Want to do some hiking in Colorado? You have lots of options all over the state! From the tall peaks of Aspen to the lovely lakes of Arapaho National Forest, the trails in Colorado are all highly rewarding and full of hidden gems. But with the dominance of rocky and exposed terrain, most of them are best suited for experienced hikers who are sure in their every step.
Whether you’re looking forward to conquering Colorado’s tallest peak or just want to lounge under the sun near a charming lake, you will find the best hikes in Colorado right here! And no matter which trail you pick, you be certain that it’s rewarding from trailhead to the very end!
Dress in layers. A lot of the hikes featured here will take you to some of Colorado’s tallest peaks that sit at an elevation of 12-14,000 feet. At that elevation, you can always expect snow and ice, even during the warmest months of the year.
That’s why it’s smart to dress in layers and carry a warm jacket in your backpack, just in case. It’s also important to wear sturdy hiking shoes with excellent grip and traction. Most trails have rocky terrain that, combined with ice, can be quite dangerous if you’re not wearing appropriate footwear.
Rent a car. Colorado is a big state with hiking trails worth exploring in nearly every part of it. If you want o go to Aspen, Boulder, White River National Forest and many National Parks in Colorado, you will need a car to get around easily.
There is bus transport in some parts of the state but not everywhere, and it usually won’t take you right to the trailhead. On the other hand, there are parking lots near all the trailheads of the hikes included here, so a car is going to be much more convenient.
Be prepared for rain. Most of the trails I will tell you about here are accessible only during the warmer months of the year, which tend to have a lot of rain and thunderstorms in the afternoon hours. If you don’t set out on any of the hikes in Colorado super early so you’re back before the rain hits, you will need to think about protection and shelter from the rain. A Gore-tex jacket is a must in your backpack, and even a tent might not be a bad idea.
Also, do some additional research about the most difficult hiking trails – some of them end up well above the treeline, and it’s not a good idea to be there when the thunderstorms hit. That’s why you need to plan and time your hikes
Another thing worth noting is that the trails that aren’t open to hikers during the colder months are often popular for snowshoeing and sometimes even skiing!
Image courtesy of Andrew Davidoff
The North Mount Elbert Trail is a proper treat for avid hikers. It is recommended only to experienced hikers due to the large change in elevation that spans over 15 kilometers of a rocky uphill trail. It is one of the most rewarding day hikes in Colorado though.
Mount Elbert is Colorado’s tallest peak at 14,440 feet. The path to the top is a challenging one, featuring lots of switchbacks across rocky terrain, several points where you have to scramble and very little shade along the way. But the effort this hike requires pays off even before you get to the end.
The early segments of the trail feature a river and lots of wildflower in a very serene setting. And the views along to way are breathtaking, but they’re nothing compared to the spectacular views from the top of Colorado’s tallest peak. You can see all the way to the Twin Lakes, which are miles and miles away from Mount Elbert.
This trail is accessible from May to October, and it can be used by both dogs and horses. It’s recommended you set out on the trail as early as you can, since thunderstorms start to roll in during afternoons in the summer months, and that can be rather dangerous if you find yourself above the treeline at the time.
Image courtesy of Christian Collins
The Royal Arch Trail is a short but demanding hike near Boulder. It features stunning wildflowers and wildlife sights, as well as scenic views of the open valley of Boulder. But don’t let the shortness of the trail mislead you – this is a rather difficult hike that only experienced hikers should attempt.
The trail is rocky with plenty of switchbacks and segments where you have to scramble. There are lots of boulders to climb and the first segment of the trail is the steepest. After that, the terrain becomes much rockier with an abundance of embedded roots, so you must watch your every step. Towards the end of the trail you’re basically just climbing up rocky stairs, so make sure to wear some sturdy shoes with great traction.
The Royal Arch is a natural rock formation that looks spectacular. It’s quite similar to Hajducka Vrata in Bosnia – another thrilling hike you should do if you’re ever in this part of the world. But if you’re sticking to Colorado for now, you should know that the path to Royal Arch starts on Chautauqua Trail close to the ranger station.
Image courtesy of Michael Mangin
The Seven Bridges Trail is a moderately difficult hike in North Cheyenne Canon Park. It is not exactly near Denver, but at only 4 hours south, it’s perhaps doable on a weekend.
It is short and the terrain is moderately difficult, so it’s perfectly suitable for people who don’t have a lot of hiking experience. However, it’s worth noting that this hiking trail is not at all stroller friendly, so if you’re doing the hike with a small child you will need a backpack carrier for them.
The name of this hike is a bit of a spoiler since it actually features seven different bridges along the way. On the trail you will also get to see lots of wildflowers, a river and stunning waterfalls. Parts of the hike pass through a forest but depending on the season there might not be a lot of shade along the way.
The trail ends at the seventh bridge, but you can go past it if you want to admire a panoramic view. The segment after the bridge is more demanding than the prior segments as it features parts where you must scramble, but the views are absolutely worth it.
The terrain is not too difficult – it is rocky at times with a somewhat steep incline, but the total height change is just some 320 meters over a little more than 3 kilometers. That’s entirely doable even if you’re a newbie to hiking, so don’t let it scare you. Dogs are also allowed on the trail, although they must always be kept on a leash.
Image courtesy of Andrew Davidoff
The Quandary Peak Trail in White River National Forest is a demanding hike with plentiful rewards. It takes you to the top of the peak that sits at an elevation of 14,265 ft, so prepare yourself adequately. Due to the high elevation change, rocky terrain, scramble, and some switchbacks, this trail is rated as difficult and is only recommended for experienced hikers. Dogs are allowed on the trail, but they must be leashed.
The first segments of the trail are not too difficult, but once you get above the tree line it gets quite rocky. Also, most of the trail is on a high elevation so there can be snow and ice on the terrain practically any time of the year. Make sure to dress appropriately and wear sturdy shoes with good grip – the combination of icy and rocky terrain is not very forgiving.
At the top, you get views of nearby peaks, forests, rivers, and alpine lakes, so the tiring hike entirely pays off once you reach the peak. It’s worth noting that this trail tends to be quite crowded despite its difficulty, so if you want to avoid other people it’s best to set out on the hike really early in the morning.
Image courtesy of Regan Vercruysse
The hike to Mayflower and Mohawk Lakes is a moderately difficult out and back trail in White River National Forest. It features lakes, waterfalls, rivers, forests and views for days, making it a truly rewarding scenic hike.
There are also ample opportunities for bird watching along the trail, so you might want to bring your binoculars if that’s something that interests you!
The trail features a steady incline of some 586 meters over about 6 kilometers, so it is not too steep. It’s a mild ascent that anyone in decent physical shape can handle, so it’s definitely worth it to try and do the hike even if you’re a beginner. Just go about it at your own pace, and don’t forget to admire the views around you.
The Mayflower Lake is around the 4.5 km mark, and it’s a short detour off the main trail. The detour is absolutely worth it as it will only take a few minutes, but it will reward you with some spectacular views. When you get back on the main trail you will pass by Continental Falls before you make your way to the Lower and then Upper Mohawk Lakes at the end of the trail.
Image courtesy of Adam Zolyak
The South Park 600 to Square Top Lakes is a moderately difficult hiking trail in Arapaho National Forest. It features a total elevation gain of 289 meters over some 4 kilometers, which is not too strenuous. This trail can be attempted even by hiking newbies, as long as they are adequately prepared and appropriately dressed.
Some segments of the trail feature larger rocks, as well as some narrow sections through thick willows. Also, there might be some water crossings depending on the season and general weather conditions during that time. But the terrain is not too rocky or steep, and there aren’t many switchbacks that tend to be a turn off to beginner hikers.
The Square Top Lakes await at the end of the trail and they’re spectacular. It’s a great area for a picnic or just some fun out in the nature. And dogs are allowed on the trail so feel free to bring your furry friend along for the hike. You can both enjoy the beautiful views along the way and admire all the different wildflowers you encounter on the trail.
Image courtesy of Vicki Devine
The Herman Gulch trail is one of the most popular moderately difficult hiking trails near Arapaho National Forest. The trailhead is at a parking lot just off I-70 at exit 218, so it’s easily the most accessible trail for anyone who has a car.
The elevation gain is quite gradual and it’s just some 540 meters over about 5 kilometers. This is rather easy to cover and anyone in decent shape can handle it without any major issues. The bigger problem will be the rocky and rooty terrain, so you will have to watch your step very carefully.
This hike features gorgeous views, lakes, a forest, a river and lots of wildflowers and wildlife. It is highly rewarding for little effort, which makes it one of the best options for hikers with intermediate experience. It’s worth noting that there’s not a lot of shade on the trail and the last segment is totally exposed, so you might want to bring a hat if you’re doing the hike in sunny weather.