Although I was in Colorado for a week only, I did a lot of cool hikes there, from easy to strenuous and from short to long. We haven’t been everywhere in Colorado and as it was still pretty early in the season, I also didn’t get to do all the hikes I planned on doing, because of snow conditions and trails still being closed. However, I think I still came up with a nice list of hikes that everyone should make while they are in Colorado. So here is my list with the best hikes in Colorado!
Note that I first published this article in 2016 and it has been updated in 2021
Hanging Lake, Glenwood Springs
Number one on my list of best hikes in Colorado is definitely the Hanging Lake Trail. I was in Colorado for just a week but if you even have less time, make the Hanging Lake hike your number one priority, trust me on that! It’s quite a bit of a walk and described by Lonely Planet as ‘strenuous and steep’ but believe me when I say that, when you are in good shape, you will have absolutely no difficulties with this hike. Sure, there are steep sections and the surface is rocky (you’re in the Rocky Mountains after all) but the climb is gradual and not technical at all. What awaits you at the end of the hikes, can only be described as paradise.
Please note that due to a mudslide this trail is closed at the moment. I still wanted to mention it though so you can check trail conditions here as it’s said to possibly reopen in 2022.
Useful information about the Hanging Lake Trail:
– The trailhead is located 10 east of Glenwood Springs, take exit 8 on I-70 to get there.
– Try to avoid the crowds by heading out early or during weekdays. As mentioned above, you cannot access the trailhead with a personal car in peak season anymore.
– The trail is a little about 5 kms (or 3 miles) return, the trip up and down took us about 2 hrs (without stops). The elevation gain is 320 meters or 1.050 feet.
– Definetely make add-on to Spouting Rock, well worth it, even if you are short on time, which will be another 15 minutes.
– There’s a permit system in place. Go here to read more.
– We did the trail from Aspen however if you are looking to stay nearby, then check out all these options on where to stay in Glenwood Springs.
If you want to read more about our experience on the Hanging Lake Trail, then go here!
Crater Lake, Aspen
Forget the expensive shops and the fancy cars in Aspen, what you really came to the mountains for is of course soaking up the freshness of nature and the beauty of the rockies. Did you know that the Maroon Bells, pictured at the top of this blog-post, are the most photographed mountains in the USA? You can easily drive here pedal instead, like I did<. From the parking lot, you immediately have a great view of the Bells. Note that in summer and fall you can't always drive your car. Go here to see all transportation options for Maroon Bells.
However, the walk up to Crater Lake will get you even closer to them and guess what, it’s a relative short hike but yet still very rewarding! I hiked here in early June and still encountered some snow on the track, so it’s useful if you wear some sturdy footwear rather than your sneakers, because oh boy, you will be cold if your feet will get wet. Once at the Crater Lake, I had a picnic and eventually headed back to our bikes. I’d have loved to continue, but still had quite a ride back to town ahead of me.
Useful information about the Crater Lake Trail:
– From mid-June on, you can’t drive up to Maroon Bells yourself and you will have to catch a shuttle from downton Aspen. Go here for more information.
– Same as for Hanging Lake, this trail can get busy, so go early or outside of high season.
– The altitude gain is about 200 meters / 600 feet and the return distance is about 5 kms (3.5 miles).
The Grottos Trail, Aspen
If you are heading over to Aspen over Independance Pass you will pass The Grottos Trail. I heard mixed stories about it and was afraid it would be crowded, but when I was there, it was super quiet. There is a small network of trails eventually leading you to some ice caves. They are formed by ice but in my case, there was still actually ice in them because I were early in the season and late in the afternoon, as in the morning I had still been hiking in Mueller State Park. There were a couple of nice waterfalls to check out and overall, it was a really great short hike before heading into downtown Aspen. Coming early or late in the afternoon will be worth it as that’s when there are not so many people, I basically had the whole trail to myself.
Useful information about the The Grottos Trail:
– The trailhead is located 9 miles east of Aspen towards Independance Pass
– Overall it’s about 2 kms but there are various short trails. I have been hearing some stories about poor markings these days so check with a ranger (if there) about where to go
– Be careful when looking into the ice caves, it does get slippery and once you fall in, you won’t come out anymore
Lake Verna, Rocky Mountain National Park
One thing you really have to do when in Colorado is backcountry camping. In The Netherlands, where I live, there is no such thing possible so I was eager to camp in the wilderness when in the USA. I picked Lake Verna as our destination as I had heard good stories about it. If you want to camp overnight you will have to get a permit, if you are hiking there as a day trip there is no need to book anything. The trail is not too difficult yet it steadily goes up most of the time. Just before Lake Verna there’s Lone Pine Lake, a great place for a pick nick along the way. I experienced our night at Lake Verna in total silence, something that is very rare where I live. I saw quite a lot of wildlife along the track and just before the end we even ran into a giant bull moose that was standing right in front of us. Super spectacular for sure and probably the the lesser known of the best hikes in Colorado. Also make sure to check this article for a map and detailed altitude chart!
More fun adventures to do in Colorado can be found here.
Useful information about the Lake Verna Track
– You can park your car at East Trail Inlet, you will have to pay for it though.
– The trail to Lake Verna is 11 km (7 miles) one way and will take you about 4 hours one way, depending on how many stops you make.
– The altitude gain is about 550 meters (1700 ft) so it’s not too much, yet some parts are pretty steep.
– If you are planning on camping, make sure to bring a bear-proof bin, you can rent them from the Visitors Center in Rocky Mountain National Park. There’s a camp spot nearby which has to be prebooked on the national park website
Mueller State Park
One of the biggest surprises of my trip to Colorado was Mueller State Park. I was actually looking for a campsite near Colorado Springs but other than some RV campsites, we didn’t find any. Mueller State Park is just a bit further up in the mountains and we loved staying there. There is a large network of hiking trails, on our morning we hiked from the campsite station to Geer Pond and onwards to Peak View Pond, which gives you great views of Pike’s Peak, at least if the weather allows it. If you are planning on hiking here, you can download this map which is basically all you need, the trails were very well signposted.
Where to stay during your trip?
For my hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park and Mueller State Park I camped with my tent. In Aspen I stayed at St. Moritz Lodge which was one of the more affordable options in town. They have neat rooms with kitchenettes, a swimming pool and a hottub. All other Aspen options can be found here.
Conclusion and disclaimer
In preparation for hiking in Colorado make sure to order your copy of 100 Classic Hikes Colorado, the Colorado Lonely Planet and a Colorado road map.
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