10 Best Hikes Within Two Hours of Denver CO

The Mile High City of Denver, Colorado is surrounded by miles of gorgeous landscapes overflowing with natural wonders. With just a short drive out of town, hikers can reach mountains, waterfalls, canyons, glaciers, and meadows. This makes it an ideal location to layer up with some base layers for hiking and explore a wide variety of hiking trails. If you’re planning a trip to Denver any time soon, make sure to check out these 10 best hikes within two hours of the city!

Rocky mountain national park

Natural spaces like Rocky Mountain National Park can be found throughout Colorado.

1. Pikes Peak via Barr Trail

Travel an hour and a half outside of Denver to Pike National Forest near Colorado Springs, and you’ll find the gorgeous, challenging hike that is Barr Trail. This route features 13 miles of trail with 7,400 feet of elevation gain and ends at the summit of the magnificent Pikes Peak.

This mountain is among Colorado’s 58 “14er” peaks, which indicates that it has a peak exceeding 14,000 feet. Hiking a 14er can be an excellent adventure without involving some of the dangers that higher mountains present to hikers. Despite its advanced difficulty, Barr Trail is a wide, well-traveled path that is both accessible and easy to follow. You’ll experience the best hiking trail conditions from May to October, with the summer months providing the easiest experience. 

Regardless of the time of year, you’ll want to bundle up; as the peak’s summit is often thirty to forty degrees colder than at the mountain’s base. If you decide to try this hike in the winter, you might want to bring some microspikes for the latter portion of the trail.

The path itself involves a consistent uphill climb leading up to steep switchbacks across a final boulder field in the last mile. This crossing is considered the most difficult portion of the route and involves quite a bit of rock scrambling. The trail winds through an incredible variety of terrain with many scenic spots to stop and enjoy the views. 

You’ll find the most stunning view at the summit though. Rising 8,000 feet above Colorado Springs, Pikes Peak has the highest summit of the Rocky Mountains’ southern Front Range; and offers beautiful views of the surrounding landscape.

Finally, this hike features an excellent rest stop 6.5 miles from the trailhead in the form of Barr Camp. Barr Camp is known as the “highest hiking cabin in America” and offers amenities such as picnic tables, composting toilets, snacks, and hot drinks. You can stop by for no charge or book a room and stay overnight. It should be noted that the campgrounds do not offer drinking water, but there is a nearby stream that you can collect water from to treat and filter.

Pros:

  • One of the easier 14er hikes in Colorado.
  • Barr Camp provides a well-equipped rest stop.
  • Amazing views from Pike’s Peak’s summit.

Cons:

  • A difficult hike that’s most suitable for advanced hikers.
  • Drastic temperature changes between the hike’s beginning and end.

2. Fern Lake Trail

Located an hour and a half away near Estes Park, Colorado, this trail covers 10.4 miles of the Rocky Mountain National Park with roughly 1,368 feet of elevation gain. Throughout this moderately difficult hike, you’ll have the opportunity to see multiple alpine lakes, waterfalls, and mountains.

A good strategy for this hike is to park at the Fern Lake trailhead, then take the park’s free shuttle service to the Bear Lake trailhead and hike from there back to your car. If you’re looking for more than just a hike, this trail is also excellent for horseback riding, camping, and fishing.

This route is best hiked from June through October. Make sure to bring trekking poles and microspikes with you, as the mountainside can have snow and ice throughout the year. You’ll experience most of the elevation gain in the first few miles of the hike, followed by mostly downhill portions thereafter.

Lush evergreens provide shade during much of the journey. During the warmer months, you’ll find wildflowers as well. Water abounds, as the trail passes near Lake Helene and Lake Odessa in addition to Bear Lake and Fern Lake. It’s also easy to access Cub Lake with a small detour down a separate hiking trail.

The Big Thompson River and Fern Falls, a sixty-foot waterfall, round out these water features. You’ll also come across multiple vistas and views of the Flattop and Notchtop mountains. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife, as moose frequent this area. You might also spot ducks and their young on one of the many lakes. If you’re fishing, you’re likely to catch some trout as well.

Pros:

  • Access to multiple alpine lakes and waterfalls.
  • Moose and duck sightings.
  • Great opportunities for fishing along the trail.

Cons:

  • Requires trekking poles and microspikes for the last stretch.
  • Sharp elevation gain for the first few miles.

3. Chasm Lake Trail

Chasm Lake trail provides another great hiking opportunity through RMNP. Covering 9.4 miles with 2,600 feet of elevation gain, this can be a difficult trail to complete. You’ll find the majority of the path to be consistent and gentle though, with only the last portion becoming truly tricky due to a 150-foot rock scramble to the lake. If you’re not sure about hoofing it, the trail also allows for horseback riding.

For the best experience, hike this trail between June and October. You’ll want to pack snowshoes, trekking poles, and goggles, as this route is often snowy and very windy above the treeline. The path begins at Longs Peak trailhead and continues through subalpine fir and pine forests.

During this hike, you’ll have the opportunity to see several mountains, including Longs Peak itself. You’ll also come across Columbine Falls, a 100-foot high waterfall located in the cliffs above the multi-hued Peacock Pool. While hiking, you might spot bighorn sheep climbing amongst the cliffs. The journey ends at Chasm Lake, which is considered to be among the state’s most beautiful mountain lakes. This lake rests in a glacial cirque fed by the Mills Glacier and is truly a sight to behold year-round.

Pros:

  • Most of the path is consistent and gentle.
  • Horses are allowed on the trail.
  • Bighorn sheep frequent the surrounding cliffs.

Cons:

  • You’ll need to bring snowshoes, trekking poles, and googles.
  • The last part of the trail involves a difficult rock scramble.

4. Chautauqua Park’s Royal Arch Trail

A mere 40 minutes outside of Denver in Chautauqua Park, this trail spans 4 miles with 1,492 feet of elevation gain. This trail can be considered moderate due to the steep inclines and a large number of stairs leading up to the Royal Arch. Overall, the trail is very rocky and can be icy at times. In addition to hiking, it’s a great locale for nature trips and day hikes due to the abundance of wildlife.

This trail is best enjoyed from March until October. Pack your microspikes and trekking poles in case of icy conditions, or at least verify that your trail shoes have good traction. In addition to its namesake rock formation, this route leads you through meadows of beautiful wildflowers and lush pine forests. You’ll also have brilliant views of the Flatirons and Boulder throughout the trek.

A wide variety of wildlife inhabits this area. The park is well known for its cliff-nesting raptor population and even closes certain areas annually for their protection. You might also see mule deer as you travel. But be sure to pay attention to where you’re going, as black bears, mountain lions, and coyotes also call this trail home.

The Royal Arch itself makes this a favorite hike for locals. This stunning massive rock formation spans an amazing 20-feet as it curves through the air, and just beyond this formation lie stunning views. If it’s a particularly clear day, you can see as far as Denver from this location.

Pros:

  • Home to a wide variety of wildlife.
  • Spacious meadows that allow hikers to spread out.
  • Views that can stretch back to Denver.

Cons:

  • Very rocky with steep inclines. 
  • Involves climbing a lot of stairs.

5. Emerald Lake Trail

Stretching across 3.3 miles of Rocky Mountain National Park, the Emerald Lake Trail is a family-family trek that presents a great hike for hikers of all skill levels. With a mere 700 feet of elevation gain and a well-maintained trail, this is a route that even children can tackle. Just make sure to arrive at the parking lot during the early morning to avoid the crowds, as this is a fairly popular trail.

This trail is open year-round but especially shines from June through October. If you’re traveling later in the year, you might want to bring snowshoes, microspikes, and goggles to combat snowy conditions. You’ll also want to pack a camera, as you’ll have plenty of opportunities for gorgeous mountain shots. This trailhead starts at the end of Bear Lake Road.

The first stop on this hike is at Nymph Lake. This lake is a special treat for summer hikers, as they will find it covered with blooming pond lilies. Farther down the trail, you’ll pass Dream Lake, where you should be able to spot ducks enjoying a refreshing swim. Past these alpine lakes, the path winds through the Tyndall Gorge before following Tyndall Creek through a verdant pine forest.

Your journey ends at the trail’s namesake Emerald Lake. Backed by Flattop Mountain and Hallett Peak, this lake is a gorgeous finale to your trek. You’re sure to see abundant wildlife here, as the lake is an important water source for the area.

Pros:

  • An easy, family-friendly trail.
  • Excellent opportunities for mountain photography.
  • Summer wildflowers add a fairy-tale feel to the hike.

Cons:

  • Can be crowded on weekends due to its popularity.
  • Heavy snow later in the year can increase trail difficulty significantly

6. First and Second Flatirons Loop

40 minutes away near Boulder, Colorado, this loop trail runs 2.5 miles and features 1,440 feet of elevation gain. It’s considered a more advanced hike due to rocky pathways and some rock scrambling. These features make it an excellent trail for rock-climbing as well as hiking.

Hike this trail from April through October for the best experience. Winter treks will require microspikes as well as significant route-finding experience. You don’t have to hike this trail alone either, as it is dog-friendly and suitable for larger hounds.

The bulk of this trail involves switchbacks between the First and Second Flatirons by crossing the saddle between them. The Flatirons are tilted sandstone formations and are part of the Continental Divide. They are iconic natural features for Colorado. These two Flatirons in particular are two of the most popular ones on the city’s western side.

In addition to rock formations, you’ll pass through meadows dotted with wildflowers. You’ll also travel among ponderosa pine forests. All of these scenic spots provide excellent photo opportunities during your trek.

Pros:

  • Dog-friendly.
  • Views of two of the most popular Flatirons.
  • Plenty of rock climbing opportunities.

Cons:

  • Rocky pathways and rock scrambling make this a challenging hike.
  • The path can be difficult to navigate out-of-season.
Colorado’s iconic Flatirons

Colorado’s iconic Flatirons tower above the rich evergreen forests.

7. Grays and Torrey’s Peak Trail

Fans of longer hikes will love this destination, as it spans 9.7 miles of Arapaho National Forest. It climbs up 3,684 feet in elevation gain and can be considered a moderate to difficult trail. For those seeking other activities, this is also a great location for camping and backpacking. Many people also enjoy completing these two 14ers with their large dogs.

The best time to hike Grey and Torrey’s Peak is between April and September. You should take microspikes and trekking poles for the heavy snows in this area. You might even want to pack snowshoes for later in the trek. You’ll also want to pack a good pair of thermal pants and socks to combat the peaks’ extremely cold and windy weather.

You’ll find nature aplenty on this trail. Spruce and fir forests decorate the landscape, and you can find marmots and pika along the way. Pay attention to the nearby mountainsides to spot mountain goats as well. Upon ascending the steep mountainsides, you’ll have gorgeous views of the surrounding area.

Be aware that the road to the trailhead can be a difficult drive. If you don’t have a high clearance vehicle with four-wheel drive, you shouldn’t attempt to drive up this road; or else you might find your vehicle stuck in the snow. Even if you do have appropriate transportation, make sure to drive slowly and carefully.

Pros:

  • An enjoyable hike for large, long-haired dogs.
  • Mountain goats and pika can be spotted in the area.
  • Both peaks provide stunning views.

Cons:

  • The road to the trailhead can be treacherous.
  • Consistent cold and windy weather on the peaks.

8. Herman Gulch Trail

Another trail found in the Arapaho National Forest, the Herman Gulch Trail is a 7-mile hike with an elevation gain of about 1,780 feet. This moderate hike is well-defined and maintained, making it a fairly smooth journey. The path initially begins with a steep incline through an aspen forest, but then flattens out to travel through the gulch.

The best months for hiking this trail are June through September. The summer months are especially pleasant, with beautiful wildflowers flanking the path. You should bring snowshoes and trekking poles on this hike, as you’ll run into very deep snow towards the latter half of the trail. Microspikes will work for the first portion of the hike, but you’ll likely struggle later on without other gear.

This trek features lakes and streams, as well as a broad valley and meadows. Many hoofed animals inhabit these mountains, including mountain goats, moose, deer, elk, and bighorn sheep.

Aside from hiking, the gulch is an excellent spot for camping, horseback riding, and skiing. It’s also a great place to bring larger dogs, who will love running across the piles of snow.

Pros:

  • Bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and moose can be seen on this hike.
  • Most of the trail is well-defined and smooth.
  • Plenty of snow for hikers looking to ski.

Cons:

  • You’ll need snowshoes and trekking poles to complete the hike.
  • The trail starts with a rough incline.

9. Red Rocks Park’s Trading Post Trail

Trading Post Trail is a 1.5-mile loop trail in Red Rocks Park, 30 minutes away from Denver near Morrison, Colorado. This path has a low level of elevation gain at 357 feet. This easy hike is appropriate for all skill levels, making it a great activity for the whole family.

You’ll have the best time hiking this trail if you visit it between May and November, although it remains a gorgeous locale year-round. The path is a mix of inclines and flat spaces and tends to be dry and rocky. Since this trek requires little equipment, it’s a great option for beginning hikers.

Wildflowers are common on this route, as are rabbits. The path weaves through ten of the park’s red rock formations, as well as meadows and bluffs. After your hike, you can continue along the trail to visit the renowned Red Rocks Amphitheater as well.

Along with hiking, you’ll find lots of open space beside the trail that is perfect for picnicking. This makes it a great day hike for kids and even the family dog. Just make sure to bring plenty of water, as there’s limited shade available on the path.

Pros:

  • Family and dog-friendly.
  • Lots of space for having picnics.
  • Very little elevation gain.

Cons:

  • Little available shade.
  • Can be crowded during the weekends.

10. Isabelle Glacier Trail

The Isabelle Glacier Trail is located an hour and a half away from Denver in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. This 8.4-mile trail features 1,660 feet of elevation gain and is considered to be a moderate to difficult hike. This hike begins at the Long Lake Trailhead, and you’ll want to park in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area’s parking lot for $12; as the alternative parking outside of the Gateway Trailhead will add 5 miles roundtrip to your trek. If you visit during the winter season, the Gateway Trailhead will be the only parking option.

The best months for hiking this trail are June through October. The first portion of the trail is fairly easy and not particularly steep, although this swiftly changes after reaching Isabelle Lake. From that point, the path becomes rockier and more difficult to navigate, and a trail map might prove helpful for keeping on track. The final stretch of the hike is the most challenging, with some rock scrambling required to reach the glacier at the trail’s end.

You’ll find lots of alpine flora and fauna on this trek. Moose are often seen in the area, so keep an eye out for them as you travel. Isabelle Glacier is a beautiful ending to your journey. It rests in a basin framed by Shoshoni, Apache, and Navajo peaks and feeds into the South Saint Vrain Creek.

Despite the relative difficulty of this hike, you don’t have to worry much about equipment. The journey is easily manageable without trekking poles or microspikes. Just don’t forget to plan your hiking adventure appropriately to ensure proper hydration and comfort.

Pros:

  • The trail doesn’t require specialized equipment.
  • Until you pass Isabelle Lake, the trail isn’t very steep.
  • The crowd thins out significantly as you near the glacial basin.

Cons:

  • Parking can be a hassle if you don’t arrive early.
  • The hike becomes sharply more difficult towards the end.

Final Thoughts:

If you only have time for one hike on your trip, the Emerald Lake Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park is an excellent choice. It’s open year-round, it’s suitable for the whole family, and it includes an immense variety of natural features to enjoy. Of all of Denver’s local trails, this trail truly encapsulates Colorado’s overwhelming natural beauty. Are you planning a longer trip to Denver? Consider checking out some awesome places to camp near Denver to feel even closer to nature.

 

Bonus tip: Check out the video below for gorgeous footage of the Isabelle Glacier Trail!

 

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Riley Draper

Riley Draper

Riley Draper is a writer and entrepreneur from Chattanooga, Tennessee. As a world traveler, he has been to more than fifty countries and hiked some of the most elusive trails in the world. He is the co-founder of WeCounsel Solutions and has published work in both national and global outlets, including the Times Free Press, Patch, and Healthcare Global. When he's not writing, he's probably on a hiking trip or climbing in the mountains.