Hikers who love solitude know that the best time to hit Colorado trails is after the first snow falls, and all the summertime weekend warriors hole up in a brewpub or drive off to ski resorts. In autumn, trails that looked like Manhattan streets a few months ago are suddenly uncrowded, ready for you to enjoy in solitary splendor. Here are ten of our favorite hikes near Denver that are best experienced after summer is over.
Westminster Hills Off-Leash Dog Park
This park offers one of the few off-leash dog parks with actual space to hike in the Denver metro area. While it is worryingly close to the former site of the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant, the trail takes you through wide open plains and rolling hills that offer a mix of apocalyptic suburbia, breathtaking views of the mountains and a sense of isolation that is hard to find so close to the city. In the summer, this trail system is hot, swarming with rattlesnakes and overrun with barking dogs; come autumn and winter, things clear up a bit, and it's possible to lose yourself in the vast landscape.
In summer, the Apex and Enchanted Forest trails are hot spots for mountain bikers and trail runners alike, making them terrifying for everyday hikers not looking to play dodge-the-speedster. Add to that multiple bear sightings over the summer, and these trails can be downright hazardous. But now that many mountain bikers have hung up their bikes for winter and trail runners have closeted their shoes, the everyday hiker can have more space on these gorgeous trails.
Golden Gate Canyon State Park
Golden Gate Canyon State Park offers 36 miles of trails through 12,000 acres of aspen and ponderosa pine forests. Just half an hour's drive from Denver, the park has panoramic views as well as opportunities to spot wildlife ranging from deer to elk, moose and black bears. The trails are open to a limited number of hunters, so be sure to wear bright colors.
Eldorado Canyon State Park
Rock climbers frequently take advantage of the walls of Eldorado Canyon, but hikers enjoy this spot, too. The park near Boulder can be at capacity in the summer, but in the fall you're virtually guaranteed entry on an abundance of trails, from quad-busters to easy strolls. When snow falls, this is also a popular spot for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
Bear Peak Trail
Boulder's overtaxed trail systems lighten up in the autumn, but they can still be social hubs. For those seeking greater solitude, a trek up the Bear Peak Trail is in order. You'll experience a respectable 3,018 feet of elevation gain over 7.7 miles as you make your way up this magnificent Front Range peak.
Head to Waterton Canyon and walk the first segment of the Colorado Trail, a roughly twelve mile out-and-back hike along the South Platte River. The trek is on gravel roads, which you will share with bikers and horse riders; along the way, you might catch a glimpse of bighorn sheep. Dogs are not allowed on this part of the Colorado Trail.
William Frederick Hayden Park is located on Green Mountain, a wide-open mesa sandwiched between the high plains and the Front Range. If you're looking for epic views without going above treeline and don't mind the sun blazing down on your head, these trails — including a 20.8-mile loop with 3,566 feet of elevation gain — could be just the thing you're craving.
Located near Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Mount Morrison offers a 3.5-mile hike with 2,113 feet of elevation gain, expansive views of Denver and the plains, steep singletrack and a few opportunities to scramble up rocks.
Meyer's Homestead Trail
The 5.4-mile Meyer's Homestead Trail just outside Boulder, in the Walker Ranch Open Space, offers visitors a quick jaunt past the ruins of historic buildings, next to a winding creek, through the site of a forest fire, and up a mountain to some stunning views of the Rockies. The trail is a calm oasis outside Boulder, and well worth a visit.
Few Front Range trailheads boast the number of beautiful hikes – and aggravating hikers – as Boulder's Chautauqua Park. During summer months, the parking lot is guaranteed to be packed with all manner of trail runners and hikers sporting high-end gear. Look up the trails leading into the woods and the human beings appear a lot like ants. Come fall, this trail system is still well-used, but you're likely to find a parking spot and a little alone time if you trek in far enough. Here you can hike any of the popular Mesa, Royal Arch or Baseline trails along with routes to the first, second and third Flatirons.