12 Best Hikes near Denver, CO

Written by Carri Wilbanks
Jan 6, 2020

Denver is one of the hottest urban destinations in America right now, and one if its greatest assets is the easy access to natural attractions like hiking trails. There are literally hundreds of hikes you can do within a two-hour-drive radius of the Mile High City. And these cater to all styles of outdoor enthusiasts-from families with small children looking for an easy loop to more adventurous types hoping to challenge themselves on steep and rocky high alpine terrain.

Many of the hikes near Denver listed here are inside parks, be it city, like Chautauqua Park in downtown Boulder, or national and legendary, like Rocky Mountain National Park about 90 minutes northwest of Denver.

Within the parks, you'll find dozens of trails, from easy to difficult. We've also listed a few stand-alone hiking trails we love for you to check out. So whether you want to summit a 14er, like Pikes Peak outside of Colorado Springs, on a seriously epic day hike, or just take a stroll along a creek, we have a trail for you in our list of the best hikes near Denver.

1. Red Rocks Park

Hiking trail at Red Rocks Park

Most people know of Red Rocks for its iconic outdoor concert venue. The Red Rocks Amphitheater is surrounded by the towering red rock formations it takes its name from and is famous for its acoustics. But you don't have to pay for a concert to experience this venue. You can also hike the trail system around the amphitheater for free.

Just 25 minutes west of Denver near the town of Morrison, there are a number of hikes in Red Rocks park to check out, depending on your fitness level and whether you are traveling with kids. The Trading Post Trail at Red Rocks is short, sweet, and easy, covering a 1.4-mile loop. But it's absolutely gorgeous, as it takes you right past the red rock formations.

For something more intense try the six-mile Red Rocks trail. It also forms a loop and offers great views. Note, if there is not a concert going on, you can also pay a visit to the amphitheater itself. Just climbing the steps from the stage to the top a few times is quite a workout, and the views are amazing.

2. Chautauqua Park

View of the Flatirons from Chautauqua Park

Literally in the city of Boulder, Chautauqua Park is just a 45-minute drive from Denver and is home to dozens of different hiking trails-from quick and easy strolls to physically intense hikes with lots of elevation change. The park features views of Boulder's signature Flatiron rock formations from many different angles.

The trails here range in length from half a mile to a demanding 5.5-mile round-trip hike that takes you to the summit of Green Mountain and back. The hike is worth the effort because the views from the top of the mountain show Boulder and surrounding suburbs in panoramic glory.

For a slightly less intense hike, try the Enchanted Mesa Loop trail, which also features gorgeous mountain views and takes you through a variety of different terrain, including pine forest.

After you've worked out, this park's location within Boulder's city limits makes it easy to grab a bite to eat at one of the numerous restaurants here afterwards. Try the Dushanbe Tea House for something truly unique-the landmark teahouse was shipped piece by piece from Boulder's sister city in Tajikistan. The food is also excellent.

3. Rocky Mountain National Park

Hikers overlooking Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park, filled with hiking trails, is one of the most popular attractions in the state. It is about a 90-minute drive from Denver to the Estes Park entrance of the park (Estes Park is also a cute town, with restaurants and accommodation and, in the fall, lots of elk).

One accessible area for hiking is the Wild Basin trail network, which offers a range of hikes for all fitness levels. For something short, you can do the half-mile hike to Copeland Falls, although most people continue on to Calyspso Cascades for a 3.6-mile round-trip hike. The Wild Basin trail network also includes a strenuous, 12-mile round-trip hike to beautiful sub-alpine Bluebird Lake.

4. Storms Pass & Estes Cone Trails

Estes Cone, Rocky Mountain National Park

Right at the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park (but outside the park boundaries) is the 7.5-mile round-trip Storm Pass Trail to Estes Cone Trail, which takes you to the eastern edge of the epic Estes Cone inside the park. The cone looks like some kind of volcanic crater but is actually the result of natural erosion.

The strenuous hike begins at Lily Lake. There is a requested $20 honor system donation into a box near the trailhead. Once you've started walking, you'll cross the Continental Divide and have stunning views of Longs Peak, Mount Meeker, and the Twin Sisters, among other lofty highlights.

Follow Storms Pass Trail until you see the sign for Estes Cone Trail. The final part of this hike requires a lot of bouldering to reach the top, so this is really not the hike for beginners or anyone not in excellent shape. But if you're looking for a challenge in one of Colorado's most beautiful natural locations, it's a must-do.

5. Barr Trail

Hikers enjoying the view from the summit of Pikes Peak

If you want to summit one of Colorado's 14ers (the name locals give to the 53 peaks over 14,000 feet high scattered across the state), you can hike the Barr Trail to the top of Pikes Peak. While this mountain just west of Colorado Springs and about 75 miles from Denver is not the easiest 14er to climb it is one of the most impressive-Katharine Bates was inspired to pen America the Beautiful after summiting Pikes Peak.

The Barr Trail is a 24-mile round-trip haul, but it is possible to just hike one way and then catch a ride down in a car (there is a road to the summit) or on the historic cog railway that also chugs up and down this iconic mountain. To hike, you need to set out around 3am so you avoid late afternoon thunderstorms that can be deadly.

The trail covers 7,800 feet of elevation, and you really need to be acclimated to the altitude before you try. This isn't for the casual hiker, if you aren't in excellent physical condition, you could get seriously injured. But for those that make it, the view from the top is truly rewarding.

6. Staunton State Park

Staunton State Park

Just 40 minutes from Denver, Staunton State Park also features a vast trail system not only for hiking but also for mountain biking. If you'd rather climb the rocks than walk past them, Staunton State Park is also known for its climbing routes.

The park is also home to Elk Falls, which is the highest waterfall near Denver. To see it from above, you'll want to do the difficult 10.8-mile loop trail to the Elk Falls Overlook. To get closer to the base of the falls, try the 12-mile loop trail that opened recently.

The Davis Ponds Loop trail is another option that is much less intense and perfect for families. Along the way, kids can even learn to fish in the ponds you pass.

7. Lair o' the Bear Park

Trail in Lair o' the Bear Park

Located about 45 minutes southwest of Denver in Jefferson County, Lair o' the Bear Park is accessed via a beautiful drive into Bear Creek Canyon. Once at the park, you'll find a network of hiking and mountain biking trails.

For families, we love the easy 1.6-mile Bear Creek Trail that runs along the namesake creek. The trail is mostly shaded and level, and you'll have the creek in view for much of the hike. It also has some great spots to stop for a picnic lunch along the way.

The park is also home to a number of bird species-look them up in advance and then work with your kids to spot them along the trails.

8. Summit Adventure Trail

A high mountain lake in the Roosevelt National Forest

In the Roosevelt National Forest, about 60 miles from Denver in Loveland, the Summit Adventure Trail is a moderately difficult hike that climbs Sheep Mountain to its 8,450-foot summit.

The 9.1-mile round-trip loop gets very steep towards the top. Along the way, you'll have great views of Big Thompson Canyon and the eastern plains. The trail is part of the Round Mountain National Recreation Trail system that includes the Foothills Nature Trail, which is only a mile long and perfect for kids.

9. Brainard Lake Recreation Area

Hiking trail in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area

In the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, close to Boulder and just under 60 miles from Denver, Brainard Lake Recreation Area sits on the Continental Divide and is home to multiple hiking trails.

For something challenging, check out the strenuous (like a 9 on a scale of 1 to 10) Mount Audubon Trail. The 7.9 mile round-trip hike takes you up to 13,233 feet with an elevation gain of 2,789 feet. More than half of the trail is above the tree line, and you will encounter a slew of steep switchbacks and some bouldering near the top. But when you reach the summit, you are in for absolutely stunning views across the Front Range.

10. Castle Rock Trail

Castle Rock, Colorado

Head south of Denver on I-25 for about 30 minutes to the city of Castle Rock. The city is named for the massive rock formation resembling a castle at its edge. And you can hike a moderately difficult 1.4-mile loop trail to the base of the rock.

From here, you'll have views across the city, as well as the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains-Long's Peak will be to the northwest and Pike's Peak to the southwest.

Dogs are allowed on leash. You can also take a secondary loop around the base of the rock itself. It is wide and flat, and there is a picnic area here as well.

11. Chimney Gulch Trail

View from the trail in Windy Saddle Park

Just west of Denver near Golden, the Chimney Gulch Trail at Windy Saddle Park is a five-mile round trip (out and back, not a loop) trail up the side of Lookout Mountain. It is a strenuous hike that includes lots of zigzags, as well as stream crossings, as the trail makes its way to the summit of Lookout Mountain-it joins up with the Beaver Brook and Lookout Mountain Trails to do so.

The trail is easy to access (it's just off the highway) and is also open to mountain bikers, so it does see a lot of traffic. If you want solitude, this might not be the best choice. The view from the top is beautiful, however, with panoramic mountain vistas, as well as Denver and Golden spread out below.

12. Clear Creek Trail

Clear Creek Trail

Running through downtown Golden, the Clear Creek Trail is an easy, 1.8-mile round trip and a family favorite, especially with young children. Paved at first and then turning to dirt, it follows the creek, and kids will enjoy keeping an eye out for kayakers running the chutes, and cliff swallow birds that build their nests along the 6th Ave bridge you pass.

There is also plenty of shade along the way, and you'll pass a few parks that are perfect for a picnic lunch. After the hike, you can treat the little ones or yourself to ice-cream in downtown Golden. This is not a hike for anyone looking for a strenuous workout, but if your toddler is just learning to hike, it is perfect for them.

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