mountains visitors center flags

It’s no surprise that people want to travel to Colorado to hike. After all, the Rocky Mountains are world-renowned all year long, not just for snow skiing in the winter. People often say, in person or online, “I want to come to Colorado and hike. Where should I go?” Well, that’s a bit like asking a Floridian how to get to the beach or a European where to see an old cathedral!

The easy answer to “Where to hike in Colorado?” is something like, “When your plane lands in Denver, look for the mountains. That’s west. Head that way and find a trail.”  But it’s a little more complicated than that. We have thousands miles of hiking trails. In addition to the “14’ers” mountain peaks (over fifty 14,000 feet+ mountains, many of which can be summitted without technical climbing gear), we have a wide variety of terrain, difficulty levels and lengths.

planes landing denver airport

This guide is meant to provide a basic planning point in your journey to hike around the Denver, Colorado area, assuming that you’re flying into Denver International Airport and that you’ll do some additional research. It’s by no means comprehensive but can be the first step in further research. It only includes places I’ve personally been and felt safe hiking solo. We’ll cover where to stay and how to get there when hiking around the Denver area. Check back soon for what to carry when you’re hiking in Colorado!

Where to Stay on Your Denver, Colorado Hiking Trip

If you want to experience the capital of Colorado, you can stay in downtown Denver or its suburbs. You may instead choose Colorado Springs which is about an hour south of Denver; or Fort Collins which is about an hour north of Denver. If you’re not looking for an urban experience, go farther west to smaller mountain towns in a couple hours of driving (each way). My driving times are overly optimistic approximations given traffic, weather and speed limits.

Within the “Denver metro” area: Denver has a lot of great parks and paved trails, but it is NOT in the mountains. Depending where you stay and on what floor, you might not even be able to see the mountains if you stay downtown. However, plenty of the suburbs are in the foothills or have hiking trail access, thanks to county open spaces and state parks. Plan to travel a minimum of one hour from the airport or 45 minutes from downtown to properly hike.

Here are my recommendations for staying in the Denver suburbs and hiking:

A lot of business travelers stay in the Denver Tech Center (DTC) in Greenwood Village. There are natural-area walking trails (as opposed to elevation-changing hiking) at Cherry Creek State Park. The closest hiking to DTC at Castlewood Canyon State Park. That could be a 30-40 minute drive south. Stay in Parker or Castle Rock to be as little as 10 minutes from Castlewood Canyon.

Stay in Littleton and hike at Roxborough State Park, which is a 5-20 minute drive. Like Cherry Creek, Chatfield State Park offers trails but more like what I would call natural area walking trails rather than hiking.

Stay in Morrison and hike at Matthews/Winters near Red Rocks Amphitheatre.

Stay in Boulder, Louisville or Superior and hike at Eldorado Canyon State Park or Boulder County Open Space. (Check out the featured image at the top of this post.)

Stay in Evergreen or Conifer and hike at Staunton State Park or Jefferson County Open Space.

If you stay around the Colorado Springs area, you can hike at Red Rock Canyon Open Space, Garden of the Gods or Seven Falls. Cheyenne Mountain and Mueller State Parks are very close to the city as well. Pikes Peak is the most famous view in this area, but I don’t necessarily recommend the 13 miles-each-way hike to travelers! To stay “in the mountains,” but still very close to Colorado Springs, look for lodging in Manitou Springs or Woodland Park.

If you stay around Fort Collins, one of my favorite hikes near there is called Greyrock Trail. Lory State Park and Larimer County offer more fun hiking near Horseshoe Lake just outside of the city.

Within a Couple Hours’ Drive of Denver


Summit County
: stay around Silverthorne or Frisco off I-70. This will give you access to many hiking trails in national forests, many right off the interstate.

Go to Fairplay on Hwy 285 for quicker access to several peaks such as Mt. Sherman or Mt. Lincoln.

Stay in Estes Park, the backyard of which is essentially Rocky Mountain National Park. It offers many stunning peak views (including the venerable Longs’ Peak shown above) with several shorter hiking trails. You’ll drive northwest from Denver for at least 1.5 hours to get there. You may need/get to take a shuttle to get into the park, depending on the season.


How to Get There

Unfortunately, I can’t recommend taking public transit to go hiking in Colorado. I think the best option is renting a car from the airport. You can get to ALL of these places I’m recommending without four-wheel drive, so it’s okay to rent a budget or compact model car instead of an SUV.

If you take a ride service like Lyft, they may be able to drop you off at most of these areas, but you might not have cell service to get a return ride. If that’s the case, ensure that there are public phones at visitors’ centers so you can call a cab. If you arrive in Denver but travel to Colorado Springs or Fort Collins, you can take a shuttle like Green Ride and then rent a car in your next city, although that’s rarely cost effective. As much as I try to use public transit or other more sustainable options when I travel, hiking around the Denver, Colorado area is simply one place where I feel it’s much more efficient and reliable for travelers to rent their own vehicles.

In Conclusion

Having arrived in several other states and countries with a vague goal of hiking but not really knowing where to start, I hope that this gives travelers a native’s guide to start planning their own Colorado hiking adventures. Please use trail apps or agency websites for further, more detailed information. If you tweet me @trailheaders or leave a comment below, I am happy to provide links for specific destinations.

Have you traveled to the Denver area and had a hard time getting started with your hiking adventure? Or do you live around here and think that this guide is insufficient or absurd? Let’s hear it! I hope that my readers will add their own tips and advice in the comments below!

Hiking Around Denver, Colorado>>trailheaders.com travels and hiking

 

 


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  1. Loretta Widen August 6, 2017 at 3:03 am - Reply

    I’m actually going to Colorado in October so this comes just in time for me to plan my trip! Thanks for sharing!

    • Tara August 6, 2017 at 10:02 pm Reply

      That’s fantastic, welcome (soon) to Colorado! Please send a note or comment if you have any specific questions. I’d be happy to help your trip be its very best! Safe travels!

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