Top 15 Colorado Hikes (According to a Native) for the Year 2023

Colorado is an adventurer's dream, full of stunning landscapes and thrilling activities. One of Colorado's most well-liked pastimes is hiking, and the state's trails cater to hikers of all skill levels.

Here are 15 of Colorado's finest trails, described in detail. I'm a Colorado native and I've hiked most of these trails, so I can give you a first-hand account of what you can expect from each one. I'll also recommend some of my favorite pieces of equipment so that you can hit the trail with everything you need.

So, let's just jump right in.

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Top 15 Colorado Hikes

The Path to Emerald Lake

Estes Park

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In the Middle | 3 Distance: 2 miles; Access: National Park Pass ( yearly; $25 per vehicle for day entry; Google Maps; Park Website; 2 hours by car from Denver)

One of the most well-known trails in Colorado is the Emerald Lake Trail, which leads through Rocky Mountain National Park. This out-and-back hike is perfect for families or those who aren't used to the altitude.  

With these three Along the 2 miles of this trail, you will see several beautiful alpine lakes. Nymph Lake, the tiniest of the lakes, comes first. Dream Lake comes into view next, where you may see elk herds and even rainbow trout in the water Finally, there's Emerald Lake, which is bookended by the towering peaks of Hallett Peak and Flattop Mountain.  

If the stunning surroundings have you yearning for more, venture off the beaten path. An additional trail connects Dream Lake to Lake Haiyaha to the east. I think this side trip is fantastic because you get to experience the real heart of the National Park without all the other tourists.  

Bear Lake Trailhead has a small parking lot, so plan ahead for your visit. If you want to see the park's sunrise, you should get there early or take the park shuttle. You can also avoid the hassle of getting there by taking a tour of Rocky Mountain National Park.

The Flatirons, Parts 1 & 2


The author with her husband in the iconic Flatirons in Colorado We took a hike to Boulder's famous Flatirons with my husband.

In the Middle | 2 Distance from Denver: 7 miles, Website: Boulder, Travel Time: 30 Minutes, Price: $2 50 per hour during summer weekends and holidays | Take A Hike Plus Beer Tour

In Boulder, Colorado, one of the most rewarding trails is the First and Second Flatirons Loop. This trail has a moderate rating despite the fact that its elevation gain of over 1,400 feet may make the hike challenging for some. However, the stunning panoramas of the front range are well worth the hike.  

The trail's proximity to the city makes it popular, but users should be aware of the high volume of foot traffic. If you want to find a parking spot, you should go during the off-season or on a weekday. The surrounding areas also have parking options. The Park-To-Park shuttle will take you to the Chautauqua Trailhead for free.  

Favorite Hiking Equipment: Less people and easier access in the wintertime However, the trail may be icy in places. Put a traction system on your hiking boots to keep from slipping. Yaktrax is a fantastic, reasonably priced option.  

The Keyhole Route Up Longs Peak

Estes Park

The summit of a rocky mountain in Estes Park

Proficient | 14 Distance from Denver: 8 miles | How to Get There | Park Website | Driving Time: 1 hour 45 minutes | Price: National Park Pass ( yearly / $25 per vehicle for day entry)

One of the most well-known trails in all of Rocky Mountain National Park is the Keyhole Route, which leads to the top of Longs Peak. Despite its popularity, this hike is only recommended for extremely fit and experienced hikers.

Longs Peak, the highest point in the Park at an altitude of 14,259 feet, is an impressive sight. Hikers who want to summit in a day must set out before sunrise to beat the afternoon storms. Since reaching the peak can take anywhere from 10 to 15 hours, some hikers opt to spend the night camping at the Boulder Field.  

High altitude and scrambling are required for reaching Longs Peak. There are vertical cliffs, precarious ledges, and crumbling rock on this path. Your abilities may be impacted by the elevation as well. But for the courageous and talented, it will be a worthwhile experience.  

Favorite Piece of Equipment: Even though hiking Longs Peak is not a technical climb, you should still wear a helmet. My favorite helmet is the Petzl Borea, but there are many others to choose from at REI.  

Walkway Over Hanging Lake

Location: Glenwood Springs

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In the Middle | 3 Distance: 0.1 miles | Resources: Google Maps | Forest Service Website | Time to Travel: 2.4 hours and 45 minutes from Denver | Permit Price: $12 per person | Currently Closed: Mudslides

Hiking to Hanging Lake is like visiting a postcard from the Rocky Mountains. In spite of its apparent ease, the 1 Nearly 1,200 feet in elevation gain over a distance of 5 miles  

Bring a lot of water with you. The trail involves some rock scrambling, so a hands-free water reservoir is recommended. Most backpacks have enough room for these adaptable pouches.

Several wooden bridges carry hikers across Dead Horse Creek on this trail. Take the extra few steps up to the top to see Spouting Rock, a waterfall that shoots straight out of the rock.  

Following a brief stretch of handrail, you'll arrive at Hanging Lake. The sight of several waterfalls draining into the turquoise pool is breathtaking. Beautiful vistas of Glenwood Canyon can be seen to the south.  

After your hike, relax in one of Glenwood Springs' three hot spring resorts. It will do wonders for your aching muscles.  

Trail to Sky Pond via Glacier Gorge

Estes Park

The sky pond and a rocky mountain in Estes Park

Challenge: 9 (Very) Distance: 4 miles; Access: National Park Pass ( yearly; $25 per vehicle for day entry; Google Maps; Park Website; 2 hours' drive from Denver)

Trying to find a trail in Rocky Mountain National Park that is less traveled Glacier Gorge Trail will lead you to Sky Pond, where you can enjoy some quiet time and breathtaking views.  

Many people looking for a waterfall hike near Denver head to the Glacier Gorge trailhead to see Alberta Falls. However, once visitors move on from that area, the crowds quickly disperse. From here, the trail leads through scenic alpine meadows dotted with clear lakes.  

The Loch comes first, then Lake of Glass, and finally Timberline Falls. Sky Pond, framed by Petit Grepon, Sabre, and Sharkstooth, can now be seen. Wildflowers and a small waterfall add a touch of softness to the otherwise harsh landscape.  

Due to its length and isolation, a GPS unit may prove useful. It's simple to navigate with digital maps, and many modern gadgets have built-in means of contact in case of an emergency. A reliable compass is the bare minimum item that should be on your Colorado mountain packing list.

A Peak Named Bierstadt


The author with her husband and dog at the summit of Mount Bierstadt At the top of Mount Bierstadt, my husband and I are pictured with our dog.

Challenge | 7 Distance from Denver: 8 miles; Access: Google Maps; Information: Forest Service Website; Travel Time: 1 hour 30 minutes; Price: Free

Trailhead parking for Mount Bierstadt can be found along the seasonal Guanella Pass Road. This hike is best experienced during the warmer months, but is unfortunately inaccessible during the winter.  

Grassy meadows and the surrounding landscape transform into blooming fields of wildflowers once the snow melts. You can see the entire Arapaho National Forest and other nearby peaks from the top. Grays Peak and Torreys Peak are two such peaks on the CD. Mount Evans, which is right next to Bierstadt, can be climbed via Sawtooth Ridge at a Class 3 level.  

Like many others, Mount Bierstadt was the very first Colorado 14er I ever climbed. It's a great first hike in the 14,000-foot range because of its proximity to Denver and easy route.

Click play on my video compilation of the best 14ers to hike as a beginner:

No hike up a 14er should be considered "easy," though. Get going early so you can beat the afternoon storms, and bring supplies. Do not forget to bring a first aid kit, sunscreen, and plenty of water on your trip. Furthermore, I can attest that blister treatment is a must for hikes of this nature in Colorado.

Keep your eyes peeled for pika, marmots, and mountain goats once you've climbed above treeline.

A Hike Along the Cascade Creek in Crater Lake


View of the Crater Lake and the rocky mountain that surrounds it

Driving time from Denver is 2 hours and 30 minutes, and the cost is zero. Distance is 16 miles. Use Google Maps. Visit the Forest Service's website.

One of the best trails in Colorado is the Cascade Creek Trail, which leads to Crater Lake. This trail is ideal for beginners to backpacking because it is well-used and has easy access to water.  

Follow Arapaho Bay Road (CR 6) around Lake Granby to find the trailhead for Monarch Lake. Keep in mind that the winter months render this dirt road impassable.  

However, the region comes to life in the summer, when hikers from all over flock there. As one of the most popular day hikes in the area, the beginning of the trail to Monarch Lake Loop is usually quite busy.  

After the first mile or so, the trail becomes less crowded and the scenery improves significantly. Reach Mirror Lake by way of a series of switchbacks and a hike through flower-filled alpine meadows. From here, you can see Lone Eagle Peak, and Crater Lake is only a half mile away.  

An insider's suggestion: extend your stay and pitch a tent at one of the many remote campsites in the region. Just make sure you bring the right gear and an overnight permit for the Indian Peaks Wilderness.  

Central Garden Path in Perkins

Springs, Colorado

View of red rocks mountain in Perkins Central Garden Trail

🥾 Easy | 1 Distance: 1 mile; Access: Park Website; Travel Time: 1 hr 30 min from Denver; Price: Free

Visits to the Perkin Central Garden Trail are rewarding at any time of year. Many of Colorado's best hikes require serious effort before rewarding hikers with breathtaking panoramas. However, at Garden of the Gods, this is not the case.

This hike is great for families because of its accessibility and low elevation gain. The trail winds around the middle of the park, giving visitors a close-up view of the impressive sandstone formations. It's not uncommon to see one or two climbers making their way up the cliff faces.  

This classic Colorado trail can be hiked for as long as you like. Follow Scottsman Trail to the park's southern features and picnic areas. Alternatively, you can return to the parking lot and hike across the street to access Palmer Trail, which offers spectacular views of the surrounding area. The iconic Pikes Peak may even be visible.  

Check out Laura's list of the top 23 hikes in Colorado Springs if you're planning a trip there.

Basin of Ice Lakes


Overlooking view of the Ice Lakes in Silverton

Complexity Rating: 8 Distance from Denver: 3 miles | Directions: Google Maps | Website: Forest Service | Travel Time: 6 hours 45 minutes | Price: Free

Ice Lakes Basin, in the San Juan Mountains, is without a doubt one of Colorado's finest hiking destinations. It's a popular trail despite being difficult and far from any major cities. Tourists travel from all over the world to visit Colorado's famous alpine lakes.  

You can start your hike from the trailhead just across the street from South Mineral Campground. You'll gain nearly 3000 feet in elevation on this seemingly never-ending series of switchbacks. Wildflowers, waterfalls, and even alpine lakes can be seen around every corner.  

To begin, you will go past Lower Ice Lake; however, you should continue on. The highlight, Upper Ice Lake, is just ahead. The turquoise pool is breathtaking because it is framed by the 13ers Golden Horn, Pilot Knob, and Vermillion Peak.  

Add an extra day to your hike. It is only a 5-mile hike to Island Lake, another popular San Juans destination. The trailhead is at kilometer 3.0, just east of Ice Lake. Point 2 miles in  

Please refer to my Where to Stay in Silverton and 25 Best Things to Do in Silverton guides if you are planning a trip to the area.

Star Dune


Image swapping via swiping

National Park Pass ( yearly, $25 per vehicle for day entry) Challenging 8 miles Google Maps Park Website Three hours and forty-five minutes' drive from Denver

Hiking up to Star Dune in Great Sand Dunes National Park is one of my favorite things to do in Colorado. Most hikers who set out on this route never make it past High Dune, a fictitious peak. There is still another 2 You won't see another hiker for at least 5 miles, starting from High Dune.  

Hiking in the sand is challenging, but the scenery is breathtaking. The Sangre de Cristo Mountains provide a stunning backdrop for the seemingly endless sand dunes.  

The only thing that breaks the silence is the rhythm of the dunes. It's possible to cause a mini avalanche by hiking along a rim and pushing sand down a dune face. A low note on a string instrument-like vibration can be heard as a result of this. I can honestly say that I have never seen anything like it in all my years of observing the natural world.   

A pair of Vibram FiveFingers will make your hike in Great Sand Dunes National Park that much more enjoyable. The soles of your feet will be safe from the scorching summer sun while the sand stays out of these lightweight shoes.  

Loop with Four Intercepts


View of the Maroon Bells Lake in Aspen

Professional | 25 Distance from Denver: 7 miles; Access: Google Maps; Website: Forest Service; Travel Time: 3 hours 45 minutes; Price: Free

Four Pass Loop through the Maroon Bells Wilderness is easily one of the best hikes in Colorado It takes most people three to four days to complete this epic backpacking trip.  

The majority of visitors to Aspen's famous Maroon Lake begin their hikes by catching a shuttle from the city center. Near the 1 At the 5 mile point, you'll come to the split between the West Maroon Trail and the Snowmass Trail. The 23-mile trail can be hiked either clockwise or anti-clockwise.  

Four mountain passes (Buckskin, Trail Rider, Frigid Air, and West Maroon) will be crossed along this path. Wildflowers, alpine lakes, waterfalls, and an abundance of wildlife make up the landscape. Please be aware that this is bear country and take appropriate safety measures. In this area, bear canisters are a necessity for hikers, and bear spray is also a good idea to have on hand.  

This is not an easy backpacking trip for novices. A memorable adventure awaits those who put in the time and effort to prepare.  

The Hiking Path at Warner Point


View of the rocky and snowy mountain in Warner Point Nature Trail

🥾 Easy | 1 Travel time from Denver is five hours, and the cost is for an annual National Park Pass or $25 per vehicle for day entry.

One of Colorado's least frequented national parks, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, is a popular destination for daredevils. Rock and ice climbers flock to the sheer faces of Colorado, especially the state's tallest cliff, Painted Wall. Expert kayakers come here to tackle the Colorado River's roughest rapids.  

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is stunning, but even casual hikers can enjoy it from the rim. The nature trail at Warner Point is rated as a 5 miles with minimal elevation gain Views of the inner canyon and the surrounding mountain ranges can be had from the trail.

Check the weather and other conditions before making the trip. Access to the park is restricted from November to April due to the closure of South Rim Road.  

Connecting the South Colony Lakes

Canyon Town

View of the sunrise in South Colony Lakes Trail

Strenuous | 8 Distance from Denver: 9 miles; Access: Google Maps; Website: Forest Service; Travel Time: 3 hours and 15 minutes; Price: Free

From Great Sand Dunes National Park, many people have a clear view of the Crestone Group. South Colony Lakes Trail, however, brings you within striking distance of all three of these peaks: Humboldt, Crestone Needle, and Crestone Peak. All three are 14ers, with the last two ranking among the most challenging to reach the summit of.  

While this trail is not Class 3 climbing, it still presents a significant challenge with a nearly 2,300-foot elevation gain. The first two miles of the trail are on a dirt road that can be driven on by vehicles with high ground clearance, making the hike shorter.  

Once you get past this point, the hike becomes one of the best in Colorado due to the breathtaking scenery. A waterfall, flower-filled meadows, and rugged mountain ranges await you in the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness.  

Backpacking in the area is a great way to extend your trip. The basin itself has 40 scattered campsites, with additional options along the road and near the trailhead.

Falls at Fish Creek

The Town of Steamboat

View of a rocky Fish Creek Falls

Complexity Rating: 4 Distance: 7 miles | Directions: Google Maps | Website: Forest Service | Travel Time: 3 Hours from Denver | Price: $5 Parking

Steamboat Springs is best known as a ski destination, but the area also has access to some fantastic hiking. One of the most frequented trails, Fish Creek Falls leads to a breathtaking 280-foot waterfall.  

The trail is rocky and steep, going up a total of 1,450 feet. The Upper Fish Creek Falls is where most peoplemile loop before heading back. 7-mile round-trip hike Some people go on to Long Lake, but they should be aware that this is a 7 Add 6 miles onto your trip. However, there are those who prefer to take the 0 Viewing area for the falls is 3 miles away on a paved path.  

No matter your level of expertise, you should definitely check out this location in the Routt National Forest. Read my list of the top 21 things to do in Steamboat Springs before you plan your Colorado road trip.  

Path of the Royal Arch


View of hikers in the Royal Arch Trail

Challenge: 3 Distance: 1 mile | Google Maps | Boulder Website | Time: 30 minutes | Price: $2 Weekends and holidays during the summer cost $50 per hour, while weekdays are free.

With its convenient proximity to Denver and abundance of outdoor activities, Boulder ranks among the top day trip destinations in the Front Range. The Royal Arch Trail is highly recommended by the community due to its proximity to a unique rock arch.  

Chautauqua Park is where the journey starts. From here, you can access a network of trails, including several that lead to Royal Arch. The quickest route only takes 3 It's only a mile long, but it's very difficult due to the steepness, rocks, and numerous turns. Hikers who make it to the end of the trail will be treated to a breathtaking panorama.

The stone arch is 20 feet in height, giving guests ample opportunity to examine it from all angles. Above Boulder, looking down Bluebell Canyon is a beautiful sight any time of year. However, I prefer going in the winter because there are fewer people. Wear shoes with good traction, please.

How to Prepare for a Hike in Colorado

The best trails in Colorado can be found all over the state, especially to the west of the Rocky Mountains. Several can be found in protected areas like Rocky Mountain National Park. The vast majority are day hikes, but a few are overnighters.

The Emerald Lake Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park is the state's most beautiful hiking trail. It's a classic Colorado route, and it's suitable for hikers of all abilities. Hikers can take in picturesque vistas of alpine lakes, blooming meadows, and towering peaks on this trail.  

Scenic view from the Colorado's Yellow Aspens The best time to see the yellow aspens in Colorado is in September and October.

Hiking season in Colorado is from June to October. The snow has melted and the mud season has ended during these months. Additionally, these are the months with the longest days and highest average temperatures in Colorado.  

Related Material: For more information on the weather in Denver and the rest of Colorado, check out my article, "The Best Time to Visit Denver."  

The best trails in Colorado can be found in the state's national parks. National parks in the area include Rocky Mountain, Great Sand Dunes, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison. An annual National Park Pass is your best bet for unrestricted access to the parks and their trails.   


The best hikes in Colorado have hopefully been highlighted in this article. Be prepared, know the weather forecast, and leave no trace by doing your homework before heading out to the trailhead. Plus, don't forget to take lots of pictures!

Check out our other Colorado hiking guides for more information and ideas:

Bon voyage!

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