Choosing a hike in Colorado is much like browsing through Netflix trying to find the perfect movie. You can spend more time doing research than actually breaking trail.
This past summer, an avid, out-of-state backpacker asked me for some recommendations on moderate to strenuous (8-10 mile) day hikes that he should try while on a week’s visit to Colorado. He struggled with the same problem that I did when I was first getting into the hiking scene: many of the online resources listing “top Denver day hikes” are shorter, 1-3 mile hikes, close to the Front Range.
For those of you looking for a challenging, yet rewarding day out in the wilderness, below are 3 of my favorite true day hikes that I’ve done within 2 hours driving distance of Denver. If you plan to hike these in the winter or early spring, snowshoes and traction devices are highly recommended.
What’s your go-to suggestion for your ambitious out of state friends? I’m always looking for new areas explore. Let me know your favorites in the comments!
Hope you all get out and experience all that Colorado has to offer! It's never too early to start planning those spring and summer adventures! Enjoy!
Distance from Denver: 2 hours
Best Time to Go: May - September
Length: 8.5 Miles RT
Elevation Gain: 1,838 ft.
Trailhead: Glacier Gorge Trailhead, Rocky Mountain National Park
Fee: Park Pass Required ($20)
Helpful Tips: The trailhead parking lot fills up fast. Start early to avoid crowds.
Trail Report: Sky Pond
This hike has it all – dense forests, beautiful sub-alpine lakes, two waterfalls, and vast mountain landscapes. Once you reach the pond, you are surrounded by dramatic views of Taylor Peak (13,153’), Powell Peak (13,208’), and The Sharkstooth (12,630’).
After: Grab a sandwich at Scratch in Estes Park. Delicious homemade bread!
Distance from Denver: 1.5 hours
Best Time to Go: July - October (Road closed for construction until 6/28)
Length: 8.1 Miles RT (9.1 to Pawnee Peak)
Elevation Gain: 2,130 ft.
Trailhead: Long Lake Trailhead, Indian Peaks Wilderness
Fee: $10 to enter the Brainard Lake Recreation Area
Helpful Tips: Dress in layers. The top of Pawnee Pass is exposed and can create windy and variable weather conditions.
Trail Report: Pawnee Pass
My buddy and I did this hike in mid-October. The trail was snow covered above 11K ft., but the meandering switchbacks and endless views of the Continental Divide were awe-inspiring. At the top you are greeted with views of Granby and the Wild Basin Area of Rocky Mountain National Park. Well worth the effort!
After: Enjoy a cold beer and BBQ plate at Avery Brewing Company in Boulder!
Distance from Denver: 1 hour
Best Time to Go: June - September
Length: 9.8 miles RT
Elevation Gain: 1,116 ft.
Trailhead: Echo Lake Trailhead, Mt. Evans Wilderness Area
Fee: Free parking at Echo Lake
Helpful Tips: Thunderstorms are sporadic and prevalent during the summer. Look to complete your hike by noon and begin to descend back down to tree line.
Trail Report: Chicago Lakes
Looking for spectacular views, abundant wildlife, and alpine lakes close to Denver? Then this is your trail. Upper Chicago Lake boasts gorgeous panoramic views over the basin and back down the entire Chicago Creek drainage. Don’t forget to check out the cascading waterfall between the two lakes!
After: Head to downtown Idaho Springs and take a walk on Miner Street!