Colorado’s breathtaking views offer a stunning array of natural beauty waiting to be explored by outdoor enthusiasts. From the iconic peaks of the Rocky Mountains to the peaceful views of alpine lakes and meadows, Colorado is a hiker’s dream.
Does Colorado Have Good Hiking?
Whether you are an avid hiker seeking a challenge or a nature lover needing an escape, Colorado’s numerous diverse trails have something for everyone.
The state of Colorado is home to four national parks:
- Rocky Mountain National Park
- Great Sand Dunes National Park
- Mesa Verde National Park
- Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
In addition to national parks, Colorado also has 11 national forests, two national grasslands, and 42 state parks available for hikers to enjoy at their leisure. Discover this state’s allure with 11 of the most beautiful and iconic hiking trails in Colorado.
#1: Emerald Lake Trail
Location: Rocky Mountain National Park
Distance: 3.2 miles
Known as one of the prettiest hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, Emerald Lake Trail is a scenic out-and-back trail for those who like to hike, fish, and even snowshoe. While the trail is not pet-friendly, it is a popular spot in the park to view wildlife such as elk, moose, or trout, and gorgeous alpine lakes.
Many people use this hike to acclimate to Colorado’s high altitude. The trail isn’t too strenuous, but those who live out of state should be aware of high-elevation travel and altitude sickness when hiking in Colorado. Always remember to pack plenty of water and some snacks!
#2: Pikes Peak – Barr Trail
Location: Pike National Forest
Distance: 23.2 miles
One of the many reasons Colorado is popular for hiking is because it is home to 58 peaks that are above 14,000 feet in elevation. Commonly known as “fourteeners” or “14ers,” summiting one of these mountains is a common goal among the Colorado hiking community.
Pikes Peak via Barr Trail is a popular hike due to its location along the southern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. Located about an hour from Colorado Springs, Pikes Peak sits at 14,109 feet of elevation. With a length of 13 miles one-way, many hikers opt to hike to the summit and arrange a shuttle for the descent.
Be warned that most high-elevation peaks have unpredictable weather. Start early, pack extra water, and always share your location with a friend or family member prior to hiking as a precaution.
#3: Garden of the Gods – Perkins Central Garden Trail
Location: Colorado Springs
Distance: 1.1 miles
If you’re looking for an easy trail available for people of all levels, the Perkins Central Garden Trail at Garden of the Gods is a quick yet scenic spot to visit. The loop trail is just over a mile and paved, and it has unique views of rock formations in southern Colorado.
The path is simple, and wheelchair-friendly, and it does not require special shoes or equipment. Many travelers set aside extra time to explore this gem and opt to hike a second trail within Garden of the Gods – the Siamese Twins Trail. While this trail is not paved, the distance is less than one mile, and it’s a favorite for those looking to view the unique, jagged peaks.
#4: Hanging Lake
Location: White River National Forest
Distance: 3.1 miles
Named one of the Rocky Mountains’ most iconic hikes, Hanging Lake Trail leads to a beautiful lake surrounded by steep cliffs and serene waterfalls.
It’s rated as a moderate hike in difficulty because of the 1,200 feet of elevation gain within approximately three miles. But don’t let the challenge deter you – Hanging Lake is crystal clear and worth the trek. Many hikers report spotting wildlife like colorful brook trout. Don’t forget to pack your camera!
#5: Manitou Incline
Location: Manitou Springs, CO
Distance: 4 miles
If the goal is to get your steps in, The Manitou Incline is the perfect place to start. This strenuous hike is a popular trail due to its set of 2,744 stairs built into the mountain.
Hikers can expect an elevation gain of 2,020 feet with an average grade of approximately 41%. At the summit, the Incline Trail connects to Barr Trail for the descent. The Manitou Incline is a popular hike among locals and travelers for both the incredible views and the epic challenge. Pack extra water!
#6: Otto’s Trail
Location: Colorado National Monument
Distance: 0.7 miles
If you’re exploring Colorado, a visit to Colorado National Monument is worth your time. Enjoy spectacular views of red rock canyons and towering monoliths within a broad plateau overlooking Grand Junction in western Colorado.
While many people drive the popular Rim Rock Drive, take a moment to stretch your legs on the scenic Otto’s Trail to explore the cliffs up close. The spectacular shades of reds, juniper woodlands, and the view of The Grand Mesa in the distance make this hike so iconic – and it only takes twenty minutes out of your day!
#7: First and Second Flatirons Loop
Location: Boulder, CO
Distance: 2.7 miles
Explore the Boulder Flatirons with the iconic First and Second Flatirons Loop. Depending on your hiking skill level, this hike can be considered moderate. Still, an elevation gain of almost 1,500 feet can be challenging for the inexperienced hiker.
The trail is within the Boulder Flatirons, a unique rock formation located along the front range of the Rocky Mountains, and only 30 minutes outside of Denver. The striking views of the Flatirons make this a popular hike for travelers. The First and Second Loop is a great trail for morning exercise before an afternoon of exploring the city of Boulder.
#8: Crater Lake – Cascade Creek Trail
Location: Arapaho National Forest
Distance: 16 miles
The Cascade Creek Trail leading to Crater Lake is one of the most scenic hikes in Colorado. Many seek this hike for the stunning 360-degree views of Colorado’s mountains, meadows, and forests. Hikers experience “Colorful Colorado” with stunning Aspens, endless wildflowers, and crystal-clear alpine lakes.
While this hike can be completed in one day, many adventurers use this trail as a stepping stone into the backpacking world and choose to camp overnight.
#9: Four Pass Loop in the Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness
Location: Aspen, CO
Distance: 25.7 miles
An iconic backpacking loop, the Four Pass Loop in the Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness is a challenging yet stunning trail outside Aspen, CO. There are four passes (Buckskin, Trail Rider, Frigid Air, and West Maroon) – all of which are over 12,000 feet – along the route, which usually takes about three to four days to complete.
The Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness is known for its breathtaking wildflowers, waterfalls, and alpine lakes, providing hikers with a broad taste of the Rockies. It’s common to see wildlife along the journey, especially black bears. Remember, always pack bear-proof canisters and bear spray for your protection.
#10: Longs Peak
Location: Rocky Mountain National Park
Distance: 14.8 miles
If you’re feeling adventurous, look no further than Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. Like Pikes Peak, Longs Peak is another classic Colorado fourteener. This popular mountain sits at 14,259 feet elevation and is one of the most iconic features in the park.
To reach the summit of Longs Peak, the most popular trail is the Keyhole Route. While this trail is well-known in the hiking community, it is not for the inexperienced hiker. The trek to Longs Peak is highly challenging as it features exposure, rock scrambles, and high elevation gain. The Keyhole Route is also a popular trail for backpackers, so consider making this an overnight adventure.
It’s important to note that many Colorado hikes are only available during the summer months – the best time for Longs Peak is usually June through September depending on weather, temperature, and how much snow remains on the mountain from winter.
#11: Star Dune Trail
Location: Great Sand Dunes National Park
Distance: 8 miles
A unique yet popular destination in Colorado is Great Sand Dunes National Park. Known for its high, evolving sand dunes at the base of the Sangre de Cristo Range, Star Dune towers over a nearby beach and Medano Creek, a seasonal creek within the canyon.
Adventure-seekers love to attempt the Star Dune Trail, but hiking in the sand is not an easy feat. While many decide to turn around after reaching the false summit, High Dune, the view of the mountains at the summit of Star Dune Trail is worth the challenge. If you listen carefully, you may even hear the Singing Sands of the Great Sand Dunes!
Summary of Colorado’s Most Beautiful and Iconic Hiking Trails
|Emerald Lake Trail||Rocky Mountain National Park||3.2 miles|
|Pikes Peak – Barr Trail||Rocky Mountain National Park||23.2 miles|
|Garden of the Gods – |
Perkins Central Garden Trail
|Colorado Springs, CO||1.1 miles|
|Hanging Lake||White River National Forest||3.1 miles|
|Manitou Incline||Manitou Springs, CO||4 miles|
|Otto’s Trail||Colorado National Monument||0.7 miles|
|First and Second Flatirons Loop||Boulder, CO||2.7 miles|
|Crater Lake – Cascade Creek Trail||Arapaho National Forest||16 miles|
|Four Pass Loop in the Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness||Aspen, CO||25.7 miles|
|Longs Peak||Rocky Mountain National Park||14.8 miles|
|Star Dune Trail||Great Sand Dunes National Park||8 miles|
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Dmitry Molchanov/Shutterstock.com
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