Anyone who loves hiking probably won’t be surprised to hear that Denver is the fastest-growing metropolitan area in the U.S.; just walk out of the city, and you’re in the mountains. What could be a better place to live and work? And with the sheer variety of trails available, from relaxed strolls along mountain streams to grueling ascents of some of America’s tallest mountains, the hiking near Denver has something for everyone. These are four of the cities premier hikes, all within a short drive of downtown. Just wander a few miles from the city center and you’re sure to find something exciting.
Forgotten Valley at Golden Gate Canyon State Park
This easy trail is a great one to start out the year after spending a winter indoors (or, more likely for Colorado, tearing up the ski slopes). Only three miles round trip, less than 500 feet of elevation gain, and a completion time of 2.5 hours tops, it’s an excellent option for people of all ages and fitness levels.
This hike starts off at the Bridge Trailhead on the edge of Golden Gate Canyon State Park. All of the trails are named after animals and are marked with the paw print of said animal (it’s an educational experience, too!). From the trailhead, you’ll head off on the Burro Trail, thus marked by a donkey’s hoof print, for three quarters of a mile. From there, you’ll turn onto the Mountain Lion Trail and continue for another three quarters of a mile, until you reach the remains of the Tallman Family homestead. A Swedish immigrant family built the historic log-framed buildings back in the 1870s. It’s a tranquil culmination to this short and easy hike through the valley, and gives you something to explore before turning back.
Chimney Gulch Trail at Windy Saddle Park
Just outside Golden, CO, and only a half-hour drive from Denver, Windy Saddle Park is a great place to spend a few hours enjoying the fresh mountain air and some stunning views. And if you’re looking for a bit of a challenge, the Chimney Gulch Trail ascends up Lookout Mountain on a fairly difficult five-mile, two and half hour, out-and-back hike.
Access to the trail is from a small parking area on Lookout Mountain Road. From the trailhead, you’ll gain over 1,100 feet of elevation by hoofing your way up a pretty narrow single track. Clear views of the valley below will be visible through this section of the hike. Near the top of the gulch, the trail gives way to a small stand of pines before topping out at the namesake saddle formation.
Chimney Gulch is a fairly popular trail, with quite a few cyclists sharing it with hikers, so be on the lookout for them and don’t expect a whole lot of solitude. That said, if you’re up to the challenge, you couldn’t ask for a more convenient trail to take in some great views of the city
Mount Falcon Park
Looking for a family-friendly hike with some truly unique scenery? Mount Falcon Park has both: a fire tower with views of both Denver and the Red Rocks, along with the ruins of a castle built by one of Denver’s more colorful characters all along a 3.7-mile loop that is gradual enough and wide enough for a stroller.
The Mount Falcon Park trailhead is located just 35 minutes out of downtown Denver, a few miles off Highway 285. From the trailhead at Mount Falcon Road, it’s a quarter-mile to the first fork. Take a right here and follow the path a short distance to the Fire Tower, where you can get some amazing photos of the city below. Continue on the Fire Tower Trail until you reach the intersection with the Meadow Trail. After a third of a mile, the Meadow Trail will meet up with the Castle Trail, and you’ll begin your descent back towards the parking lot.
One of the highlights of this hike is along the Castle Trail section. Walker Castle was the former home of John Walker – a man who dreamed big, as he built an amusement park and a cog railway, and envisioned building a “summer White House” for Woodrow Wilson in the foothills around Denver. All that is left of the house is its stone façade, but it’s an interesting reminder of one man’s lofty vision.
This last one is only for those looking for the most challenging of day hikes. Mt. Elbert is the highest peak in Colorado and the second highest in the contiguous U.S. (behind Mount Whitney in California). A 2.5-drive, it’s also a quite a bit farther from Denver than the other trails on this list. Don’t let the distance deter you, though; this is an excellent opportunity to hike one of America’s giants without needing technical ascent skills.
The trailhead sits at a breathtaking (literally) 10,000 feet and rises to an extreme altitude of 14,000 feet. Despite gaining 4,000 feet of elevation over nine miles, there are no technical scrambles. Just take it slow, and you’ll eventually reach the stunning views from the top of world. It’s well worth the trek as the panoramic vista of the Sawatch Range can’t be beat.
With the Rocky Mountains only ten miles to the east, the Denver area is a hiker’s paradise. Having America’s most impressive mountain range as your next-door neighbor can make finding the right trail a challenging endeavor, though. With so many options, it takes some research to strike the right balance between access, difficulty, and the payoff of each trail’s beautiful scenery. But Denver has something to offer everyone; whether you’d like an easy hike to see some of the city’s fascinating history or a punishing march up the state’s tallest mountain, a suitable trail can be reached in just a short drive.