We've now officially entered summer -- and while every season is a great one to enjoy Colorado, the warm weather is the perfect excuse to hit the trail. With that in mind, we've collected this list of the best Colorado hikes, with picks close to town or a drive away culled from our Best of Denver archive. Check out our top ten below, so that next time someone tells you to take a hike, you'll know some great places to go! Alderfer/Three Sisters Park
Hikes need not be relegated to weekends and vacations. What better way to de-stress after a long workday than by taking in a sunset on a brisk scenic walk? Alderfer/Three Sisters Park is close enough to get to in forty minutes and far enough to feel like an escape from the city. Part of the Jefferson County Open Space program, it's anchored by the rock formations known as the Three Sisters and The Brother, which overlook Bear Creek Basin. The park boasts over ten miles of trails, with most in the half- to two-mile range. Sisters, which weaves through large boulders for just over a mile, is the most strenuous. But keep your eyes open and leave the iPod at home, because it's a popular trail for mountain bikers, too.
Herman Gulch, just off I-70 at Exit 218, can sometimes have a clutter of cars at the trailhead, but don't worry: These are similar sorts seeking a quickie escape. And what an escape it is. Once you get beyond the cars -- and out of earshot of the Ski Way, which is only about a mile from the gulch -- all hikers will hear is the sound of a running stream and the birds. Bring a lunch to fend off a grumbling stomach while taking in the views of a pristine lake. The round-trip trek takes only a few hours, but it can seem like a getaway. If it's still not far enough, more determined hikers can take a fork at Jones Pass toward the Continental Divide.
The town of Leadville is mining history from its mining history with the Mineral Belt Trail. The twelve-mile black-topped trail circles the town and its mining district and is perfect for hiking or biking -- or using any form of wheeled, non-motorized transportation -- past such historic sites as Horace Tabor's Matchless Mine, where Baby Doe spent her last eccentric days. The trail, which follows an old railroad bed, passes nine historic mines in all and can be accessed from one of the many "on ramps" throughout town. It's groomed for snowshoeing in the winter, too.
Golden Gate Canyon State Park
It's crowded in the summer, but Golden Gate Canyon State Park offers some of the best of the Colorado mountains very close to the big city on 12,000 acres of gorgeous pine and aspen forests, meadows and trails. Set just thirty miles from Denver, the park boasts a fantastic visitors' center, along with camping, cycling, horseback riding and fishing. And if you want to commune with nature -- and the past -- hike the two-mile Coyote Trail at Bootleg Bottom in the fall, when the leaves are changing. You'll get an education on Colorado's glorious moonshining past and a clue as to why people who come to Colorado never want to leave.
There's basically just a tall ridge separating Carter Lake Park from the great expanse of the plains. And it's actually not a lake so much as a reservoir, supplied by water diverted from the Western Slope to keep the engines of Front Range commerce churning. But when you see this park, you will forget all that immediately, because Carter Lake is stunning. At three miles long and a mile wide, it offers plenty of room for boating plus a couple of manmade beaches, but if you really want to suck the awesome out of Carter Lake, you'll hike up one of the trails to a more secluded part of the shore, where the sandstone boulders tumbling into the water provide the seating and half-submerged aspens provide the shade. And unlike lakes at higher elevations, this one's always warm enough to swim in.
Lost Creek Wilderness Area
Just fifty miles west and south of Denver, the Lost Creek Wilderness Area is the perfect place to get away from it all, including running water, but close enough that you don't have to go 48 hours without a shower. You can find any number of suitable campsites on the roadside, and even more just a short hike from your car. After pitching tents, hikers can take to the Colorado Trail, the Ben Tyler Trail and others; anglers can throw a line in the myriad beaver ponds dotting the creek; and loafers can drink cold beer in the sun, if they managed to pack a sixer -- preferably in somebody else's pack.
Whether your closet looks like a Patagonia outlet store or you view hiking as a prelude to a coma-inducing brunch, Boulder's Flatirons should satisfy your hiking needs. The rocky Boulder foothills are easily accessible from busy Chautauqua Park, and a variety of trails offer challenges for experts and beginners alike, but each features access to the same winding terrain and sweeping vistas of Boulder. One of our favorites? The 3.5-mile Royal Arch trail, a moderately strenuous but totally doable climb that peaks at an impressive rock arch, from which you can see practically to Kansas. No matter which trail you choose, though, the area's opening salvo alone -- a slow, steep climb out of the open park and into the denser hiking areas -- will burn enough calories to make it through that brunch guilt-free.
Trading Post Trail
The 1.4-mile Trading Post Trail at Red Rocks is the perfect length and difficulty -- short, easy and at a relatively low altitude -- for anyone seeking a nature-y afternoon respite from the bustling streets of Denver. Plus, the gorgeous red rocks and the adrenaline-inducing rattlesnake warning signs are sure to impress out-of-town guests. The trail starts and ends at the Trading Post, where you can grab a snack or make a pit stop before you start hiking. And the hike itself, near the coolest concert venue in the country, is as photogenic as all get-out, so don't forget your camera.
When Stapleton International Airport was retired, most of its concrete runways were crushed and reused (as an aggregate) in constructing nearby warehouses. But the more incredible runway-return-to-nature vision lies along Westerly Creek Trail, hidden beneath the MLK Boulevard bridge. Here, large concrete chunks were used like stones to line the hike and bike trails and retain the soil of low rolling slopes around the bridge. The concrete slabs look amazingly "natural" -- almost like stone rockfalls -- in a park that was landscaped with native plants. The beauty of the Westerly Creek Trail makes it a local favorite and proves that if we unbuild it, they will still come.
Erik Weihenmayer Trail for Health: Lookout Mountain Nature Center and Preserve
Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind climber to conquer Everest, has teamed with the American Hiking Society to promote outdoor hiking, even for folks with allergies and disabilities. His namesake trail on Lookout Mountain is an easy walk for almost everyone, making Weihenmayer the perfect poster boy in the campaign to get folks off their butts and into the great outdoors.
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