Colorado Travel: Best Day Hikes Close to Denver

Colorado Travel: Best Day Hikes Close to Denver

If you are looking for some of the best day hikes close to Denver, then welcome! 

Hi friend, stay a while.

If you are interested in other places in Colorado checkout my previous blog posts below:

My husband and I lived in Colorado for a year in 2017. 

My parents also live in Denver, which means that we get to go to Colorado a couple of times  a year. 

It is the best thing ever. 

We also got married in Estes Park. Colorado has a special place in my heart, and I always long for thetime that we can move back there.

Back to day hikes close to Denver. 

YES. You cannot visit the beautiful state of Colorado without hiking. 

I often get disappointed when hiking where I live (Raleigh, NC) because the hiking here is so boring. 

OK, that is super harsh, but the views are just not the same, and it makes me want to cry.

Hiking From Denver

Denver is such a convenient city to be in because it is so close to so many beautiful hiking trails. 

You can choose to stay in the city, and do a day hikes if you are only staying in Colorado for a couple of days. 

Gotta love being able to experience the city and nature in one trip.

Day Hikes Close to Denver: Packing List

I have a pretty standard packing list when it comes to hiking since I have done so many. 

Day Hike Packing List (for hikes close to Denver):

  • Hiking shoes or snow boots
  • Water
  • Snacks or light lunch
  • Toilet paper
  • Altitude sickness medicine
  • Antacid for bellyaches
  • Mask/ face covering
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Sunscreen
  • Hat
  • Antibacterial microfiber towel
Day Hikes Close to Denver

When to Go?

Always check the weather because you never know the situation up in the mountains. 

For me, it is ideal to hike in the summertime, so around May to September.

If you are up for hiking in snow, make sure that you have the right gear and that the trail is actually open.

I will always recommend hiking in the morning to avoid the crowds. 

Also, depending on the length of the hike, you are able to do more activities the rest of the day, and drive back to Denver in daylight.

Silver Dollar Lake Trailhead Hike

Covid-19 Precautions and Permits

Plan ahead: Some of these attractions now require a reservation to access due to the pandemic and fires. Make sure to plan ahead and follow the rules.

Face covering: We are now living in different times. Just as a precaution, make sure to always bring a mask or face covering for other people and your safety.

Hand sanitizer: Again, keep you and the people around you safe by constantly sanitizing your hands.

Best Day Hikes Close to Denver

1. Shrine Ridge Trail, Vail, Colorado

Day Hikes Close to Denver

I am convinced that when people think of Colorado, they think of a city like Vail. 

This city is a well-known ski resort, home to various winter sports. 

Though Vail is known for skiing and snowboarding, it is amazing for hiking.

SHRINE RIDGE TRAILHEAD

This trail was everything. 

The trail is located right beside the Shrine Ridge Inn, where we accidentally started our hike, but eventually reached the right trail path. 

We stumbled upon a wedding ceremony while we were in the Shine Ridge Inn area.

The Shrine Ridge trail begins at Shrine Pass Road #709. 

It is a very narrow trail which leads you through pine trees and meadows. 

The first part of the hike is quite easy and flat. When you reach the climb to the saddle is when it gets steep and difficult. After you reach the top of the ridge, you make a right turn where you are met with the most breathtaking panoramic view. 

You will see the view of these mountains:

  • North – Gore Range
  •  Northwest – Uneva Peak
  •  Southeast – Copper Mountain ski area
  • South – Ptarmigan Hill and Ptarmigan Pass
  • Southwest – Sawatch Range and Mount of the Holy Cross
  • West – The Flat Top Mountains

You are going to notice that I will be using the words breathtaking a lot because that is what Colorado does to people. 

It literally takes your breath away because of the elevation and its stunning scenery. Get it?

My family and I visited sometime in September when it had snowed in Denver the day before. YES, it snowed in Denver in the summertime.

  • DRIVE FROM DENVER: 2 hours
  • LEVEL: Easy to Moderate
  • ROUNDTRIP LENGTH: 4.3 miles
  • PETS: Dogs are allowed, but must kept on a leash
  • START-END ELEVATION: 11,106 ft. to 11, 899 ft.

2. Maroon Bells Scenic Loop Trail, Aspen, Colorado

Aspen is another city in Colorado known as a ski destination. 

You have probably associated it with the X games happening in the winter.

MAROON BELLS SCENIC LOOP TRAIL

The Maroon Bells is as stunning if not more in person than the actual pictures. 

The purpleish blueish hues of the mountains vary depending on the season.

This trail was relatively flat and accessible for all levels, which is why it is a very popular route. 

You get to enjoy the view of the Maroon lake as you hike through the trail and be surrounded by lush aspen trees. 

And yes, the name Aspen is because of the abundance of aspen trees in the area. Amazing bright yellow color in the fall time.

There are other trails you can hike in this area that are up to 13 miles long roundtrip, but this trail is ideal for someone visiting the state for a short amount of time.

Tip: The Aspen Snowmass Balloon Festival happens during the first or second week of September each year. It’s one event you shouldn’t miss.

  • DRIVE FROM DENVER: 4 hours
  • LEVEL: Easy
  • ROUNDTRIP LENGTH: 2 miles
  • PETS: Dogs are allowed, but must kept on a leash, dogs are not allowed past the Maroon lake
  • START-END ELEVATION: 9,580 ft. to 9,740 ft.

3. Lake Isabelle, Ward, Colorado

My husband and I are not really familiar with this area at all. 

The only reason we knew about this hike was because of our wedding photographer. 

We took pictures at Brainard Lake Recreation area which was frozen at the time and knew that there was a trail leading to another lake with the most amazing mountain views.

LAKE ISABELLE LAKE TRAIL

This turned out to be one of our favorite day hikes close to Denver and one of the prettiest.

Certain parts were challenging due to the elevation, but we were always surrounded by the Indian Peaks Wilderness views and the pristine pine forest the entire time. 

It is worth every step. As you traverse to the end, you will see the spectacular view of the ice cap adorned mountains framing the most beautiful lake. This place looks like a postcard.

  • DRIVE FROM DENVER: 1 hour and 30 minutes
  • LEVEL: Moderate to Strenuous
  • ROUNDTRIP LENGTH: 6 miles
  • PETS: Dogs are allowed, but must kept on a leash
  • START-END ELEVATION: 10,505 ft. to 10,908 ft.

4. Royal Arch Trail, Boulder, Colorado

Boulder is less than an hour from Colorado and home to the Flatiron mountains and University of Colorado. 

When hiking in boulder, you have to go to Chautauqua (pronounced shuh-TAW-kwuh), which contains the trailheads at the base of the Flatiron mountains, park, and historic district.

THE ROYAL ARCH TRAIL

The Royal Arch is this impressive rock formation, reminiscent of the arches in Utah. 

This trail is still one of the most difficult trails we have done. 

We tried hiking this twice, but gave up the first time because we went with our dogs. The trail is mostly uphill, rocky and seems to never end. 

Since it had just snowed a couple of days before we hiked, snow was still melting, resulting in a muddy strenuous hike for us and our short-legged dogs. 

The second time we hiked, it was just me and my husband, but we still had to take a few breaks. I recommend that you leave your doggy friends at home.

This trail is definitely not for a beginner. Once you reach the Royal Arch, you can walk through it and rest and see the panoramic view of Denver. 

The descent is a whole another story. Quite tough on the knees.

  • DRIVE FROM DENVER: 40 minutes
  • LEVEL: Hard
  • ROUNDTRIP LENGTH: 3.5 miles
  • PETS: Dogs are allowed, but must kept on a leash
  • START-END ELEVATION: 5,710 ft. to 6,915 ft.

5. Silver Dollar Lake Trailhead, Georgetown, Colorado

Silver Dollar Lake Trailhead

Georgetown is known for mining and the train ride in Georgetown Loop Railroad which can take you from Georgetown to Silver Plume and back. 

I have personally only been to main street Georgetown during the holiday season when the Victorian buildings are decorated with lights and Christmas decorations.

SILVER DOLLAR LAKE TRAILHEAD

Silver Dollar Lake Trailhead is located near Georgetown, Colorado. 

If you love lakes, this hike is for you because you get to see not one, not two, but three different lakes. This hike starts out as a steady steep ascent through the lush forest. 

About a third of the way there, the hike leads you to an opening giving you the most glorious panoramic of Naylor Lake (pictured above).

I personally think that Naylor lake is the prettiest out of the three lakes. If you want a super short half mile hike, you can really just take pictures and stop here.

There a couple or rocky wavy slopes along the basin where you have to use your hands to push and hold yourself up. After a mile, you will pass through wildflowers and see the Silver Dollar Lake. 

We went during September, and seeing an ice cap is always such a nice touch. I say that this hike could be hard due to the elevation. When we visited, it was super windy, and we were all really out of breath and actually took a break here to eat our lunch.

Afterwards, we still decided to finish the trail and hike up Murray Lake. It ended up being a really steep ascend. 

The ground was pretty steep that there were moments where I did not feel that my shoes had enough grip since there weren’t really  any “steps.” The ground’s texture was a bit looser where you can slip down. 

If you are scared of heights, do not look back as you climb up, but you really should since you can see both Naylor and Silver Dollar Lake from here. Insane views here. Murray lake is pretty similar to Silver Dollar Lake, but smaller. 

We passed through lots of people with their dogs and even some hikers fishing.

Colorado really surprises me with everything is has to offer even if its quick day hikes like this. 

Completely different view from the previous hikes I have mentioned.

  • DRIVE FROM DENVER: 2 hours
  • LEVEL: Moderate to hard
  • ROUNDTRIP LENGTH: 4 miles
  • PETS: Dogs are allowed, but must kept on a leash
  • START-END ELEVATION: 11,235 ft. – 11,950 ft.

6. St. Mary’s Glacier, Idaho Springs, Colorado

St. Mary's Glacier Lake

I actually did a super detailed blog post about this hike here. Check it out if you want to know what to do in for a complete day trip in the Idaho Springs area.

Idaho Springs is known for its hot springs and gold mining history. You can really spend a full day of activities here since it is close to Denver, making it perfect for a day hike.

ST. MARY’S GLACIER TRAILHEAD

I love love love this hike because you pretty much get all everything—the gorgeous view of the lake, mountains, glacier, wildflowers, a little bit of snow (depending on during what season you go). 

Again, check out my comprehensive blog post to see the difference in scenery between the off season and summertime. You will get to experience summer and winter especially when you visit around September.

The majority of the hike up is a very rocky steady incline, so we took a lot of breaks. Good thing is that it’s very short and you’d get to the St. Mary’s Glacier lake pretty quickly. It’s about less than a mile hike to the lake—about 1-hour hike one way.

We stayed at the lake and people watched for a bit. There are a lot of people jumping off rocks into the lake, people fishing, and dogs enjoying the water. The water was freezing cold.

If you do decide to go up the glacier, you’ll traverse some muddy spots from the glacier melting, wildflowers, and have a panoramic view of the mountains when you reach the top.

You’ll see people hiking up while carrying their ski’s and snowboard, so they can shred down the glacier. 

You’d honestly be confused what month it was because you’d see people swimming and fishing in the lake and others wearing heavy coats while walking on snow.

  • DRIVE FROM DENVER: 2 hours
  • LEVEL: Easy to moderate
  • ROUNDTRIP LENGTH: 2 miles
  • PETS: Dogs are allowed, but must kept on a leash
  • START-END ELEVATION: 10,428′ ft. 10,848 ft.

7. Manitou Incline, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Colorado Springs is known for many things including the Garden of the Gods, Pikes Peak, Cheyenne Mountain zoo, museums, and of course, hiking. We visited a lot here when we lived in Colorado because we had family here.      

MANITOU INCLINE

I always tell people thinking of day hikes close to Colorado to not miss the Manitou Incline. It is actually located in Manitou Springs, but relatively close to Colorado Springs.

What is it? It is a literal straight incline of stairs. The incline was originally created to carry materials to build pipelines for Pike’s Peak, but it was turned into an attraction for tourists after the work was done.

I love seeing the shock on their face when I tell them it has 2,744 steps.  Almost the same shock the I get when I tell people that the Philippines has 7,641 islands.

This hike is not for woozy people who are afraid of heights. You are gaining 2,000 ft. of elevation in one go. The stairs are wide enough for multiple people to climb at the same time and for you to stop and rest.

It took us about 40 minutes to get to the top, but some people have finished the hike in less than 20 minutes. It’s a hike you do not want to miss, and I can never forget the experience here. 

The view at the top is stunning. We timed our hike pretty close to sunset.

To go back downhill, you can certainly use the incline, but I would highly discourage this due to safety. Note that if you ever get into an accident, first responders won’t be able to get to you for 3-4 hours for first responders to help.

I recommend descending down Barr Trail which is a more scenic route. This trail was a bit rough on my knees from what I could remember.

  • DRIVE FROM DENVER: 1 hour and 40 minutes.
  • LEVEL: Hard
  • ROUNDTRIP LENGTH: 4 miles
  • PETS: No dogs allowed
  • START-END ELEVATION: 6,500 ft. to  8,590 ft.

What are your favorite day hikes in Denver? Comment below!

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