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Best Colorado Hidden Gems for May

11 Hidden Gems in Colorado for May Outdoor Adventures

As spring breathes new life into the natural world, Colorado beckons with its less-traveled paths and quiet corners, perfect for those seeking solitude and adventure. While the alpine areas above treeline are still melting, there are lots of areas further below ready for adventure and exploration.

These 11 hidden gems, ideal for hiking, camping, and other outdoor activities in May, promise unique encounters with the natural beauty of the Rockies, away from the usual tourist trails.

Table of Contents

1. Lost Creek Wilderness

The Lost Creek Wilderness is a treasure trove of scenic beauty located near Bailey, featuring an intricate landscape of granite domes, lush forests, and meandering creeks. Ideal for adventurous souls, the area’s trails, such as the Goose Creek Trail, wind through captivating terrains offering glimpses of flora and fauna waking to the warmth of spring. It’s a sanctuary where the sounds of nature dominate, providing a peaceful escape for backpackers and day hikers alike. Read More

  • Nearest Town: Bailey
  • Elevation: Varies, up to 12,000 feet
  • Area: National Wilderness Area
  • Available Activities: Hiking, backpacking, wildlife viewing

2. Flat Tops Wilderness

Expansive and remote, the Flat Tops Wilderness offers a landscape dotted with over 100 lakes and crisscrossed by 160 miles of trails. Its vast plateau, interrupted by volcanic peaks and lush valleys, is particularly stunning in the late spring when the wildflowers begin to bloom under the melting snow. The tranquility here is profound, perfect for those who wish to fish in solitude, embark on lengthy horseback rides, or simply soak in the panoramic beauty on a leisurely hike.

  • Nearest Town: Yampa
  • Elevation: Up to 12,354 feet
  • Area: National Wilderness Area
  • Available Activities: Hiking, fishing, horseback riding

3. Zapata Falls

Zapata Falls Hike

Hidden just south of the vast dunes of the Great Sand Dunes National Park, Zapata Falls offers a magical escape into a secluded natural crevice where a 30-foot waterfall cascades into a chilled, shimmering pool. The hike to the falls is a short but rewarding journey, unveiling stunning views of the San Luis Valley and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains as you ascend. The area is ideal for those looking for a quick yet breathtaking adventure. Read More

  • Nearest Town: Alamosa
  • Elevation: 9,000 feet
  • Area: BLM land
  • Available Activities: Hiking, camping, wildlife viewing

4. Vedauwoo Recreation Area

The Vedauwoo Recreation Area, just across the Colorado border in Wyoming, is an otherworldly landscape of weathered granite rock formations that are as bizarre as they are beautiful. This area, sacred to the Arapaho and Cheyenne peoples, offers climbers and hikers a rugged escape into landscapes that challenge the body and invigorate the spirit. The springtime brings a fresh burst of life here, with wildflowers peeping through the rocks and wildlife roaming freely.

  • Nearest Town: Laramie, WY
  • Elevation: 8,200 feet
  • Area: National Recreation Area
  • Available Activities: Hiking, rock climbing, camping

5. Pawnee Buttes

The Pawnee Buttes, rising starkly from the flat, expansive grasslands of the Pawnee National Grassland, offer a dramatic and photogenic landscape. These isolated buttes are a beacon for hikers and photographers seeking to capture the essence of Colorado’s high plains. Spring visits are especially rewarding as the area blooms with native grasses and flowers, and migratory birds fill the skies, making it a bird-watcher’s paradise.

  • Nearest Town: Sterling
  • Elevation: 5,000 feet
  • Area: National Grassland
  • Available Activities: Hiking, bird watching

6. Dome Rock State Wildlife Area

Dome Rock State Wildlife Area offers a serene hiking experience amidst rolling hills and vibrant wildflower meadows. The trails here are less traveled, making it an ideal spot for contemplative walks or wildlife photography. Springtime is particularly magical as the meadows burst into color and the area’s wildlife, including bighorn sheep and elk, become more active.

  • Nearest Town: Divide
  • Elevation: 8,000 to 10,000 feet
  • Area: State Wildlife Area
  • Available Activities: Hiking, wildlife viewing

7. Rabbit Ears Pass

Rabbit Ears pass Colorado

Named for its distinctive rock formations that resemble rabbit ears, this pass near Steamboat Springs is a delight for hikers and photographers alike. In May, the melting snows create lush, green landscapes that are a stark contrast to the white winter. The area is accessible yet feels worlds away from the hustle and bustle, offering peaceful trails and panoramic views.

  • Nearest Town: Steamboat Springs
  • Elevation: 9,426 feet
  • Area: National Forest
  • Available Activities: Hiking, photography

8. Lizard Head Wilderness

Lizard Head Wilderness, with its imposing peaks and rugged terrain, offers some of the most dramatic hiking in Colorado. The area is named after its most notable peak, Lizard Head, which soars majestically above the surrounding landscape. Hikers can explore diverse ecosystems from dense forests to alpine meadows, all while enjoying the challenge of high-altitude trails. May is an excellent time to visit as the snow begins to recede, revealing the full splendor of the wilderness.

  • Nearest Town: Telluride
  • Elevation: Up to 13,113 feet
  • Area: National Wilderness Area
  • Available Activities: Hiking, backpacking

9. Comanche National Grassland

The Comanche National Grassland offers a unique blend of natural and historical treasures. Here, visitors can follow in the footsteps of dinosaurs along the Picketwire Canyonlands, home to the largest dinosaur track site in North America. The grassland’s vast open spaces are perfect for exploring under the vast Colorado sky, with historical sites and rare wildlife sightings adding to the adventure.

  • Nearest Town: La Junta
  • Elevation: 4,500 feet
  • Area: National Grassland
  • Available Activities: Hiking, historical exploration

10. Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area

Adjacent to the more famous Black Canyon of the Gunnison, the Gunnison Gorge offers a similarly dramatic but less crowded experience. The gorge itself is a stunning geological feature, with steep walls and the powerful Gunnison River cutting through the bottom. It’s a favorite among anglers and rafters, with hiking trails offering spectacular views of the surrounding landscape and the thriving spring ecosystem.

  • Nearest Town: Montrose
  • Elevation: 5,800 to 7,800 feet
  • Area: National Conservation Area
  • Available Activities: Hiking, fishing, rafting

11. Greenhorn Mountain Wilderness

Greenhorn Mountain Wilderness

The Greenhorn Mountain Wilderness is a haven for those seeking isolation and the beauty of Colorado’s less frequented trails. This area encompasses the highest peak in the Wet Mountains, offering challenging hikes through dense forests and past cascading streams. In May, the snow-capped peaks contrast beautifully with the emerging greenery, making it a perfect time for a quiet mountain retreat.

  • Nearest Town: Rye
  • Elevation: Up to 12,347 feet
  • Area: National Wilderness Area
  • Available Activities: Hiking, camping

Leave No Trace Tips

When venturing into these pristine areas, it is crucial to practice Leave No Trace principles to preserve their beauty for future generations. Key tips include:

  • Plan ahead and prepare to minimize impact.
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces to protect undergrowth and soil.
  • Dispose of all waste properly to avoid attracting wildlife and harming the ecosystem.
  • Leave natural and cultural artifacts undisturbed.
  • Minimize campfire impacts by using existing fire rings and keeping fires small.
  • Respect wildlife by observing from a distance and not feeding animals.
  • Be considerate of other visitors to ensure everyone can enjoy their experience.

Outdoor Safety Best Practices

Ensuring your safety is paramount when exploring the great outdoors, especially during the variable weather conditions of spring in Colorado. Here are essential safety tips:

  • Always check the weather forecast and be prepared for sudden changes.
  • Inform someone of your plans, including your route and expected return time.
  • Equip yourself with appropriate gear, especially for navigation and emergency situations.
  • Stay hydrated and bring sufficient food for your adventure.
  • Familiarize yourself with symptoms of altitude sickness and take necessary precautions.

Start Planning Your Next May Outdoor Adventure!

Exploring Colorado’s hidden gems in May is an opportunity to connect deeply with nature and experience the tranquility of its lesser-known landscapes. By selecting these secluded spots and adhering to best practices for outdoor ethics and safety, your spring adventures will be not only enjoyable but also harmonious with the environment. Embrace the adventure and discover the untamed beauty of Colorado this spring!

Alex Derr, Founder of The Next Summit

Alex Derr is an Eagle Scout, climber, and environmental policy expert located in Denver, Colorado. He created The Next Summit to help others stay safe exploring the mountains and advocate to preserve the peaks for the future. Follow him on Linkedin or Twitter or click here to contact him.

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Hi, I'm Alex!

In 2018, I watched in disbelief as dozens of people hiked into a storm on Longs Peak, unaware of the extreme danger. Soon after, I started The Next Summit to educate and empower the public to safely and responsibly explore America's mountains.

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