Ten Best Summer Hikes in Colorado — Complete With View!
Head for the hills this summer!
Let’s face it: Colorado was made for hiking. From the highest peaks in North America to the lush forests of lodgepole pine and aspen, wildflower-blanketed meadows that go on for miles to river- and glacier-carved canyons, the Rocky Mountain landscape is ideal for exploring. That also means that there’s a payoff for your hiking hard work: views you won’t find anywhere else. This state offers everything from short, casual strolls to strenuous, multi-day treks, and most are easily accessed. Here are our ten favorite hikes that reward you with unparalleled vistas.
10. Bear Canyon Trail
Just a few minutes’ drive from downtown Boulder takes you to Bear Canyon, lined with its Dakota Hogback-tilted flatirons that periodically open up to peeks at the eastern high plains. The I.M. Pei-designed National Center for Atmospheric Research is a unique trailhead marker; it leads to the Walter Orr Roberts Weather Trail, which starts off the hike. You reach Bear Canyon — and its elaborate rock formations interspersed with a variety of native trees — after traversing the weather trail and Mesa Trail, for a total of 6.8 moderately strenuous miles out and back (1,430 feet in elevation gain). To get more (and tougher) mileage, add the summit of Green Mountain, which will make for an 8.8-mile out-and-back day that gains 2,374 feet. You can bring your leashed dog, too.
Get there: Head west out of Boulder on Table Mesa Drive for about 2.5 miles. Park at the NCAR lot.
9. Diamond Lake
Diamond Lake sits in the Indian Peaks Wilderness and counts creeks, small waterfalls and a good look at the Continental Divide among its many charms. Endless carpets of wildflowers add to the allure, along with old-growth conifers and the chance to spot one of the many beavers that make their dams around the lake. One of the shortest hikes on this list — it’s 2.5 miles out and back — Diamond Lake also offers some of the best camping, with primitive sites scattered around the lake. That makes it a good choice for families with younger kids — and dogs are allowed, too.
Get there: Take Colorado 72 north until you get to Nederland. Turn left onto County Road 130 and drive 4.7 miles. At Eldora, take the right fork and drive five miles to the Fourth of July trailhead at the far right end of the Buckingham Campground.
8. Fern Lake
Fern Falls is a bonus to this verdant and somewhat strenuous 7.6-mile out-and-back in Rocky Mountain National Park. En route, the Big Thompson River weaves in and out, and after the falls comes Fern Lake itself at the end of a thick section of pine and spruce forest; the lake is lined with trees as well. The packed-down dirt trail gains 1,375 feet, so it’s a bit of an uphill slog in places, but the scenery is so gorgeous that you may not even notice. Extend the hike about another mile to Odessa Lake for a 9.7-mile day. Day-use fee is $20; no dogs.
Get there: Take U.S. 36 west of Estes Park to RMNP’s Beaver Meadows entrance and drive a quarter-mile to Bear Lake Road; turn left. After 1.2 miles, take a right to Moraine Park Campground and then a left toward the Fern Lake trailhead (the route is well marked). From there you can either take the shuttle 1.25 miles away or go another .7 miles to the trailhead to see if there’s parking.
7. Flattop Mountain/Hallett Peak
Like Fern Lake, the Flattop Mountain/Hallett Peak trail sits in Rocky Mountain National Park, but with 3,238 feet of elevation gain, it’s quite a bit more challenging. The bounty of picturesque stops along the way makes this hike well worth the extra work, too. You start the hike alongside the hordes headed to Bear Lake, but quickly after you take in that view, the trail breaks away toward Flattop (follow signs to Flattop). You’ll get to see Bear Lake from way above, along with fantastic views of Longs Peak and then Bierstadt Lake. Next up: Dream Lake, tucked in the Tyndall Glacier, one of six active glaciers in the park. Keep your eyes peeled for wild blueberries on this path, which will help fortify you for the trek above timberline. And that’s where it gets crazy: The views include the summit of Longs Peak, the craggy outline of the Keyboard of the Winds attached to Pagoda Peak, and the ridgeline of Storm Peak. Emerald Lake is another perk, 1,300 feet below, and while you may be worn out before you can add the extra mileage to Hallett Peak, the short scramble to the top culminates in 360-degree views all the way out to the Gore Range. Day-use fee is $20; no dogs.
Get there: Take U.S. 36 west of Estes Park to RMNP’s Beaver Meadows entrance. Drive south for 9.2 miles along Bear Lake Road. Park and take the free shuttle to the Bear Lake trailhead.
6. Gibraltar Lake
For a multi-day Front Range journey, it’s hard to beat the Gibraltar Lake hike in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. The big effort required to take on this sixteen-mile out-and-back is eased by the beautiful Middle St. Vrain Creek, which burbles by the trail most of the way, and the meadows of blue columbine and other wildflowers that crop up between bouts of forest. There are sections where sheer cliff drop-offs can be a bit much for hikers with height issues, but there are easily spotted workarounds that require some basic navigational skills. Terrific views of the Continental Divide and Elk Tooth, a prominent rock formation, are just teasers for the prize: remote and haunting Gibraltar Lake and the St. Vrain glaciers that feed it. Leashed dogs are allowed.
Get there: Take Colorado 72 north to Ward; six miles past the town, turn left toward Peaceful Valley. The trailhead is 1.5 miles from the turn.
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