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Jonathan Stull | 08.17.2016

Millions of free-roaming Front Range enthusiasts call the Denver area home, and they reside at the footstep of thousands of square miles of mountain wilderness. The options are as unlimited as the western horizon, which features no fewer than one national park, two wilderness areas and a national forest, a long, continuous expanse of public lands that stretch virtually unbroken from the Wyoming border to Colorado Springs. To the northwest is Rocky Mountain National Park and Indian Peaks Wilderness, Mount Evans and Lost Creek wildernesses are to the west, and Pikes National Forest is to the southwest. Whether you have a morning or an entire day to spend in the outdoors, each of these has beautiful backcountry to explore before the sun goes down.

Hike Near Home

The Denver and Boulder areas have plenty of outdoor adventures to offer that are close to home. Want to enjoy that mountain air without a drive all the way to the mountains? Try these.

  • Eldorado Canyon State Park is a world-class crag for climbers, but Fowler Trail is a short, easy hike with beautiful views of the canyon and climbers scaling its walls.
  • Chautauqua Park serves as a trailhead for a number of hikes, most notably the Royal Arch Hike, which ascends the slopes of Green Mountain to a sandstone arch.
  • West of Denver, Lookout Mountain Trail dangles the view of the Denver skyline as the reward for your labors.
  • Long, open views of the Denver skyline await at the end of Castle Trail. The former home of entrepreneur John Brisben Walker showcases Colorado history as well.

Venture Yonder, Northward

Being about an hour and a half from Denver proper, day hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park and the Indian Peaks Wilderness is limited by the commute required to get there. Nevertheless, the park and wilderness area have a plethora of short hiking options located at the eastern and most accessible limits. The long commute will make it difficult to find a place to park, so where we could, we highlighted hikes that are off the beaten path or have a shuttle option.

  • The trail network around Bear Lake is one of the most visited parts of Rocky Mountain National Park, and visiting this area gives you many short options for half-day and day hikes. The Bear Lake Loop, a short half-mile hike great for families with small children, provides access to a host of others, including Nymph, Dream and Emerald Lakes, Lake Haiyaha and the world-class bouldering at Chaos Canyon, Lake Bierstadt and more. Plan to park below and take the shuttle; the parking lot fills quickly in the early morning.
  • South of Longs Peak, Wild Basin is lightly visited, so you’ll have the luxury of minimal crowds and easy access. Like Bear Lake, the Wild Basin Trailhead gives you options. Ouzel Falls is a manageable 5.5 miles, and several other cascades cut through the basin, including Copeland Falls and Calypso Cascades. The Lion Lakes Hike travels an ambitious 15 miles to a pair of rugged alpine lakes perched at the base of Chiefs Head Peak, and there are several other longer lake options in the area, including Bluebird Lake. Be sure to leave extra early for these.
  • Get an early start and head out to the Monarch Lake Trailhead and trek the 8 miles to Crater Lakes and Lone Eagle Peak. At around 15 miles round trip, the hike makes for a long day, but you will be rewarded for your efforts. The peak is stunning. Note that the parking here will be difficult, so try to arrive before 8:00 a.m.

Elsewhere in the Front Range

While Rocky Mountain National Park and Indian Peaks get much of the attention in the Front Range, there is much to appreciate to the south, too.

  • In the Mount Evans Wilderness, Mount Bierstadt is one of the most accessible 14ers in Colorado, requiring just a 3-mile hike, albeit with considerable elevation gain. Relatively close to Denver, it offers a challenge to those looking for a quick summit.
  • Garden of the Gods is rich in geological history. Lay down tracks on the Palmer Trail, a relatively quiet loop hike around the landmark with constant views of the Rockies.

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