Go Take a Hike! 10 Top Colorado Trails Perfect for Your Summer Trek

odessa-lake-1

Odessa Lake at Rocky Mountain National Park is a strenuous trail. Photo by Jeff Nelson

When it comes to hiking, Colorado offers something for everyone. Looking to spend hours getting to a lake summit that will leave you sore for days but reward you with panoramic vistas? No problem. Have the kids along and want to keep them occupied with the promise of wildlife sightings and plenty of open space to explore? We’ve got that. Spent the winter binge-watching Netflix and haven’t been on a trail in a while? Short, low-elevation options abound. The key is to know before you go, so you can choose the trek that best fits your needs. Here are 10 top-notch trails with a wide range of features— including varying difficulty levels, mileages and topography, as well as a range of distances from the metro area. What they all have in common: unparalleled views and captivating landscapes.

CASTLEWOOD CANYON STATE PARK
HIGHLIGHTS: Situated at the north edge of Black Forest, Castlewood’s 13 miles of trails have Pikes Peak and the Front Range as a magnificent backdrop and alternate between sweeping grasslands and a ponderosa pine forest. Ruins from a dam built in the late 1800s are fun to explore, and Cherry Creek burbles past at various points.

HIKE PROFILE: None of the trails here gain more than 500 feet in elevation, and there are choices—for instance, the inner loop that leaves from the parking lot can be linked to longer trails, including the 2.14-mile (each way) Rimrock Trail that heads to the canyon bottom.

HIKER PROFILE: This is a one-size-fits-all option that allows diverse groups to hike together, including kids, grandparents, super-fit types and physically challenged trekkers—Canyon View Nature Trail is paved concrete—and leashed dogs are allowed.

HOW TO GET THERE: From Denver, take I-25 to Castle Rock and head east on Colorado 86 for 6 miles to Franktown; then turn right (south) on Colorado 83 (South Parker Road). At 5 miles, the park entrance is on the right.

POUDRE RIVER TRAIL
HIGHLIGHTS: The Cache La Poudre River adds to the ambience as it runs alongside this Fort Collins trail, which winds through Old Town and past plenty of open-space areas, including River Bend Ponds. Tree-lined and home to many blue herons, a Poudre River hike is a great spring or early-summer conditioning excursion.

HIKE PROFILE: Alternating between paved concrete and soft dirt, the mostly flat Poudre trail gains a nearly imperceptible amount of elevation and makes its way pretty quickly away from roads and traffic noise. If you do the whole out-and-back, it’s about 21 miles.

HIKER PROFILE: Bring your leashed dog, your kids and anyone looking for a long, leisurely stroll—and also a picnic, because there are lots of spots perfect for a rest break, and also to check out the informational signs.

HOW TO GET THERE: From Denver, it’s a 50-mile drive to Fort Collins via I-25; take Exit 262 to Colorado 392, which parallels much of the trail. There are a few access points, but if you want to do the whole thing, start at either end—on the east side at East Prospect Road or the west at Cache La Poudre Elementary. Lee Martinez Park sits in the middle of the trail, has restrooms and is a good turnaround for kids—or simply a place where they can run a little. Also, be aware that the trail dead-ends at Linden Street; simply cross the bridge over the river and pick it up on the other side.

fish-creek-falls

Fish Creek Falls offers stunning views. Courtesy Noah Wetzel

FISH CREEK FALLS
HIGHLIGHTS: A series of vigorous and extremely photogenic waterfalls are the draw at this family-friendly and picturesque trail in the Routt National Forest that sits about 5 miles east of Steamboat Springs. Because most of the 5-mile out-and-back hike (that’s all the way to the Upper Falls) winds through the forest, there’s plenty of shade, and the views down into the valley are remarkable.

HIKE PROFILE: The trees are welcome in the heat of the summer and provide relief during the long, long uphill slog that comes after a short downhill past the first falls. About an hour into the hike, the trail gets rocky and requires careful navigation, but that means you’re close to the Upper Falls, which sit at about 9,000 feet after the 2.5-mile hike in.

HIKER PROFILE: Leashed dogs are welcome, and hikers of all skill levels will be able to get to the first two falls; the distance to Upper Falls and the altitude can be prohibitive for some, but it’s not unusual to see families with young kids hanging out there.

HOW TO GET THERE: From Steamboat Springs, take U.S. 40 west (Lincoln Avenue) to Third Street; turn right and then right again on Fish Creek Falls Road. Follow Fish Creek Falls Road for about 3 miles. There is both an upper and a lower parking lot, so if one is full, check out the other.

COLORADO TRAIL AT KENOSHA PASS
HIGHLIGHTS: Spectacular views looking out over South Park—including Mount Evans and Mount Bierstadt— highlight this portion of the Colorado Trail at Kenosha Pass, one of the least complicated ways to access the CT from a road. Thickly forested with lodgepole pine and aspens, the high-country trail—it sits at 10,000 feet— continues on either side of U.S. 285 for 471 miles total, with Denver at one end and Durango at the other.

HIKE PROFILE: You can go as far as you want in either direction, and when you’re done, simply turn around and go back. The trail itself is singletrack, which makes it appealing to bikers, and mostly smooth, with gentle climbs and descents and the occasional short-and-steep section, sometimes studded with rocks.

HIKER PROFILE: There aren’t many amenities here— the Kenosha Pass Campground has restrooms and water in the summer only— but novice hikers will be able to follow the well-traveled path for quite a ways. Most visitors hike only a few miles in, though, which means you have the place to yourself beyond that (except for the infrequent through-hiker). For more of a wilderness experience—which includes the necessity to be bear-aware— backpack in with camping gear and spend as much time as you can; dispersed camping is available wherever you see a good spot.

HOW TO GET THERE: Take U.S. 285 south through Pine Junction and Bailey. About 7 miles past Grant, watch for Kenosha Pass signs; there is parking on both sides of the road. If you turn left, a smaller parking lot has restrooms.

CHEYENNE MOUNTAIN STATE PARK
HIGHLIGHTS: With more than 21 miles of hiking spread among 18 trails—not to mention it’s easy to get to and get around—a day of meandering around Cheyenne’s short-grass prairies, rock gardens and endless scrub oak is a true pleasure.

HIKE PROFILE: The hikes are rated from easy to moderate and well marked, so it’s not hard to find the right one. Horseback riders and bikers use this area, too, so keep an eye out.

HIKER PROFILE: The plethora of no-sweat trail options— including one that runs right through a prairie dog town—and the likelihood of spotting other wildlife, such as mule deer, elk and wild turkeys, as well as Peregrine falcons, golden eagles and several types of hawk, makes this a good one for families.

HOW TO GET THERE: From Denver, head south on I-25 to the South Academy exit (Exit 135), and then head west on South Academy to Highway 115, turn left (south) on Colorado 115. Turn right at the first stoplight, JL Ranch Heights Road (also the light for Fort Carson Gate 1); the well-signed park entrance sits to the west.

, , , , , ,