Colorado is famous for its magnificent scenery. With its diversity of landscapes and over 300 sunny days a year, it is no wonder that Colorado is a magnet for hikers all year round.Hikers can explore Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, its deep canyons, prairies, evergreen forests, azure alpine lakes, and waterfalls.
Colorado is a world-class hiking destination. It boasts 58 mountain peaks over 14 000 feet tall – these are called 14ers, and Coloradans are obsessed with hiking them. There are thousands of trails in the 53 national and state parks and 13 national forests.
With so many to choose from – many close to big cities, like Denver, Boulder, and Colorado Springs – it can be overwhelming to plan which trail to hike next. Here, we look at some of the best hiking trails the state has to offer (the famous ones and ones off the beaten track).
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The Colorado Trail
The Colorado Trail is one of the most epic long-distance hiking trails in the US. It is a 500-mile journey from Denver to Durango. Hikers trek across 12 national forests and wilderness areas, over 8 mountain ranges, and along 5 different river systems.
The journey is divided into 28 segments. Each is between 11 and 32 miles long, and in elevation gain, they vary from 1000 to 4500 feet. One can tackle the Colorado Trail bit by bit or hike the beast in one go.
Trails In Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park boasts so many different hiking trails, each one more spectacular than the last. The trails below are some of the most popular hikes in the park.
Alberta Falls Hike
This 1.6-mile out-and-back trail is a nice and easy trail that is very popular all year round. It takes about an hour to finish, depending on how long you stop to gaze at the views.
Alberta Falls is a wonderful spot to have a picnic, or you can explore further. From the falls, there are trails to Mills Lake, Lake Haiyaha, Black Lake, and The Loch.
Ouzel Falls Hike
This is considered one of the most breathtaking waterfalls in the Rocky Mountain National Park! Ouzel Falls is 40 feet high and spills over giant boulders. Along the way to the falls are beautiful creeks and three other waterfalls!
The trail to Ouzel Falls is a 5.4-mile out-and-back hike that usually takes people around 3 to 5 hours to finish. It is rated as moderately strenuous due to the 950-foot vertical ascent.
Dream Lake Hike
The trail to Dream Lake is a 2-mile out-and-back hike that usually takes people about an hour to finish. The route is very popular all year round. The trail is excellently maintained and clearly marked.
The crystal-clear waters of Dream Lake are a sight to behold! You’ll pass the equally beautiful Nymph Lake along the way to it.
Fern Falls Hike
The trail to Fern Falls is a 5.2-mile out-and-back hike that usually takes around 3 hours to finish. With an elevation gain of 645 feet, it is moderately intense.
The Fern Falls trail runs along the Big Thompson River. Hikers trek through beautiful forests and enjoy the views of Big Thompson Valley. There is a giant rock arch about 1.2 miles from the trailhead.
Fern Falls is a 60 feet high waterfall, and if hikers keep following the trail past the falls, they reach beautiful Fern Lake. A great spot for a picnic!
Timberline Falls Hike
Timberline Falls is one of the most stunning hikes in Glacier Gorge of Rocky Mountain National Park. It is an 8-mile out-and-back trail that is quite challenging due to the 1510-foot elevation gain.
This hike takes you past the popular Alberta Falls, up to Loch Vale, and to Timberline Falls – a majestic 100-foot waterfall. It is possible to clamber up the side of the falls and continue the trail to the Lake of Glass and the famous Sky Pond.
Four Lakes And Waterfall Loop Hike
The Four Lakes hike is a 5.6-mile loop trail that has an elevation gain of 1030 feet. It is a moderately intense trail that takes hikers past four stunning lakes – Bear Lake, Nymph Lake, Dream Lake and Lake Haiyaha.
The Four Lakes trail also passes Alberta Falls. This trail is the one to hike if you want to get the most out of your time at Glacier Gorge.
Mount Elbert, the highest peak in Colorado and the second-highest mountain in the continental US, is the ultimate 14er to climb! The summit is 14 440 feet above sea level.
Mount Elbert is part of the Sawatch Range of the Rocky Mountains. It is near the town of Leadville in central Colorado, about 140 miles west of Denver.
It is a strenuous 9-mile trail that takes a day to complete. Hikers must contend with a total elevation gain of 4700 feet! It is important to hit the trail as early as possible.
The trail features some of the most incredible views in the whole state. From the summit, hikers can drink in the views of two other 14ers – Mount Massive and La Plata Peak.
There are different trails one can take to get to the summit:
- The South Mt. Elbert Trail goes up the east ridge
- The North Mt. Elbert Trail follows the northeast ridge
- The South Halfmoon Creek goes up the northwest ridge
- The Black Cloud Trail ascends the southeast ridge
- Echo Canyon Trail goes up the southwest ridge
The easiest and most popular trails are the South Mt. Elbert Trail and the North Mt. Elbert Trail.
Mount Bierstadt Trail
Mount Bierstadt is another of Colorado’s 14ers. It is one of the most accessible 14er hikes because of its close proximity to Denver (about a 1.5-hour drive).
The first mile of the Mount Bierstadt Trail is very beautiful and isn’t strenuous at all. You can hike the start of the trail to experience the unique alpine tundra environment with your family. Summiting Mount Bierstadt is a bit more of a commitment.
The trail to the summit is 7 miles long and usually takes people around 5 hours to finish. There is a total elevation gain of 2400 feet along the trail, so a reasonable level of fitness is required.
Longs Peak is Colorado’s 13th tallest mountain! At 14 259 feet tall, summitting this peak is quite an achievement. The trail starts at an elevation of 9405 feet, so hikers must climb 3825 feet!
The trail to the summit of Longs Peak is a 15-mile roundtrip, and it takes a whole day to complete. It is a good idea to start as early as possible. Hikers usually arrive at the trailhead between 3am to 5am.
Longs Peak Trail is very strenuous for a number of reasons – the uphill climbing is intense, the terrain is rocky and uneven, and afternoon thundershowers are a regular occurrence.
Less than half of the people who start the hike make it to the summit! Only experienced hikers should attempt this trail.
The Blue Lakes Trail
The Blue Lakes Trail is a stunning day-hike in southwest Colorado, near the small town of Ridgeway. The turquoise waters of the glacial lakes, the alpine meadows, and the rugged peaks make the views along this trail something special.
It is an 11-mile roundtrip hike up to Blue Lakes Pass, but you have the option of taking the 8.2-mile roundtrip trail to Upper Blue Lakes or the 6.3-mile roundtrip trail to Lower Blue Lakes.
If you walk the whole trail to Blue Lakes Pass, there is a total elevation gain of 3650 feet! Be prepared for a strenuous climb.
Fountain Valley Trail
Roxborough State Park, 45 minutes outside Denver, has some very interesting geological formations – jagged slabs of red rock thrust out of the landscape. The Fountain Valley Trails is the perfect hike to explore the most beautiful sites in the park.
It is an easy 2.3-mile loop trail that only takes about 1.5 hours to hike. It is the ideal family hiking trail because there aren’t any steep climbs. The birding along the trail is excellent, and you have a good chance of seeing wildlife.
Ice Lakes Basin
The breathtaking lake basins in San Juan National Forest (near Silverton, southwestern Colorado) is an alpine paradise. The lake basins are surrounded by jagged 13 000-foot peaks, making for stunning views, and the wildflower meadows and waterfalls are picturesque.
The trail to the lower basin, Ice Lake, is a 7-mile roundtrip hike and taking the trail to the upper basin, Island Lake, adds an extra 1.4 miles. It takes the better half of a day to hike the Ice Lakes Basin Trail. It is considered a moderately intense hike due to the 2500-foot elevation gain.
Bridal Veil Creek Trail
Bridal Veil Falls is amongst the tallest waterfalls in Colorado. It is a 365-foot drop! The Bridal Veil Creek Trail offers hikers the best view of the falls.
It is located in Uncompahgre National Forest in southwest Colorado. The 4-mile out-and-back trail is moderately strenuous due to the 1380-foot elevation gain. It is steep and rocky!
Experience the beautiful views of the Telluride Valley and check out the historical power plant at the top of the falls.
Butler Gulch Trail
The Butler Gulch Trail in the Arapaho National Forest near Empire, Colorado, is a fantastic waterfall hike, especially in the summer when the wildflowers are out.
It is a 5-mile out-and-back trail that generally takes people about 3 to 4 hours to finish. The elevation gain along the trail is about 1200 feet, so the trail is rated as moderately strenuous. In winter it is difficult!
Four Pass Loop Trail
The Four Pass Loop Trail is a multi-day hike in White River National Forest, near Aspen. It is considered one of the best backpacking trips in Colorado.
The trail passes through some of the most majestic scenery in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness area. Hikers climb four 12 000-foot passes – West Maroon, Frigid Air, Trail Rider, and Buckskin – and enjoy the gorgeous views of the Elk Mountains.
It is a 26-mile loop trail that usually takes hikers 3 or 4 days to finish. The Four Pass Loop Trail is strenuous, as there is a 2920-foot elevation gain. Only experienced hikers should attempt this trail.
Hanging Lake Hike
The Hanging Lake Trail is near Glenwood Springs in the White River National Forest. It is a super popular trail that over 100 000 hikers do annually. Because of its popularity and the sensitive nature of the ecosystem, a permit is required for this hike.
The trail is only 2.4-miles long (out-and-back), but the 1096 feet of elevation gain makes this hike moderately difficult. It generally takes about 2 hours to hike the roundtrip.
Hikers walk along the Colorado River, surrounded by the towering walls of Glenwood Canyon. Hanging Lake is considered one of Colorado’s natural wonders. The aquamarine waters of the lake and the two gorgeous waterfalls are a beautiful reward at the end of this trail.
Monarch Lake Loop Hike
Monarch Lake in the Arapaho National Forest, Grand County is a destination in itself. The Monarch Lake Loop Trail is an easy hike that features some of the best views of this stunning lake.
It is a 4-mile roundtrip that only takes people around 2 to 3 hours to hike. There is an elevation gain of 300 feet along the way, so the trail is great for people of all fitness levels.
Enjoy walking along the lakeshore, the views of the beautiful wetlands, and crossing the Buchanan and Arapaho Creeks.
Lost Man Trail
The Lost Man Trail is an 8.8-mile point-to-point hike in the Hunter-Fryingpan Wilderness of White River National Forest, near Aspen. It can be done as a backpacking trail or a day hike. There is an elevation gain of 1290 feet, making this hike moderately strenuous.
The trail features 360-degree views from the top of Lost Man Pass and the spectacular Lost Man Lake. The trail goes through the alpine meadows and beautiful forests of two valley lakes.
Coloradans are absolutely spoiled for choice when it comes to world-class hiking trails. From challenging through hikes, like the Colorado Trail, to shorter multi-day backpacking trails, and day hikes, Colorado has it all.