• Bradee Smith

Best Colorado Hiking Areas [Part 1]

Hiking Season in Colorado is upon us my friends!!! Towards the end of May each year I get absolutely GIDDY because I know that the ice on the trails is melting and it's finally time to enjoy the many hiking gems Colorado has to offer. When I first moved to Colorado from the good ol' Midwest, I was utterly overwhelmed by the amount of places there were to go all over the state. I was clueless on where to start, and how to navigate my way through all of the options. Almost six years later of spending almost every weekend in my Subaru headed somewhere new to explore, I've learned a thing or two! So today I want to share with you some of my favorite hiking areas in the beautiful state of Colorado!


When I say hiking AREA, I'm not referring to specific trails, but rather a trail SYSTEM. A lot of areas in Colorado are so saturated with amazing trails that they then become a "Wilderness Area", State Park, National Park, etc. That's what I will be sharing with you. One of the main reasons I prefer seeking out hiking areas rather than exact hikes is because it opens up a world of options. Sometimes when you arrive to a hike, the parking lot is full to the brim, the road to get there is closed, or the trail conditions aren't what you were hoping for. So typically what I like to do is research a hiking area in the app AllTrails, and save a few hikes as backups in that area in case the one I'm REALLY hoping to do doesn't work out. Because things don't always go as planned in the outdoors.


So whether you live in Colorado and you're itching to hit some new trails this summer, or you're planning a big visit, I hope you enjoy learning about (in my opinion) the Best Colorado Hiking Areas!


1. Indian Peaks Wilderness


Located in Boulder County, this wilderness area is known for having some of the most gorgeous hikes not too far from Denver and Boulder. Because of it's close proximity to highly populated areas, it is typically very busy during summer months especially. This area is most commonly known for day hikes, backpacking, camping and fishing. If you plan to stay overnight, permits are required from June through September 15th. You can see over 50 lakes, and check out 28 different trails. Note that the main trailheads fill up EARLY, especially on weekends! You will want to arrive as early as possible. Some areas do require day passes, so come prepared to pay a small fee depending on where you will be recreating. I recommend heading HERE before going to see any road closures, weather alerts, trail alerts, downloading a map, etc. Some of the top hikes in this area include:

- Brainard Lake

- Long Lake

- Isabelle Glacier

- Devil's Thumb

- Jasper Lake

- Lost Lake

- Crater Lake

- Diamond Lake




2. Uncompahgre Wilderness


This wilderness area while quite the drive from Denver, is located in one of my favorite mountain ranges in Colorado: The San Juans! It also spans both the Uncompahgre National Forest and the Gunnison National Forest. Some of the most stunning peaks in the state are found in this wilderness area, making for amazing hiking. Due to the elevation and nature of these peaks, prime hiking doesn't really begin until mid-July, when the trails are FINALLY snow-free! The closest towns to this area are Ridgway, Telluride and Ouray, which are absolutely beautiful to visit, so I would make a long weekend of it! There are no fees or passes required to enter this wilderness area year-round! I recommend heading HERE before going to see any road closures, weather alerts, trail alerts, downloading a map, etc. Some of the top hikes in this area include:

- Ouray Perimeter Trail

- Uncompaghre Peak

- Cornet Creek Falls

- Wetterhorn Basin

- Crystal Lake Trail

- Jud Wiebe Memorial Trail

- Chief Ouray Mine

- Bridal Veil Falls

- Richmond Pass

- Prospect Trail


3. Colorado National Monument


This National Monument is mind blowing because you feel like you're in Utah or Arizona! Located in Grand Junction, the Colorado National Monument contains insane rock formations, canyons, and 43 miles of trails. It's also a great area to simply drive through and take in the sites if you're unable to hike! There is one established campground (Saddlehorn Campground), as well as backcountry camping with appropriate permits. This area is also popular for photography, climbing, and biking. Note that this part of Colorado tends to be MUCH hotter, taking on a climate similar to Utah. So if you're planning to visit in the summer, expect very hot temperatures and plan accordingly. If you already hold an annual National Park pass, you may enter for free using it. Otherwise the entrance fee is $25 per vehicle. I recommend heading HERE before going to see any road closures, weather alerts, trail alerts, downloading a map, etc. Some of the top hikes in this area include:


- Canyon Rim Trail

- Window Rock Trail

- Otto's Trail

- Coke Ovens Trail

- Devil's Kitchen Trail

- Serpents Trail

- Monument Canyon Trail



4. Collegiate Peaks Wilderness


Located near Buena Vista, the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness is made up of eight 14er peaks named after well known colleges. These astounding mountains make this area absolutely gorgeous for camping, fishing and hiking, although many of the hikes are very technical! Due to the altitude of the trails in this area, your best bet at hiking here will be in the peak summer months (June-September). Also, when looking for dispersed camping, this area is one of my go-tos because of the views! I recommend heading HERE before going to see any road closures, weather alerts, trail alerts, downloading a map, etc.Some of the top hikes in this area include (not all hikes listed are 14ers, but make sure you really do your research before embarking on a 14er hike):


- Huron Peak

- Mount Yale

- Kroenke Lake

- Mount Harvard

- Mount Belford

- Mount Oxford

- Bear Lake via Horn Fork Trail

- Browns Pass Hartenstein Lake Trail



5. Fossil Ridge Wilderness


Located within the Gunnison National Forest, outside of the town of Gunnison, this small but beautiful wilderness area contains 22 established trails. This area is known for its tall limestone and granite peaks creating a gorgeous backdrop for alpine lakes. I recommend heading HERE before going to see any road closures, weather alerts, trail alerts, downloading a map, etc. Some of the top hikes in this area include:

- Henry Lake vis South Lottis Trail

- Lamphier Lake

- Mill Lake Trail

- Square Top Mountain


6. Rocky Mountain National Park


For obvious reasons, this park is a Colorado classic + must-see! If you live in Colorado or are visiting in Colorado, you simply CANNOT miss out on experiencing this majestic place. Containing landscapes on both sides of the Continental Divide, you will see some of the highest peaks in the country when visiting the park. There are a whopping 119 trails to choose from inside the park! Some can be done as day hikes while others require multiple days of backpacking. Even if you're not a big hiker, simply driving through the park and enjoying the overlooks is 100% worth it! A National Park pass is required for entrance into the park. You can either get the annual pass if you plan on visiting other National Parks, or a day pass for $25 per vehicle. All camping/backpacking is paid and requires a permit/ booking a campsite. The campsites in the park do tend to book up quickly so I recommend reserving in the early spring in order to snag one! I recommend heading HERE before going to see any road closures, weather alerts, trail alerts, downloading a map, etc. Some of the top hikes in this area include:

- Sky Pond

- Mount Ida

- The Loch

- Nymph, Dream + Emerald Lake (all on the same loop)

- Chasm Lake

- Bear Lake

- Ute Trail

- Mills + Black Lake

- Longs Peak (very technical 14er)

- Alberta Falls




7. Golden Gate Canyon State Park


If you're looking for an option close to Denver, this is the area for you! This state park located near Golden has hiking trails, cabins, camping, yurts, fishing and more. While it contains less grandiose mountain views compared to some of the other areas listed, its does contain 12 trails, many wooded and quite peaceful. I think this state park is ideal for a quick day visit following by wine slushies in the town of Golden. A day pass to enter the park is $10 and if you plan on camping there, be sure to make a reservation. I recommend heading HERE before going to see any road closures, weather alerts, trail alerts, downloading a map, etc. Some of the top hikes in this area include:


- Beaver Trail

- Black Bear Trail

- Buffalo Trail

- Horseshoe Trail

- Coyote Trail

- Raccoon Trail

- Mountain Lion Trail



8. Mount Zirkel Wilderness


And finally, the Mount Zirkel Wilderness; located near Steamboat. Straddling the Continental Divide and nestled within the Routt National Forest, this area was one of the first to be protected under the Wilderness Act. Due to its immensity, there are many established campground options, as well as opportunities for dispersed camping. This wilderness area also contains over 70 lakes and 26 established trails. For snow-free, safer hiking, it's best to go during peak summer months (late June through September). Certain more developed recreation sites will require a fee, while other areas are free to enter. I recommend heading HERE before going to see any road closures, weather alerts, trail alerts, downloading a map, etc. Some of the top hikes in this area include:


- Rabbit Ears Peak Trail

- Gilpin Lake Trail

- Mount Zirkel Loop Trail

- Fish Creek Falls Trail

- Mad Creek Trail

- Mica Basin Trail

- Rainbow Lake Trail



These are just eight of the countless wilderness areas and parks in the amazing state of Colorado. Hence why this is only part ONE! I'd love to know if you've hiked in any of these areas yet, and which ones are on your hiking bucket list for the summer! Tell me in the comments below :) And be sure to pass this on to your trail-loving pals!


Happy Trails,


Bradee XOXO


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