The Best Hikes Near Denver

The Mile-High City is surrounded by some of the best hiking in the country. Here are the best trails to get out into it.

Photo: Cavan Images/iStock via Getty Images

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When people think of the best hikes near Denver, they think of the Rocky Mountains. Nestled in the shadow of the foothills, this city is a short drive from some of the best hiking anywhere, from Fourteeners to heroic ridgeline traverses to wildlife-filled streamside rambles. With so many options to choose from, your biggest challenge might be narrowing them down. 

Luckily, you have your friends at Backpacker to help you. Backpacker’s HQ in Boulder sits in the shadow of the foothills, and Denver’s nearby mountains are our local playgrounds; from after-work hikes in our local open space to multi-day treks along the Continental Divide Trail, we’ve collectively spent decades getting to know the best that Colorado has to offer. Below, we gather 12 of our favorite hikes near Denver, ranging from dayhikes to multi-day epics.

Best Dayhikes Near Denver

Best Hikes Near Denver in the I-70 Corridor

The easiest way to jet up into the mountains from Denver is the I-70 freeway, climbing quickly into the heart of the Rockies. As the main path through the mountains, I-70 can get crowded, especially on winter weekends when ski traffic ramps up to 10. Leave early to avoid the slog.

Atlantic Peak
Atlantic Peak. (Photo: “P1010571” by jl_2 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

Atlantic Peak, White River National Forest

  • Length: 4 miles
  • Distance from Denver: 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Elevation Gain: 2,500
  • Trail Type: out-and-back
  • Difficulty: hard

Skip the Fourteener crowds for this slightly lower Thirteener near Copper Mountain Ski Area. From the Mayflower Gulch trailhead, the trail climbs through willow thickets to a rocky, unmarked climb above tree level. Pick the best path to the summit to get wide-open views of the Rockies without the stop-and-start line.

Mount Evans
Mount Evans is one of the starting points for the Sawtooth Ridge Traverse (Photo: Cavan Images/Cavan via Getty Images)

Sawtooth Ridge Traverse, Mt. Evans Wilderness

  • Length: 7.5 miles
  • Distance from Denver: 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Elevation Gain: 3, 297
  • Trail Type: loop
  • Difficulty: hard

Knock out two summits plus a scrambly class 3 traverse on this high-flying loop. Pick your direction, starting with the summit of either Mt. Evans or Mt. Bierstadt. Take a moment to bask in the views of jagged summits in every direction,, then drop onto the ridgeline for a two-mile skyline traverse that charges through talus and boulders. Not ready for quite that much elevation gain? Park at the summit of Mt. Evans and make it an out-and-back.

Best Hikes Near Denver in the Indian Peaks and James Peak Wilderness

The Indian Peaks and James Peak wilderness are among the most accessible wild areas in Colorado, located an hour or so from downtown Denver. That also makes them popular: Leave early to find parking in popular areas, and if you’re planning on staying out overnight, plan your permits early.

Indian Peaks Wilderness
Skyscraper Reservoir is a scenic hike that’s easy to reach from Denver. (Photo: By chad_k is licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Skyscraper Reservoir, Indian Peaks Wilderness

  • Length: 10.2 miles
  • Distance from Denver: 1 hour 20 minutes
  • Elevation Gain: 2,263 feet
  • Trail Type: out-and-back
  • Difficulty: moderate

There are actually two lakes on this Indian Peaks out-and-back. The lower one, Woodland Lake, comes just after the trail emerges from a pleasant forest of aspen and spruce. Take in the views of the valley below, then resume the climb to Skyscraper Reservoir beneath the aptly named 12,383-foot Skyscraper Peak.

James Peak Wilderness
Landscape photos taken during a backpacking trip in the James Peak Wilderness (Photo: Patrick Lienin/Moment via Getty Images)

South Boulder Creek to Roger’s Pass, James Peak Wilderness Area

  • Length: 8.2 miles
  • Distance from Denver: 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Elevation Gain: 2,712 feet
  • Trail Type: out-and-back
  • Difficulty: moderate

With views stretching from Winter Park to Boulder, this is a hard route to beat. Start with a gentle climb on the South Boulder Creek Trail to the first ridge, then head up a steeper section to Roger’s Pass Lake. Another short climb brings you to Heart Lake, nestled beneath high, snowy peaks. Finish your climb at the Continental Divide, pausing for a moment to take in the panorama of rocky peaks and snowfields before cruising back down the hill to your car.

Best Hikes Near Denver for Families

One of our favorite things about living in Colorado: the chance to introduce our kids to hiking early. These hikes are both easy to drive to and relatively easy to hike, so if you have to tote your little ones, you won’t be in for too much of a slog.

Mount Falcon Park
The Mount Falcon Open Space is a close-by hike that you can tackle with just a little time if you’re in Denver. (Photo: “Mount Falcon Park, Colorado” by Jules Antonio is licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Summer White House, Mount Falcon Open Space

  • Length: 5.9 miles
  • Distance from Denver:  30 minutes
  • Elevation Gain: 1,825 feet
  • Trail Type: out-and-back
  • Difficulty: moderate

An easy half-hour drive from Denver, this trek to a site once considered for a summer White House is open to panoramas on every side. Wander between conifer forest and grassy hillsides with views of impressive red rock slabs and towers, the distant Rocky Mountains, and the Denver skyline.

Golden Gate Canyon State Park
Morning fog and fall colors in Golden Gate Canyon State Park. (Photo: Colophotos/iStock via Getty Images)

Racoon Trail, Golden Gate Canyon State Park

  • Length: 2.5 miles
  • Distance from Denver: 48 minutes
  • Elevation Gain: 728 feet
  • Trail Type: loop
  • Difficulty: easy

Just looking for a short jaunt into the hills? The Racoon Trail is the trail for you. Cross bubbling creeks between pine and aspen trees, then head into the open to check out a panorama of Longs Peak and the Continental Divide. In summer you’ll spot columbine to either side of the trail, and in fall the aspens flash bright gold. Finish the loop with a few quick switchbacks to return to your car.

Best Weekend Backpacking Trips Near Denver

Best Weekend Backpacking Hikes Near Denver in Rocky Mountain National Park and Surrounding Areas

Rocky Mountain National Park is deservedly famous for its scenery. The park now operates on a timed-entry system during the high season, so if you’re coming for a dayhike, you’ll need to make a reservation in advance. (The upside: less jockeying for space with the tourists.)

Pawnee Pass Trail
A spring day view of Pawnee Pass Trail at the west end of Lake Isabelle, looking toward the rugged Indian Peaks. Indian Peaks Wilderness, Colorado, USA. (Photo: SeanXu/iStock via Getty Images)

Double Bypass Loop, Indian Peaks Wilderness

  • Length: 26.5 miles
  • Distance from Denver: 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Elevation Gain: 6,632 feet
  • Trail Type: loop
  • Difficulty: hard

Head right to the continental crest with this loop through two passes above 11,000 feet. Spending most of its miles above treeline, the loop through Buchanan and Pawnee passes is characterized by expansive mountain views in every direction, summer wildflowers, and quad-busting climbs.

Bear Lake and reflection with mountains, Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, USA.
Bear Lake and reflection with mountains, Rocky Mountain National Park. (Photo: Credit: leochen66/iStock via Getty Images)

Continental Divide Loop, Rocky Mountain National Park

  • Length: 25 miles
  • Distance from Denver: 2 hours
  • Elevation Gain: 3,800 feet
  • Trail Type: loop
  • Difficulty: hard

Can’t pick between wildlife, waterfalls, peakbagging, and alpine lakes? See them all on this loop. Running 25 miles through the Rocky Mountain crest, the path heads through prime moose and elk habitat in evergreen woods between forays up above treeline. The highlight: 12,362-foot Flattop Mountain, with surrounding views of the Mummy Range, Lumpy Ridge, and Longs Peak.

Best Weekend Backpacking Trips in the Gore Range

This sub-range of the Rockies in ski-area-filled Summit County, just west of Denver, is a great place to escape the crowds that hit the closer-in trails.

Red Peak
Red Peak in the Eagles Nest Wilderness, Colorado (Photo: Cavan Images/iStock via Getty Images)

Willow Lakes, Eagles Nest Wilderness

  • Length: 16 miles
  • Distance from Denver: 1 hour 45 minutes
  • Elevation Gain: 2,367 feet
  • Trail Type: out-and-back
  • Difficulty: moderate

Camp next to three picturesque lakes at this Summit County gem. The ridgeline of Red Peak traces the horizon, while in the alpine meadows below Lower Willow, Upper Willow, and Salmon Lakes teem with trout. Bring along a fly rod to catch your own dinner (pick up a 1-day license in town before heading up), or just toss in a freeze-dried meal to maximize time spent admiring the scenery.

Gore Range
In the evening, Colorado’s Gore Range lights up orange with alpenglow. of the gore range of Colorado with purple Lupine wildflowers in the foreground and colorful Skies (Photo: Brad McGinley Photography/Moment via Getty Images)

Bubble Lake via Kneeknocker Pass, Eagles Nest Wilderness

  • Length: 12 miles
  • Distance from Denver: 2 hours 30 minutes
  • Elevation Gain: 3,500 feet
  • Trail Type: out-and-back
  • Difficulty: moderate

It takes some determination to reach the heart of the Gore Range, but the reward is well worth it. This trail takes you right in to the jagged mountains that form the range’s core in just one weekend. Start with an ascent to the peak-filled views of 12,000-foot Kneeknocker Pass, then drop down to clear, cliff-ringed Bubble Lake. Bonus: you can flyfish this lake, too.

Best Weekend Backpacking Trips in the San Juan Mountains

Hidden away in southwest Colorado, the San Juan Mountains are spectacular enough to make the longer drive worth it. They also don’t see nearly as much foot traffic as areas further north or closer to the city, so if you crave solitude on the trail, this is a good bet.

Island Lake
Panoramic sunrise picture of Island Lake, high in the San Juan mountains with perfect mountain reflection on calm water (Photo: Brad McGinley Photography/Moment via Getty Images)

Ice Lakes and Island Lakes, San Juan National Forest

  • Length: 9 miles
  • Distance from Denver: 6 hours
  • Elevation Gain: 3,000 feet
  • Trail Type: out-and-back
  • Difficulty: hard

Turquoise lakes, high peaks, and waterfalls: What’s not to love on this trail? The drive is a little long, but you’ll count the reward well worth it when you pitch camp at Island Lake at 12,400 feet, surrounded by the bare, rocky summits of the San Juan Mountains. In the summer the meadows of the two lake basins are filled with columbine, sky pilot, and alpine forget-me-nots.

Hiking trail in forest
Hiking Trail Leading into the Rocky Mountain Forest a large open view in the Colorado Rockies , hiking up the side of a mountain with a small trail leading to the unknown. Wondering Trail. Silverton , Colorado . In the San Juan Mountain Range. Hiking along the Ice Lake Basin Trail. about 9,500 Feet about sea level . (Photo: RoschetzkyIstockPhoto/iStock via Getty Images)

Rainbow Hot Springs, Weminuche Wilderness

  • Length: 10 miles
  • Distance from Denver: 6 hours
  • Elevation Gain: 1,637 feet
  • Trail Type: out-and-back
  • Difficulty: moderate

Head up a canyon filled with mixed aspen and conifer forest to the ultimate prize: Backcountry hot springs with a view. The soaking pools are located beneath the springs themselves, where the hot water runs into the San Juan River, so you can pick the rockwalled tub with the temperature you prefer (and adjust it by shifting the rocks to let in more or less chill river water). From your soaking spot you can see downcanyon to Sheep Mountain and the surrounding ridgelines.

Hiking Near Denver: Gear Advice

Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by balmy temperatures: The weather in Colorado can pivot on a dime. On October 10, 2019, for example, the temperature in Denver dropped by an astonishing 56 degrees in 24 hours, from a hot 83 F to 23 degrees and snowing. In the mountains, temperature swings can be even more extreme. It’s a good idea to carry extra layers and a shell year-round, as well as a space blanket or similar nod toward shelter if you’re only going out for a day trip. One thing you can probably make do without: waterproof boots. While it rains in Colorado, the dry climate means you’re relatively unlikely to get swamped out.

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