It’s no secret that Colorado is a great place to live or to visit. The opportunity to explore this beautiful state is something I have never taken for granted, not for a second. Every weekend the conversation usually isn’t “should we go hiking” it’s “where should we go hiking.”
It can be overwhelming to try to plan things in a state that has so many opportunities for beauty, whether you are living here or planning a trip. Some of the best adventures can be found within just a few hours of Denver, and I’ve decided to compile a list of some of my favorite easy hikes.
1. Emerald Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park
This is my absolute favorite short hike close to Denver. Alpine lakes are something of a wonder to me, and you get to see four of them on this hike. Just under 4 miles round trip and 652 feet of elevation gain will get you to Bear Lake, Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, and finally – Emerald Lake. Each lake is more beautiful than the last, and the gradual elevation gain makes for a very enjoyable, not exhausting hike. Bear Lake trailhead, the starting point for the hike, is about two hours from Denver. I would recommend getting to this trailhead early in the day or late in the afternoon to avoid some of the crowds as this is one of the most popular areas in the park.
2. Lake Isabelle, Indian Peaks Wilderness
This lovely lake is about an hour and a half from Denver. It’s in the popular Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, so getting here early is important. For reference, we got to the trailhead just after 7:00am and we had to park at Brainard Lake and walk to the trailhead. Although, if you have to do that it’s not the worst thing – you get to walk around a beautiful lake and have prime moose viewing opportunities, so keep your eyes peeled! This hike is 4.5 miles total and 630 feet of elevation gain, so it’s a great opportunity to take your time, take in the views, and see the beauty the Indian Peaks Wilderness has to offer.
3. Hagerman Pass, near Turquoise Lake
For those willing to drive just a little bit farther (approximately 2.5 hours from Denver), and love the joy of being one of the few on the trail, I highly recommend Hagerman Pass. The details are in a previous blog, but this hike was so wonderful it’s worth mentioning twice. For me, this hike has everything you would want on a Colorado hike: alpine lakes, mountain views, ghost towns, and wildflowers. At 5.5 miles round trip, this hike will take you a little longer than the previous mentioned, but the gradual elevation gain of 590 feet makes it a relatively easy hike. The only reason it will take you a little longer is because of the views; they are more than worth taking your time.
4. Crater Lake, Maroon Bells – Snowmass Wilderness
Most people visiting Denver probably don’t want to drive 3.5 hours to get to Maroon Bells – but once you’re there, you’ll see why so many make the trek. This is quite possibly one of the most photographed areas of Colorado, and for good reason. It’s absolutely beautiful at every season – although it’s worth noting that in the winter the only way to access this area is by hiking or snowmobiling, so be sure to check the road closures if you are coming in the Spring or Fall. Crater Lake is perhaps the most popular short hike at Maroon Bells; it’s 3.4 miles total (with 630 feet of elevation gain). If you can be an early riser, I recommend arriving well before sunrise to photograph the magical glow and reflection with Maroon Bells and Maroon Lake.
5. Mayflower Gulch Trail
Lastly, for those that want an easy hike, but a little bit more of an elevation gain, this is the trail for you. It’s about 6.5 miles beyond Copper Mountain (about an 1.6 hours from Denver), but parking has never been an issue when I’ve hiked here, so just watch the weather for afternoon storms as you’re planning. I have to admit, the hike doesn’t have anything super interesting (besides amazing views) until you get to your destination at 3.1 miles, after 1550 feet of elevation gain. The trail leads you to an old ghost town, the Boston Mine, where you can explore the remains of the cabins of the people who used to live there in the early 1900s. I recommend doing your research before this hike, as there can be snow well into June or July and it’s important to make sure you have the right traction devices.