Guides

The Best Hiking in Colorado

by Joe ColemanJun 21, 2022

Colorado is arguably the best state in the entire country for outdoor activities. Whatever you’re looking for, this state has you covered. And when it comes to hiking in Colorado—it’s truly an otherworldly experience. Whether you want to hike through the warm summer days or enjoy the hiking trails in Colorado while the leaves change colors in the fall, this state promises a trip you’ll never forget.

Tips for Hiking in Colorado

Don’t Underestimate the Elevation

Elevation sickness is no joke. If you’re from a mountainous state, you’ll have a much easier time than those from sea level. If you aren’t used to being a mile (and sometimes much more) in the air, take your time to acclimate, or you’ll be in for a rough time.

Wear Layers

Yes, every hiking guide for anywhere says bring layers. Seriously though, Colorado weather changes its mind like an undeclared college student. The last time I was in Colorado, it was 92 one day and snowed the next. No joke.

If you’re taking advantage of the summer months for Colorado hiking, you’ll want to be aware of afternoon thunderstorms. Colorado is notorious for afternoon showers in the summer, so never hit the trail without a rain jacket.

Don’t Forget Water

Another obvious one, but it bears mentioning. Colorado gets hot and dry during the summer, and with the elevation gained while hiking, you’ll want more water than you think you need. Getting dizzy and dehydrated is a recipe for ending a hike much earlier than you’d prefer. Make sure to always be well-hydrated, or you’ll be in for altitude sickness (another one I’ve run into personally).

Best Hiking in Colorado

In a state synonymous with the outdoors, it would be impossible to build the definitive guide of the best hikes around. There’s no wrong itinerary here, but if you’re looking for inspiration, these six trails are must-visits.

Emerald Lake Trail – Rocky Mountain National Park

Two hikers walk Emerald lake trail, a popular place to go hiking in Colorado. The summer sun is shining and the trail is surrounded by trees with snow on the mountains in the distance.

Emerald Lake is easily one of the most trekked trails in Rocky Mountain National Park. You’ll likely be surrounded by new friends on this hike, but braving the crowds is completely worth it. You get views of two lakes (three if you count Bear Lake by the trailhead) on your way to the turnaround point at Emerald Lake. If you’re bringing camera gear, this is one of the best hikes to set up for some shots at the halfway point.

While most people can complete this hike in under two hours, you’re encouraged to allow more time than that to stop and sit by the lakes you’ll see on the trail—spend some time at Emerald Lake at a minimum.

Length: 3.2 miles

Elevation Gain: 698 feet

Route Type: Out and Back

Time Required: 1 hour and 45 minutes

Where to Stay: Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park™ Camp-Resort: Estes Park

Doe Creek Trail – Granby, CO

If the crowds during Rocky Mountain’s peak season don’t sound like your cup of tea, head south of Rocky Mountain National Park towards Granby, Colorado. Hiking in Colorado is way more than just Rocky Mountain! Opting for trails outside of the national park is also a good plan for dog owners since the national park isn’t pet friendly.

Doe Creek is a challenge with four distinct ascents throughout the loop, but the views you’ll be greeted with more than make up for your efforts. You’ll enjoy a lake view on the way up, with a view of the meadows when you head down the other side.

Length: 7.3 miles

Elevation Gain: 1,617 feet

Route Type: Loop

Time Required: 4 hours

Where to Stay: Sun Outdoors Rocky Mountain

Sky Pond via Glacier Gorge – Rocky Mountain National Park

This is one of the more challenging trails in the national park for sure, but well worth it for the avid hiker. If you’re looking for a challenging hike to check off your Rocky Mountain bucket list, Sky Pond is as difficult as it is beautiful.

Prep for altitude as this trail starts at just over 9,000 feet. The peak on this trail is nearly 11,000 feet up, so expect snow well into the warmer months and pack your gear accordingly. Crampons and poles aren’t usually required if you’re hiking past June, though they’re still good to pack with you into the late spring and early summer.

Length: 9.4 miles

Elevation Gain: 1,758 feet

Route Type: Out and Back

Time Required: 4.5 hours

Where to Stay: Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park™ Camp-Resort: Estes Park

Palisade Rim Trail – Palisade, CO

If you happen to be flying into Grand Junction instead of Denver, the Palisade Rim Trail is going to be the most conveniently located place to start your Colorado hiking journey. Situated between Colorado National Monument and Grand Mesa National Forest, this hike is an example of the best of Western Colorado.

If you want to enjoy the rich desert of this state, Palisade is an ideal place to start. Note that the temperatures can really get up there during the warmer months, so bring lots of water and a hat if you’re hiking in the heat of the day.

Length: 3.3 miles

Elevation Gain: 616 feet

Route Type: Out and Back

Time Required: 1.5 hours

Where to Stay: Canyon View RV Resort

Warner Point Nature Trail – Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

A hiker sits on an overlook staring out at the mountain cliffside and river below at Gunnison National Park, one of the most scenic places to go hiking in Colorado.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison is often glossed over in favor of Rocky Mountain or Mesa Verde National Parks, but not to be missed. This is one of the more popular hikes in this lesser-known national park, so you’ll likely run into other visitors on this short jaunt.

You’ll see some ups and downs on this trail, but it’s the tamest on this list. If you have time to explore the entire state of Colorado, starting here is a great way to get your footing under you and acclimate to the elevation.

Length: 1.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 406 feet

Route Type: Out and Back

Time Required: 1 hour

Where to Stay: Riverbend RV Park and Cabins

The Incline Trail – Pike National Forest

The rocks and tree-lined view of Pike National Forest, a popular destination for hiking in Colorado.

This is potentially the hardest hike on this list, though ironically, it’s one of the lower elevations (relative to Colorado, of course). With a peak of around 8,500 feet, it might not sound like a challenge compared to other Colorado hikes, but with nearly 2,000 feet of elevation gained in about a mile, this isn’t for the faint of heart.

There are plenty of things that make the hike worth it, though. After the first mile, the next three miles are a gradual downhill of incredible views. The bragging rights you’ll gain at the end of it don’t hurt either. If you’re already in the neighborhood of Garden of the Gods (which is a must), consider a short trip over to this section of the Pike National Forest!

Length: 4 miles

Elevation Gain: 1,978 feet

Route Type: Loop

Time Required: 3.5 hours

Where to Stay: Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park™ Camp-Resort: Larkspur

Hopefully, this list has inspired your next hiking trip! It’s nearly impossible to pick the best options for hiking in Colorado. In a place so abundant with outdoor experiences, you could pick a new hike each day and still have plenty left to see after a lifetime. The hiking trails in Colorado are second to none, so you really want to take your time and enjoy them.

Joe Coleman is a freelance travel and outdoor writer based in East Texas. His love for the outdoors started when living near Olympic National Park and has stayed with him ever since. Taking a respite from social media, you can reach him exclusively at joecolemanfreelance@gmail.com.

Photo credit in order of appearance: Adobe Stock – Margaret, Margaret, Galyna Andrushko, Elliot.