Best Hiking Trails in Colorado

Colorado is a state of dramatic and varied landscape, with the snow-capped Rocky Mountains encompassing almost the entire area. It’s a hiker’s paradise, with arid deserts and river canyons to explore, as well as countless peaks to summit. Hiking trails in Colorado are abundant, with so many miles to meander through while you take in the refreshing natural scenery.

For any outdoor-lover, Colorado is a great destination. Rocky Mountain National Park spans the Continental Divide, encompassing foreboding mountains, dense green forests, and scenic alpine tundra. If northern Colorado’s mountainous landscape sounds like too much rocky climbing to you, don’t worry, this diverse state has a lot more to offer.

Towering sand dunes and ecologically rich wetlands await in southern Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. This arid national park is home to the famous Star Dune, a sand “mountain” found in Great Sand’s dune field. Hikers can summit this unranked peak at an (ever-changing) elevation of around 8600 feet.

If you’re looking for sunny day hikes, Colorado is a great spot, where the weather is favorable almost year-around. For multi-day backpacking trips, some excellent long-distance hiking trails are on offer. Some of these trails pass through the best camping spots in Colorado, so the destination couldn’t be much better. No matter your preference, the best hiking trails in Colorado await. Read on, and find out exactly why this gorgeous state is definitely worth a visit.

 

Brown mountains under a cloudy sky at daytime photo.

With famous trails like the Pacific Crest Trail, Colorado has long been an exploring ground for adventurers.

 

1. Emerald Lake Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park

For a picturesque lake trail in one of the USA’s best known national parks, consider hiking the Emerald Lake Trail in Estes Park. About 50 miles from Boulder, it’s an ideal day trip destination. This beautiful day hike packs a lot of sightseeing into a 3.1-mile out-and-back trail, it’s a great choice if you’re short on time. The trail starts from Bear Lake and passes two pristine alpine lakes; Nymph Lake and Dream Lake. Already on this trail hikers will see several incredibly scenic lakes before even reaching the final destination; Emerald Lake.

Located at an elevation of over 10,000 feet, Emerald Lake is the perfect place to stop for lunch and take in the huge mountains which encompass it. The clear blue-green water is so inviting on a summer day, and in the winter, snow covers the surrounding peaks. This lake trail also has some excellent viewpoints from which to see some of Rocky Mountain National Park’s most iconic sights, including Flattop Mountain, Hallett Peak, and Glacier George.

This short trail is open year-round, and the minimal elevation gain makes it the ideal family day hike. Walk the pathway through pine and aspen forests past alpine lakes and mountain vistas, this gorgeous area offers one of the best hiking trails in Colorado. It’s a quintessential Rocky Mountain trail, offering the ideal hiking experience to see some of this iconic national park.

 

2. Quandary Peak Trail, Arapaho National Forest

Any serious hiker who’s even heard of the state of Colorado knows about the 14ers. These are the 14 highest peaks in the state, each offering a slightly different but always breathtaking way to experience Colorado’s numerous mountains. Quandary Peak is one of the most popular 14ers, due to its excellent accessibility. The hike is only a 90-minute drive from the state capital of Denver and is the ideal first 14er to climb.

Although it’s only a 6.4-mile trail, this out-and-back hike is no easy undertaking. Just like with any summit, hikers must be prepared for elevation gains, unpredictable weather, exposure to harsh elements, and the dangers that come along with them. Don’t let the length fool you, this Colorado hiking trail is filled with challenges.

This difficult trail is worth it for the rewards, as at the summit of the 13th highest peak in Colorado, hikers will be treated to some breathtaking views. The trail begins in sparse forests and turns slowly to a steep and rocky climb. As you work towards the summit, views to the south include the gorgeous Blue Lakes. Beyond that, vistas continue across the valley to the North Star Mountain.

 

3. Crater Lake Trail, White River National Forest

The Indian Peaks Wilderness is a stunning and pristine natural area, with miles of scenic hiking trails. This area encompasses all manners of terrain, with the varied scenery including mountainous views, fields of wildflowers, and crashing waterfalls. Hikers on the Crater Lake Trail can enjoy an 8-mile round trip, a great trail for hiking with dogs as long as they’re kept on-leash.

This hike can be enjoyed as a challenging day hike or a more relaxed overnight backpacking trip, we recommend the latter because once you see the views, you’ll want to stay for longer. There are several large waterfalls in the area, including the particularly beautiful Cascade Falls. This multi-tiered waterfall is well worth seeing, so if you decide to hike the Crater Lake Trail, be sure to pay it a visit.

Upon reaching the gorgeous Crater Lake, hikers will also be treated to a privileged perspective of Lone Eagle Peak and Mount Achonee. There are plenty of backcountry campsites available around the lake, just pick up a permit to spend the night in this prime location. This Colorado trail is an ideal wild camping spot, so why not read up on everything you need to know about wild camping and pitch your tent by Crater Lake.

 

A waterfall surrounded by trees under a blue sky.

Alberta Falls is just one of many scenic waterfalls in Rocky Mountain National Park.

 

4. Pikes Peak Trail, Pike National Forest

If none of the trails we’ve mentioned so far sound like a big enough challenge, this next one is for you. Pikes Peak is a hike for experienced adventurers only, a difficult trail in Pike National Forest, just 5 miles from Colorado Springs. Hikers can summit Pikes Peak via the Barr Trail, which is 13 miles each way and gains 7400 feet in elevation. From Manitou Springs, the trail winds up to 14000 feet above sea level to the summit of this rocky mountain.

There are easier ways to traverse Pikes Peak, but this extremely challenging trail is the only one to reach the summit. The final mile is the hardest, where hikers must cross a boulder field before receiving breathtaking views as a reward.

The trail passes through varying terrain, some forested and the rest rocky. Unbeatable views from the summit aren’t easy to attain, this hike on average takes 6-10 hours. Plenty of scenic views can entertain hikers along the way through, with interesting rock formations and endless mountain vistas.

 

5. Garden of the Gods Trail, Garden of the Gods

This visually stunning loop trail in the Garden of the Gods is some of the best hiking Colorado has to offer, where impressive towers of red rock formations are plentiful. At only 3.7 miles, this short but popular day hike offers an impressive number of sights and attractions. The trail passes some of Garden of the Gods’ largest rock formations, like the famous Kissing Camels, and White Rock.

Hikers of the Garden of the God’s trail can add an extra sight to their excursion by visiting the Sleeping Giant Trail along the way. This short trail loop leads off the main hike to the base of the Sleeping Giant rock formation, an iconic attraction in Colorado Springs.

The Garden of the Gods trail is a great family-friendly hike, as the trail is easy and highly accessible. Beautiful wildflowers line much of the pathway on this scenic trail, a great option for hikers who want to see all the sights in the Garden of the Gods without too much exertion.

 

6. Longs Peak Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park

Featured on the best hiking trails in America, the climb to Longs Peak is a Colorado trail not to be missed. Conveniently located near Estes Park, this trail takes hikers to the summit of Rocky Mountain National Park’s most iconic peak. The 15-mile trail is far from easy, we recommend it to experienced hikers and adventurers, as the climb features an elevation gain of over 5500 feet.

Make people summit Longs Peak via The Keyhole, an iconic landmark who’s route involves a challenging passage through a boulder field. If you summit Longs Peak on a clear day, jaw-dropping views far into the distance are your reward. From 14000 feet above sea level, hikers who complete this 14er will see miles around the state of Colorado, with mountain vistas and gorgeous green forests.

We recommend tackling Longs Peak as a multi-day backpacking trip, as you’ll want plenty of time to hang around and take in the scenery. To extend your trip to this part of Rocky Mountain National Park, another hike to Chasm Lake await and the base of the mountain. This spectacular lake trail offers yet more stunning views, so check out both trails for a diverse Colorado hiking experience.

 

A mountain during the daytime.

The Garden of the Gods is full of interesting red rock formations.

 

7. Missouri Lakes Trail, Holy Cross Wilderness

Another difficult hiking trail in the state of Colorado, the Missouri Lakes Trail is the very best way to experience this beautiful area. The scenery is impressive, even more so when you consider that this trail is only a 7-mile out and back day hike. The Missouri Lakes Basin is a wonderful area featuring a group of breathtaking alpine lakes, with endless beautiful views to enjoy and natural wilderness to explore.

This highly picturesque area of the White River National Forest is carpeted with green meadows and rocky embankments. After the first leg of the trail, hikers will walk along the Missouri Creek past several small waterfalls and tall cliffs, through clusters of conifer trees. Once in the basin, the trail passes by five beautiful alpine lakes, before a short but steep ascent up to the final pass.

This popular hiking trail is littered with camping spots, it’s a wonderfully peaceful place to spend the night. Plenty of interesting sights make this trail one of the best in Colorado, with a plethora of pretty waterfalls, rocky cascades, and lush meadows to soak in.

 

8. Lost Creek Loop Trail, Lost Creek Wilderness

For an alternative Colorado hiking experience, try the Lost Creek Loop Trail. Unlike the rest of Colorado’s epic mountain hikes, this much more peaceful trail offers a 28-mile loop around some impressively wild territory. Contrary to the ever-popular 14ers, hikers on the Lost Creek Loop Trail will see few others, so it’s the perfect place to get lost in nature and remember what hiking is all about.

This hiking trail isn’t quite as well-maintained as you may be accustomed to in Colorado, but many rewards await those who walk the path less traveled. The network of small trails offers more of a challenge to navigate, but along the way, you’ll see numerous impressive landmarks. Sights along the Lost Creek Loop Trail include towering stone pillars, immense rolling meadows, and scenic little creeks. One such creek must be crossed using a log and ropes, but the water isn’t deep or fast-moving.

Expect to stop frequently along this trail, you’ll need to allow plenty of time for taking in the sights. Countless views over boulder-filled valleys await hikers on this trail, along with various different ecosystems and terrains to explore. The Lost Creek Wilderness is a less-visited attraction in Colorado, but this just means hikers can make the most of a rare opportunity to enjoy the stunning scenery in seclusion.

 

9. Devil’s Head Lookout Trail, Pike National Forest

Only an hour away from Denver, this popular 2.7-mile out-and-back trail leads to a singularly astonishing destination; Devil’s Head Lookout. The lookout is a 100-year-old fire tower which is open to hikers when staffed during peak season. At this trails destination, hikers can climb the steps up the side of Devil’s Head, and then scale the tower for breathtaking views at the top. Vistas of Colorado’s Front Range and the Rocky Mountains span miles into the distance, from this vantage point hikers can truly appreciate the vastness of Colorado’s natural wilderness.

This moderately rated trail passes through conifer forests bursting with wildlife, littered with rocky outcrops and formations. Wildflowers are abundant in the spring when this scenic trail is most beautiful. However, an argument could be made for fall, when the aspen trees turn golden. Upon reaching the Devil’s Head, a steep red rock stairway snakes up to the top.

The Devil’s Head Lookout fire tower sits at 9750 feet above sea level, and the panoramic views from the top are jaw-dropping. Pikes Peak and Mount Evans stand out from the Front Range, and to the west stand the Rockies, immense as ever. As one of the best hiking trails in Colorado, we expect only great things from the Devil’s Head Lookout Trail. Words cannot fully capture how spectacular the views from the top are, so you’ll just have to climb it yourself.

 

Aerial view of a blue lake surrounded by trees.

Alpine lakes and meadows of wildflowers are standard in the gorgeous White River National Forest.

 

Final Verdict:

From hundreds of options and endless miles of trails, we’ve narrowed down the best hiking trails in Colorado to these few. From short hikes of just a few miles to multi-day trips across challenging terrains, Colorado has it all. The best hikes in the state are located mostly in its national parks and wilderness areas, but Colorado’s state parks have plenty on offer as well.

If you’re looking for a short day hike, then check out the Emerald Lake Trail, Garden of the Gods Trail, Missouri Lakes Trail, or the Devil’s Head Lookout Trail. All of these offer an unparalleled experience to see some of the best of Colorado’s nature in just a single day.

Colorado is also an excellent state for long-distance hiking, with abundant trails for multi-day backpacking trips. Crater Lake is a perfect two-day hike, where you can pitch your tent by the gorgeous lake. Among our favorites is the Lost Creek Trail too, as here the peace and serenity of Lost Creek Wilderness can be fully appreciated. Otherwise, any of the 14ers we mentioned make an excellent one- or two-day trip, depending on how much you want to challenge yourself. No matter which hike you decide on, you’ll always want extra time to take in the views.

There are endless hiking adventures to be had in the state of Colorado, home of the 14ers, multiple mountain peaks each well worth summiting. Miles of hiking trails feature magnificent alpine lakes and forested tundras, and from each lookout, there’s a new exceptional view. If you’re searching for a Colorado hike that’s worth its reputation, just choose one from this selection. We’ve included only the very best hiking in Colorado, so we know you won’t be disappointed.

 

Bonus tip: Check out this video for a sneak peek of Cascade Falls along the Crater Lake Trail!

 

 

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.