From the mile high city of Denver to the famous Rocky Mountains peaks, Colorado boasts some of the most stunning natural beauty in North America.
Welcoming in nearly 90,000 visitors a year, Colorado remains one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States. Across Colorado’s diverse landscape, nature lovers can find forests, mountains, canyons, rivers, and deserts alike.
With four massive national parks and thousands of astonishing trails, it can be overwhelming to sort through the best spots for hiking in Colorado. If you’re having a bit of trouble planning your trip to the Centennial state, read on for some of the best trails in Colorado.
Best Hiking in Colorado Close to Denver
Not everyone has the time to head deep into the Rocky Mountains during their Colorado visit! Whether you’re visiting Denver for a business trip, or just passing through, there are several great options for hiking in Colorado that are just a short day trip outside of the mile high city.
1. Garden of the Gods
If you only have one chance to get out the city during your visit, the Garden of the Gods is a must see location. Just an hour drive from Denver, this gorgeous park lives up to its name. Visitors will be treated to iconic red rock formations across 21 miles of available trails.
The Garden of the Gods is particularly popular among families with younger children and senior citizens due to its leveled out and well-marked trails.
Within the park, visitors can check out the 1.5 mile Perkins Central Garden Trail, taking you through some of the most photographed rock formations in the park. And the best part? It’s wheelchair accessible!
With a massive visitor’s center, expansive parking, and free entry, Garden of the God is one of the most accessible parks for hiking in Colorado.
2. Trading Post Trail
Visiting Denver with a tight schedule? No worries! Only a 20 minute drive from downtown, Trading Post Trail is practically a part of the city. This trail offers a great sample of what Colorado has to offer with an easy-going 1.5 mile loop that weaves through breezy mountain meadows and red rock formations.
Be careful though! Despite being a relatively easy hike, the lack of shade can make for a difficult trek on a hot and sunny day. Make sure to bring water and sunscreen!
After your hike, don’t forget to check out the Red Rocks Amphitheatre nearby. This naturally formed, open air theater has hosted countless world-famous musicians including the Beatles, Louis Armstrong, Bob Dylan, and Jimi Hendrix!
3. Chautauqua Trailhead
Only a half hour from Denver, the Chautauqua Trailhead gives you easy access to 20 different hiking trails. Though you can’t go wrong with any of Chautauqua’s trails, the First and Second Flatiron trail is a crowd favorite.
That being said, this 2.5 mile trail can prove to be a bit of a challenge for inexperienced hikers. From the beginning of the trail to the end, hikers can expect to rise approximately 1,200 feet in elevation. So, make sure to take a breather!
Nevertheless, the huffing and puffing will certainly be worth the sweeping views of Boulder’s famous sandstone, “flat iron” rock formations.
Parking at the trailhead comes at a premium, however, with only 48 available parking spots and limited overflow street parking. As a result, visitors should expect to pay a small parking fee during the summer months.
If you don’t have much time in the city, and you’re looking for an excellent sampling of what hiking in Colorado has to offer, the Chautauqua Trailhead is tough to beat.
While you’re at it, make sure to make a pit stop in Boulder! With great food and great people, this little town rarely disappoints.
Deeper in the Mountains
For the more dedicated campers and nature lovers among us, an extended stay in the Rocky Mountains is an absolute must. To truly get the best Colorado has to offer, you will have to travel quite a bit further west than Denver.
Traveling west from Denver, the view of the approaching mountain line is spectacular. As winding roads give way to fresh air and vast mountain peaks, you will know that you’ve made the right choice.
It’s deep in these mountains that you will find the best hiking in Colorado.
4. Emerald Lake Trail
While many mountain hikes may entice visitors seeking a rewarding vista or peak, the Emerald Lake Trail dazzles every step of the way. This 4.1 mile round trip features not one, not two, but three stunning alpine lakes.
Throughout your climb you will be accompanied by Tyndall Creek flowing along the way. Once you reach the top, you will be greeted by the trail’s crown jewel, Emerald Lake. If that wasn’t enough, the surrounding rock formations of Flattop Mountain will leave you reaching for your camera again and again.
Keep in mind that the trail head at Bear Lake has a small parking lot that can fill up quickly. It’s recommended that you arrive early before this popular location gets too crowded.
5. Maroon Bells Scenic Loop Trail
It is nearly impossible to say where the most beautiful hiking in Colorado is. But if it were possible, the Maroon Bells Scenic Loop Trail would definitely be a contender for the most stunning views in Colorado. A once in a lifetime hike, this trail should be on everyone’s bucket list.
Particularly awe inspiring in autumn, the Maroon Bells are the most photographed mountains in the United States. While there are several trails offering iconic views of the Maroon peaks, Crater Lake Trail offers the most rewarding views of Crater Lake and the surrounding peaks.
3.6 miles in length, this trail can be a bit challenging. Hikers should expect occasionally steep and rocky pathways during the ascent. Anticipate temperatures to cool gradually throughout the hike and be prepared for spontaneous shifts in weather.
Be aware that reservations are required to visit the Maroon Bells with a personal vehicle. During warmer months of the year, a park and ride shuttle is available at the Aspen Highlands parking area. Parking and shuttle bus information and reservation services can be found on the Aspen Chamber Resort Association webpage.
6. Hanging Lake Trail
Do not be fooled by the seemingly short 1.2 mile length of Hanging Lake Trail. This easily underestimated trail is steep, rocky, and could prove to be a challenge for less experienced hikers. In just the course of a mile, hikers will experience an elevation gain of nearly 1,200 feet.
Even the most seasoned hikers won’t mind taking this journey slowly however, as the trail follows a cascading creek throughout the entire trek up to the hanging lake. At the top of the trail, hikers will be greeted to a stunning view of Bridal Veil falls gently cascading over the serene Hanging Lake.
If you want to inspect the Bridal Veil falls a bit more closely, there is a beautiful boardwalk that allows travelers to walk around the lake and underneath the falls!
It is important to note, however, that a visit to this Colorado gem requires a permit that must be purchased in advance of your visit. Permits and further information regarding park regulations can be found on the Glenwood Springs website.
7. The Colorado Trail
Running across 567 miles from Denver to Durango, the Colorado trail can be described more as a pilgrimage than a hike. If hiked from start to finish, this journey can last anywhere between four to six weeks.
One of the longest hiking routes in the United States, the Colorado Trail passes through eight mountain ranges, six national forests, and five different rivers. Elevation varies from 5,500 feet to 13,271 feet in the San Juan Mountains, the highest point in the trail.
Hikers may find themselves stumbling across ancient Native American trails, historic western towns, and some of the state’s most exceptional mountain views.
For those of you who may not be able to dedicate a month to such a lofty endeavor, the trail is divided into 33 segments, allowing visitors to pick and choose between various trailheads. These segments range from 9.8 miles to 32.9 miles in length, allowing you to craft your own journey across the great mountain state.
The most popular approach to completing the entirety of the trail is travelling from East to West, as it allows for more gradual acclimation to the shifting altitudes over the course of a few weeks.
Try Hiking a Fourteener!
Looking for a different kind of challenge? Some of the best hiking in Colorado can be found across Colorado’s 38 different peaks reaching over 14,000 feet.
Beware that these hikes are not for the faint of heart. Some hikes can last up to 14 hours and could take hikers through potentially intense and quickly changing weather conditions.
Once you have selected your peak, make sure to spend a good amount of time planning. Factors such as the time of the year, weather conditions, and the route you select for your summit, all have a major impact on how to safely approach your journey.
Knowing your capabilities, the length of the hike, and having appropriate clothing are all essential to a successful summit. Importantly, familiarity with the mountain’s trails ahead of your hike will ensure you don’t get lost along the way.
It is highly recommended to stay at a campground nearby to a given peak’s trailhead. Early morning departures from camp are a necessity in order to return safely before sundown.
Just remember, mountain conditions can be very unpredictable. Reaching the summit may not guarantee a clear view of the world below as cloud cover can often create low visibility. Don’t be too worried, though. Your bragging rights after summiting? Those will be clear as day.
Feeling up to the challenge? Here are a few of our favorite peaks to jumpstart your next adventure:
- Great for first timers: San Luis Peak
- Crowd favorite: Longs Peak
- Most photogenic: Handies Peak
- Highest difficulty: Capitol Peak
- Summit accessible by car: Pikes Peak
Wrapping up the Best Hiking in Colorado
The beauty of hiking in Colorado is that there is a trail out there for everyone. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker, a backcountry explorer, or looking to go on your first camping trip, Colorado’s natural allure will never fail to astonish.
With sweeping mountain views, abundant wildlife, and untouched woodland groves, Colorado’s wilderness provides an excellent escape for those seeking to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
So what are you waiting for? Find yourself a good campground, pack up your gear, and get going! The best hiking in Colorado is ahead of you.
Interested in other ways to enjoy this gorgeous state? Then check out our post on the Best Hot Springs in Colorado.