Search
Close this search box.
Best Hikes in Colorado

Best Hikes in Colorado: 11 Spectacular Trails and Summits

Colorado is a hiker’s paradise, offering breathtaking scenery and a wide range of hiking trails for all skill levels. Whether you’re an experienced hiker or a beginner looking for an adventure, Colorado has something for everyone. In this blog post, we will explore 11 of the best hikes in Colorado, highlighting the diversity of landscapes and difficulty levels that Colorado has to offer. Let’s get started!





Table of Contents

Map of the Best Hikes in Colorado

This map shows 11 of the best hiking trails and routes across Colorado. Check them each out below, with route stats, descriptions, photos, and links to the full trail guide.

1. Rocky Mountain National Park - Sky Pond Trail

Sky Pond Hike

One of the most best hikes in Colorado, the Sky Pond Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park is a must-do for any avid hiker. This 9-mile loop takes you through alpine meadows, past stunning waterfalls, and finally rewards you with breathtaking views of the Sky Pond and the surrounding peaks. With its moderate difficulty level, this trail is suitable for hikers of all skill levels.

  • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Nearest Town: Estes Park
  • Distance: 9 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,710 feet
  • Highlights: Alpine meadows, waterfalls, Sky Pond, panoramic views
  • Permits: None required; Must pay to enter Rocky Mountain National Park




2. Maroon Bells - Crater Lake Trail

Located near Aspen, the Maroon Bells – Crater Lake Trail is known for its stunning mountain vistas and vibrant fall foliage. This 3.6-mile out-and-back trail takes you to the picturesque Crater Lake, nestled at the base of the majestic Maroon Bells. With its relatively short distance and moderate difficulty, this hike is perfect for those seeking a scenic adventure without too much exertion.

  • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Nearest Town: Aspen
  • Distance: 3.6 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 688 feett
  • Highlights: Mountain vistas, fall foliage, Crater Lake, Maroon Bells
  • Permits: Required; Limited access during peak season, shuttle service available

3. Great Sand Dunes National Park - High Dune Trail

For a unique hiking experience, head to Great Sand Dunes National Park, where you can explore the tallest sand dunes in North America. The High Dune Trail is a 2.5-mile round trip that takes you to the top of one of these impressive sand dunes, offering panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and desert-like landscape. Although it can be challenging to hike on sand, the awe-inspiring views make it well worth the effort and earn it a place among the best hikes in Colorado.

  • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Nearest Town: Alamosa
  • Distance: 3.1 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 636 feet
  • Highlights: Sand dunes, scenic views, High Dune, San Luis Valley
  • Permits: None required; Must pay to enter Great Sand Dunes National Park





4. Mount Bierstadt 14er - West Slopes Trail

Mount Bierstadt Weather Forecast

The Mount Bierstadt Summit – West Slopes Trail is a popular choice for hikers seeking a challenging and rewarding experience. This 7-mile round trip trail takes you to the summit of Mount Bierstadt, one of Colorado’s famous 14ers (mountains exceeding 14,000 feet). The trail offers stunning panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and alpine lakes, making it a favorite among experienced hikers and outdoor enthusiasts.

  • Difficulty Level: Difficult
  • Nearest Town: Georgetown
  • Distance: 7.2 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 2,736 feet
  • Highlights: Alpine meadows, mountain stream, wildlife, alpine lakes, 14er summit
  • Permits: None required

5. Glenwood Canyon - Hanging Lake Trail

Located in Glenwood Canyon, the Hanging Lake Trail is a gem of Colorado. This moderately difficult 3-mile out-and-back trail takes you through a lush forest and leads you to the breathtaking Hanging Lake. Known for its crystal-clear turquoise waters and cascading waterfalls, Hanging Lake is a sight to behold. Please note that a permit is required to hike this trail, as it is a protected area.

  • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Nearest Town: Glenwood Springs
  • Distance: 3.1 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,187 feet
  • Highlights: Forests, waterfalls, alpine lake, Glenwood Canyon, wildlife
  • Permits: Required; Limited access during peak season





6. Elk Mountains - Four Pass Loop

Nestled in the Elk Mountains, the Four Pass Loop is a challenging yet rewarding hike for experienced hikers. This 26-mile loop takes you over four mountain passes, offering breathtaking views of alpine lakes, meadows, and towering peaks. With its rugged terrain and high elevation, this hike requires proper planning and preparation, but the stunning scenery along the way makes it a truly unforgettable adventure. Permits are required for those backpacking in the area; you must stay in designated campsites to help limit your impact.

  • Difficulty Level: Difficult
  • Nearest Town: Aspen
  • Distance: 26 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 7,752 feet
  • Highlights: Alpine lakes, meadows, towering peaks
  • Permits: Required for backpacking in the area; Must stay in designated campsites to limit impact

7. San Juan Mountains - Ice Lake Basin Trail

Located in the San Juan Mountains, the Ice Lake Basin Trail is a popular choice for hikers seeking stunning alpine scenery, another one of the best hikes in Colorado. This 8.3-mile out-and-back trail takes you through wildflower-filled meadows, past cascading waterfalls, and finally rewards you with breathtaking views of the turquoise Ice Lake and the surrounding peaks. With its moderate to strenuous difficulty level, this hike is perfect for experienced hikers looking for a challenge.

  • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Nearest Town: Silverton
  • Distance: 8.3 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 2,876 feet
  • Highlights: Wildflower-filled meadows, cascading waterfalls, Ice Lake, surrounding peaks
  • Permits: None required; Parking lot fills early during peak season





8. Mount Sniktau 13er - Southwest Ridge Trail

For a challenging but rewarding hike, head to Mount Sniktau. It’s ideal if you want to summit a peak but do not feel prepared for a 14er. This 13er offers breathtaking views of the surrounding peaks and valleys. The Southwest Ridge Trail is a 3.6-mile out-and-back trail that takes you to the summit of Mount Sniktau. With its steep and rocky terrain, this hike is recommended for experienced hikers who are comfortable with exposure and scrambling.

  • Difficulty Level: Difficult
  • Nearest Town: Silver Plume
  • Distance: 3.6 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,555 feet
  • Highlights: Scenic views, alpine tundra, 13er summit, mountain landscapes, mountain pass
  • Permits: None required; Parking lot fills early during peak season

9. Ouray, Colorado - Perimeter Trail

Located in the charming town of Ouray, the Perimeter Trail offers a scenic and accessible hiking experience. This unique 5.4-mile loop trail takes you around the perimeter of the town, offering panoramic views of the surrounding mountains and the picturesque Ouray valley. With its moderate difficulty level and well-maintained trail, this hike is suitable for hikers of all skill levels. Don’t forget to take a dip in the town’s famous hot springs after your hike, a perfect way to relax and unwind.

  • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Nearest Town: Ouray
  • Distance: 5.4 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,499 feet
  • Highlights: Historical sites, forests, rivers, waterfall, city of Ouray, wildlife
  • Permits: None required





10. Saint Mary’s Glacier - Lake Trail

Saint Mary's Glacier Hike

Located just outside of Idaho Springs, the Saint Mary’s Glacier – Lake Trail is a popular choice for hikers looking for a unique alpine experience. This 1.5-mile out-and-back trail takes you to the stunning Saint Mary’s Lake, which is surrounded by towering peaks and a glacier. The trail can be steep and rocky in some sections, but the breathtaking views make it well worth the effort.

  • Difficulty Level: Moderate
  • Nearest Town: Idaho Springs
  • Distance: 1.6 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 528 feet
  • Highlights: Alpine lake, glacier, snowfields, mountains, cliffs, wildlife
  • Permits: $20 Parking fee

11. Lost Creek Wilderness - Backpacking Loop

For a longer backpacking adventure, consider the Backpacking Loop in the Lost Creek Wilderness. This 28-mile loop takes you through diverse landscapes, including dense forests, granite rock formations, and rolling meadows. The creek disappears into caves and under house-sized boulders you can explore after setting up amp. With its moderate difficulty level and stunning scenery, this hike is a hidden gem in Colorado’s wilderness.

  • Difficulty Level: Difficult
  • Nearest Town: Jefferson
  • Distance: 28.3 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 5,305 feet
  • Highlights: Alpine tundra, meadows, rivers, wildlife, rocky crags, river, seclusion, wilderness
  • Permits: Self-issued permit required at trailhead





Hiking Gear for Colorado: 5 Top Suggestions

The right gear, boots, and clothing are essential in Colorado’s alpine environment. Start with these key items:

  1. Layered Clothing: Dress in layers to adjust to changing weather. Consider the Patagonia micropuff jacket and Arcteryx Beta XR for rain and wind resistance.

  2. Navigation: Carry a map and compass, or a GPS device, for trail navigation. I recommend the Garmin InReach Mini 2 for backcountry use.

  3. First Aid Kit: Be prepared with a well-stocked first aid kit. The Expedition-series Medical Kit is recommended.

  4. Headlamp and Batteries: Always bring a headlamp and batteries, even if you don’t plan to be out after dark.

  5. Knife or Multi-Tool: A versatile tool for various needs.

  6. Extra Food: Pack 1,000 extra calories per person with energy-dense options like Cliff Bars, jerky, and trail mix.

  7. Water Purification: Have a method to purify water in the backcountry.

  8. Emergency Shelter: Bring appropriate shelter based on the season.

  9. Sun Protection: Pack sunglasses and strong sunscreen (at least 50 SPF).

  10. Fire-Starting Kit: Carry a sparker or waterproof matches with firestarters or tinder.

Additional optional gear includes trekking poles, sock liners, Rocky Talkie radios, and emergency blanket or bivy for unexpected nights outdoors. Learn more by checking out my comprehensive hiking gear list.

11 Best Hikes in Colorado

Leave No Trace While Hiking in Colorado

When hiking in Colorado’s alpine ecosystems, it’s crucial to practice Leave No Trace principles to preserve the fragile environment for future generations. Here are some tips specifically tailored for hiking in Colorado’s alpine regions:

  1. Stick to the Trail: Stay on designated trails to minimize your impact on delicate vegetation and prevent erosion. Straying off the trail can harm sensitive alpine plants that take years to grow.

  2. Camp in Designated Areas: If you plan to camp overnight, use established campsites whenever possible. These designated areas have been specifically designed to withstand the impact of camping and help protect the surrounding ecosystem.

  3. Dispose of Waste Properly: Pack out all trash, including food wrappers, tissues, and hygiene products. Do not bury or burn any waste, as decomposition is slow in high-altitude environments. Carry a small bag to collect and properly dispose of any waste.

  4. Respect Wildlife: Keep a safe distance from wildlife and observe them from afar. Do not feed or approach animals, as this can disrupt their natural behavior and cause harm to both you and the animal. Remember, it is illegal to harass or disturb wildlife in any national park or wilderness area.

  5. Minimize Campfire Impact: While campfires may be tempting, it is best to use a camp stove for cooking and to keep warm. Gathering firewood in alpine ecosystems is prohibited, as dead wood plays a crucial role in the ecosystem’s health. If you must have a campfire, use established fire rings and only burn small, dead, and downed wood.

  6. Preserve Water Sources: In alpine ecosystems, water sources are limited and fragile. Always use biodegradable soap at least 200 feet away from water sources when washing dishes or yourself. Avoid contaminating waterways with sunscreen, insect repellent, or other chemicals.

  7. Be Considerate of Others: Respect fellow hikers and maintain a peaceful and enjoyable atmosphere on the trails. Yield to uphill hikers, keep noise to a minimum, and follow any specific guidelines or regulations in the area you are visiting.

By following these Leave No Trace principles, you can help protect the unique alpine ecosystems of Colorado and ensure that they remain pristine for years to come. Read more in our complete Guide to Leave No Trace.





Hiking Safety Tips

You should always prioritize safety when hiking in Colorado. Here are some important tips to keep in mind:

  1. Plan and prepare: Research your chosen trail, check weather conditions, and let someone know your hiking plans.

  2. Dress appropriately: Wear layers, sturdy hiking boots, and bring essential gear like a map, compass, and first aid kit.

  3. Stay hydrated: Bring plenty of water and drink regularly to avoid dehydration, especially at higher elevations.

  4. Pace yourself: Take breaks when needed and listen to your body. Altitude sickness is a real risk in Colorado’s higher elevations.

  5. Be mindful of wildlife: Keep a safe distance, do not feed or approach animals, and store food securely to prevent wildlife encounters.

  6. Avoid hiking alone: Whenever possible, hike with a buddy or in a group for added safety and support.

  7. Stay on the trail: Stick to designated paths to protect the fragile alpine ecosystem and prevent getting lost.

  8. Be cautious of weather changes: Colorado’s weather can be unpredictable, so be prepared for sudden changes and seek shelter if necessary.

 

By following these safety tips, you can have a safe and enjoyable hiking experience in Colorado’s beautiful wilderness. Check out our comprehensive mountain safety guide for more information and advice.

Conclusion: The Best Hikes in Colorado

Colorado is a paradise for hikers, with its diverse landscapes and countless hiking trails to explore. Whether you’re seeking an adventurous multi-day trek or a leisurely day hike, the state offers something for everyone. From the iconic Sky Pond Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park to the scenic Maroon Bells – Crater Lake Trail near Aspen, and the unique experience of hiking on sand dunes at Great Sand Dunes National Park, Colorado has it all. So grab your hiking boots, pack your backpack, and get ready to discover the beauty of Colorado on foot.





Join the Discussion!

Share your thoughts with our readers! What do you think are some of the best hikes in Colorado? Leave a comment with your opinion and favorite places below to join the discussion.

Frequently Asked Questions

If we have not yet addressed your question below related to the best hikes in Colorado, leave a comment and we will get back to you with an answer as soon as possible.

Q: What city in Colorado has the best hiking?

A: Many different cities in Colorado are known for their amazing hiking trails. Some of the most popular cities include Colorado Springs, Boulder, Aspen, Telluride, Leadville, Ouray, and Salida, which are all known for having excellent hiking opportunities.

A: For a day hike in Colorado, you will need essentials such as a backpack, plenty of water, snacks, a map or GPS device, appropriate clothing and footwear, sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, a first aid kit, and a whistle. It is also recommended to bring a cell phone, a flashlight or headlamp, and a multi-tool or knife.

A: Mount Elbert is the highest peak in Colorado, standing at 14,440 feet. It offers a challenging yet rewarding hiking experience, with a class 1 trail leading all the way to its summit from the trailhead.

A: Hiking in Colorado is possible throughout the year, but the best months for hiking are generally from late spring to early fall (May to October). However, higher elevation trails may still have snow in the early spring and late fall.

A: Yes, Colorado is known for its extensive network of hiking trails. There are trails available for all skill levels, from easy walks to challenging multi-day hikes.

A: Yes, Colorado is renowned for its hiking opportunities. The state’s diverse landscapes, including mountains, forests, and national parks, offer a wide range of hiking experiences for outdoor enthusiasts.

A: While most hiking trails in Colorado are free to access, some trails located within national parks or other protected areas may require an entrance fee or permit. Additionally, parking fees may apply in certain areas.

A: While hiking boots are recommended for more challenging terrain, comfortable and sturdy footwear is essential for any hike in Colorado. Choose footwear that provides ankle support, good traction, and protection from rocks and uneven surfaces.

A: To plan a hiking trip in Colorado, start by researching trails that match your skill level and interests. Consider factors such as distance, elevation gain, difficulty level, and available amenities. Check weather conditions, pack appropriate gear and supplies, and let someone know your hiking plans. It can also be helpful to consult trail guides, maps, or online resources for detailed information on specific trails.









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.





Enjoy this Article? Subscribe to our Newsletter!

Join 4,000+ other subscribers and receive mountain news updates, route guides, gear reviews, and other articles in our twice-monthly email newsletter.





Leave a Reply





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.

Learn more about how we protect public lands and prevent SAR calls through education & advocacy.

Join 5K Subscribers!

Get the latest mountain news, hear about training opportunities and gear discounts, receive new resources, and learn to advocate for public lands as a Next Summit Newsletter subscriber.

14er Planner

Download my Colorado 14ers Planner for Your Next Summit!

Subscribe and get my free planner with all 58 peaks in the perfect climbing order.

14er Planner

Download my Colorado 14ers Planner for Your Next Summit!

Become a subscriber to download my free 14er planner. It lists all 58 peaks in the perfect climbing order. Get it now & start planning!