For a traveler headed west across the vast swath of Midwestern land dominated by rolling hills and cornfields flattened over the millennia by the ice sheets of old, the course west and the gradual climb up reaches its striking and dramatic conclusion in Colorado’s Front Range. A region that encompasses Pikes Peak at its southern limit and extends northward along the eastern flank of the Coloradan Rockies, the narrow alpine canyons, decaying talus slopes, aquamarine and emerald lakes, and pine forests characterize the American wilderness experience as iconically as the Sierra Nevadas in California.
A wide range of outdoor opportunities make the Front Range an adventurer’s paradise, but there’s something about this part of the Rockies that belongs especially to hikers. Perhaps it is the close proximity to Boulder and Denver, whose cultures have been shaped by quick and convenient access the Front Range’s serrated peaks. It could be the ruggedness of the terrain, which sometimes appears hostile to any form of travel that isn’t on foot. Or maybe it's the wildlife: few places in North America stand out like a textbook illustration, but the Front Range has beaver dams, bighorn sheep, and wildflowers that sit like campfires, windblown and bright red and gathered around by an intrepid few.
Beginners to this area have a lot to catch up on, but here are a few staples to get started.
Central Front Range
- Mount Bierstadt: A great, non-technical and popular introduction to Colorado’s 14ers. Wide open and tundra-like for spectacular views.
- Old Dillon Reservoir: Easy, short, beautiful reservoir views. Denver metro's water supply originates in a stunning, island-dotted reservoir.
- Castle Trail Hike: Close to Denver and a relatively short hike for an afternoon getaway that features an old stone house—but the views toward Denver are so infinite that they overwhelm one’s sense of scale.
- Saint Mary’s Glacier: Charming and short hike to a glacier that offers summer skiing and snowboarding thrills.
Northern Front Range
- Diamond Lake: A remote hike into backcountry campsites in the always stunning Indian Peaks Wilderness with fewer visitors, wildflowers in August and waterfalls along the way.
- Mount Audubon Hike: A difficult hike to incomparable views of Indian Peaks and Rocky Mountain National Park.
- Hall Ranch: Nighthawk Trail: One in a network of trails that offers a look into the sandstone cliff geology near Boulder.
Rocky Mountain National Park
- Ouzel Falls Hike: A challenging waterfall hike in the less-traveled Wild Basin, with the option to hike to some of the highest elevation lakes and vistas in the park.
- Chasm Lake: A Rocky Mountain National Park classic. One of the park’s highest features with a stunning backdrop in the Diamond face of Longs Peak. Bonus points (and even better views) for those who summit at sunrise!
- Bear Lake Loop Hike: Another RMNP classic, Bear Lake is the staging point for several must-see hikes in the area. First-time visitors to the park should spend a big chunk of their time visiting the branches of this trail network:
- Nymph, Dream + Emerald Lakes: Three gem-like lakes on a gentle grade that’s good for kids. More intrepid hikers can boulder-hop their way up to Hallett Peak.
- Lake Haiyaha: Another beautiful alpine lake, this one at the base of Chaos Canyon and world-class bouldering. Also very fun to say.
- The Loch: Alpine lake with a beautiful view of Sharkstooth Peak and Timberline Falls. Options to visit Black Lake and Keyboard of the Winds.
- Gem Lake: A quick and dirty hike to a little lake in Lumpy Ridge.