Trail Time: Colorado’s Best Hiking Trails

Want some guidance when it comes to where you are going to put your boots to the trail this summer? Come along on some of our favorite long walks. We break it down into day hikes, peaks and long backpacking trips. You can also head to and add to the list with your favorites.


FISH: Heart Lake

James Peak Wilderness

The 17,506-acre James Peak Wilderness is the hidden gem of the Front Range. It may not be as big as other nearby attractions like the Indian Peaks Wilderness or Rocky Mountain National Park, but it packs a mighty, alpine punch. This steep hike heads to one of the most beautiful alpine lakes you will ever visit. Shaped like its namesake, Heart Lake sits in a stunning cirque of wildflowers and peaks that hang on to snowfields well into summer. Oh, and it’s full of fish—though it is popular enough that they see a lot of action and they are not always easy to catch.

Miles: 8.7 | Elevation Gain: 2,099 feet

DESERT: Ute Canyon

Colorado National Monument

When you think of big redrock canyons sheltering desert secrets, you normally envision Utah. We suggest you stay in-state and hike this beauty in Colorado National Monument. Striking through the heart of the sandstone butress, Ute Canyon is quiet and surprisingly lush in spots (especially in the upper end of the canyon), making it an ideal excursion in spring and fall. The best place to start is on the Rimrock Road at the foot of the monument, and you can tack on an extra .9 miles near the top of the canyon to check out the iconic Liberty Cap tower and climb it via the vertigious 50-foot ladder to the top.

Miles: 10.3 | Elevation Gain: 950 feet

SUMMIT: South Boulder Peak

Boulder Mountain Parks

Lording over the town with sweeping views of the rolling plains on one side and the summits of the Indian Peaks and Rocky Mountain National Park on the other, South Boulder Peak a hike with big rewards at the top. The summit, which is slightly hidden from town, sits at 8,459 feet, far lower than Colorado’s more famous mountain tops, but don’t be fooled: The hike to the top shoots up more than 3,000 vertical feet in just over four miles, most of that (1,800 feet) in the sheltered, rocky, rooty elevator shaft of Shadow Canyon. And remember, this is Boulder, so if you want to look like a local, go ahead and run up it (and then on to the nearby summits of 8,461-foot Bear Peak and 8,144 Green Mountain before heading back down the Mesa Trail to Eldorado Canyon and a 16-mile, 5,273-foot, massive epic. Ok, you can do it as a hike, too.)

Miles: 8.5 | Elevation Gain: 3,100 feet

Oh Be Joyful pass

Crested Butte

Yes, Crested Butte is best known for mountain biking and you would be crazy not to hit the singletrack when you come here for a visit. However, that’s not to say you won’t find some dreamy hikes here, too, especially in the quiet 65,443 acres of the Raggeds Wilderness Area. This romp to the top of 12,000-foot Oh Be Joyful Pass is an absolute orgy of wildflowers if you hit it just right. That makes it a good path to take slow.

Miles: 5.8
| Elevation Gain: 1,800 feet

Lower Mohawk Lake


Stuck in that I-70 traffic? Pull over and take a hike to this trout-filled lake not far from the bustle of Breck. Lined with wildflowers, it’s a fairly easy to reach escape from it all.

Upper Mohawk Lakes area

Miles: 6.8 | Elevation Gain: 1,683 feet



Rocky Mountain National Park

Here’s a hidden gem of a hike that we don’t feel as if we are ruining if we write about it. At 12,889 feet, Mount Ida stands out from the long ridge that parallels Rocky Mountain National Park’s Trail Ridge Road, so it’s no secret. Yet most of those tourists who gaze at it from the lacktop never think about making the hike out to it from the road and taking in the 360-degree of the park from its summit. It’s a peak that’s accessible, too, requiring just a bit of scrambling. The real danger here is the summer thunderstorms, which can roll in unexpectedly and leave hikers exposed up high (so leave early). The hike is also a good starting point for far more adventerous rambles into the lakes in the hard-to-reach cirques below it.

Miles: 9.6 | Elevation Gain: 2,465 feet

GO OFF THE GRID: Mount Alice

Rocky Mountain National Park

Here’s a high-adventure hike that truly gets you out away from the masses. But be preapared: The prelude approach into Mount Alice is as enchanting as the actual scrambling along this class 3, 13,310-foot peak itself. From Wild Basin in Rocky Mountain National Park, the route begins in deep pine forests before breaking treeline at the beautiful, seldom visited Lion Lakes. Above that, the solid ridge climbs to summit where hikers are treated to incredible views of Longs Peak, the Never Summer Range and the rarely seen Moomaw Glacier. Pack a lot of food. You’ll need the energy.


Miles: 16 | Elevation Gain: 4,800 feet

GO BIG: Mount Elbert

Rocky Mountain National Park

The highest point in the state (and second-highest in the Lower 48, just lower than California’s Mount Whitney) is a summit that’s relatively easy to tick off of your life list. That’s not to say it’s not a big, long huff of a day (again, start at the “crap” of dawn to avoid those thunderstorms), but you should enjoy those panoramic views of the Elk Mountains, the Sawatch Range and the Arkansas Valley, all spread down below as you attempt to  get the highest you can in Colorado.

Miles: 9 | Elevation Gain: 4,700 feet


Buffalo Creek to KENOSHA PASS

Lost Creek Wilderness

The nearly 500-mile-long Colorado Trail, which stretches from Denver to Durango is likely more than you have the time to take on—but that does not mean you can’t enjoy (or even complete it in smaller sections). This route (segments 4 and 5), that’s close to the Front Range yet oddly off-the-grid, is one of our favorites, taking in the aspen, fish-filled creeks and odd geological formations of the deep wilds of the Lost Creek Range.

Miles: 31.2 | Elevation Gain: 5,129 feet

steam punk PEAKBAGGING: Chicago Basin

Weminuche Wilderness

Want to tag a handful of Fourteeners in one big trip? Meet you dream hike, and one of the most famous in the state, for good reason. Getting here is half the fun, since the remote reaches of Chicago Basin in the San Juans can only be reached by a ride on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad to the Needleton stop. Unload, strap up and hike into the heart of the sprawling 499,777-acre Weminuche Wilderness. Set up basecamp and you can make an assault on Mounts Eolus (14,090 feet), Sunlight Peak (14,065 feet) and Windom (14,092 feet), all linked together in the Needle Mountains. The three summits can be linked in one big day from Chicago Basin, or you can just bring your watercolors and chill out (maybe take a nap) in camp while you enjoy the view.

Miles: 23+ | Elevation Gain: 5,000+

The Grand Loop

Rocky Mountain National Park

Ready to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the National Parks Service—which was created to protect and maintain the nation’s new, growing system of wild lands on August 25, 1916—in grand style? There’s no better way to get intimate with Colorado’s iconic park than spending a week or so wandering through the midst of it. Most visitors to Rocky Mountain barely leave their cars, while the real wonder of the place lies far from the blacktop. There are several ways to take on this epic trip: Most start in the midst of the tourists and casual hikers at Bear Lake, climb the exposed heights of Flattop Mountain and then drop into numerous trails, lakes and lonely campsites. You can even stop in the town of Grand Lake for resupply.

Miles: 42 | Elevation Gain: 14,723

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