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.