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There’s no need to go abroad when you can find adventure in your own backyard! Get inspired to #HikeYourHomeState with guides to all 50 US states – starting with Colorado!
When it comes to hiking in Colorado, this place doesn’t need an introduction.
The state is an outdoorsman’s paradise with thousands of miles of hiking trails for every level. Here you will find pristine alpine lakes, green meadows with bright wildflowers and towering snow-capped mountains.
Whether you are looking for an easy hike along the Front Range, a scenic but well-trodden trail in the Rocky Mountains or a challenging multi-day backcountry trip, Colorado has it all.
If you want to check out some of the best hikes in the Centennial State, but don’t know where to begin, I will break down Colorado hikes in several categories that will help you choose the right trail.
10 Best Places for Hiking in Colorado
I will begin my guide by telling you all about the best places for hiking in Colorado.
Technically, it’s a tough question to answer, since Colorado is a treasure trove of gorgeous hiking trails, and your main challenge is picking the trails that you have time for.
Through my research and experience, I was able to come up with these 10 places that should be on your bucket list if you are looking for the best places to hike in Colorado.
1. Ice Lakes Basin
Often called one of the most beautiful hikes in Colorado, Ice Lakes Basin is a popular hike because of the natural wonders. The 7-mile round-trip hike begins at South Mineral Campground located near Silverton and takes you to Lower Ice Lake before you reach the dark-blue Upper Ice Lake.
Garden of the Gods is one of the most popular parks in Colorado
2. Garden of the Gods
Located about 6 miles northwest of Colorado Springs, Garden of the Gods boasts an impressive 1.3-mile loop shaped like a lollipop. It’s a good place if you are looking for an easy paved-trail but also want to enjoy impressive red rock formations that tower over the trails. Entrance to the Garden of the Gods is free.
3. Crater Lake
Located in the Indian Peaks Wilderness, Crater Lake is wildly scenic, and yet, it’s easy enough for beginning hikers who are looking to build up their skills before heading to more challenging terrain.
I recommend starting your trip as early as sunrise so you could get an incredible view of Crater Lake lit up by the sun. On your way, you will pass some of the most beautiful vistas in Colorado such as Mirror Lake and will get a glimpse of the iconic Lone Eagle Peak.
4. Emerald Lake
Going to Denver?
Don’t forget to set aside a day or two to explore the incredible Rocky Mountain National Park. This national park is one of the crown jewels in Colorado complete with over 300 miles of hiking trails and crystal-clear lakes, one of which is the stunning Emerald Lake.
The 3.3-mile round-trip will take you to Bear Lake, Nymph Lake, and Dream Lake before culminating with a remarkable view of Emerald Lake.
To enter the park, you will need to purchase the National Parks Pass or pay a $35 fee per car ( The pass costs $80, however, it is well worth it, if you plan on visiting other national parks).
5. Caribou Lake
An 8-mile hike to Caribou Lake is also an ideal day-hike for those near the greater Denver area. This hike offers a great combination of scenic vistas, wildlife and mountain views.
The Flatiron Mountains are a must-visit on a day trip to Boulder
6. Flatiron Hikes
You don’t need to go far in the mountains for the ultimate challenge.
Take a day trip to Boulder for an exhilarating hike along the iconic Flatirons Trail. The hike will take you across the meadow and lead toward the first and second sets of Flatirons.
When you get to the top, you will be able to enjoy the views of the sprawling Rockies.
7. Quandary Peak
If you want to test your hiking skills, head to Colorado’s high country. The state is mountaineering heaven with over 50(!) “fourteeners,” mountains with an elevation higher than 14,000 feet.
While some of them are located in remote and hard-to-reach corners of the state, others are located near popular ski resorts. One of them is Quandary Peak near Breckenridge, one of the most popular “fourteeners” in Colorado.
While hiking Quandary Peak sounds like an ultimate adventure, keep in mind that you will need a good level of fitness, proper hiking gear and plenty of food and water for your hike.
And don’t forget about sunscreen! The sun can be really brutal at a high elevation, and the last thing you want to do is to sport that rookie sunburn all over your face.
Maroon Bells at sunset
8. Maroon Bells
One of the most photographed places in Colorado, the iconic Maroon Bells are the two mountains situated near Aspen.
There are several ways to get to Maroon Bells, from the easy Maroon Scenic Trail that will take you about a mile for a round trip to a more difficult Maroon Creek Trail and the steep Crater Lake Trail that snakes through the aspen grove.
9. Mount Elbert
Another “fourteener,” Mount Elbert is the highest mountain in Colorado and the second highest peak in the contiguous United States after Mount Whitney in California.
Although the mountain’s elevation is 14,433 feet, the hike to the peak is not as difficult compared to some other fourteeners in Colorado.
However, you will still have to prepare for your trip and make sure that you have enough food and water for your hike. The closest town to Mount Elbert is Leadville.
10. Hanging Lake
While Hanging Lake in Glenwood is undoubtedly a scenic location, it has become ridiculously overcrowded in recent years.
The issue prompted local officials to implement a reservation system and a whole set of rules that didn’t exist years ago, as more and more visitors descended on this scenic portion of Colorado’s high country.
If you want to enjoy Hanging Lake, I recommend making your reservation for a weekday. You can make your reservation for the Hanging Lake permit here.
Long’s Peak, one of the most challenging climbs in Colorado
Most Challenging Hikes in Colorado
You don’t have to look hard to find difficult hiking in Colorado. And contrary to some stereotypes, you don’t need to drive for hours to find one.
Simply head over to the Rocky Mountains and you will find plenty of steep terrains, not many people and a great opportunity to enjoy some of the most untouched landscapes in the country.
1. Jasper Lake
Located in the mountainous Indian Peaks Wilderness, Jasper Lake Hike is an 11-mile round-trip trail that sits about 1 hour and 15 minutes from Denver. The trail begins at Hessie Trailhead and is rated as difficult.
2. Lost Falls
Lost Falls is a hike that not many know about. It’s a demanding 15.5-mile trek that starts at the elevation of 7,800-feet.
The trail follows the northern part of the Rocky Mountain National Park and a portion of the Big Thompson River, snaking through the canyon and going past aspen-covered meadows.
3. Longs Peak
So, you want to earn some bragging rights by climbing a “fourteener?”
Although the state attracts mountain climbers from all over the world, not all Colorado “fourteeners” are created equal. Some of them have a slow gradual ascent that requires a fair amount of preparation, while others feature steep ledges and require serious mountaineering skills.
Longs Peak is one of the most popular “tough” fourteeners in Colorado thanks to its location in the Rocky Mountain National Park.
Even during the summer season it can have a lot of ice and snow, however, the main challenge comes from the big number of steep ledges and loose rocks along a fairly lengthy ascent. A few people die every year while attempting to summit Longs Peak.
The elevation of Longs Peak reaches 14,259 feet. While five different trails lead to the top, the only trail that is open year-round is the Keyhole route.
4. Mount Wilson
Considered as one of the most challenging “fourteeners” in Colorado, Mount Wilson sits in San Juan National Forest.
To get to the top of this mountain, you will need to have some mountaineering skills, because to get to the top you have to climb, rappel and scramble.
It’s super important to check the weather before you decide to hike since you don’t want to encounter any inclement weather along this already difficult hike.
5. Capitol Peak
When it comes to a tough ascent, Capitol Peak takes the prize. This mountain is known for its exposed rocks many of which can be loose. You will have to do a fair amount of climbing early into the hike without a chance for a break any time soon.
As with Longs Peak and Mount Wilson, numerous climbers have died trying to summit Capitol Peak.
Climbing any of these mountains requires a lot of backcountry experience and an ability to make a sound judgment in difficult conditions and assess potential risks. This article does not serve as a guide or call to action.
Bear Lake, the starting point of one of the easiest hikes in Colorado
Easiest Hikes in Colorado
If you are a beginning hiker, you can still have plenty of fun in Colorado! Many corners of the state offer opportunities for those who want to improve their hiking skills and enjoy the unparalleled landscapes at the same time.
1. Chautauqua Trail
Located at the foothills of the Flatirons in Boulder, Chautauqua Park is a popular place for easy hiking in Colorado because the trail veers through a huge meadow. If you want to add some challenge to this easy hike, continue along the Bluebell-Baird Trail.
2. Fountain Valley Trail
Besides boasting proximity to Denver, Roxborough State Park also offers gorgeous scenery complete with jagged red rocks. These cool trails are just enough for a newbie and a nice place to relax and unwind.
3. Dream Lake
One of the most prominent features of the Rocky Mountain National Park, Dream Lake is an easy hike that begins at Bear Lake and takes about 1.1 miles one way. It’s a perfect place to sit down for a picnic or take some cool photos.
Best Time for Hiking in Colorado
There’s no wrong time to hike in Colorado.
The state offers stunning scenery whether you want to see gorgeous blooming meadows in summer, the striking foliage in fall or the amazing winter wonderland.
Although the low-elevation hiking trails are available year-round, some of the high-elevation trails are only open from July through late September because of the dangerous ice and snow conditions.
Pro Tip: Hiking in Colorado depends entirely on the weather, and before you plan your trip, you should always check the forecast. This rule especially applies to many challenging high-elevation trails that require advanced hiking and mountaineering skills.
It all comes down to having a proper gear.
To do hiking in Colorado during colder months, you are going to invest in things such as ice cleats, hiking poles and warm clothing among other things. Summer calls for a more relaxed approach unless you want to attempt one of the challenging hikes at a higher elevation where you will need to rappel and scramble.
Summer is the busiest time in Colorado with travelers from all over the country and all over the world hitting the trails across the state. This is especially true for popular places such as Rocky Mountain National Park, Hanging Lake and tourist meccas of Breckenridge, Eagle or Vail.
If you still want to see these scenic places, I recommend planning your trip early morning or late in the afternoon. Or better yet, try to do it during a weekday.
Want to skip the crowds?
Wait until October when you will not encounter as many people. Crowds start to dissipate toward mid-fall and if you pick a challenging enough trail, you might not see too many people altogether.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
Notable Natural Sites in Colorado
With hiking being one of the most popular activities in Colorado, you will need to spend some time planning your trip.
The state’s geographic landscape is incredibly diverse and ranges from the red-rock mesas and desert plateaus in the Western part to the high-elevation Rocky Mountains and the Front Range on the Eastern side.
After you scratch some the best hikes in Colorado off your bucket list, you might wonder what to do next. Luckily, Colorado has enough cool landmarks to keep you busy.
Here are a couple of suggestions.
When you think about Colorado, you don’t think about the desert. And yet, one of the most prominent natural sites in the state is Great Sand Dunes National Park located near the town of Alamosa in Southern Colorado. This area is home to huge dunes and this place easily calls for a day trip!
Other cool places in Colorado are Wheeler Geologic Area, home to a series of eroded rocks formed by the volcanic ash millions of years ago; and Paint Mines Archeological District that hosts unique historical, archaeological and cultural resources.
Whatever adventure you choose during your Colorado visit, I’m sure you will have lifelong memories!
The Discovery Nut is a travel blog focused on adventurous destinations around the world. Daria created The Discovery Nut to share her favorite places with the audience and to encourage everyone to get out of their comfort zone and explore more. If it’s a scenic destination with gorgeous nature and amazing culture, it surely sounds like a Discovery Nut kind of place!
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There’s no need to go abroad when you can find adventure in your own backyard! Plan a day trip to the top hikes on this list or browse Airbnbs for a spontaneous weekend away to explore a new corner of your home state.
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