Denver, Colorado is the gateway the some of the most beautiful mountain passes, winding back-country trails, and scenic vistas in the United States. And as someone who lives in California, that’s high praise. We Californians like to joke that Colorado is the only state we love as much as our own. So I invited one of my most badass friends to write a guest post about the best day hikes near Denver, her newly adopted home. Deirdre Denali Rosenberg from Let’s Play Instead recently followed her dreams to move with her new husband and their adorable dog to a cabin in the mountains in Colorado. They’ve been hiking and exploring their new wilderness backyard ever since! But I’ll let her tell you about that. Here’s DeDe’s guide to the 8 best day hikes near Denver, Colorado that nobody knows about!
Table of Contents
- Tips for Hiking in Colorado
- What to Pack for Hiking in Colorado
- The Best Day Hikes Near Denver to Avoid Crowds
- Sleepy Lion Trail from Button Rock Preserve
- Centennial Cone Trail from Camino Perdido
- Mount Audubon from Mitchell Lake Trailhead, Indian Peaks Wilderness
- Square Top Mountain from Guanella Pass
- Mount Flora from Berthoud Pass Trailhead
- Herman Gulch to Herman Lake
- Mount Sniktau from Loveland Pass
- Cupid Peak to Grizzly Peak from Loveland Pass
- About Deirdre Denali Rosenberg
Take it away, DeDe.
Six months ago, I moved to Denver with my husband. We left Minnesota with everything we owned in two vehicles and drove across the country. For all my life, the goal was to move into the mountains. I didn’t imagine it happening until I was a very old woman.
But here I was, driving out west from the place I’d called home for 28 years.
My husband Jon and I met not quite two years ago. We clicked immediately. We had similar passions and goals, all of them pertaining wilderness, conservation and epic adventure. When we met, that’s when life began.
I can't believe how far we've come since this @jonlivesoutside 💛 Can you imagine what the next 12 months has in store? #tundra #love #happyplace #rockymountains #hardwork #wanderlust #mountaineer #goplay #optoutside #wildflowers #mountaineering #wildflowerseason #kiss #medicinebow #marriedlife #throwback #nofilter #photographers #photographylife #myart #summertime #nationalforest #mountainslovers #wyoming #selfie
When Jon proposed to me months later, I accepted and we happily married one another in the mountains of Colorado with Longs Peak setting the stage. No witnesses or guests, just us and the wilderness we loved so much. Maybe a marmot or two as well!
When we returned to Minnesota, life came crashing down. You know, like how it does sometimes. I lost my parents. I lost my job. Jon began working 50-60 hours per week and we moved into a small apartment in the city. I struggled a lot.
The vision we had for our future could not be further from what our reality had become. We both tried to make it through by squeezing in weekend trips and teaching clinics at local outfitters. But we were struggling in every way.
One morning in late November, Jon called me and said he couldn’t handle this mundane and pointless life anymore. We decided to right then to move to Colorado.
By the end of the day, we had a basic plan in place, living situation and all. It wasn’t going to be easy, but anything was better than the situation we were in.
It's been nearly a year of marriage for @jonlivesoutside and me. And what a year it's been. So much has grown, evolved and been put into motion. It's hard to believe our reality. Can't wait to experience the rest of life with you, babe. ❤️❤️❤️ #daybreak #longspeak #marriage #rockymountains #anniversary #keepitwild #lifeisgood #outdoorwomen #optoutside #sheadventures #mountainlife #hlaw #14ers #throwback #loveofmylife #nationalparks #nofilter #photographers #photographylife #andshesdopetoo #weddingband #tattoos #mountainslovers #mancrushmonday #teamhlaw
As I write this, life could not be more different. We’ve been in our new state, Colorado, for six months. And we’ve just begun to find what we’d been seeking out all along.
After moving a couple times around Denver, we realized we didn’t want a city: we wanted mountains. So with the last move, we went all in.
Our home is now a tiny cottage in the middle of two National Forests. We sit at 9,200ft of elevation and we have a creek outside our front door. There are 14ers and 13ers surrounding us. It is what I had imagined since I was a child. The hard work to get here was relentless, but so worth it! We didn’t move to Colorado for people, for shopping, for any of that stuff. We came to live simply and wildly.
With this list, I hope to help visitors and Colorado residents alike find places of solitude: perfect wilderness to take a break from the busy world.
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Tips for Hiking in Colorado
- Arrive at the trailhead early. I’m talking 6am or 7am. This will ensure you a prime parking spot and you’ll run into 90% less people than you would starting at say, 9am.
- Know the signs of altitude sickness. While the mileage on all of these hikes may seem low, most begin above 10,000 feet. This is something to consider if you are not used to high elevation. Know the symptoms of altitude sickness. If you’re feeling them, turn around and hike to a lower altitude immediately. Altitude sickness is no joke and can be fatal.
- Watch out for storms and weather changes. If you ever think the weather looks questionable once you’re above the treeline, it is suggested you turn around. The only thing worse than not reaching a beautiful summit is being struck by lightning. Am I right?
- Respect our beautiful wilderness. Please remember to follow all Leave No Trace Principles. They help to keep this land what it is: wild, lovely, pristine and healthy.
What to Pack for Hiking in Colorado
You never know when a storm might roll in, so it’s best to be prepared. Be sure to pack extra water, extra food and layers for rain. Here are my top gear recommendations for hiking, or you can check out the full list of my favorite hiking & backpacking gear.
- The best hiking clothing is both functional and comfortable. You’ll need to layer properly to acount for the differences in temperature and weather that you’ll experience during your hike – and be prepared for a change at a moment’s notice. Here are my picks:
- Good hiking shoes are crucial. Whether you’re the Trail Runner tpe or you like a sturdy hiking boot, make sure you’ve broken them in before attempting any serious hiking. My favorite hiking boots are the Lowa Renegades. They’re tried and true!
- Always bring rain gear. This Ultra-Light Rain Jacket is super lightweight and packs down to nothing, taking up almost no space in your pack. Waterproof Socks are also super handy to have, even if your hiking boots are waterproof.
- Pack LOTS of water. This Camelbak Hydration Pack fits 100oz of water, snacks, AND has some room for gear, too – perfect for a shorter day hike. For longer hikes, I load up my favorite day pack, the MHM Switch 24L.
- Bring trekking poles for tricky terrain. I like the Black Diamond trekking poles because they’re lightweight and fold down easily, but they’re super sturdy.
- Have safety supplies on hand, like a well-stocked first aid kit and a compass.
- If you’re starting your hike before dawn, bring a good headlamp, like this one, to light your way hands-free.
- Pack yummy hiking snacks for fuel and energy to get you up those peaks. I’m addicted to Epic Jerky and Power Crunch Bars. Dried fruit, nuts, and peanut butter pretzels are also great options.
Super awesome day to get out for a nice big day hike. Made it to Black Lake- what a sight! #frozenlake #exploretocreate #optoutside #photography #glaciers #photographyoftheday #naturephotography #mountainhigh #backpacker #sundaymorning #mountaintop #iphonephotography #mountainwoman #photographylife #likeapainting #adventure #alpine #alpinelake #soinlove #nofilter #rockymountains #hikelife #landscapephotography #photographer #hikecolorado #colorfulcolorado #rmnp #marchphotochallenge #rockies #365project
The Best Day Hikes Near Denver to Avoid Crowds
When most people think of hiking in Colorado, peace, solitude and wilderness are usually the goal. And while those things can easily be found by locals, it can be a challenge for out of state visitors to get past the full trail-heads and stop and go hiking traffic, only to find wilderness that doesn’t quite feel wild due to all the people looking for the same thing.
While Rocky Mountain National Park is breathtaking and full of wonder – we got married there, after all – the tourism season is very short, making it a nightmare for someone seeking quiet.
The secret to hiking in Colorado is this: all of it is absolutely stunning. It may be easy to go to a National Park, because they’re glorious and well known. But if you want to have space to be alone you’ll need to venture away from Estes Park, Boulder and the kinds of Colorado hiking trips that everyone already knows about.
The good news is that with just about the same amount of driving away from Denver, you can find yourself in some very remote locations that are easy to find, easy to park at and way less travelled. I call them “bang for your buck” hikes. These undiscovered hiking trails near Denver, Colorado promise amazing sights, solitude, and a good chance of wildlife sightings – and they’re all an easy drive from Denver.
So the next time you find yourself in Denver, Colorado and want to have some adventure, skip the popular places to hike near Denver and check out these glorious gems instead!
Sleepy Lion Trail from Button Rock Preserve
Class 1 | 5.4 miles | Elevation Gain: 1,059ft | Hike Details
If you’ve ever taken a day trip from Denver to Estes Park, you have driven through Lyons. It’s a super cute little town with a lot of charm. There is a ton of hiking here that holds beautiful views of many mountains in Rocky Mountain National Park.
The Sleepy Lion Trail is a one of the best hikes in Lyons. Get there nice and early and chances are you’ll see very few people!
This trail starts with a service road that follows the lovely North St. Vrain Creek. You’ll begin to climb some switchbacks which offer very nice views of the front range. The trail opens into a meadow towards the top, which is known to have big horn sheep and elk grazing. The trail leads to the Ralph Price Reservoir. It is a vast body of water that you can fish in- if you have a permit!
The way back follows the creek for around two miles. The rushing water is peaceful and the flat terrain is a nice easy way to wrap things up.
Centennial Cone Trail from Camino Perdido
Summit Elevation 8,679ft | Class 1 | 13.3 miles | Elevation Gain 2,618ft | Hike Details
If distance is something you’re after, the Centennial Cone Trail has a lot to offer. It is a part of Centennial Cone Open Space and has an extremely diverse ecology. This area is bursting with wildlfowers in the summer, and the sunrises here fill up the giant sky!
At the beginning of the trail, you’ll follow an old road. But don’t despair- there is rad stuff to see. This area used to be a mine and the remnants from those times live on.
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A part of the first few miles is also an open cattle range, so you might make a cow friend. As the trail goes on you will gain a lot of elevation. This is great news, because the views from up high are great. You’ll see most of Jefferson County and many large mountains.
There is one thing to be aware of with this fun hike: it’s open to hikers every other day, and on those opposite days, open only to mountain bikers. If you’ve spent much time hiking in Colorado or near Denver, then you probably know about the minor rivalry between boots and pedals. Centennial Cone has nipped this in the bud by implementing the alternative days rule.
Tip: Pack extra water for this one- the hot days get very, very hot.
Mount Audubon from Mitchell Lake Trailhead, Indian Peaks Wilderness
Summit Elevation 13,229ft | Class 2 | 7.9 miles | Elevation Gain 2,789ft | Hike Details
The Indian Peaks Wilderness is a great alternative to Rocky Mountain National Park and holds many opportunities for hiking, climbing, paddling and play without the bombardment of thousands upon thousands of people.
The area I am talking about, where Audubon is, sits very close to the Continental Divide. That means that the peaks in this chain are rugged, steep and snowy.
Compared to the surrounding mountains, Audubon is a gradual hike with broad ridges and tons of open tundra. To begin with, you must hike through some dense forest. This lasts a couple miles and then you’ll begin to climb ridges that hold spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. 65% of this hike is above treeline and you’ll reach that point easily. It’s common for this mountain to hold snow well into July, so be prepared for that. Be sure to stay on trail when hiking on tundra. The land is very delicate and can take hundreds of years to repair what’s been damaged.
My husband took a photo of me taking a photo of mountains from the middle of an alpine lake. Fun stuff. #optoutside #peace #alpinelake #glacier #coloradogram #365project #raft #snowstorm #backpacker #maysnow #snowfall #wilderness #forceofnature #photographylife #publicland #deepsnow #hlaw #rockymountains #womenwhohike #rockies #iphoneshot #kokopelli #photographer #mountains #explore #alpine #packraft #colorado
The terrain is rocky in many spots, giving marmots the perfect place to poke out their heads to say hello! You’ll see pikas and probably ptarmigans. And if you come in the summer season, the wildflowers will blow your mind.
The last bit of this hike is a class two scramble to the summit. If you aren’t familiar with scrambling, this means that you are ascending/descending giant rocks and boulders that generally go straight up. Not climbing, but you will be using three points of contact (hands and feet) at all times. The exposure is very mild. At the summit there is room to sit and enjoy the surrounding views of Longs Peak, Twin Sisters, Meeker and basically any mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s truly a spectacle.
Square Top Mountain from Guanella Pass
Summit Elevation 13,794ft | Class 2 | 6.9 miles | Elevation Gain 2,549ft | Hike Details
Located in the Mount Evans Wilderness off of Guanella Pass, Square Top Mountain shares a parking area with Bierstadt- a very, very popular 14er. So if you roll in and the parking area is a mess, just know that 80%+ of those people are there for something different.
Square Top is situated between 14ers on either side: Evans-Bierstadt and Grays-Torreys. It makes the view from the top something very special. Once at the summit, you can literally watch people on these much more popular mountains like ants on a log. By watching that, you’ll understand why many locals favor 13ers and eye roll the thought of doing a 14er on a weekend.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. When you park, you’ll see a bathroom. Walk over to it and look behind it- there is your trailhead. From the get-go you’ll be dropping in a considerable amount, into a basin of willow, streams and rolling hills. It’s not uncommon to spot wildlife early in the morning here. Mountain goats, pikas and marmots are all commonplace in this area.
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Once the trail begins to climb again, you’ll soon come upon a lake. This is Square Top Lake. Keep hiking and do not take the route pointing towards the lake to your right. Instead, go forward, past some snow.
Eventually you’ll reach a sign. And that is where the trail ends and the fun begins. Because guess what? The hike to Square Top Mountain is a choose your own adventure!
For the majority that is left, you will be climbing slopes that are steep. Really, really steep. There are four false summits, so don’y get your hopes up when you think the climb is over.
Once you hit the talus, you are almost to the summit. Keep pushing forward. You’ll know you’ve summited once you cross a little saddle. There is a jar situated amongst a rock pile. Open it up, sign your name and leave a message for fellow hikers!
From the summit, you have a panoramic view of giant mountains, including Mount of the Holy Cross. Which you’ll locate easily, by seeing a giant cross in the middle of a mountain. Pretty creative naming, huh?
Tip: I recommend trekking poles on this hike. The slopes can be intimidating and having poles will make balancing a hell of a lot easier!
Mount Flora from Berthoud Pass Trailhead
Summit Elevation 13,146ft | Class 1-2 | 6.1 miles | Elevation Gain 1,797ft | Hike Details
This is probably the easiest hike on my list as far as mileage and elevation gain are concerned. It is a class 1, with the tiniest bit of class 2, making it doable for families and most in-shape doggos. Mount Flora is part of the Continental Divide Trail, which means if you start hiking and just don’t want to stop, you don’t have to! What fun!
You begin by hiking up a service road of sorts, until hopping on a marked trail that will let you know Mount Flora is 2 miles away. Pretty quickly after this, you begin to gain elevation and pop out above treeline. There are alpine lakes and large mountains all around you.
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The trail is relatively flat until it’s not. Which is oftentimes the case. The good majority of your elevation gain is going to be in a short, half-mile segment near the summit. The summit is marked and there is plenty of room to chill for a bit.
If you want to summit one more mountain with ease once you reach Flora, keep going for one mile and you’ll be standing on Breckenridge Peak.
An alternative to Mount Flora is Stanley Mountain. Stanley is located across the street from where you’ll be parked. It is just as beautiful, but very different. Maybe be a cool cat and do both!
Tip: Start this hike early to avoid crowds and to see marmots!
Herman Gulch to Herman Lake
Summit Elevation 11,994ft | Class 1 | 6.4 miles | Elevation Gain 1,893ft | Hike Details
This hike might be one of the greatest bang for your buck hikes in the area. It begins at the Herman Lake Trailhead right off I-70 in Bakersville. The trail is a part of the Continental Divide Trail has many options for continuing on if you’d like to summit a mountain or two as a part of the whole shebang.
Herman Lake is right at the base of Pettingell Peak, which is a 13er that sits at 13,553ft and is a class 2. At any rate, the hike to Herman Gulch is beautiful and simple. The trail is incredibly easy to stay on, and if you arrive early, you will have it to yourself.
The majority of the hike is through a watershed. This means you may see moose, bear, cats, rodents and various hoofed friends. Be sure to make plenty of noise so you don’t take them by surprise, and if you begin with the sun, maybe hike with a partner.
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The wild flowers on this trail will be stunning if you go in the summer. Columbine and Indian Paintbrush coat the landscape. Large mountains surround you. When you break above treeline, you will see more mountains and a vast tundra, also full of wild flowers. Here you’ll find marmots and the occasional mountain goat. There are also many waterfalls!
For the relative ease that comes with this hike, you cannot beat the views, the smells or the calm.
Mount Sniktau from Loveland Pass
Elevation 13,234ft | Class 1 | 3.7 miles | Elevation Gain 1,800ft | Hike Details
If you would like to climb a large, tundra heavy mountain in a short period of time, without skimping on marvelous views and a good workout, look no further. Mount Sniktau is located right at the top of the Loveland Pass. It is a 3.7 mile out and back, which means one thing in my book: arrive by 5am.
Hike your heart out- it climbs incredibly fast for the first mile. Once you reach the flat spot where the trail splits, hang a left. You have a short while to go. The rest of your hike is going to be on tundra. If you keep a pretty good clip, within an hour you will be at the summit. And if you took the advice to start by 5am, you’ll be able to watch the sunrise from over 13,000 feet.
Directly to your right, you will see some giant mountains. These are 14ers: Grays and Torreys. In a matter of minutes after sunrise, they will be glowing pink, orange and gold.
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Enjoy some coffee at the summit of Sniktau and stay quiet. This area is known to have big horn sheep a-plenty. On your way down, the marmots will be waking up and scurrying around. Pikas will be squeaking to you. It’s all very cute.
Remember that hill you now hate so much that you ascending from the parking area? Now you must go down it. Take care on the loose sand and rock. I’ve slipped here more times than I can remember.
If you would like to make this a much longer day of 13ers, instead of going back to your car after summitting, take the trail straight, to that right you went left at. This will bring you to Cupid and then to Grizzly. Which brings me to the last hike…
Cupid Peak to Grizzly Peak from Loveland Pass
If you’re interested in a bit of a challenge, I suggest you arrive at Loveland Pass around 5 or 6am. This is going to be a good day. On this hike you will summit two 13ers, you will see marmots and you might see mountain goats.
The trail begins with a strenuous hike up, up, up! For about a mile you will be hauling ass up a very steep slope. Be sure to look back now and then to take in the views- you are looking at some of the most beautiful mountains in the country. And if you arrive early enough, the alpenglow will be blanketing your whole world in oranges, pinks and reds.
Once you arrive at the top of this slope, congrats- you are not almost done, but you’ve gained a lot of elevation. And now the hike has begun.
The trail splits here and you are going to go right. If you go left, you will be summiting Sniktau, which is another 13er and worth your time. But let’s keep focus on Grizzly.
To reach Cupid Peak, you are going to hike through a lot of rolling tundra. The summit is unmarked, but fairly obvious. Keep hiking- there is going to be a little scramble.
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Once you top out on that, all of the marmots start to say hello. And the rolling terrain continues. Most of the elevation you gain, you will lose immediately after, until you find yourself at the base of Grizzly Peak. This is where you should stop, eat something quick, get some water and get pumped. You are about to go up a somewhat loose, very steep, class 3. But it’s okay! Just take your time and enjoy it.
The trail is visible enough, but there are a couple sections where you’ll need to scramble. These spots are optimal to gather yourself if the exposure is hard. Try to take time to examine the areas around you for mountain goats- they tend to blend in, but if you spot one, chances are there are many.
This harder section will not last long and it’s the final push to the summit of Grizzly. The top is unmarked. It is wide enough to take some time and enjoy the scenery. It’s a beautiful tundra and it neighbors Torreys- a 14er that is very popular.
Be sure to go at your own pace when descending Grizzly Peak. The ground moves and you must stay alert. If booty scooting down helps you to feel empowered, do it. No shame. The wind here can be very harsh and sometimes that can be hard. But oh man, is it worth it!
Tip: Pack extra snacks and bring trekking poles .
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About Deirdre Denali Rosenberg
Writer. Photographer. Mountaineer. Adventurer. Living the simple life at 9,200ft. I am passionate about getting women into the wilderness and empowering everyone to explore and conserve our beautiful world. I am an ambassador for Hike Like A Woman and am almost exclusively found in the mountains. I believe in kindness over everything and discomfort over settling. You can find out more through my blog, Let’s Play Instead, including public speaking, events and group hikes all hosted by me. See you on the trail!
What’s your favorite place to go hiking? Let us know in the comments!
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