Mountain Lion Trail
Trailhead at Nott Creek in Golden Gate Canyon State Park
Barely half an hour from downtown Denver, Golden Gate Canyon State Park feels backcountry-deep in parts, and this hike is one of the best ways to feel even more immersed in a remote alpine setting. The trail is narrow and rocky, but it opens up for multiple stream crossings, a dense section of willows, evergreen-dotted forested areas and small stands of ponderosa pine. Views from the ridge include a clear shot of Denver. There’s an $8 fee to get into the park, and if you can’t bear to leave all of this beauty, camping is available for a fee, including a primitive site and a sleeping shelter right along this trail.
North Table Mountain Park
Take in the views at North Table Mountain Park.
Jefferson County Open Space
Two trailheads on Colorado 93, north of Golden
Our pick in 2019 for Best Hike in Metro Denver, any of the well-marked hikes at Golden’s North Table Mountain Park make for a quick break at lunch or before or after work — but especially during sunset, when the Hogback lights up. Our favorite shorty is the 3.2-mile North Table Loop, which connects with the Tilted Mesa and Mesa Top trails, but you can keep going for another 3 to 5 miles beyond that, too. From most of the trail summits, which require a steep, switchback-packed climb to the top of the mesa, you get panoramic views of Golden, White Ranch Park and the Front Range. Keep an eye out for golden eagles and red-tailed hawks, and also rattlesnakes.
Ponderosa Sisters Loop
Alderfer Three Sisters Open Space Park
Trailhead at Buffalo Park Road, 2.3 miles from Colorado 73, near Evergreen
More than 10 miles of trails are available at Alderfer Three Sisters Open Space Park, but the woodland forest that is the Ponderosa Sisters Loop is our favorite, because it’s short and sweet, with just 1.3 of its 3 total miles devoted to a hearty uphill slog between the second and third sisters in the Three Sisters and Brother rock formation. The rest is a lovely wander through the trees, with intermittent meadows and a peek down into the Bear Creek Basin; Mount Evans is also in sight most of the way. Near the top are rocky outcroppings that make for a perfect picnic stop.
Sleepy Lion Trail
Trailhead sits 2.8 miles from Colorado 36 on County Road 80 in the Button Rock Preserve, near Lyons
The North St. Vrain River and Longmont Reservoir welcome hikers onto this scenic, 5.5-mile balloon trail that also sees a fair amount of traffic from climbers and anglers. Most of the pine- and juniper-lined hike follows along the river, too, but if that’s not enough water for you, it also passes Button Rock Dam and eventually opens up to Ralph Price Reservoir — which famously saved Longmont from a flood in the 1950s — with expansive views of Rocky Mountain National Park, Longs Peak, Mount Meeker and Twin Sisters. Wear your best waterproof boots, because the creek crossings can be high and fast.
South Rim Trail
Trailhead at the South Rim Trail parking lot, Roxborough State Park
Roxborough State Park is popular and often packed, but more hikers tend to head to the Fountain Valley side than this one, a not-too-tough 2.3-mile balloon with little to no shade. The Fountain Formation gives this state gem its unique red-rock look, which in the summer is strikingly juxtaposed with lush greenery, and from parts of the trail, the Dakota Hogback Ridge is visible in the distance. The plants are also a bit different from what you see on other Colorado trails, with cacti, yucca and sagebrush peeking out between bushy scrub oak. A daily pass here is $8.