Colorado is famous for its jaw-dropping mountains and miles and miles of hiking trails on which to explore them. While you’ve probably heard of some of the most iconic, like the trek to Long’s Peak, there are many others you probably haven’t heard about, that are no less spectacular, including these.
Royal Arch at Chautauqua Park, Boulder (Nearby Hotels)
Chautauqua Park is considered the crown jewel of hiking in Boulder. It’s a gateway to miles of trails that lead into the mountains west of town. While most people simply take a quiet stroll through the meadow, the Royal Arch Trail offers more of an epic adventure, along with a tough workout. You’ll take the main Chautauqua Trail first, working your way to the Royal Arch Trail which begins by snaking through the trees – then suddenly, those challenging, steep dirt and rock steps begin. Hikers gain 880 feet in just under a mile – and when you get to the top of that all, you’re still not done. There’s a drop, then another climb to Royal Arch. But the he beauty of Bluebell canyon and the arch, make it all worthwhile.
Colorado Midland Trail to Douglass City, Leadville (Nearby Hotels)
This is an easy, but highly scenic and interesting 6- to 7-mile round trip hike that will bring you along sections of the Colorado Midland railroad bed to Hagerman Tunnel, the highest railroad tunnel in the world at the time when it was built in 1887, it was considered to be one of the greatest feats in railroad history. The journey passes through lush, often wildflower-filled meadows, two small lakes, the remains of trestles and the ruins of Douglass City, which housed immigrants that built the line. These early settlers even brought pianos with them – and as you hike, you’ll be in awe wondering how anyone could possibly make it up with something so heavy. A sign at the site explains a little more, stating that it was a “one street city,” where at the Dance Hall, “the Professor played the piano while the Ladies of the evening, too jaded for Leadville, entertained and took the laborers money.”
Lost Lake Trail, Indian Peaks Wilderness, Nederland (Nearby Hotels)
While this trail usually gets some heavy traffic, if you go on a weekday, you can enjoy more solitude. It’s used year-round, often for snowshoeing in the winter. It makes a great hike when you’re short on time, as it can be accessed in just a little over an hour’s drive from Denver near Nederland. The 4.1-mile loop trail is rated moderate, but if you’re looking for something more challenging, it also connects to several longer, more strenuous hikes. The steady, well-graded climb will lead you through dense forest, past a number of small waterfalls, concluding at a scenic lake with beautiful mountain views.
Gold Camp Trail, Cripple Creek (Nearby Hotels)
History buffs won’t want to miss hiking the Gold Camp Trail in Cripple Creek. This former gold rush town, just west of Pikes Peak, is a popular destination for getting a taste of history and of the Old West. In its heyday at the turn of the 20th century, this town was a booming city with a population of over 55,000, and the fourth largest city in Colorado. The Gold Camp Trail traverses through Poverty Gulch where Bob Womack found gold in 1890, and the chance to retrace the footsteps of the period’s hardrock miners. The trailheads can be found just west of Hoosier Mine on CR 83, and at the Cripple Creek District Museum where you can learn about the famous Gold King Mine, the C.O.D. Mine & the Mollie Kathleen Mine, as well as view mining equipment and a variety of artifacts, before heading out on your hike.
Colorado State Forest Park, North Park (Nearby Hotels)
Colorado State Forest Park offers the ultimate in an awe-inspiring rugged wilderness, with 71,000 acres of forest, jagged peaks, alpine lakes, wildlife and miles of hiking trails, stretching along the west side of the Medicine Bow Mountains and into the north end of the Never Summer Range. North Park and the surrounding area is considered to be the moose viewing capital of the state, with more than 600 moose that can be observed year-round. While there are practically an endless number of trails, the 2.5-mile-each way Hidden Valley Trail is a great one to tackle if you’ve never been here before. While you can travel over a very rough four-wheel drive road to the trailhead, most park and walk the 1.5 miles to reach the Ruby Jewel trailhead before taking the route to Kelly Lake, which is the start of the Hidden Valley Trail. It offers impressive views of the Medicine Bow Range and Kelly Lake, along with numerous wildflowers in the summer.
Gem Lake Trail, Estes Park (Nearby Hotels)
The Gem Lake Trail makes an ideal day trip for those visiting Rocky Mountain National Park or Estes Park who don’t want to deal with crowded trails. While it’s just 3.1 miles round trip, it packs a punch when it comes to scenic views. The elevation gain is less than 1,000 feet and the trail to the lake is very well-maintained, so it’s a good one for families with children too. Along the way, even if you aren’t into geology, the rock formations are sure to catch your eye – you can even see the age of the area, and at times, it’s likely to make you feel rather small, among the ancient landscape that surrounds you. Take time to stop and enjoy the views overlooking Estes Park, and as the trailhead is located near famous Stanley Hotel, afterward you may want to check it out, especially if you’re a fan of Stephen King’s “The Shining.”
Independence Pass, White River National Forest (Nearby Hotels)
This high mountain pass sits at an elevation 12,095 feet on the Continental Divide in the Sawatch Range, about halfway between the towns of Aspen and Twin Lakes. You’ll find a number of high-alpine trails that start just below the top of the pass off Highway 82, including the Lost Main Trailhead. If you have a limited amount of time, or just want to get a taste of high altitude hiking with committing to anything too strenuous, take the Linkins Lake Trail, a short but steep journey. This 1.7 mile moderately trafficked out and back trail will get your heart-pounding without being overly challenging, yet the scenery is spectacular. The Lost Man Trail is considerably longer, at a total of nine miles, but has a gentler pitch and is great for those who are looking for something a bit more substantial. It features some of the easiest access to an alpine wonderland of meadows and lakes anywhere in the area.
While you’re in this region, be sure to visit Independence Townsite. A .4-mile loop trail will bring you to the ghost town of Independence, which was home to over 40 businesses with three post offices and an estimated population of 1,500 in 1882. Today, a number of structures remain, including the former general store, stables and a cabin that was restored and served as the summer home of the Aspen Historical Society’s Independence intern for many years.
Hunter Creek Trail, Aspen (Nearby Hotels)
While many Aspen hikers take the Maroon Lake Trail, offering its iconic view of the famous Maroon Bells, it’s just 1.2 miles round trip, which means you’ll probably be left wanting more. You can get that and then some by taking the Hunter Creek Trail, which parallels Hunter Creek and has several bridges that cross scenic short hikes in the area. Hunter Creek is known as Aspen’s “backyard,” due to its easy access from town, but climbing along the rushing stream and into the wide, grassy valley, will take you into a whole new world. The grade is steep on the first mile of the 6-mile round trip trek, as it ascends more than 700 feet in elevation. A branch to the left crosses over the Tenth Mountain Bridge and leads to a number of mining-era cabins.