The 8 Best Day Hikes Near Denver

Lake Isabelle, Colorado.

Denver, the capital city of Colorado, is famous for its pristine mountain vistas and idyllic landscapes. Like the rest of Colorado, Denver and the surrounding area are bursting with alpine lakes, forests of evergreen trees, mountain views, and gorgeous natural beauty that makes for some of the best hiking in the continental United States. Switchbacks and out-and-back trails abound in the impressively numerous state parks, national parks, and national forests in Colorado and most of those are centered around Denver.

Favorite hikes that draw hikers from near and far again and again almost always feature a landmark somewhere along the hiking trail. Green Mountain in Chautauqua Park, Royal Arch in the Boulder Open Space, Red Rock Formations in Red Rocks Park, Bierstadt Lake and Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park, and Windy Peak in Golden Gate Canyon State Park all stand out among the multitude of natural wonders Denver has to offer.

One thing hikers should know is that Denver seems to have a higher proportion of hiking trails that have been rated difficult by hikers who have managed to tackle them. There are plenty of shorter hikes as well, but to get to the best hikes with the most beautiful views, hikers will have to exert themselves much more in Denver than in other locations with less elevation gain. That certainly doesn’t mean you should run out and try to complete a hike that’s out of your ability willy-nilly, but it’s well worth the effort to build up to some of the more difficult trails in this guide to get a look at the beautiful views awarded to hikers who can complete them.

 

A person walking on a log in a forest.

Greater Denver is surrounded by lush forests that are perfect for day hikes.

 

Within an hour’s drive of Denver, hikers can find some of the best hikes in Colorado. Cities like Boulder, Golden, Morrison, Colorado Springs, and some smaller townships in Jefferson county all have terrific hiking trails cached away in their dazzling green forests and hidden mountain passes. Conquering one of the many peaks in the greater Denver area Is rewarding not just for the great mountain views but also for the sense of accomplishment that comes with them.

Taking in a deep breath as you rest to enjoy the view at the top of some summit, the many beautiful views of a distant tree line, a lake couched away in a valley, or some mountain goats chewing away in a field of wildflowers are likely to move you to add Colorado, and Denver especially, to your roster of regular day hike destinations

We’ve compiled this guide to the best day hikes near Denver because there are very few cities in the United States or in the world that can offer as many unique and wonderful hiking trails as Denver does. Most of them can be done in well under a day and some of them in just a few hours if you’re dedicated. While we always love to push it to the limits and section hike a long-distance trail like the Appalachian Trail, we also know that there are sometimes when a hiker only has a few hours but still wants to get some kind of a hike completed.

That’s not the only type of hike Denver has to offer, but it never ceases to amaze how quickly hikers can get out to a trailhead from the dead center of Denver. Give these hiking trails a once-over and prepare yourself for a trip to the Mile High City, because once you see what Denver has to offer hikers, you’ll want to try them out for yourself.

 

1. Bierstadt Lake Loop Trail

This is one of the brief but highly rewarding hiking trails characteristic of the lighter side of Denver’s hiking trails. Bierstadt, a 3.2-mile loop trail that courses near a lake in Rocky Mountain National Park very near to Estes Park, has enough elevation gain to be considered a moderately difficult trail to hike. Bierstadt is a great hike for the whole family, and, in addition to hiking, is great for horseback riding, snowshoeing, bird watching, and running.

The rocky terrain is just enough to keep Bierstadt interesting and the lake, the wildflowers, and the alpine wildlife all add to the charm of this short loop trail. While it is generally best hiked between June and October, many hikers continue to use this trail in November and sometimes later. The snow will have certainly started falling by then, but if you bring some spikes for the first 5 to 10 minutes, this hiking trail is still perfectly doable after the first snowfall. 

Bierstadt has many switchbacks as it approaches the lake and these switchbacks are in full sunlight during the daylight hours, so unless it’s actively snowing or raining then they should be dry and easily passable. If you go to Bierstadt around October, you might be able to catch the Aspens at their peak in terms of color and flourishing. If you prefer mountain views to alpine lakes, then you’ll enjoy the view of Longs Peak and Hallett Peak from the Bierstadt Loop Trail.

There are rock outcroppings at the beginning of this trail and the elevation gain may be hard for irregular hikers but the views are well worth the effort. You can also continue hiking to Bear Lake after you reach the technical end of Bierstadt Lake Loop Trail. There’s a parking lot at the trailhead. Unfortunately, dogs aren’t allowed on this trail. Overall, Bierstadt is plenty rewarding in terms of beautiful views compared to its difficulty rating and a great introduction to hiking in the Rocky Mountains. 

 

Pros:

  • Challenging elevation gain
  • One (possibly even two) alpine lakes
  • Variety of possible activities
  • Mountain views
  • Parking lot at the trailhead

 

Cons:

  • No dogs allowed
  • Shoe spikes recommended in colder months

 

2. Red Rocks and Morrison Slide Extended Loop

Located in Red Rocks Park near Golden, Colorado, this 4.3-mile loop trail has an 839-foot elevation gain that will hold hikers’ interest for the whole duration of the hike but can still be completed on a weekday morning before starting the workday. Dogs are allowed on this trail but they must be kept on a leash.

There are some bikers on this hiking trail and it is especially crowded on Saturday afternoons when the weather is nice, but on other days you can complete this trail without running into a ton of other hikers. 

There are wonderful streams that course along the side of the Morrison extended loop and the hike through Cherry Gulch is particularly nice for shade. The red rock formations are a charming sight that’s very unique, even in Colorado. This is some of the best hiking you can do if you want something just challenging enough to squeeze in to a busy schedule of other hiking trails or something else completely unrelated.

The Red Rocks and Morrison Slide Extended Loop can be a bit slippery if it’s muddy, but in general you shouldn’t even need spikes to complete it, even in snowy conditions. We recommend continuing to the Amphitheater Steps in Red Rocks if you have the time to spare!

 

Pros:

  • Short enough for a weekday morning
  • Dogs allowed
  • Not overly crowded most of the time
  • Challenging elevation gain
  • Streams, mountain views, Cherry Gulch, Red Rock formations
  • No need for spikes

 

Cons:

  • Can be slippery
  • Slightly complicated to navigate

 

3. Blodgett Peak

The Blodgett Peak trail doesn’t have the highest elevation gain on this list at 654 meters but it is rated as more difficult than most because that elevation gain is constant. This trail is really steep and covered in small gravel and scree that can easily cause hikers to slip, especially on the descent. If you have trekking poles, this is a great time to put them to the test. Blodgett Peak is best hiked between June and September since ice won’t make the steep incline of the trail any easier.

If you have enough time after you finish this trail, consider exploring the rest of Blodgett Peak Open Space and Pike National Forest, which both immediately surround the Blodgett Peak Trail. Flora and fauna enthusiasts will enjoy the opportunity to see Douglas firs, Scrub Oak, and ponderosa pine, as well as the possibility of seeing a peregrine falcon, an endangered species that sometimes appears there.

The parking lot has a limited amount of space so it’s best to show up there early so you can find a convenient place to park. The 360-degree mountain views at the top are breathtaking. Your legs will definitely feel sore after this hiking trail and novice hikers would do well to practice with different trails and build up the ability to complete this one. There’s a false summit so make sure you reach the true one! The views of Colorado Springs from the top of Blodgett Peak are incredible, especially at night if you have the right headlamp to safely guide you to the true summit. 

 

Pros:

  • Challenging elevation gain
  • Surrounded by Blodgett Park Open Space and Pike National Forest
  • Variety of flora and fauna
  • Parking lot
  • Breathtaking 360-degree views from the summit

 

Cons:

  • Limited space in parking lot
  • Loose gravel in some places
  • Very steep

 

A man walking in the mountains with a dog.

Denver has some of the best mountain views in the United States.

 

4. South Rim and Willow Creek Loop Trail

This 2.7-mile loop trail near Littleton, Colorado, ably demonstrates Roxborough State Park’s red rock formations less than 45 minutes’ drive from Denver. Roxborough State Park is one of the best places near Denver to see wildlife such as deer and birds. Wildflowers cover the trail in the warmer months before snow covers them up.

South Rim and Willow Creek Loop won’t be easy for novice hikers, but for the more experienced it’s the perfect level of difficulty for a day hike that won’t completely wear you out if you have other things to do later in the day. The red rock formations make this trail really stand out even though there are one or two better hiking trails for mountain views in Roxborough State Park. 

It’s also less crowded than the Fountain Valley Trail, which is the hiking trail more often mentioned in Roxborough State Park. Since mountain views are so common in Denver and the surrounding area, though, we wanted to include something a bit more unique. The 465-foot elevation gain is sure to tire hikers out but it won’t exhaust hikers who are experienced. The rewards greatly outweigh the expenditures on this hiking trail and you’re sure not to forget it.

A couple of drawbacks to this trail are that hikers must stay on the hiking trails, pets are not allowed, rock climbing is prohibited, and horseback riders and bikers are not permitted to use the hiking trails for those pursuits. Since it’s a state park, willing hikers will need to purchase either a $6-day pass or pay about $60 for an annual pass. 

 

Pros:

  • Red rock formations
  • Less crowded than nearby trails
  • Wildflowers and wildlife abound
  • Available year-round

 

Cons:

  • Park restrictions apply
  • No free entrance

 

5. Windy Peak via Mountain Lion Trail

This 5.9-mile loop trail in Golden Gate Canyon State Park has a lake, river, and beautiful views spread out over a rather staggering 1,627-foot elevation gain that will take a serious toll on the uninitiated but provide that extra challenge that always makes a hiking trail more satisfying to conquer for the hikers that are able.

Wildlife like squirrels, chipmunks, and birds like red-tailed hawks, chickadees, robins, woodpeckers, ravens, and jays give this trek to Windy Peak a characteristic difference from the other hiking trails in Golden Gate Canyon State Park. There is also the possibility that hikers could run into a moose on this trail, so be careful and maybe take precautions against hiking alone if you’re worried about a moose attack. 

High mountain views are visible at the summit of this hiking trail, although you should know that the last stretch of this hiking trail is the most difficult. That just makes the views from the top even more satisfying when you get there, though. If you want to extend this hiking trail slightly but still stay well within the limits of a day hike, try hiking Mountain Lion Trail counterclockwise from Notts Creek and come down Burrow. That’ll give you 6.5 miles of great hiking and a little variation if you find yourself repeatedly doing the Windy Peak via Mountain Lion Trail run.

Try to start from the walk-in visitor’s center because this trail is not accessible without paying an $8 fee to Golden Gate Canyon State Park and it’s much easier to pay that fee at the visitor’s center. This is a great trail for a day hike or a half-day hike but beware that many hikers who go for a short couple of hours’ worth of hiking wind up staying much longer to admire the wildflowers and the beautiful views!

 

Pros:

  • Great elevation gain for a challenging hike
  • Various wildlife and wildflowers
  • Mountain views
  • Expandable trek

 

Cons:

  • $8 fee to Golden Gate Canyon State Park

 

6. Grays and Torrey’s Peak

With its chart-topping 3,556-foot elevation gain spread over a length of just under 8 miles, Grays and Torrey’s Peak is a favorite hike for those who never give up. Amateur hikers might find it to be a bit overwhelming, but this is another one of those Colorado trails that is unique to mountainous areas. Many hikers use some kind of 4×4 vehicle with good ground clearance to reach the trailhead and add to their experience on this hiking trail, but there is also a parking lot on I-70 that you can use if you want to strike out on your own.

If you aren’t averse to gear, make sure you bring microspikes, trekking poles, and gaiters along. If the snowpack isn’t firm for whatever reason you could find yourself sinking up to the knee in powdery snow and you’ll definitely want to protect against moisture getting into your hiking boots. 

This hiking trail is also a handy option to have if you want a full day hike. It can take 7 hours to complete if you run into some kind of inconvenience with the mud or snow. If you can only pick one of these trails to do, we recommend Torrey’s Peak because of its superior mountain views. But the most optimal is to tackle both of them in one outing. Make sure everyone in your hiking party has prepared themselves adequately for possible altitude sickness because that’s a common occurrence on this trail. 

 

Pros:

  • Among the highest elevation gains
  • 4×4 option or parking lot available
  • Worthy off a full day hike
  • Beautiful views

 

Cons:

  • Possibility of altitude sickness
  • Specialized winter gear may be needed

 

A woman sitting atop a mountain in the snow.

Twin Sisters Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park offers breathtaking views and challenging day hikes.

 

7. The Keyhole and Longs Peak via Longs Peak Trail

Similar to Grays and Torrey’s Peak, the Keyhole and Longs Peak via Longs Peak Trail is super difficult but short enough to qualify as a day hike for hikers who can hack it but also have other things on their schedule. Stretching out 7.4 miles, this hiking trail is shorter but with its elevation gain of 4,911 feet, it goes to a much higher elevation than the previous trail on this list.

It makes for great cross country skiing, horseback riding, snowshoeing, and backpacking all with the added benefits of great wildlife and wildflowers. Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed on this hiking trail. Traversing the boulder field on this trail is remarkably difficult but the view from the Keyhole rock formation is really, really special. 

If you’re hiking this trail during the summertime, make sure to back be back beneath the tree line by about 2 PM because the weather can be unpredictable at that time of year. If you start early enough you can have breakfast at the Keyhole rock formation and then continue on to the summit with a wholesome meal in your belly. Bring something to cover your mouth if you are hiking in winter since the tundra winds can really whip hiker’s heads about in the cold months.

While we are usually understanding of people who are seeking some solitude on the hiking trail, in the case of the Keyhole and Longs Peak via Longs Peak Trail we have to say hikers will have to either put up with seeing some level of crowds or find another hiking trail because all the beautiful features of this hiking trail ensure that many people will continue to try and seek it out.

 

Pros:

  • Long and challenging day hike
  • Variety of purposes
  • Keyhole rock formation offers beautiful views

 

Cons:

  • No dogs allowed
  • More crowded than other hiking trails
  • Unpredictable weather in summer, lashing winds

 

8. Bluebell, Royal Arch, Flatiron, Bluebell-Baird, and Meadow Trail Loop

In contrast to the much more difficult trails we’ve mentioned, this combination hiking trail offers a wide variety of features such as meadows, woods, and rock formations. There is much more to see on this trail than you might expect since it’s only about 2.5-miles long and has an elevation gain of about 735 feet. That means it’s much better for novice hikers or hikers who want to bring a family or a dog along on the hiking trail. You’ll have to keep the dog on a leash, though, as per the rules of the Boulder Open Space where this combination hiking trail is located.

Beautiful views of Boulder and the Flatirons, which is the current name given to the most well-known rock formations in Boulder, Colorado, because they look like clothes irons or a Flatiron building, are the reward for hikers who reach the summit of this trail. Hikers will also briefly pass through Chautauqua Park as they progress along the Royal Arch section of this trail, so-named for a rock formation that was given the name Royal Arch because it is shaped like an arch. 

There is a parking lot for this trail that costs $2.50/hour but is free after 5 P.M. Hikers can get a ton of variety out of this hiking trail and pair it with other hiking trails in either Chautauqua Park or Boulder Open Space if they decide that they have time for a full day hike while already out on the trail. 

 

Pros:

  • Easygoing hiking trail
  • Wide variety of scenery
  • Dog-friendly (on a leash)
  • Mountain views of Flatirons and Royal Arch

 

Cons:

  • Small fee for parking

 

Rocky mountains and a blue sky.

Overlook Mountain rewards hikers with stellar mountain views very close to central Denver.

 

Final Verdict: 

Denver, Colorado is almost unmatched in the United States for the sheer number of hiking trails it offers within less than an hour’s drive. Some of the most beautiful views are in Denver itself or in nearby Boulder at one of the many state parks, open spaces, and wilderness areas. It’s hard to nail down exactly which hiking trails near Denver are the best because there’s something attractive about nearly every single one of them. Wildflowers, wild animals, and amazing rock formations such as the Flatirons or the Royal Arch are just a few of the kinds of things hikers can expect to be enthralled by in Colorado’s capital city. 

Located exactly one mile above sea level, Denver’s fame as the Mile High City could also refer to the nearly unlimited number of places hikers can reach a high elevation to take in unparalleled mountain views. Each trail has its specific circumstances and difficulties, and you might find yourself preferring one trail in summer but a different one in the wintertime.

The best thing about Denver is that it can offer hikers both, and just about anything else they could want in a Rocky Mountain environment. Not all the day hikes in Denver are for inexperienced hikers, but there’s no better place to take your hiking to the next level than in Denver itself. Get out there and build your experience with one of the many, many day hikes near Denver.

 

Bonus tip: You can see Denver’s Rocky Mountain National Park for yourself in this video!

 

 

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    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.