By Steven Bonifazi
(DENVER, Colo.) With 41 state parks, 12 national parks, 13 national forests and grasslands and 58 fourteeners, there are plenty of hiking trails to enjoy this summer in Colorado.
While it’s a tough choice when choosing among the plethora of trails, this list should give you a clear idea of a few beautiful hikes in the Centennial State ahead of those summer crowds.
Devil's Backbone Trailhead - Loveland (Beginner to Intermediate) 4.3 miles
Though the name may throw you off, the scenery from Devil's Backbone is nothing short of heavenly.
Situated west of Loveland off Highway 34, this trailhead earned its name from the backbone-shaped rock formations scattered along the trail. Surrounded by grasslands filled with wildflowers, the 3,007-acre open space has plenty of beauty to take in.
The area spans a total of 17.25 miles of trail that loop to Horsetooth Mountain Open Space in Fort Collins. There is no entrance fee associated with Devil's Backbone Open Space.
Dogs are welcomed on this hike but are required to be kept on a leash. Head up the road leading into the beautiful mountain town of Estes Park for some restaurants and lodging after your hike.
Gem Lake - Estes Park (Intermediate to Advanced) 3.5 miles
Beginning just north of Estes Park at the Lumpy Ridge Trailhead, the hike to Gem Lake is truly an expedition to find a hidden gem. The lake itself is a shallow pond that's water is made up solely of snowmelt and rainfall.
The elevation of the Gem Lake Trail is rather low, at nearly 1,090 feet, with views including Estes Park, Longs Peak and the Continental Divide. The initial start of the trail runs through a narrow canyon that passes by the historic MacGregor Ranch, established in 1873.
Pets are not allowed on this trail, however, neither are reservations, so make sure to wake up early and head up there.
Chautauqua Trail - Boulder (Beginner) 3.6 miles
Nestled among the iconic rock formations, the Flatirons, Chautauqua trail is one of the most beautiful and easiest hikes to take on this summer. A 40-minute drive from the Mile High City, this hike starts at the Ranger Cottage and takes hikers and visitors through meadows and forests and by the historic landmark, the Bluebell Shelter.
There are interpretive signs scattered throughout the hike with information about the history of certain sights and trailheads, such as Ski Jump Trail. Once passing Ski Jump Trail and Gregory Canyon Trailhead, visitors can take Baseline trail back to the Chautauqua Trailhead to return to where they began.
Dogs are allowed on this trail but do need to be kept on a leash.
Button Rock Preserve - Lyons (Beginner to Intermediate)
Located just 7 miles west of the town of Lyons, the Preserve can be reached off of Highway 66 in Longmont once you take a left at Boulder County Road 80. You will arrive at a gate that does not allow for vehicle access, as the preserve is walk-in only.
The preserve offers wildlife, a natural environment and more, with a multitude of trails within the preserve with scenic views and access to backcountry fishing.
"There are good trees and hills so it is a nice amount of challenge and you're out in nature where you're not surrounded by houses and roads. There is a reservoir and creek up there that is beautiful," said Annie Lindgren, an adventure junkie and avid hiker who has been hiking Colorado since she was 6 years old. "I like the Button Rock area because you can pick different trails, get a variety of scenery and different lengths based on how far you want to go."
One of the hikes into the preserve brings you to Ralph Price Reservoir, which required a special fishing permit. With small crowds, the area is stocked with brown trout, rainbow trout and splake.
Camping, overnight parking and swimming are not allowed at the preserve. Dogs are allowed but must be kept on a leash when in the preserve, with only one dog being allowed per visitor.
Arthur’s Rock Trail - Bellvue (Intermediate) 1.7 miles
If you're looking for a windy hike through forest-filled mountainsides and meadows, then Arthur's Rock is the trail for you. After entering beautiful Lory State Park, head south to the end of the gravel road where you'll find a parking lot and the beginning of Arthur’s Rock Trail.
Eventually, the top of Arthur's Rock will be viewable from the hike, with a split nearly half a mile into the hike, pointing you to continue to Arthur's Rock Trail on the right and Howard Trail on the left. After the meadow, there will be an overlook of large rocks roughly 1.1 miles into the hike.
The final part of the trail before Arthur's Rock features a sheer rock gully. Once reached, the summit provides a breathtaking view of Horsetooth Reservoir and the Front Range at 6,780 feet.
Though these hikes are great, Lindgren recommends everyone attempt a fourteener once in their life.
"There is nothing like standing on top of the world. You get on top of a mountain and you can see everything," said Lindgren. "It's humbling, such an accomplishment. It is challenging but you get up there and it is beautiful and totally worth it."
While hiking can provide a fun and affordable escape, there are many tips to remember in order to make sure your hiking experience is safe.
A few hiking tips for this summer are as follows:
- Hiking Apps - Utilize a hiking app such as AllTrails to find trails you are seeking as well as the type of mode and region.
- Plan for the weather - with such bipolar weather, Colorado can be sunny in the morning and raining in the afternoon, so packing layers is always wise.
- Make sure someone knows where you are going - Let a friend or family member know where you are headed before going out just in case you get lost and need someone to call emergency services for you.
- Bring emergency gear - Anything from flashlights and mace to extra water, snacks and purifying tablets can help save your life if you happen to get lost on a hike.
"I think most mistakes are human errors and happen when people get lost or run out of water and snacks," said Lindgren.