My favorite thing about summer in Colorado is hiking with family. Whether you want a leisurely stroll or to conquer a rigorous fourteener, there's no end to the beauty and adventure to be had!
Once the weather turns warm, our days are spent out on the trails. Because we're always looking for a new adventure, I asked my fellow library staff members to share their favorite hikes and now I'm sharing them with all of you! Win-win for everyone!
Favorites Near Denver:
When I moved to Colorado ten years ago one of the first recommendations I received was to drive up Mt. Evans. There I discovered the Chicago Lakes Trail and a love of hiking in the mountains. A moderately difficult out-and-back trail, it provides beautiful views of valleys, lakes and mountain peaks. Start at beautiful Echo Lake and continue all the way to the peak, or stop at one of the many lakes along the way.
For a more gentle walk, try Cherry Creek State Park. It's good for young children, folks who are not as physically active, and folks who just like a nice walk surrounded by nature, including lots of great wildlife like coyotes, great horned owls, and bald eagles. The official park entrance charges a fee, which you need to pay if you want to use the amenities like camping, kayaking on the lake, etc., but there are several trail entrances at different ends of the park which you can access for free if you park off-site.
For another gentle walk, check out Waterton Canyon in southwest Littleton. You can often see bighorn sheep hanging out on the mostly flat trail or by the river. Know before you go, dogs aren't allowed on this trail and parking can be limited. Weekdays or early mornings on weekends are the least crowded times. This is also a busy trail for horses and mountain bikes.
Just down the road from Waterton Canyon is another beautiful hiking option near Denver. Boasting the same dramatic rock formations as Red Rocks, this hidden gem offers a variety of easy to moderate hikes. Carpenter Peak is a great option for those looking for a slightly longer hike. Dogs aren't allowed in the park.
Castlewood Canyon State Park is another staff favorite for its proximity to Denver and great trail options. East Canyon Preservation Trail is a 4.1 mile loop that's a great choice for a quick and easy day hike.
Bonus (or not): If you go at the right time of year, you might see some local wildlife, including rattlesnakes.
Nestled in the Indian Peaks Wilderness is another beautiful out-and-back trail of moderate difficulty with big payoff. We recommend trying this one on a weekday because parking in the Brainerd Lake Recreation Area is limited, and you might not get a space unless you start early on the weekend.
And if the Blue Lake Trailhead parking is full, another beautiful alternative in the same park is the Isabelle Glacier Trail, opens a new window. This moderate to difficult out-and-back trail offers up even more stunning views.
White Ranch Park is a great choice for those hiking on a budget. One of the Jefferson County Open Spaces, access to all of its trails are free, and its location just outside of Golden makes it an easy day trip for beautiful views and lots of wildlife.
Golden Gate Canyon State Park is a definite staff favorite. So many great trails to be hiked and beautiful scenery to take in, and they have hikes for young and old of varying distances and elevations. Make sure to check out Panorama Point for a fantastic vista of the Rocky Mountains.
Another staff favorite for a hike with little kids is the Snowshoe Hare Trail at Golden Gate Canyon. It's a three mile loop and passes by a fishing hole.
For another great trail near Golden, the Apex Trail to Enchanted Forest Loop is absolutely gorgeous and it really does feel enchanted. It's not too long but it does have a steep elevation gain over a relatively short distance. It offers a good mix of shade and open views as well! If you're going as a hiker, make sure you go on an odd calendar day when it is closed to mountain bikes.
Evergreen Mountain is a local favorites and unofficial training ground for larger hikes. It's a moderate hike with great views of downtown Evergreen and a good eyeful of Mt. Evans and Bierstadt!
Just an hour outside of Denver, this park offers a variety of trails for all skill levels. I recommend the Staunton Ranch/Scout Line/Marmot Pass trail combination to Elk Pond for those looking for a great workout and beautiful scenery. Or try the Staunton Ranch/Old Mill/Mason Creek for a decent loop with spectacular views if you take the Bear Paw Trail detour up to Eagle Cliffs Overlook.
Whether you're looking to challenge yourself with some technical rock climbing or marvel at other people's daring and skills, Eldorado Canyon State Park has fun for everyone. For those looking for a less terrifying alternative, I recommend either the Eldorado Canyon Trail or the Rattlesnake Gulch Trail.
Chief Mountain Trail near Idaho Springs has got the views! And as a 2.8 mile out-and-back is fairly short and moderate. It's a great hike to get the 13er/14er views without having to spend the whole day hiking.
Also near Idaho Springs, St. Mary's Glacier is a great option for anyone looking for a short quick climb. At only 3/4 mile with over 1000 ft. elevation gain, this one is probably not the best for small children.
Conveniently close to Denver and situated near the beautiful Flatirons in Chautauqua Park, this is probably one of the most difficult day hikes I've done. While it's not nearly as difficult as the Manitou Incline in Colorado Springs, be prepared for a great workout with all the ups and downs of this trail. The payoff is a beautiful view of Boulder in one direction and Denver in the other.
Pro tip: Because this park is right in Boulder, it can be crowded all the time but especially on the weekends. I recommend trying this one in the middle of the week, if possible.
Mount Sanitas Peak Trail is fantastic option for getting a tough workout in! It's a great option right in Boulder if you want to avoid the crowds at Flatirons.
Family friendly, beautiful and on hot days, very shady! Know before you go, the stairs and fire tower are permanently closed due to safety concerns. Parking can be extremely limited, so plan to arrive early.
If you're heading down to Colorado Springs, give this one a try. There are multiple paths to take with various difficulties and it offers a nice alternative to the often busy Garden of the Gods.
Just outside of Ouray, Colorado (the Switzerland of the USA), this is a beautiful, moderate to difficult out-and-back trail. Especially beautiful in July when the flowers are blooming, take lots of food and water and plan a relaxing soak in the hot springs when you get back to Ouray.
For those looking for a challenge and to see lots of active wildlife, this is a really great backpacking trip. Be warned, one librarian got chased out of camp by a bear, so make sure you go prepared and keep your fur family on a leash!
Near Avon, CO, this trail is closed from May 15 to June 20 every year, but there are other trails in the area you can enjoy while this one is closed. For Paulie's Plunge, you start at the Stone Creek trail head and Paulie's starts about a 1/2 or 3/4 of a mile in. There are lots of trees, so it would be a great shady hike for the summer. It's listed as moderate and there are quite a few uphill portions, so maybe not great for young kids, but teens and up would enjoy it.
A staff favorite for backpacking trips (you can do it in a day if you are fast!) is Mt Sopris. It is the dominant peak in the Roaring Fork Valley outside of Carbondale. You definitely earn your views on this hike! Look for a great resting spot at Thomas Lakes half way up.
Full disclosure: It's not in Colorado but it is just a short drive up I-25 to I-80 between Cheyenne and Laramie, Wyoming. A gorgeous rock outcropping on the high planes surrounded by forest, it has an easy trail with great views circling its base, but the real fun is in the abundance of places to boulder around on the rocks.