If you’ve ever set your desktop wallpaper to magical blue-green waters wishing you could be transported there, you’ll be happy to know the best hikes in Colorado will do that. Colorado is known for its stunning natural beauty as well as its abundance of outdoor adventures including some epic hikes. With its rugged mountains, rushing rivers, and pristine forests, Colorado offers some of the most scenic and challenging hikes in the USA. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced hiker, there are hiking trails for you in Colorado.
Hiking in Colorado is an experience unlike any other. The state is home to 53 peaks that rise above 14,000 feet, known as “14ers,” and over 40 state parks with hundreds of miles of trails.
Top Colorado Hikes
In this article, we will explore some of the best hikes in Colorado, from easy family-friendly hikes to more challenging multi-day hikes. We will also provide tips for planning your trip and staying safe while on the trails. Whether you are a seasoned hiker or a beginner, hiking in Colorado is an adventure you will never forget.
At the center of the best hikes in Colorado are the Rocky Mountains, which remain pristine despite whatever else is going on in other parts of the US. The Rocky Mountain National Park is home to gems of the visual kind. And surrounding those mountains are many other Colorado parks that are equally as stunning. We include them all in this list.
1. Bear Lake Trail
This is a half-mile classic hike for the whole family in Rocky Mountain National Park. It is one of the best hikes in Colorado for families with young children as it gives them a chance to experience the wilderness while also ensuring they are safe and on fairly level ground.
The trail has an elevation gain of just 50 feet. Despite being a fairly easy and flat hike you get absolutely stunning views of the surrounding mountains, including Hallett Peak and Longs Peak. You can reach the trailhead from the Beaver Meadows entrance of the park. This is definitely a Colorado hiking trail you want to add to your list if you are looking for a nice easy hike with the family. It is also used as a jumping-off point for other hiking trails in the area including the Emerald Lake Trail.
Book this highly-rated private tour of Rocky Mountain National Park from Denver where your guide will find the best spots for wildlife, photography, optional short hikes, and walks.
2. Chasm Lake Trail
If you want to experience one of the most beautiful crystal clear alpine lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park, you should check out the Chasm Lake Trail. The trail is 8.5 miles long and has an elevation gain of 2500 feet. It is considered a difficult trail as you’ll be starting out the trail at an elevation of almost 9500 feet, which means it’s going to be cold and you could even be in for lightning.
You can reach the trailhead to Chasm Lake at the Longs Peak Ranger Station, which is located on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park, near the town of Allenspark. From there, you’re going to be treated to 360 degrees of the beautiful scenery of the Rockies. The trail will have you exploring the tallest peak in Rocky Mountain National Park, Long’s Peak. On top of that, you get to check out one of the United States’ most stunning alpine lakes, Chasm Lake, which is nestled below Long’s Peak.
3. Emerald Lake Trail
To get up close and personal with blue-green water that will have you feeling like you’re in a Disney movie you must do the Emerald Lake Trail. This Rocky Mountain National Park trail is easy at just 3.6 miles with an elevation change of 650 feet.
The trail winds through aspen groves and pine forests, along mountain streams, and past several other smaller lakes before reaching the stunning Emerald Lake. Along the way, you’re going to see Nymph Lake, and Dream Lake and go through a gorge along Tyndall Creek. Once you reach Emerald Lake itself your jaw will drop. The lake is surrounded by towering peaks and offers incredible photo opportunities, especially during the fall when the aspen trees are changing colors.
If you are a fisherman you could try your hand at fishing for trout, or simply relax and enjoy a picnic lunch, which is what we did. There is a reason this is one of the most popular Colorado hiking trails. Getting to the trail is easy because it is on Bear Lake Road and you start the hike at the Bear Lake Trailhead.
If you are visiting during high season, try and arrive before sunset or take the park’s shuttle service as the parking lot at the trailhead fills up fast.
4. Glacier Gorge Trail – Sky Pond Trail
This is one of the best hikes in the Rocky Mountains for serious hikers. It is a 9-mile loop with a 2162-foot elevation change. You’ll see incredible views at Sky Pond as well as from Glass Lake and Timberline Falls is the piece de resistance.
You can get to the hike from the Bear Lake Trailhead, but the parking lot is small so arrive early. Also, note that you can find snow right into June and July so it is a good idea to bring poles and snowshoes.
Visiting Denver, Colorado? This half-day tour takes you to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains to see the Red Rocks Amphitheater, Evergreen Lake, and a scenic drive around the Lariat Route. Book it here and feel comfortable with easy cancellation within 24 hours of the tour.
5. Alberta Falls Trail
The Alberta Falls Trail is one of the most stunning waterfalls in the Rocky Mountains and that’s saying a lot as there are many when you visit Colorado. The Alberta Falls trail is a 1.7-mile out-and-back hike with elevation changes of 232 feet that are soft and gradual.
Along the way, you see gorgeous aspens and experience the winding and musical Chaos Creek. The falls themselves drop about 30 ft and as you stand there surrounded by the Rockies, it really gives you an appreciation for the power of Mother Nature. You can reach the trail by heading out on Bear Lake Road to the Glacier Gorge Trailhead. That’s about 12 miles from Estes Park and makes for one of the best day hikes when you’re staying in town.
6. The Rocky Mountains Colorado Trail
Do you even hike if you’ve never been on the Colorado Trail? The Colorado Trail is an almost 500-mile hike that crosses through the state. The trail runs from Durango to the Waterton Canyon Trailhead in Durango and is one of the most difficult trails in Colorado.
This is the mother of all the hiking trails in Colorado. When you get on this trail, rest assured that you are going to see a large swath of Colorado complete with rolling hills and rocky inclines. Along the trail, you’re experiencing 8 mountain ranges and will be hitting a high of more than 13,000 feet in the San Juan Mountains on your uphill climbing. The Colorado Trail is a very popular hike because you get the best hiking in Colorado along one route.
Most people tackle this hike in segments. If you were to do the entire hike it would take you anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks. Luckily, it is broken up into 28 segments and you can hike many of these individually. Some of the most beautiful sections are Segments 5-8. For more information on each segment check out The Colorado Trail Foundation.
Along the way, you’re going to see wildlife like bighorn sheep just moseying around. You’re also going to be jumping over tiny creeks and walking along rivers as the Rockies watch on. The parking area in the south end as well as the ultimate north end can fill up fast.
That means you’ll have lots of people on the hike with you at the top and bottom of the trail. However, you’ll get the best hiking in when you’re in the middle. Doing the whole trail is best for experienced hikers as the middle parts can get a little difficult.
7. Blue Lakes Trail
This is likely the best hike in Colorado to see mountain goats as a herd is known to roam the area. The hike is just 1 mile long with an elevation gain of just 108 feet but getting there can be a challenge as you’ve got to get up a steep gravel road to get to the Blue Lakes trailhead which is better for 4WD vehicles. Alternatively, you can just walk the gravel road up to the trailhead. Just note this hike is not to be confused with the Blue Lakes Hike near Telluride. They are 2 different hikes.
This place can get quite busy and the parking lot is small so, we recommend carpooling and visiting mid-week, when the crowds are at their lowest.
More people report seeing mountain goats in the afternoon than in the morning, but both times are possible. In addition to the goats, you’ll the beautiful Blue Lakes and lovely wildflowers when in season. Do note that there is scrambling required.
8. Hanging Lake Trail
Surely the name alone entices many. What exactly is a hanging lake? Well, this hanging lake is a result of some geological movements that pushed the lake bed off the cliff it was on. The result of that is a lake sitting just below the cliff with remnants of its lake bed still on top of the cliff from which a waterfall drops into it.
The lake itself is a crayon blue-green and all of that beauty has made the Hanging Lake Trail a popular hike in Colorado. This is a 3-mile hike in White River National Forest, taking you right into the thick of the park. You can get to the trail via the Glenwood Springs trailhead. Hike early to avoid crowds.
9. Mayflower Lake and Mohawk Lakes Trail
For one of the best hikes in Colorado to get a flavor of the whole state, you need this hike It is located in White River National Park, and the Mayflower Lake and Mohawk Lakes trail offers one of the best hikes. This is a 7.8-mile hike with a 1920-foot elevation gain. This is one of the best hikes in Colorado if you are traveling with your dog as many trails do not let allow your pooch on the trails.
You can start your hike at the Spruce Creek Trailhead which is found just outside of Breckenridge on Spruce Creek Road. You’ll be crossing streams and checking out waterfalls along the way. The beginning of the trail is moderate along the Mohawk Lakes but gets steep halfway through at Mayflower Lake. The views of Lower Mohawk Lake and then Upper Mohawk Lake are stunning.
10. First and Second Flatirons Loop Trail
This 2.7-mile trail is going to take you through some of the most stunning scenery in Colorado, but it certainly isn’t going to be easy. You will have to do some rock climbing if you want to see Boulder’s iconic flat irons. This flatirons trail is concrete and steep in the beginning but then softens out when you get to the dirt trail portion.
When you get to the top you can absolutely spectacular views of the Rocky Mountain range. To get to the trail you can take Baseline Road to the Gregory Canyon trailhead where you can park and start your trip. You can do the trail in about 2 hours at a leisurely pace.
11. Fountain Valley Trail (Garden of the Gods)
The Fountain Valley Trail is 2.2 miles long with a 324 elevation change. The trail is located in Roxborough State Park, near Colorado Springs, which is considered the Garden of the Gods and includes the Gods trails, and is considered quite easy. Despite being an easy hike, there’s a lot of adventure to be had along the way with red rock formations abound.
If you’re lucky, you might even see a fox or mule deer poke their head up from behind one of those formations. You can get to the trailhead from Willow Creek Trail near the entrance of Roxborough State Park.
12. Monarch Lake Loop Trail
This 4.2-mile trail in Arapaho National Forest is super easy and super popular and makes it one of the best hikes in Colorado for families. It takes you around Monarch Lake and makes for a nice way to spend time with family. Some animals do frequent the area with a majority of the sitings being of moose. The trailhead is located on Highway 125 near Monarch Lake. Here you will find bathrooms and parking.
13. Pawnee Pass Trail
You can check out a glacier as you make your way along Pawnee Pass Trail to Isabelle Lake. After that, you’re doing some switchbacks to get to stunning views. You’ll see Mount Audobon and Apache Peak. The Pawnee Pass Trail is 10 miles long with an elevation change of close to 3000 feet so it’s not exactly a family-fit adventure if you have young children.
It is a great adventure for both intermediate hikers and avid hikers alike with alpine meadows, beautiful scenery, and fun rock scrambles. You will experience snow and icy patches for most of the year beyond the July and August months. You can get to the Pawnee Pass trailhead from Brainard Lake Road to the Brainard Lake Conservation Area. The actual trailhead within Brainard Lake is at the Long Lake trailhead which is in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area.
14. Ice Lakes Basin Trail
First and foremost, you must have hiking boots if you want to do an outdoor adventure on the Ice Lakes Basin Trail hiking trails. This trail sits in San Juan Forest and you’re going to have an incline of 3000- feet which is a lot for average Colorado hikes. You should have poles if you decided on going to this hiking destination.
There are steep climbs but you are also rewarded with views of ice lakes, including an island lake, and even an old stone building you can explore. There are switchbacks and as we mentioned, steep inclines, but this is one of the best hiking trails in Colorado if you like an adventure.
15. Crater Lake Trail
This 3.5-mile trail is one of the best hikes in Colorado and probably the best in Aspen. It is located in the Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness Area. It was formed from geological processes that took place thousands of years ago when glaciers started floating away and left what we know as Crater Lake.
If you’re staying in Aspen then there is a shuttle that can take you to the trailhead from Rubey Park. Alternatively, you can drive there on Highway 82 and get off on Maroon Creek Road to park in the parking area.
16. Maroon Bells Scenic Loop Trail
The Maroon Bells Scenic Loop Trail is a picturesque hiking trail that is also located in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area, near Aspen, Colorado. The trail spans approximately 3.3 miles and takes hikers through some of the most stunning natural landscapes in the country.
The trailhead for the Maroon Bells Scenic Loop Trail is situated at Maroon Lake. From there, hikers can follow the trail as it winds through the wilderness area, passing by groves of aspen trees, cascading waterfalls, and fields of wildflowers.
One of the highlights of the trail is the opportunity to catch breathtaking views of the Maroon Bells themselves. These majestic peaks are some of the most iconic in the Rocky Mountains, and their towering presence is a sight to behold especially as they are mirrored in the lake below. They are also known as the most photographed mountains in North America.
The Maroon Bells Scenic Loop Trail is rated as moderate difficulty, making it accessible to hikers of all skill levels. The trail does get really busy in the high season, but the views are worth it. This is also the kicking-off point for the hike to Crater Lake and we would suggest incorporating that into your day as well.
17. South Colony Lakes Trail
The South Colony Lakes Trail is a challenging hiking trail located in the Sangre de Cristo Range of the Rocky Mountains, near Westcliffe, Colorado. The trail is about 12 miles and takes you through some of the most stunning natural landscapes in the area.
The trailhead for the South Colony Lakes Trail is located at the end of a dirt road, and the first few miles of the trail are relatively easy, passing through a forest of aspen and pine trees. However, as the trail progresses, it becomes steeper and more difficult, with switchbacks and rocky terrain.
One of the highlights of the South Colony Lakes Trail is the opportunity to view several peaks that are over 14,000 feet in elevation, including Crestone Peak and Crestone Needle. These majestic peaks are some of the most challenging to climb in Colorado, and their towering presence is awe-inspiring.
The South Colony Lakes Trail is rated as difficult, making it suitable for experienced hikers who are in good physical condition. The trail is well-maintained and clearly marked, but hikers should be prepared for steep climbs and potentially challenging weather conditions.
18. Fish Creek Falls Trail
Fish Creek Falls Trail is a popular hiking destination located near Steamboat Springs, Colorado. The trailhead for Fish Creek Falls can be accessed from Fish Creek Falls Road, which is located approximately three miles from downtown Steamboat Springs.
The trail is approximately 4.7 miles round trip and offers stunning views of the 283-foot Fish Creek Falls. The rocky trail is strenuous, with an elevation gain of approximately 1,450 feet, so be prepared for a workout. A lot of people turn around at Upper Fish Creek Falls, but if you are more adventurous you can continue on to Long Lake (this adds another 7.6 miles to your journey, so be prepared).
If you are looking for an easier route you can take the easy, 0.3-mile paved path to the falls viewing area. Make sure to check the website as this trail is sometimes closed due to avalanche risk in the winter and early spring.
Rocky Mountain National Park Entrance Fees
The first half of this guide to the best hikes in Colorado focuses on some of the best Rocky Mountain National Park Hikes. We then branch out to explore more of Colorado in the second half of the guide. Read this complete guide to the best Rocky Mountain National Park hikes
Note: Reservations Required for Rocky Mountain National Park: From May 26 through October 22, 2023, visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park will need a timed entry permit and an entrance pass to recreate in the park. Visit the RM National Park website for more details and trail closures.
Get your Pocket Guide to the Best Easy Day Hikes of Rocky Mountain National Park Pick up your map of the Rocky Mountain National Park Trails on Amazon
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the most scenic hike in Colorado?
One of the most scenic hikes in Colorado is the Alberta Falls Trail which gives you views of beyond-real green waters and a waterfall that is magical. If you want to feel like a real explorer out on the hiking trails, check out the Continental Divide at Wolf Creek Pass. That’s located in the San Juan Mountain range and gives you stunning views.
What’s the hardest hike in Colorado?
The Classic Colorado Trail is probably one of the hardest hikes in Colorado because it is long and takes you over many geographical landscapes. To do this hike, you’ve got to dig in for the long haul and be prepared to camp and experience incremental weather.
The Square Top Mountain Trail will give you an elevation gain of 2500 feet with rock scrambles, and steep climbs, and in turn, is considered difficult.
How many hikes are in Colorado?
There are hundreds of hikes in Colorado. You can’t put a number to it because many are combined and others are off-trail.
Where can I hike in Colorado right now?
You can do a few different hikes but a great place to start a hike on your road trip in Colorado right now would be to go to Rocky Mountain National Park. There you have lots of choices and you can ask the park ranger which is best to go on right now depending on the season and closures.
Map of Colorado Hiking Trails
There is no doubt that hiking in Colorado is something that should be added to any outdoor lover’s bucket list. With one of the most beautiful National Parks in the US, well-maintained trails, fresh mountain air, and the opportunity for backcountry hiking there is no doubt you are going to love it here. So grab your sturdy hiking boots, do your research, and plan your next hiking adventure in Colorado.