All thoughts of skiing melt away with the arrival of consistently clear skies and warm days, as Denverites head for the hills. If you're not exactly the climb-a-fourteener-every-weekend type — or if you just don't want to drive for hours to get to your destination — there are plenty of hiking options close to the city that still offer a healthy dose of wilderness. Here are a handful, with directions using Denver as the starting point.
Take Sixth Avenue west to I-70; exit at Evergreen Parkway (252); turn left on Highway 74 and go 8.4 miles to Highway 73, in the heart of Evergreen; turn right on Highway 73; turn right on Buffalo Park Road (.7 miles ahead); continue 1.5 miles to the east parking lot of Alderfer/3 Sisters. There are several trail options here, including the Brother Loop (about 2.5 miles), the 3 Sisters Loop (3.1 miles) and the Evergreen Mountain hike (4.0 miles, or take the Evergreen Mountain Trail West for a longer option with fantastic scenery). Remember to stop and smell the posies while taking in the majestic views of the mountains, the town of Evergreen and Evergreen Lake.
Beaver Brook Trail Canyon Overlook
Take Sixth Avenue west to 19th Street in Golden; turn left on 19th, which will become Lookout Mountain Road; continue three miles past the tall stone columns to parking on the right. The Beaver Brook Trail is for experienced hikers only; the 3.2-mile route crosses talus fields and climbs through boulders with drop-offs on the edge. But the rough spots only last about half a mile, and then the path becomes a smooth, forested trail overlooking Clear Creek Canyon. No mountain bikes.
Lair of the Bear
Take Sixth Avenue west to I-70; exit immediately onto C-470; take the Morrison Road exit and turn right; continue through Morrison up the canyon on Highway 74 toward Evergreen; look for the park entrance on your left after about 4.5 miles (past Idledale). Lair of the Bear features several fantastic creekside picnic areas, so bring a lunch — and then walk it off. The creekside loop is an easy, 1.5-mile jaunt right alongside Bear Creek (watch out for the fishermen!), with a no-dogs-allowed nature-walk leg. For more of a challenge, take the Bruin Bluff trail, a 1.8-mile hike up some rockier terrain that should still be easy for most kids and beginning hikers.
Take Sixth Avenue west to I-70; exit at Morrison/Red Rocks (259) and head left; the park is approximately .1 mile ahead on the left-hand side. Matthews/Winters Park sits astride the entrance to the Mount Vernon Canyon; its proximity to I-70 means you can still hear the sounds of the highway close to the parking lot, but birds and insects drown out the traffic further up the trails. The hike isn't too strenuous, and it offers wonderful views of Red Rocks and the Hogback, as well as some up-close looks at interesting landmarks (including a graveyard featuring a couple of stone and carved wooden grave markers).
Take Sixth Avenue west to I-70; exit immediately onto C-470; take Highway 285 south toward Fairplay for twelve miles until you see the Meyer's Ranch turn-off on the left, marked with a brown Open Space sign. At this park, you can customize your trail time to suit your needs: Take the Lodge Pole Loop for a quick 1.9-mile hike, or head up to the top of the Sunny Aspen Trail and tack on the Old Ski Run Trail for a 4.5-mile challenge.
Mt. Falcon Park
Take Sixth Avenue west to I-70; exit immediately onto C-470; take Highway 285 south; drive 4.2 miles and turn right on Parmalee Road into Indian Hills, following the brown signs to the park. Mt. Falcon Park is a fantastic place for all levels of hiker, with short, easy trails (stick to the Castle and Meadow trails; Devil's Elbow is easy, but a bit long for kids) as well as more challenging jaunts (the Parmalee Trail and all the trails in the east access area, which you can reach by taking Highway 8 toward Morrison off Highway 285 and turning left at the brown sign, are better suited to more experienced hikers). Most trails offer spectacular views of Denver, and the lower trails give a unique viewpoint of Red Rocks Amphitheatre, as well. The Walker Home Ruins and Eagle Eye Shelter are fun stops along the way. If you're up for a real challenge, you can take Mt. Falcon's east access trails all the way to the top of the park — a good ten-mile hike one way — or take the Turkey Trot trail about two miles up and loop back down. No mountain bikes allowed on Turkey Trot.