So you’re in town for the MLB All Star Game, you see those beautiful mountains to the west and you’re thinking, “I think I’d like to go for a hike up there.”
We’ve got some suggestions for easy, moderate and mildly challenging hikes near Denver with natural beauty along the trail and wonderful views. These are hikes you can do in the morning and be back downtown for lunch.
Just remember you’re a mile above sea level when you’re in Denver, and these hikes will take you even higher. That means you’ll be surprised how little oxygen we have here. (Note: Actually the percentage of oxygen in the air here is identical to sea level. It’s just that the lower air pressure at higher elevation makes respiration a little more difficult).
Because of the altitude and our normally low humidity, we suggest you drink lots of fluids. And don’t forget the sunscreen, because our altitude also means you can get sunburned faster.
Here are five suggestions for day hikes near Denver we think you will love:
Length: 1.5 miles
Elevation change: 200 feet
We’ll start with the easiest hike. When you look due west from Denver, Lookout Mountain is that prominent peak where the foothills begin above Golden — the one with the TV towers on it. Even if you’re not interested in going for a hike, you owe it to yourself to visit the Lookout Mountain overlook at Buffalo Bill’s Grave. That gives you a gorgeous view of the town of Golden, 1,700 feet below. Downtown Denver is visible 12 miles to the east, and the eastern plains can be seen in the distance.
At the western end of the Buffalo Bill parking lot, there is a short stairway that leads to the Buffalo Bill trail. Follow that trail about a third of a mile to where it intersects with the Lookout Mountain trail. Bear left at the Lookout Mountain trail and continue for a little less than half a mile. When you get to Colorow Road, check out the view to the west of the Continental Divide, which is 25 miles away. This is a great place to watch a sunset.
This hike, which takes you through a beautiful ponderosa pine forest, is about a mile and a half round trip, starting at an elevation of 7,400 feet and climbing 200 feet. You may also want to check out the Lookout Mountain Nature Preserve, just across Colorow Road, at the western end of the trail.
North Table Mountain
Length: 3 miles
Elevation change: 500 feet
This is another great place to hike in the Golden area, just a couple miles north of town. North Table is a mesa that rises more than 700 feet above the surrounding landscape. From the parking lot, which is often full, look for the steep dirt road (it’s non-motorized) at the southern end of the lot and hike about 0.6 of a mile to the flat top of the mesa. There are several beautiful trails up there, but your best bet may be to hike about 0.8 of a mile south via the North Table Loop trail and the Golden Cliffs trail. When you get to the cliffs at the southern edge of the mountain, you’ll be able to look down on Golden, including the Coors Brewery just across the Clear Creek valley.
This hike will take you from 6,000 feet in elevation to about 6,500 feet. On the way back to the trailhead, consider adding a short side trip to Lichen Peak, a rocky prominence which adds an extra 0.4 miles. It will be recognizable in front of you as you return from the cliffs, because it’s the high point on the mesa.
Length: 4 miles
Elevation change: 400 feet
If you’re exploring Denver for the first time, people probably will urge you to visit the world-famous Red Rocks Amphitheatre, which some regard as the world’s greatest concert venue because of the way it was built between two enormous red sandstone rock formations. If you’re headed there, you may want to include a hike at Matthews/Winters, which is just to the north of Red Rocks near the Morrison exit on Interstate 70.
We like this hike because it takes you up to a large shelf on the eastern flank of a 7,600-foot mountain. And if you go all the way to the southern edge of the shelf — about 2 miles from the trailhead — you can look down on Red Rocks just to the south. There are also great views of Dinosaur Ridge (also known as Dakota Ridge) across the valley to the east.
The trailhead is at 6,330 feet and the hike tops out at 6,750 feet. To reach the view of Red Rocks on the shelf, take the Village Walk trail to the Red Rocks trail. After hiking about 0.8 of a mile, there will be a junction with the Cherry Gulch trail. Take that trail, which crosses a creek with dense vegetation on both sides of the trail. That trail will emerge into more open terrain and connect with the Morrison Slide trail, a rocky path with a series of switchbacks. The Morrison Slide trail will take you up to the shelf (a wide, flattened area of the mountain). Continue south until you see the trail drop off into Red Rocks Park.
Mount Falcon Park
Difficulty: Easy or difficult
Length: 6 miles
Elevation change: 1,600 feet
There are numerous trails in this park at the edge of the foothills just south of Morrison, totaling 12.2 miles in all. The main one is the Castle trail, which climbs to the ruins of a mansion built in 1909 that was struck by lightning in 1918 and destroyed by fire. Only the stone parts of the mansion remain. It’s a beautiful spot with great views and an interesting historical marker.
One great thing about the Castle trail is that there are two ways to reach the ruins: one strenuous, one easy. From the Mount Falcon Morrison trailhead on the east, the hike is about 3 miles to the ruins with a 1,600-foot ascent to 7,600 feet. If that seems too daunting, you can get there by driving to the Mount Falcon west trailhead and beginning your hike there. That hike starts at about 7,700 feet and leaves a mostly flat 0.7-mile hike to the ruins. And if that seems too easy, you can take the Castle trail to the Meadow trail, a more roundabout route that makes the hike about one mile to the ruins.
To reach the Mount Falcon Morrison trailhead, drive about 0.8 of a mile south of Morrison on County Road 8, turn right on Forest Avenue and follow the signs. To reach the west trailhead, take U.S. 285 to Parmalee Gulch Road. Take Parmalee Gulch about 2.7 miles and then follow the signs.
Length: 3 miles
Elevation change: 960 feet
This hike offers the best views on our list. While it is a high-altitude hike with a significant climb, it’s not very long and the views are worth it. It begins at 10,750 feet in the mountains west of Evergreen, and a 1.5-mile hike will get you to the summit of the mountain at 11,710 feet. From the top, the view to the south takes in Mount Evans, a majestic 14,265-foot mountain mountain eight miles to the southwest. Numerous high peaks are visible to the north as well.
To reach the trailhead, take the Squaw Pass Road (CO 103) west from Bergen Park about 12 miles. The trailhead is located a half mile past the entrance to the Echo Mountain ski area, on the south side of the road. You also can reach the trailhead by driving to Idaho Springs and taking CO 103 south to Echo Lake. From there, stay on CO 103, driving 5.7 miles east. Note: It’s worth stopping at Echo Lake, a picturesque setting at 10,600 feet. There is a lodge at Echo Lake with a restaurant and gift shop.
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