Colorado has some of the most beautiful terrain in the United States. There are tons of places where you can go hiking and enjoy that beauty to its fullest. Remember to never hike alone or at least always let someone know exactly where you are going in case you are injured. Remember, Colorado is a rugged place, always prepare for rough terrain and watch for big predators on trails such as bears, coyotes, and mountain lions. Hiking is a wonderful meditation method and has great health benefits. Walking or hiking regularly improves everything from lung and heart health to your sense of balance. Colorado has very diverse trails. There is something out there for everyone of every skill level. Here are ten places to hike in Colorado.
10. Longs Peak Park – Keyhole Route
At 14,259 feet, Longs Peak towers high above other summits in Rocky Mountain National Park. The mountain itself has very unique profiles. In the summertime thousands climb to Longs Peaks summit on the Keyhole Route. The National Park Service estimates about 50% of the 15,000 people who attempt to get to the top of Longs Peak each year actually reach the highest point. The trail is well-marked and can be crowded on summer weekends. The Keyhole Route is not only a hike; It is a climb that crosses narrow ledges and enormous vertical rock faces. Falling rocks could potentially require some swift thinking in an area where an unroped fall could be fatal. Unpredictable weather means the mountain can be beautiful and breathtaking, with the right tools and experience, or ruthlessly unforgiving of those with disregard for the mountain environment. For most of the year, Longs Peak is in winter conditions, which requires winter mountaineering experience and use of specialized equipment. For those who are well prepared the Keyhole route in Longs Peak Park is an extraordinary hiking and climbing experience. The National Park Service wants to help you be prepared when you visit, you can read more here,.
9. Garden of the Gods – Perkins Central Garden Loop
Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature center is home to many trails. Among those trails is probably one of the best hikes in Colorado to see a diverse landscape. The hike along the Perkins Central Garden loop is easy and about 1-1.5 miles long. With a less than 30 foot rise the trail doesn’t climb high at all. The whole trail will take you an hour or so to complete and is perfect for families since most of the path, which winds around the base of the park’s tallest rock formation, has been paved.The park has other trails that are mostly moderate difficulty and 3 miles or less roundtrip. The Park Officials ask that you stay on the designated trails and do not take anything from the park such as rocks or plants because just one person off trail can create decades worth of damage to the sensitive ecosystem. There are designated areas for things such as rock climbing which you must obtain a permit for. The park offers many free and paid options. A few things to do other than hiking include electric bike rental and adventure programs such as yoga in the garden. They also have many free kids programs such as kids nature walks and Reading Rocks!, which is a story and craft or engaging activity. Horseback riding is also permitted in the park. The park is open in the winter months as well.
8. Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Difficulty: Moderate to Hard
Black Canyon of the Gunnison offers many different places to explore along with beautiful views that are 200 million years in the making. There are hiking trails for most skill levels here. Camping is allowed, however, pets are not allowed in every section of the park; make sure you plan ahead if you plan to bring your furry friends with you. You must obtain a permit in order to explore the inner canyon. Permits are free and must be obtained the day you visit. You must also check out on your way out and return your permit. Inner canyon activities are located in remote portions of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison Wilderness Area. Any rescue operation within the park is difficult and requires extended periods of time. Park visitors should carry the equipment necessary to endure an unexpected night in the wilderness. Each activity will require different essentials, but the park service gives you a list of essentials here. Other activities here include camping (tent or rv), fishing, as well as sky and wildlife watching. Winter activities here are snowshoeing and skiing.
7. Four Loop Pass – Crater Lake
Difficulty: Easy to Hard
Going to Crater Lake can be an easy to moderate 4-mile day hike that begins at Maroon Lake, which is very beautiful but can get crowded. Be very careful to stay on the trail here, as you do not want to cause damage to the fragile vegetation. If you are only looking for an easy day trip this is where you would soak in the beauty of Crater Lake, then turn back. If you have more experience or are with an experienced group this could be where you set up camp. There is confirmed bear activity in the area. Always stay alert for this and follow local safety advice. Crater Lake is part of the Four Loop Pass which is a 26-mile-long strenuous trek that leads you over four separate mountain passes in the span of four days. As you can imagine, this isn’t a hike for everyone. Dogs must be kept on a leash and campfires have major regulations. You must make a reservation in order to have access to the Four Loop Pass.
6. Great Sand Dunes National Park
Great Sand Dunes National Park is open 24/7 year round! There are no reservations to visit or limit on the number of visitors in the park and preserve, but there is currently a limit of 10 visitors at a time in the visitor center due to COVID restrictions. The tallest dunes in North America are nestled in the center of a diverse landscape of grasslands, wetlands, forests, alpine lakes, and tundra. Star Dune is the largest of them all, standing at about 700 feet. In the early spring when the rivers run through the fine sand basin, the landscape transforms into a compact desert. Above the dunes stand the Sangre de Cristo Peaks. Wandering among the dunes can be as long or as short as you like it to be. Consider them nature’s sandbox The Dunes are the perfect place to bring the family. You can explore the Dunes, go sand sledding or sand boarding. Then when the flow is high enough, you can splash in Medano creek by the parking area. Horseback riding is also allowed but is very regulated.
5. The Devil’s Causeway – Flat Tops Wilderness
The infamous strip of land is located in the Flat Tops Wilderness. These tabletops are anomalies as the area around them is more commonly known for its jagged, pyramid peaks. The White River National Forest has a longstanding tradition of protecting the wilderness. According to the Forest Service, Arthur Carhart, a Forest Service landscape architect, was tasked to survey the area with plans to build summer cottages in 1919. What Carhart saw compelled him to recommend to his supervisors that the area remain undeveloped, which it has. The Devil’s Causeway is a very narrow ridge running between the William Fork and White Rivers. It is accessed only by a trail beginning at Stillwater Reservoir. The hike is a six-mile round-trip to the causeway or 10 miles round-trip if you continue on the trail and circle back to the reservoir. Along the rigorous route is Little Causeway Lake and meadows painted with wildflowers in the summer. The causeway is 11,800 feet high and just four feet wide in some places. Both sides of the causeway are cliffs that can drop hundreds of feet, sometimes even straight down. It is said that nearly everyone who attempts the crossing is quite literally brought to his or her knees at one point or another while crossing. This trail is not for those with major vertigo or fear of heights. Those who conquer Devil’s Causeway are rewarded with unparalleled views of the surrounding high mesas and the valleys below.
4. The Crystal Mill – Crystal River
Difficulty: easy to moderate
This is a very moderate hike that runs along the Crystal River for most of it. The Crystal Mill trail is around 9 miles and takes most people around 5-hours to complete. The beginning of the hike can be pretty tough and caution should be used. The trail itself is also a four-wheeling dirt road, so be prepared for some ATVs and jeeps passing by. The fall colors are beautiful, and summer is a great time to swim. Once you get the Mill, there is a $10 per person fee to go under the rope and view it from the water but, you can also view it from the roped off section on the road. Many reviews say paying the ten dollars is very worth it for the experience past the rope.
3. Rattlesnake Arches – McInnis Canyons
The Rattlesnake Canyon Arches are one of Colorado’s most spectacular wonders, but also one of its best-kept secrets located in the northern end of Western Colorado’s Uncompahgre Plateau. The landscape gives way to remote canyons that wind through colorful sandstone to form cliffs, pinnacles, alcoves, and arches. You can find a collection of 35 natural arches tucked away in Rattlesnake Canyon. The world’s second largest concentration of natural arches is protected in the 123,400-acre McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area. The Arches are accessible only by a rough drive on a 4×4 track or a 15-mile round-trip trek from a trailhead west of Grand Junction. There is a lot of open terrain to explore but hiking on the Rattlesnake Arches Trail is the best way to experience everything. Crowds are usually low so it is easy to take your time as you walk among these natural wonders. The Rattlesnake Arches are a little out of the way but if you are willing to make the journey you will be rewarded with one of Colorado’s most remarkable landscapes.
2. Butler Gulch
Difficulty: Moderate to hard
A potentially difficult five-mile trek with rises from 10,514 feet – 11,928 feet, Butler Gulch is one of the best hikes in Colorado in the summertime. The Wildflowers paint the views with over one hundred different species including the Indian Paintbrush and the Rocky Mountain Columbine, the state flower of Colorado. In this area you’ll also come across two abandoned mines. The mines are not safe to explore within but they make intriguing and eerie views from the outside. Butler Gulch can be a playground in the winter months. The trail climbs through a spruce and fir forest on a narrow closed road. It leads to an open bowl that is great for snowshoeing and backcountry skiing in the winter. The quick approach and open bowls is great for snowshoers and skiers new to the backcountry and trying to get a feel for the sports. Due to high elevation some trails are not snow-free until late June or mid-July. Whether you are enjoying winter sports or just the landscape, Butler Gulch has anything an experienced hiker could want.
1. Ice Lake – San Juan Mountains
The vibrant blue hues of waters in Ice Lake make this one of the most scenic hikes in Colorado. You’ll find the start to this Colorado classic at the South Mineral Campground in the San Juan National Forest. Ice Lake is a fairly difficult hike. The trail immediately heads uphill until you reach a big valley, this is not the steepest part of the hike and only half of your elevation gain. The trail itself is marked well. There are a few rocky sections, but nothing super strenuous. Check with the Forest Service to make sure Ice Lake is open before visiting. Ice Lake was shut down after a wildfire devastated the area in 2020. The Ice Fire in San Juan County began burning in October of 2020 in the South Mineral Creek area near a trail head. The Sheriff’s Department evacuated campers and hikers from the area, including 23 hikers and three dogs rescued with helicopters. One witness said he was on a day hike to Ice Lake when he noticed a “massive” plume of smoke. He and the other hikers grouped together to decide whether to try to find a way to hike out of the area or wait for help. In the end, four helicopters swept in and saved the day.
Colorado is a gorgeous place with a rugged and diverse landscape. There is truly something here for everyone no matter what level of difficulty you are at when it comes to navigating terrain. This land is beautiful and should be preserved at any cost. Make sure when visiting any of Colorado’s natural wonders you stay on marked trails (unless rules allow otherwise), leave things cleaner than when you arrived, and always only observe nature without disturbing her complicated processes. Colorado has many things to offer. Where will you explore?