Colorado: The Best Hikes Near Denver
Some of the best hiking I have experienced in the United States is in Colorado – specifically hikes near Denver! For those who have never visited the state of Colorado, I only have one thing to say to you: GO! I could write an entire post about the weather alone because it was so wonderful (a sunny, 75 degrees every day with ZERO humidity). I have been day-dreaming about it ever since returning to the hot, sticky East Coast.
For this trip, Denver was my jumping off point and a great spot for any first-time traveler to the state as there are a number of amazing hikes nearby. Being based in Denver allows easy access to Rocky Mountain National Park (just a 1.5 hours drive away) as well as cute towns like Boulder and Colorado Springs. After coming from the hustle and bustle of city life (NYC and DC), my friends and I were dying to spend the majority of our time in the great outdoors. So we booked our weekend full of hiking (with a few sprinkles of exploring city life in Denver in-between). Check out my itinerary below for a long weekend guide to the best hikes near Denver!
Day 1: Rocky Mountain National Park’s Sky Pond Hike
After doing tons of research on hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park (there are over 300 miles of trails throughout the park!), I settled on Sky Pond. It was my fast time ever visiting the Rockies and the pictures from the Sky Pond hike sold me. 9 miles of hiking complete with several waterfalls, 3 lakes, and snowy peaks (even in early September) – this hike was idyllic. We planned 8 hours for the hike after reading several guides and it only took us 6 with several breaks for pictures and food. Plus scrambling up rocks at the end added a fun element of adventure.
It took us about 1 hour and 45 minutes to reach the entrance to the Sky Pond trail, which starts at Glacier Gorge trail head, which includes the time it took to rent a car at the Denver airport. Getting there is as easy as putting in Glacier Gorge into your GPS.
Important Note: Go early! We got our car at 6:30 am, stopped for a quick breakfast, and arrived at the Park entrance right before 9 and already two parking lots had filled up. Therefore, we had to take a shuttle from the Bear Lake Park-n-Ride to the trailhead. This actually wasn’t that much of a hassle and was very well organized. But also start early because of the storms that roll in almost every afternoon! We finished around 3 pm and got rained on a bit on our way down.
In addition, there are 3 lakes total and the third is Sky Pond which most people actually never make it to! So its really important to remember to keep going after hitting the Lake of Glass. Sky Pond is only about 15 minutes further and totally worth it!
This trail was ranked as difficult on most sites I found while researching. I would say I agree just due to the overall length, it definitely takes some stamina, but the best part was that a lot of the trail was flat. There were intermittent stairs with the majority being at the end right before you hit the Lake of Glass. There was some fun “rock climbing” as well which was super exciting and relatively easy. Overall, I would definitely recommend for those who are looking for a full day of hiking, spectacular views, and are ready to get some good exercise.
Day 2: Boulder and Chautauqua Park
I could rave about Boulder all day! I had pretty high expectations since its regularly voted a top place to live in America and my expectations were actually exceeded! This town was beyond cute, walkable, green (so well planted), and had so many restaurants and shops. The main area is Pearl Street which is designed for only pedestrians. There were water features, parks, play areas for children, performers, and overall it just had such a contagious atmosphere. This is a must-stop town only 30 minutes (and a $30 dollar uber) from Denver.
Plus there’s great hiking! Which is how we started off our day. Chautauqua Park is right outside the town of Boulder (connected by very convenient and free shuttles). This park contains the famous Flatirons. These are a series of mountains that jut straight out of the ground and tower towards the sky. From far away they look like, you guessed it… flatirons, due to their flat rock faces. Chautaugua Park makes for wonderful hikes near Denver for those who don’t want to drive all they way to the Rockies!
There are several trails to choose from in Chautauqua Park. We choose one of the most popular known for its views: the Royal Arch hike. It was just over 3 miles in length and the scenic trail leads you right past the Flatirons. The top of the hike offers views of a natural arch along with a huge rock peaks practically spurting out of the ground. Plus views for miles around Boulder!
This trail was also ranked difficult and, in some ways, was harder than its much longer friend, Sky Pond. This is mainly due to about half of the trail being steps straight up and a sharp rise in elevation. It will definitely get you sweating and took us a right around 2.5 hours (including some time to admire the view at the top). The best part about a million stairs on the way up is that the way down is relatively easy!
Day 3: Red Rocks Amphitheater and Park
This one is optional for those who had a long weekend like I did! Therefore, I will keep this relatively short and to the point – GO TO RED ROCKS! Unfortunately, we weren’t able to check out a concert while we were in town. So we made it a point to head out to Red Rocks during the day.
Its about a 20 minute ride from Denver and looks like a different planet! Red sand and massive rocks litter the park and the amphitheater is a dream I cant imagine a concert there would be incredible. The amphitheater is literally built into the rocks and is a hot spot for working out. (I sat watching all of the fit people workout while enjoying a VooDoo donut).
There’s a number of trails that crisscross the park, most fairly short and easy, making them great options for hikes near Denver!
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