On January 1, 2021, my husband, Chris, and I were hiking the trail at Horsetooth Mountain outside of Fort Collins, Colorado. Since we were starting the year off with a hike, and planned a few more hikes over the next couple of days, our conversation turned to setting a goal to hike more often in 2021.
In fact, we set a goal to go on 21 hikes in 2021!
It seemed like a big number back in January. We surpassed our goal in July with our 22nd hike and plan to continue strong through the end of the year, compiling a new list of favorite hikes in Colorado along the way.
Chris and I usually hike fairly regularly during the summer months, but with Covid and trying to avoid high-contact activities, hiking seems to have been our go-to activity since April 2020.
Besides Colorado, Chris and I added hikes in Yosemite, Sequoia, and Kings Canyon National Parks to our 21 hikes in 2021 list and thoroughly enjoyed those experiences.
Have you ever hiked to Vernal Falls and then Nevada Falls in Yosemite National Park? I’m pretty sure you would remember that climb if you did. It was a fairly challenging hike, but the scenery was magnificent.
Any hike that ends in a waterfall is just a bonus!
Here is my list of favorite hikes in Colorado in alphabetical order. Some may be a little more awesome than others (in my humble opinion).
If you live in Colorado or have the chance to plan a trip to Colorado, my review of these breathtaking hikes will certainly help you plan some great destination points.
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15 Breathtaking Hikes in Colorado from A to Z
Be sure that you make the proper preparations for your hikes. Read more about the 10 Essentials for Your Best Day Hikes so that you bring along the right kind of gear for the season.
And be sure to check to see if you will need a reservation.
Alberta Falls is probably the first hike we took our girls on after moving to Colorado and began to explore the state twenty years ago. Since then, we have hiked to Alberta Falls in the Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter.
Alberta Falls is one of our family’s favorite hikes in Colorado, but only one out of a handful in the state that features a stunning 30-foot waterfall that thunders into a river below.
This family-friendly hike is great for all ages. Discover more family-friendly hikes in RMNP.
Alberta Falls is one of the most popular hikes in all of Rocky Mountain National Park, and you will need to be sure to have a timed-entry reservation to the park during the summer months and specifically to the Bear Lake Road Corridor to access the trailhead.
The trailhead for Alberta Falls is at the Glacier Gorge Junction. Due to the popularity of this hike, this parking lot is often full.
You can continue on to the Bear Lake parking lot and catch a shuttle bus back to the Glacier Gorge Junction Trailhead, park at the Park and Ride at the beginning of the Bear Lake Road Corridor and take the shuttle bus up to the Glacier Gorge Junction Trailhead, or hike down from the Bear Lake Trailhead (this will add 0.8 mile one way to your hike).
- Difficulty: Easy
- Distance: 1.6 miles roundtrip
- Elevation gain: 250 feet
- Best time to visit: May to October
It was only this last Winter that Chris and I discovered via the AllTrails App that the trailhead continues on past Alberta Falls. Yay! More hikes in Colorado to explore.
We hiked to Mills Lake as well as to Loch Vale in January and February. Yes, it was cold.
This popular trail is a section of the Continental Divide Trail #813; the Alberta Peak: Continental Divide National Scenic Trail begins at Wolf Creek Pass just outside of South Fork, Colorado. That is, the Trailhead STARTS at an elevation of 10,857 feet!
Pretty much explains why I couldn’t seem to catch a full breath. That and the quick elevation gain over the first few miles. Chris said it was only for two miles and then it would level out mostly.
Only two miles…
Be sure to check the weather before you set off on your hike.
Chris had checked the weather for us and knew that rain and thunder would be coming our way later in the afternoon, so we wanted to make it to the top and be hiking back down the mountain to avoid the worst of it.
Note: If you are hiking to Alberta Peak and come to a fork in the trail with a sign on a tree that says “Treasure Mountain Trail 565” on the trail veering off to the right, don’t follow it. It takes you down the mountain and away from your goal. Stay on the path to the left of the fork.
Continue on by following a narrow path along the edge of the mountain. The views here are breathtaking as with many of the hikes in Colorado.
The weather cools a bit at the top with fewer wind breaks. You might want to bring something warm to put on.
Once you reach the top of Alberta Peak, there is the final scramble over huge rocks and boulders to reach the tip top of the peak. You may find it to be a little more precarious.
You may even encounter horseback riding tours.
I loved this hike. It deserves a top spot as one of my favorite hikes in Colorado!
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Distance: 5.8 miles roundtrip
- Elevation Gain: 1,187 feet
- Best Time to Visit: May to October
Bear Lake Nature Trail
The hike around Bear Lake is a nature trail that counts as one of my favorite easy hikes in Colorado. Set off in a counter-clockwise direction to follow interpretive guides published by the Rocky Mountain Conservancy. The guides provide historical, natural, and geological information at 30 different marked spots along the 0.6 mile trail.
The interpretive guide is a small booklet that can be purchased at the trailhead.
The nature trail is beautiful to follow with or without the guide and you’ll certainly find some picturesque moments along the way.
You’ll find this trail is family friendly and perfect for the little hikers in your life.
- Difficulty: Easy
- Distance: 0.6 mile loop trail
- Elevation Gain: 42 feet
- Best Time to Visit: All year long (If you visit in the winter, the lake is frozen over and you can walk on the ice)
There are a number of options when you choose to hike to Bierstadt Lake.
The easiest hike to Bierstadt Lake is an out and back hike beginning from the Trailhead at Bear Lake.
Another option is the loop hike around Bierstadt Lake that begins at the Bierstadt Trailhead. Be aware that you begin with an immediate 600 foot elevation climb as you take switchbacks up the Bierstadt Moraine. This hike is 3.2 miles in length.
A third option is to begin your hike at the Bear Lake Trailhead and hike to Bierstadt Lake and then onto the Bierstadt Trailhead (If you hike around the lake that will add to the distance of your hike). This hike is approximately 2.5 miles. You will have the advantage of hiking down the switchbacks to the Bierstadt Trailhead.
From the parking lot, you can catch a shuttle back to the Bear Lake Trailhead. Shuttle buses within the Bear Lake Road corridor of Rocky Mountain National Park make frequent stops here for pick ups and drop offs. Perfect for accessing many of my recommend hikes in Colorado.
As there is limited parking at the Bierstadt Trailhead, be sure to make use of the shuttle bus.
- Difficulty: Easy to Moderate from the Bear Lake Trailhead
- Distance: 4.4 round trip to the lake (add more if you hike around the lake)
- Elevation Gain: 255 feet
- Best Time to Visit: June to October
Deer Mountain Trail
The Deer Ridge Junction is about 3 miles west of the Beaver Meadows Entrance into Rocky Mountain National Park just outside of Estes Park. You will need to park along the roadside.
This hike features 1,400 feet of elevation gain and pretty much starts climbing from the trailhead.
You might argue, “You’re climbing a mountain! It is going to be steep.”
True, but usually the elevation gain is not quite so dramatic.
Chris and I hiked this trail at the end of January 2021. The weather was pretty chilly and windy. I was a little off my game that day and it was cold; I didn’t have my usual “oomph” and on the way back down the mountain, I slipped a couple of times on the path. So, it was not a favorite among the hikes in Colorado that I have tried.
But I made it. If I can make it, you can make it.
The view from the top is pretty fantastic. You look down on one side of the mountain to the town of Estes Park and over the vista of Rocky Mountain National Park on the other side.
- Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult
- Distance: 6.0 miles round trip
- Elevation Gain: 1,400 feet
- Best Time to Visit: Not in the Winter!
East Inlet Trailhead to Lone Pine Lake
Our family attempted our first hike at East Inlet at the end of December 2020. With the sound of scuffing snow pants and crunching snow under our boots, we began hiking toward Lone Pine Lake (though we never intended to hike the full 5.8 miles there).
Our first stop was roughly 0.3 mile in at Adams Falls. As you can imagine, there wasn’t much water flowing; the falls were pretty much frozen over.
Seeing that the river had frozen over as well, and noting the many footprints on the river, we got sidetracked and went off trail, walking on the frozen river for a mile or so. There were occasional breaks in the ice where we could hear the trickling of water. Even some sections where boots had broken through.
We got further and further away from the trail as we walked and had no choice but to continue walking on the river. Even over and under fallen trees. It was an hour or so in that first Kristen and then Misha got a little more wet than they had planned on or appreciated.
Kristen broke through the ice into 5 to 6 inches of water. She was not happy. There might have been some tears and frustration. Misha went to rescue her and ended up filling her boots as well.
We climbed over more trees and rocks (I even snagged my new puffy jacket), until we finally found the trail again. Quite an adventure. Probably not in Kristen’s top ten favorite hikes in Colorado though.
Kristen pulled off her boots and socks and Chris wrung the water out of her socks once we found a place to sit and were back on the trail. We hiked a mile or so back to the car where the girls peeled off wet boots and socks and tried to warm up.
The thicker line is the actual trail; the narrow line is the path we took along the river.
I ALWAYS recommend that you stay on the path! (A life lesson applicable to more than just hiking.)
As we hiked, Chris and I marveled at the beauty of the area in the winter and commented that it probably looked fantastic in the summer.
To test that theory, we headed back to the East Inlet Trailhead in July 2021. There were a lot of people there who came without a reservation. Two forest rangers were stationed at the entrance and were checking all reservations as people tried to enter the park. They were turning away all who did not have a reservation.
Get a reservation!
You will want to stop first at Adam’s Falls to see the waterfall in the summer time. Still beautiful.
As you venture further past the waterfall, the East Inlet hike opens up to a beautiful meadow of tall grasses that wave in the wind. A small river meanders through the meadow. If you look to the far end of the meadow and beyond, that’s where you will be hiking if you plan to reach Lone Pine Lake.
This trail is simply stunning through the meadow. You can see why it is on my list of breathtaking hikes in Colorado.
This is about where we went off trail last December and started walking on the frozen river.
Isn’t the scenery just idyllic? I could enjoy having that view in my backyard every day! It made for another perfect day of our hikes in Colorado.
As we hiked along the river, we were surprised by a loud squeal and then came into a view of a skinny dipper climbing out of the river. She didn’t seem to mind that we were there. Well then.
After passing through the meadow, the trail begins to climb significantly.
I think Chris and I both wanted to stop around 4.5 miles in, but it was only 1.4 more miles to Lone Pine Lake, and I wanted to reach our destination. We pushed on with sore feet and tired bodies.
The hike up and up and up never really ended until we finally reached Lone Pine Lake. Phwew we were pooped.
You may want to rest for a bit, eat some snacks to build up your energy, and take some pictures before starting your return trip back.
Downhill is always much easier, but we have discovered that trekking poles [affiliate] are a great help as well as they add another anchor point in stepping down tall steps and climbing over rocks.
We carry one set of poles and Chris and I each use one.
After such a hike, you’ll love pulling off your hiking boots and sinking into the seat of your car. Congratulations on a hike well done.
- Difficulty: Starts out Easy—Becomes Moderate
- Distance: 11.6 miles out and back
- Elevation Gain: ~ 1,700 feet
- Best Time to Visit: Year Round in the Meadow, May to October to Lone Pine Lake
One of the iconic hikes in Colorado is Hanging Lake outside of Glenwood Springs. Is this hike on your bucket list? If so, you will definitely need a reservation.
It is one of the most popular hikes in Colorado. Your reservation may be verified at two separate check points.
Keep checking if you find the reservations filled. I would recommend hiking early in the morning when it is cooler if you can.
Be prepared to climb steps and boulders up and up and up through the canyon. There are only a few level sections along the way—and seven or eight nice bridges to cross.
Once you get close to the lake, a railing had been installed to help hikers up the last bit of the trail. And you will need it.
I recommend that you hike first to the source of Hanging Lake—Sprouting Rock Falls. As you can imagine from the name, the waterfall springs right out of the side of the mountain. You can walk behind the falls and explore the area and take pictures.
After taking some pictures, climb a short way back down to Hanging Lake which is skirted by Bridal Veil Falls. The water was a stunningly clear blue with little fish swimming around. Benches are provided.
And you’ll see why it belongs in the breathtaking hikes in Colorado category.
- Difficulty: Moderate to Challenging
- Distance: 3.1 miles
- Elevation Gain: 1,200 feet
- Best Time to Visit: May to October
You will need reservations at Brainard Lake Recreation Area to hike to Lake Isabelle via the Pawnee Pass Trail.
I really think the reservation system will be one of those things from Covid that will continue. It allows the rangers to manage the activity levels throughout the park.
If you arrive at the ranger station without a reservation, you can still enter the recreation area but will have to park at the lot outside of the park entrance and hike at least 2.5 miles in (depending on your destination it could be further).
The Isabelle Trail will likely be busy with young hikers, families, inexperienced hikers…lots of people. It seems to be a favorite of the hikes in Colorado for many people.
Start at the Long Lake Trailhead and hike a short .15 of a mile to reach the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area. Just beyond that is the Jean Lunning Trail Junction. Stay to the right if you want to continue on to Lake Isabelle.
Long Lake is the destination for many of the hikers. Continue on past Long Lake if Lake Isabelle is your plan for this hike.
The trail grows in difficulty as you reach the West Jean Lunning Trail Junction and continues on to Lake Isabelle. You will find yourself traversing rock fields, walking on snow, skirting over rocks along the shore line and then beginning a climb up to the falls toward the base of the glacier.
The view is awesome.
Hiking poles will make a huge difference, especially walking across the snow pack and keeping from sliding down the hill into the lake!
Keep your eyes open as moose are often in the area.
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Distance: 5.5 out and back
- Elevation Gain: 551 feet
- Best Time to Visit: May to October (there will still be snow in spots)
Lily Lake Loop
Lily Lake is just over 6 miles outside of Estes Park within the boundaries of Rocky Mountain National Park. However, you do not need a reservation to hike this family-friendly, fully accessible trail.
It is one of the favorite hikes in Colorado for all ages and skill levels.
Enjoy the beauty of Lily Lake with its abundant wildflowers, birds, and even some wildlife.
- Difficulty: Easy
- Distance: 0.8 loop
- Elevation Gain: 10 feet
- Best Time to Visit: May to November
Mills Lake and Loch Vale
I mentioned above that the Mills Lake and Loch Vale continue on past Alberta Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park. Chris and I hiked to each location on separate days last winter, but plan to hike to both lakes on the same day as we add this to our list of summer hikes in Colorado that we have completed.
Hiking in the winter meant we got to wear our crampons [affiliate] (they were so helpful)!
At the junction where the trail separate to the two lakes, you will see that Mills Lake is 0.6 miles, Loch Lake is 0.8 miles. Both are pretty awesome hikes in the Colorado high country and offer great views of each lake.
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Distance: Mills Lake 5.4 miles; Loch Vale 5.7 out and back
- Elevation Gain: Mills Lake 780 feet; Loch Vale 1,040 feet
- Best Time to Visit: May to October (Winter if you want to try out new crampons!)
Hiking to Mitchell Lake in July offered abundant wildflowers and even a moose sighting. The trailhead is located in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area and you will need a timed-entry reservation.
You may find this is one of the more challenging hikes in Colorado as you scramble over rocks, ford streams, and walk tentatively across snow pack hoping you don’t sink to your knees.
Hiking boots are essential for all hikes in Colorado.
Chris loves his Merrells.
I am breaking in a new pair of Oboz [affiliates].
Mitchell Lake will be your first destination, but if you, like us, look ahead and see that the trail leads to Blue Lake and then Little Blue Lake, you might just keep going.
We sat for lunch at Little Blue Lake and watched as dark clouds rolled in. Our hike in was 3.3 miles, so we had to get a move on to get back to the car before the rain started.
- Difficulty: Difficult
- Distance: 6.6 miles
- Elevation Gain: 1,443 feet
- Best Time to Visit: June to October (there will still be some snow)
Mount Margaret Trail
Chris and I hiked the Mount Margaret Trail on January 2, 2021 with the wind nipping at our faces. It was the second of our 21 in 2021 hikes in Colorado.
If you choose this trail, it is a relatively easy 7.5 miles round trip.
The path was nice because we didn’t feel as though we had to watch our footing every step of the way. Brrr, it was cold though.
Check out our cold weather gear on The 10 Essential for Your Best Day Hikes in Colorado. There is also a Hiking and Cold Weather Gear section on My Favorite Travel Things page. Fleece ear warmers [affiliate] will be your best friend.
As we reached the end of the trail before turning around, we chose not to scramble up the rocks to the top of Mount Margaret.
The scrambling would be easier to do in the summer, you would just have to account for much more foot, bike, dog, and horse traffic along the trail.
- Difficulty: Easy
- Distance: 7.5 miles round trip
- Elevation Gain: 542 feet
- Best Time to Visit: February to November (but January works too)
Shortly after Christmas in 2019, Chris and I got away for a couple of days. One of the cool things we did was to hike to Calypso Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park. The Falls were cool, but we both remarked that we needed to make the hike in the Spring when the run off would be high.
We didn’t make it in June, but finally got back there in August and the run off was still significant.
You will find that this is one of the hikes in Colorado that is so much easier in the summer. Parking will be crazy though. And yes, you will need a timed-entry reservation as it is in Rocky Mountain National Park outside of Allenspark.
To reach Ouzel Lake, you will pass by Cascade Falls, Calypso Cascades, and Ouzel Falls. Because there are so many falls to see, the trail is busy.
After moving past Ouzel Falls, the trail opens up and you will encounter fewer and fewer hikers. Don’t be dismayed when the trail starts moving downward (knowing of course, that you will have to hike back up on the return trip), but the trail evens out for a mile and half as you walk along ridge pole of the mountain top before reaching Ouzel Lake.
The hike to Ouzel Lake takes a couple of hours if you are moving at a moderate speed.
Chris and I walk at a fairly good clip and returned to the parking lot dusty and dirty and quite exhausted after a couple of hours of hiking.
- Difficulty: Moderate (strenuous)
- Distance: 10.2 miles round trip
- Elevation Gain: 1,695 feet
- Best Time to Visit: May to October
Perimeter Trail in Ouray
You may wish to hike the Perimeter Trail in Ouray, Colorado and then begin to rethink your decision if you hike to join the trail close to the Visitors Center; it was pretty much a steep ascent up the side of the mountain just to get to the trail.
My heart was pounding in my chest.
The trail may be fairly busy with all ages and skill levels of hikers.
Chris and I hiked the first section until we reached Cascade Falls where the path took us back down the side of the mountain. And then the trail made a quick ascent back up again after crossing the Cascade Creek bridge!
One feature of the trail is that you can join or leave the trail at many different points around the perimeter and simply walk back into the main area of town.
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Distance: 6 mile loop
- Elevation Gain: 1,512 feet
- Best Time to Visit: May through October
Let’s just say that if you want to drive your small car or sedan up the road to the Zapata Falls parking lot, you are doing so at your own risk.
We drove our Honda Pilot, and even then I hoped it would make it through some of the ruts and and pot holes and around or over the big rocks in the road.
All occupants of the vehicle really ought to wear a sports bra, the jarring is just that significant. Chris and I finally made it to the crowded parking lot and found a spot in the overflow parking.
The trail to Zapata Falls was almost as crazy and bumpy as the road itself.
The hike to Zapata Falls is not a very far hike at all. Lots of families with young children make the hike.
You will want to wear water shoes as you have to walk upstream through the river to get to the falls. I saw so many people not equipped as they walked in flip flops, bare feet, or soaked their tennis shoes. Be safe.
The falls were gorgeous. Truly one of the must-do hikes in Colorado. I thought I was seeing all of the falls, and then as people moved out of the way and it was Chris’ and my turn to move forward, I walked a little further upstream and looked up.
Awesome. It was totally worth the effort. And I am not a get your feet wet in freezing cold water kind of girl. Our water shoes were great for the rocks in the river, just know that if you happen to stand on a wet log, the water shoes may not work quite as well. Just saying.
We returned to our car and prepared for the bumpy descent back to the main road. I could not believe that people were hiking up from the parking spot off the main road. It was at least a two and a half mile climb and hot. Maybe they knew the limitations of their vehicle.
- Difficulty: Easy
- Distance: 0.9 miles round trip
- Elevation Gain: 213 feet
- Best Time to Visit: April to October
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Final Thoughts on Breathtaking Hikes in Colorado
The “breathtaking” hikes in Colorado have a double meaning. Obviously the hikes are stunning and you may want to keep your cell phone or camera handy, but many of them will also leave you breathless from the exertion of hiking. I hope that the variety of EASY to DIFFICULT hikes will give you plenty of options to consider.
We have loved hiking as a family in Colorado, but as our girls have gotten older, more often than not, it is just Chris and I hiking together. The hikes in Colorado simply can’t be beat for their awesomeness. There are Colorado hikes for every skill level, for the photography enthusiasts out there, and for adventure seekers everywhere.