No visit to Denver is complete without a hike, whether it's strolling around City Park or summiting one of Colorado's famous fourteeners (mountain peaks rising higher than 14,000 feet in altitude). Fortunately, Denver has a multitude of hiking options located within 100 miles, or a few hours of driving, making it possible to venture into the hills for the day and be back in the city by dinner time. And although you need a car to access most trailheads, the scenery is well worth the rental fee.
Those with some spare time and a set of wheels will want to start their adventure at these nearby trails – just be aware of this region's notorious thin air and rapid weather changes, which can pose a problem even at destinations as close as Boulder and Red Rocks.
Located just 30 miles away, Boulder is a favorite hiking destination of many Denverites, thanks to its unique location nestled at the base of the foothills. Visitors are greeted by the shining stone faces of The Flatirons, the city's signature geographical anomaly. Michael Schmidt, tour concierge at The Crawford Hotel, highly recommends it to guests. "If they're looking to hike, I send them to Boulder."
[Read: Denver's Best Hotels.]
Boulder's Chautauqua Park is especially popular for its sprawling lawn, historic restaurant, rental cabins and access to a variety of trails for all fitness levels. One of the most revered treks that originates from the park is the Royal Arch Trail, a moderately challenging 3.5-mile round-trip climb that leads to a beautiful rock formation similar to those found in Utah's Arches National Park, while offering sweeping views of Denver.
"Chautauqua Park is gorgeous," Schmidt says. "It's crowded, but still worth it."
Plan to spend some time at the top taking pictures, sunning on the large boulders and refueling with a hard-earned snack. The out-and-back Royal Arch Trail will take most people about two to three hours to complete.
Red Rocks Park
Arguably the most popular hiking destination near Denver is the area surrounding the legendary Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre in Morrison. Part of the expansive Denver Mountain Park system, the trails surrounding this famous concert venue boast striking rock formations, lush meadows and views of the city, just 16 miles away by car.
"A lot of people go to Red Rocks for easier hikes," explains Zeyna Aouad, social media coordinator at the Grand Hyatt Denver. "It offers a good way to get into the outdoors without getting too far away from Denver."
The Trading Post and Geologic Overlook trails are short, moderate routes near the venue offering rolling terrain, interesting rock features and pleasant scenery. For a longer hike with better views, or if you prefer to ride a mountain bike, hit the Red Rocks Trail, which connects more ambitious hikers to additional trails in Matthews/Winters Park. Still feeling energetic? Race local fitness fanatics up the stone steps inside the amphitheater.
Evergreen is a bucolic community about 28 miles west of Denver that is full of great trails. From Evergreen Lake to Alderfer/Three Sisters Park to Evergreen Mountain and its views of the Continental Divide, Evergreen has recreational sites that accommodate visitors of a range of skill levels.
Lindsey Koehler, deputy editor at 5280 Magazine and an avid outdoorswoman, says Evergreen is "an easy little trip that has an adorable downtown area and great hiking opportunities."
[Read: 5 Fun Day Trips from Denver.]
In the winter, Koehler recommends ice skating on Evergreen Lake as an alternative to hiking.
For those who are wooed by stories of thru-hiking (think Reese Witherspoon in the 2014 flick "Wild"), the Kenosha Pass trail is a dream, particularly in the autumn months. Thick groves of age-old Aspen trees and meadows full of wildflowers grace this section of the Colorado Trail, whose scenic beauty and well-maintained trail is worth the 65-mile haul from Denver.
"It's just so pretty," Koehler says. "People don't get to see that type of valley and mountain scenery in most other places."
Although you could follow the almost-500-mile Colorado Trail to Durango, unless you're carrying several weeks' worth of provisions, it's best to just park at the Kenosha Pass trailhead and hike out and back for as long as your time allows. The terrain is gentle enough for most hikers, but beware the elevation: Standing just shy of 10,000 feet, Kenosha Pass is not for the faint of heart (or the under-acclimated).
Echo Lake Park
Sheila Gargan, concierge at The Westin Denver Downtown, often sends visitors to Echo Lake for a hike. Echo Lake Park is located off the Mount Evans Scenic Byway, about 45 miles from Denver. There are a few different routes that lead to the lake through Arapaho National Forest, and all of them showcase spectacular mountain scenery.
In addition to Echo Lake, the park offers a dining lodge, picnic areas and several hiking trails featuring views of nearby Mount Evans. For a quick and easy nature walk, follow the mile-long Echo Lake Trail that loops around the lake. For a longer and more difficult trek, opt for the roughly 9-mile out-and-back Chicago Lakes Trail that climbs through forests and canyons leading hikers to a picturesque picnic spot featuring two alpine lakes and a waterfall. Gargan notes that the Echo Lake Park trails are also nice for snowshoeing in the winter.
[Read: The Best Things to Do in Denver.]
If you're hoping to conquer a fourteener during your trip, continue driving past Echo Lake Park and park at Summit Lake Park instead. From there, hike up Mount Evans, whose peak reaches more than 14,000 feet. At just 3.5 miles round-trip, this is one of the most easily accessible fourteener routes in the state. Be sure to take a picture at the top for bragging rights.
Note that hikers must pay a fee to access Mount Evans Recreation Areas, and Mount Evans Road is closed during the colder months. Visit the U.S. Forest Service's website for more information. It is also important to keep in mind that natural elements like wind, sun, lightning, snow and altitude are very real concerns at this elevation. Come prepared for all types of weather year-round.
To experience more of what Denver has to offer, check out the U.S. News Travel guide.
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