With everything from the imposing Rockies and water-carved canyons, to high plateaus and the final sweep of the Great Plains, Colorado’s topography is undeniably gorgeous. Our state is a hiker’s paradise and one of the best places in the world to explore on foot. In 2017, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, created a comprehensive online guide covering more than 39,000 miles of trails across the state.
Any attempt to narrow these trails down into a Top 10 list in nearly impossible, but we know that figuring out which day hike you want to take in a state with seemingly infinite options can be overwhelming. So here’s a list of 10 amazing day hikes—we wouldn’t presume to call them “the best”— for hikers of different skill levels.
Easy to Moderate Day Hikes
Colorado Springs is home to Garden of the Gods, where the 1.3 mile Inner Loop is full of fantastic, 300-feet sandstone rock formations with views of breathtaking landmarks like Kissing Camels, Sentinel Rock, Three Graces and Pikes Peak. Much of the trail overlaps the paved Perkins Central Garden Trail, which is fully handicap-accessible. If you’re interested in rock climbing, be sure to note gear and permit requirements.
Nestled in Morrison is Matthews/Winters Park, featuring a five-mile lollipop trail on the Front Range. Easily accessed from major roadways, this easy/intermediate hike offers stunning views of Red Rocks and preserved dinosaur tracks – but keep an eye open for potential wildlife sightings too!
Crater Lake, in the White River National Forest, is a 3.8 mile, out-and-back trail. There are rocks and boulders – if you like to scramble, lovely views on a clear day, and a beautiful alpine lake. Spring visits will be rewarded with lake vistas and wildflowers in bloom, while foliage lovers will enjoy the seasonal change mixed in with mountain scenery.
The Moderate to Hard Hikes
Once you’ve had your fill of hot springs, let your eyes feast on waterfalls at this trail near Glenwood Springs. The trail to Hanging Lake is a moderate to difficult hike of 2.5 miles, out-and-back. The trail takes hikers through canyons, alongside a creek, and ends at a magical cliffside lake, surrounded by hanging plants and fed by waterfalls. Just don’t get in the lake, lest you damage the natural balance of this highly vulnerable ecosystem.
During both the peak and off-seasons, hike permit reservations are required to visit the Hanging Lake Trail. To protect the delicate nature of the area, less than 50 permits are issued daily. If you plan to ride the shuttle prior to setting off, you can make your reservation here. Adventurers biking to the trailhead can get their permits here.
The next time you’re near Telluride, take advantage of the San Juan National Forest’s numerous trails. Maxing out at 10,404 feet, the 6.6 mile out-and-back hike to the base of Lizard Head Peak is a shorter, more direct route that winds through alpine meadows and spruce-fir forests. The payoff view is of the Peak’s 400-foot rock spire. Sources disagree on the difficulty of this trail, but the amazing views of the San Juan Mountains are worth it.
Located near Silverton, Ice Lake Basin Trail is a strenuous 7 to 8-mile round-trip of pristine forest and shimmering alpine lakes. Your journey will take you along gurgling creeks and rock walls, where you’ll get a clear view of the profile of the 13,738 foot Golden Horn (a peak that resembles a sinking ship) and see the ruins of a mine and some cabins.
The McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area, close to Grand Junction, has the second highest concentration of sandstone arches in the world. When you access the area from Black Ridge Road, the trail is a moderate seven miles, out-and-back, and the best part? It’s not usually crowded!
The Difficult Hikes
At nearly two-miles round-trip, the Gunnison Route is probably the easiest path down to the river in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. But don’t get overconfident. It’s still a difficult descent, without much of a trail and is recommended for very experienced hikers only. Because of the delicate ecology of the area, you’ll need a permit, and only 12 people are allowed each day. Hikers descend down a steep gully, full of loose, glistening rocks composed of quartz, mica, and garnet, which is part of which makes this hike so lovely! The round-trip experience – including an 1,800-foot climb out of the canyon – is not for the faint of heart or the casual athlete. But if you can handle the exertion, it’s a unique and rewarding one. Once you hit the Gunnison River, you’re not far from the 2,250 foot tall Painted Wall, the third-highest rock wall in America.
Next time you’re in Aspen and feeling up to a challenge, head to the Conundrum Creek Trail. The 17 mile out-and-back trek to Conundrum Hot Springs is a long, but doable, day high in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness. The trail combines majestic views, creek fjords, towering Aspens, and wildflower meadows. It ends at a 102-degrees hot springs pool, surrounded by a bowl of mountains. But don’t be surprised if you see some fellow hikers taking a dip in their birthday suits. The hot springs are often clothing-optional! If you would rather break this up into a two-day, overnight hike, you will need an overnight permit.
Long’s Peak is Colorado’s quintessential “fourteener” (a mountain over 14,000 feet high). It’s the tallest mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park, and is not for inexperienced hikers. Over the course of about seven miles, you’ll gain 5,000 feet in elevation. Then you have to retrace those seven miles—all of which takes an average of 14 hours. If you plan on reaching the summit, make preparations to start around 3:00 am. You don’t want to be on the top of the mountain in the afternoon, which is when lightning storms are apt to strike. This extremely difficult hike crosses steep cliffs, narrow ledges, and loose rock. Dress in layers, because it’s cool at 14,000 feet, year round, and don’t be shy about hiking some of the way and turning back early. You’ll still be treated to mind-boggling views.
Never underestimate a Colorado Hiking Trail
When planning your next outdoor adventure, taking all precautionary measures are a must to ensure a safe and rewarding experience. Colorado Farm Bureau Insurance can help you put a good life insurance and personal liability policy in place. Contact a local Colorado Farm Bureau Insurance Agent to learn more about getting yourself insured.