I don’t think I’ve ever hiked a trail in Colorado that wasn’t scenic. That being said, I also say with certainty that no matter where you are staying in Colorado, you can (and should) go hiking! I guarantee you can find an accessible trailhead within a half hour or less from where you’re staying. If scenic hiking is what you want, Colorado has everything a hiker could desire. From the vast Continental Divide cutting through the Rocky Mountains to lazy rivers stocked with trout below jagged rock formations and peaks. Here are some of the most scenic hikes in Colorado.
The Colorado Trail (Denver to Durango)
The Colorado Trail is a great place to start for a scenic hike in Colorado. This trail encapsulates everything the Colorado wilderness could offer. The Colorado Trail itself runs from the heart of Colorado, generally southwest, on a continuous narrow path from Denver to Durango. At 485 miles, it is one of the most beautiful and majestic trails in and the United States. It is broken up into 33 sections, each of which could take anywhere from a few hours to a whole day to complete. Be sure to do some research on which sections are nearest to you so you can tackle it within your hiking timeframe. The Colorado Trail is maintained by the Colorado Trail Foundation of volunteers and with help from the U.S Forest Service. Any section near Denver will give natural views of the Great Plains. Once you enter The Rocky Mountains, it will be peak after majestic peak in a 360-degree panorama.
Ice Lake Basin (Silverton)
This trailhead up and around Ice Lake Basin in the San Juan Mountain Range starts out from the South Mineral Campground near Telluride and Silverton. Just like the rest of Colorado, you cannot go wrong with any hike in or around Telluride and Durango. Be warned, this trail is not for the faint of heart. The views are worth it though, as are the clear blue mountain streams and alpine lakes the trail takes you to. If you are with young children or are coming straight from sea level, it will be difficult to hike the whole loop, but the scenery is worth every step on this trail. The basin itself is surrounded by a series of 13’ers (13,000 ft peaks) and there is no shortage of wildlife and pristine mountain views. The area is also home to some of the most beautiful red rock, jutting up during the spring and summer, and plenty of untouched snow during the middle of winter at the nearby ski resorts. Without snowshoes, the trail will be inaccessible certain times of the year so make sure you do your research and dress appropriately. Don’t let that stop you from getting out on this stunning trail. There is beauty in the scenery everywhere, so if you want to tackle a challenge, I highly recommend it.
Longs Peak Trail (Estes Park/ Allenspark)
Located high in the Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness, this area is most known for Longs Peak. It towers over the surrounding landscape as the tallest peak on the Front Range and its elk sanctuary (best to visit in the early fall before heavy snows). Standing at 14,259 feet, Longs Peak is also the northernmost 14’er of the 54 on the whole Rocky Mountain Range. From the wildlife you will encounter, to the views of the Continental Divide in the distance, there are plenty of scenic areas along the trail.
Be advised that if you are looking to summit the peak, you will need to be at the trailhead early in the morning. I’d recommend 5 am or earlier to avoid weather systems which are predictable and routine in the summer afternoons along the Rocky Mountains. If you want to backpack Longs Peak, which I’d highly recommend, check in with the Longs Peak Ranger Station to reserve a spot at Longs Peak Campground. From there you won’t have to get up so early to complete the entire hike in a day and can summit early the next morning, sleeping high in the Rocky Mountains where the stars are sure to be out on a clear night.
Zapata Falls Trail (Rio Grande National Forest)
This incredible hike is in the southern portion of the Rocky Mountains right next to Great Sand Dune National Park and Preserve. If you have time you can hike this trail earlier in the morning to catch the wildlife (bears, mule deer, bighorn sheep), and then head down the road to the actual dunes themselves inside the National Park. The views of the dunes and the surrounding valley from this trail are unparalleled. I’d highly recommend it as the hike is fairly short and easy. The trail ends with a picturesque waterfall that can be frozen for much of the year due to the high altitude. Don’t let that stop you from checking out this one out! It is one of the hidden gem day hikes in Colorado that is less trafficked than most trails nearby.
I know that most of these hikes can be fairly grueling uphill battles with the Rocky Mountains, but trust me, the views from the top are always worth it. No matter where you are staying in Colorado, you will be nearby to some of the best hiking in the United States and beyond. All you have to do is lace up your boots, head to the local trailhead, and find out where it goes. Because more often than not, it’ll show you an exquisite side of the Rocky Mountains, or the Great Plains, that you’ve never seen before.