It doesn’t matter the season: Colorado is all about the mountains. And in the summer, that means hiking - and a lot of it! One of the best aspects of living in Denver is the proximity to so many beautiful hiking trails. We’ve got steep, we’ve got mellow, and we’ve got everything in between. Not sure where to start? Here are seven of the best trails that make for a great day of hiking near Denver.
1. Royal Arch Trail
Located in Boulder’s Chautauqua Park, Royal Arch Trail is a natural gem. For most hikers, the culmination of the day is The Royal Arch itself, a massive sandstone formation. But there is more that makes this trail special aside from the arch. Hikers who reach the arch will also be rewarded with spectacular skyline views of Boulder. And if you can’t make the arch? No worries. Chautauqua itself is an iconic destination and the views of the Boulder Flatirons are spectacular from the parking lot. You are sure to enjoy this hike, regardless of how far you go.
Length: 3.4 miles RT Elevation Gain: 1400 feet Difficulty: Moderate-Difficult Dogs Allowed: Yes
2. Roxborough State Park
Designated a National Natural Landmark by the US Department of the Interior, Roxborough State Park is a must-visit for anyone on the southwest side of Denver. The beautiful red rock formations known as Fountain Formations are 300 million years old and led to the park’s designation. But the awe-inspiring scenery doesn’t stop there, as Roxborough features almost 4,000 acres of hiking trails along with various exposed hogbacks and monolithic and spire formations. Truly, this park is wealth of beauty and geological wonder. One of the most popular trails for hikers and trail runners alike is the Waterton Canyon trail. Not only will you enjoy a day of hiking, but you stand a good chance of running into bighorn sheep or soaring eagles.
Trail Beta (Waterton Canyon)
Length: 12.4 mile RT if you hike all the way to Strontia Springs Dam Elevation Gain: 700 feet Difficulty: Easy-Moderate Dogs Allowed: No
3. Alderfer/Three Sisters Park
Located just outside of Evergreen, Alderfer/Three Sisters park is a great option for those who want to leave Denver behind and explore the nearby foothills. Almost 15 miles of trails wind through the 770 acres of the park, but there is a little bit of something for everyone. If you want to scope out expansive views of Mt. Evans (14,265 feet) and Mt. Bierstadt (14,065 feet), opt for the Alderfer Three Sisters Trail. Wildflowers are aplenty in the spring, but be sure to check out the iconic barn no matter what season you visit.
Length: 6.9-mile loop (Alderfer Three Sisters Trail) Elevation Gain: 1,318 feet Difficulty: Moderate Dogs Allowed: Yes
4. Flatirons Vista
Situated just south of Boulder, the Flatirons Vista loop itself is known for being family-friendly with stunning views of the Flatiron rock formations. Plus, if you’re looking for great hiking near Denver, this trail fits the bill. The real beauty of this loop is its accessibility: if you have the gumption, plan for a long day and hike past the basic loop. The Flatirons Vista loop hooks up with various trails to the east and west. To the east, you can tie in with the Greenbelt Plateau trail, a rolling romp through meadows of tall grass. More impressive, however, is the continued trail system to the west. Once you hit the westernmost point of the loop, drop into the canyon via the Doudy Draw Trail. This section of the trail is covered in ponderosa pines that will leave you eager to see what’s beyond the descent. And trust me, you won’t be disappointed! Deer are aplenty on this trail, too. Note: Parking fees are required at this trailhead
Length: 3.3 miles (Flatirons Vista Loop) Elevation Gain: 308 feet Difficulty: Easy Dogs Allowed: Yes
5. Alberta Falls Hike
Colorado isn’t known for its water features as much as its mountains, so it is nice when you can find a beautiful waterfall! This short hike to the popular Alberta Falls is located inside Rocky Mountain National Park. While this location is farther from Denver than others on the list, it is well worth the drive. The waterfall itself is named after Alberta Sprague, the wife of Abner Sprague, one of the original settlers in nearby Estes Park. The trail is littered with a blend of pine and aspen trees, making it a great option for a colorful fall hike. My advice? Pack a picnic and enjoy your snacks while admiring the thundering water from the 30-foot-tall waterfall.
Length: 1.7 miles RT Elevation Gain: 200 feet Difficulty: Easy Dogs Allowed: No (Dogs are not allowed on the trails in Rocky Mountain National Park)
6. St. Mary’s Glacier
This popular trail is a great hike if you want to nab both a lake and a year-round glacier in one fell swoop. Situated to the northwest of Idaho Springs, the location of this hike will get you out of the foothills and into the entrance of the gigantic mountains that Colorado is known for. The hike itself is fairly easy, but there are options for more difficult and longer hikes. Nearby James Peak (13,294 feet) begins at the same trailhead as St. Mary’s Glacier and is a great option if you’ve got a full day and another 3000 feet of gain left in the tank!
Length: 1.5 miles RT (if you climb to the top of the glacier) Elevation Gain: 1200 feet Difficulty: Moderate Dogs Allowed: Yes
7. Lair o’ the Bear
The Lair o’ the Bear park is a perennial favorite with Denver residents and tourists alike! It’s easy to see why: not only does the park have a multitude of trails, but the soothing Bear Creek bubbles through the center, teeming with beavers and trout. If you are looking for a challenging option, the Bear Creek Trail begins in Lair o’ the Bear Park before winding a dozen miles through three other park systems. This terrain can be more challenging than the riverside strolls in the park, but the scenery is worth the sweat.
Length: 12.6 miles Elevation Gain: 1600 feet Difficulty: Moderate-Difficult Dogs Allowed: Yes Looking for more hidden gems? Here are 4 more day hikes near Denver.