This 486-mile route—from Denver to Durango—averages 10,000 feet high and tracks through the country’s densest clutch of 12,000-foot (and taller) peaks. We interviewed last year’s crop of thru-hikers (plus Colorado Trail Foundation staff) to find the most spectacular sections. An entire weekend above treeline, the tastiest slice of pizza, the best public transit dayhike—it’s all here.
Lowest Point Waterton Canyon trailhead (5,520 feet)
Easy-access Dayhike Waterton Canyon
This cottonwood-shaded canyon, minutes from Denver’s western edge, shelters mule deer, South Platte River trout, 40 bird species, and a herd of 38 Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep. See it all and be back by dinner on an out-and-back to Strontia Springs Dam (13 miles round-trip).
Early-access Weekend Alphabetizer Loop
In the Lost Creek Wilderness, the trail tracks below the five highest of the Kenosha Mountains’ 12,000-foot peaks, and it’s snow-free as early as May. From the Rock Creek trailhead, head seven miles west to a secluded camp. On day two, backtrack 3.4 miles to turn off-trail for a 1,300-foot climb of Zephyr Peak. Trace the ridge 6.7 miles west to the Ben Tyler Trail to close the loop. Total miles: 22.2
Best Public-transit Trip The Tenmile Range
This 11-miler spans a ridge with ski-country views. Park at Wheeler trailhead and link the CT and Peaks Trail to reach Frisco (grab an ale on Main Street). Return by free shuttle. summitstage.com
Trail Magic In summer, Leadville local “Wild Bill” Clower stocks a bin of sodas, snacks, and supplies just north of the US 24 trail crossing. The refreshments are free to hikers.