock-a truly marvelous waterfall descending from a cliff wall above the lake.
The trail is incredibly stunning but pretty short-over two and a half miles round trip. However, the steep and rocky climb with many large rocks makes the hike pretty hard taking anywhere from two to four hours depending on your fitness level.
The travertine lake being extremely fragile, hikers are not allowed to engage in activities such as swimming, fishing or being in contact with the water as oils from human skin destroys the fragile travertine. Also, dogs are not allowed in the trail.
Hanging Lake should definitely be in your bucket list for the best hikes in Colorado. Like all Colorado’s iconic hikes, Hanging Lake can get really crowded, especially in summer; therefore, you should consider arriving early. Also, from May 1 2019, a paid permit booked in advance is required to access the trailhead. The parking area for personal vehicles is closed during peak season, i.e. May 1 to October 31. You can use a shuttle service instead.
Location: Snowmass Village, CO, in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, 11 miles southwest of Aspen
Length: 27.1-miles round-trip loop
Elevation Gain: 346m
Difficulty Rating: Intermediate/difficult
Trail Features: Maroon Bells, Alpine Lakes, Rocky Mountain, Snowmass Wilderness, Wild Flowers
Seasons: All season.
Tips: Leave early before the crowds. Overnight Stay Allowed—leashed Dogs.
The Four-Pass Loop is one of the best Colorado hikes. This incredible 27-mile loop feature amazing Maroon Bells as a backdrop with beautiful wildflowers usually seen in spring and summer. The trail ascends 7, 300 feet and climbs above 12, 00 feet at four different passes- Buckskin, Trail Rider, Frigid Air and West Maroon.
The trail starts from Maroon Lake (one of the most-photographed spots in Colorado) and heads out to Crater Lake. Here, the hiking gets quite intense as you climb the Elk Mountains. You can choose to hike the loop in either direction, i.e. either clockwise or counterclockwise. The Buckskin Pass Trail takes you over Buckskin Pass with amazing views of the extensive landmass as you descend to the spectacular Snowmass Lake. The Geneva Lake Trail is lowly elevated meaning hiking is quite easy.
The Fravert Basin Trail follows the North Fork of the Crystal River climbing over the Frigid Basin Trail. It’s beautifully carpeted with wildflowers and offers panoramic views with a massive waterfall on the east of Hasley Basin with Maroon Bells on the backdrop along the way. The West Maroon Trail traverses the high-alpine tundra of the West Maroon Pass and descends along a creek towards the beautiful Crater Lake. From the lake, you can follow the Buckskin Pass Trail to complete the loop.
The Four-Pass loop scenery is exceptionally captivating with the Maroon Bells coloring the backdrop. Most hikers stay on this route for three-or-four-nights depending on their hiking pace. If you’re considering an overnight hiking trip, you’ll need to register with the trailhead attendants and park in the designated overnight parking lot. The trail tends to get congested especially during weekends; therefore, you’ll need to head out early to avoid crowds.
A shuttle service is also available from Aspen-you can take it to avoid traffic congestion and frustration of finding a convenient parking space. Also, note that Four-Pass loop features numerous creek crossing which could easily melt-off-take caution.
Longs Peak Hike Via Keyhole Route
Location: Rocky Mountain National Park. Near Allenspark Colorado
Length: 12.4-miles round-trip
Elevation Gain: 5, 100 Feet
Difficulty Rating: Difficult/ Strenuous
Trail Features: Terrific views, Glacier lakes, Forest, Boulders
Seasons: Mid-July to September.
Tips: Leave early before the crowds.
Your stay in Colorado would be incomplete without hiking the Longs Peak via the Keyhole in Rocky Mountain National Park. This trail is ideal for experienced hardcore hikers looking to experience a fantastic trail involving a bit of mountain climbing along the way.
Longs Peak stands tall at 14, 255 feet making it easily visible from downtown Denver to Fort Collins. Hiking to the top of this Rocky Mountain peak is staggeringly challenging and thrilling. The 12.4 miles, 5, 100+ feet of elevation gain trail lead you through non-ending pine forests as you ascend the rolling tundra. You find your way through the captivating boulder field with terrifying cliffs which makes this hike, not for the faint-heated.
The Keyhole route is well-marked and easy to climb at the initial stages. However, the routine gets a bit difficult in the last sections of the route leading to the summit. The last seven sections: The Boulder Field, The Keyhole, The Ledges, The Trough, The Narrows, The Homestretch and The Summit are challenging to navigate and would require some form of trail-finding skills.
Beyond the Keyhole which sits at an elevation of 13, 200 feet, the trail gets a bit challenging, and you need to be extra careful. From here, you’ll have incredible views of Powell Peak, McHenry Peak, Glacier Gorge and Black Lake.
Hiking the Long Peaks is extremely difficult, and you need to be well prepared to tackle the enormous vertical rock faces with narrow ledges and falling cliffs. Scrambling is also necessary for some sections. Also, the weather changes in seconds, causing impromptu snows, thunderstorms and lightning, especially in the afternoons. Don’t be fooled by the Rocky Mountain National Park hot summer; the weather could change to winter-like conditions in seconds without any warning. Get ready to adjust to unexpected weather conditions.
Long Peak Hike requires proper training and good health to avoid altitude sickness. Ensure you’re fit enough and carry all the necessary gear to the hike. The hike trail is usually crowded on summer weekends; therefore, you’ll need to embark on the hike early enough.
Colorado’s different landscape, physical features and relatively unexploited wilderness makes it one of the most captivating hiking locations in the world. The state is a gateway to great hiking trails, each with different sceneries and features for an incredible hike experience. The best hikes in Colorado would not only leave you yearning for more adventure but also develop your skills as a hiking enthusiast.
- 1 Tips for Hiking in Colorado
- 2 5 Best Hikes in Colorado
- 3 Final Words