5 Best Colorado Day Hikes

Garden of The Gods Colorado


Garden of The Gods Colorado

Whittling down a list of Colorado’s best hikes to a mere five is a daunting task. There are literally hundreds of hikes that would fit the bill, and none of them would be wrong. If that comes off like a big, fat, humblebrag, well it is. The wealth of quality hiking adventures in Colorado is nearly limitless. Some hikes offer instant glory right from the parking lot, while others take liberty with the definition of “day” hike.  Here is our list of the very best hikes in Colorado that can be done in one day.

Hanging Lake Trail

  • Distance: 2.4 miles Round Trip
  • Drive Time: 2 Hours 45 Minutes
  • Difficulty: Moderate

First of all, Hanging Lake and Spouting Rock waterfall are simply stunning. However, it is a bit of a complicated process to get there. The original rest stop parking area is now closed due to excessive congestion a couple years ago. Now the process is to make a reservation on-line for the shuttle at $12 per person and you park at the Hanging Lake Welcome Center on the west side of Glenwood Springs. From there, you board an old school bus for about a 20 min ride to the rest stop parking area where there are rest rooms. A bus leaves every 45 minutes. You walk about 1/4 mile along the bike path and this part is flat. Then take a left onto the trail for a steep 1.2 mile climb of about 1200ft elevation gain. Be aware that this is a rigorous hike and there’s 1,135 feet of elevation gain so a good pair of trekking poles is recommended and you must be in shape for it.

There are walkways around the lake that you must stay on to protect the beauty. After spending time taking photos at the lake, take the short uphill hike to Spouting Rock Waterfall which is spectacular. Then hike back down to the rest area, board the bus, and ride back to the Welcome Center. For the hike, have good shoes, proper outerwear, and hydration beverage. There are no facilities at the lake.

Alberta Falls

  • Distance: 1.6 miles Round Trip
  • Drive Time: 2 Hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Alberta Falls Trail is a 1.6 mile heavily trafficked out and back trail located near Estes Park, Colorado that features a waterfall and is good for all skill levels. The trail offers a number of activity options and is best used from May until October. Horses are also able to use this trail.

Nice and easy hike, good for the whole family. It is well worn with lots of traffic, so if you like secluded trails either pick another one or go during off-peak times. The falls are pretty at any time of year but are, of course, fuller in spring and early summer as the snow is melting off the high country. The trail does not end here but continues on to Mills Lake and beyond.

Fern Lake Trail

  • Distance: 7.1 miles Round Trip
  • Drive Time: 1 Hour 40 Minutes
  • Difficulty: Moderate

If you hike this trail there are several choices for parking along the road leading to the trailhead. If you park in the lot by the restrooms it is a 6 mile hike on the road to the trailhead. There are a few nooks between the parking area by the restrooms and one by the trailhead itself. There is room for one way traffic on that drive so it is challenging to navigate. So go early if you want closer parking or allow extra hiking time and distance. The trail itself is a trail filled with lots of exploration and we had the fortune of seeing a family of moose on our trek. We made it to Big Thompson pool which was a zoo of activity with chipmunks and bird watching. The pool was more like a waterfall pool area but very scenic. The round trip from the parking area by the restrooms to Big Thompson pool is about 5.5 miles and depending how many times you stop to admire the views of the Rocky mountain National Park it will take you about 2.5 to 3 hours.

Fountain Valley Trail

  • Distance: 2.3 miles
  • Drive Time: 45 Minutes
  • Difficulty: Easy

This self-guided trail starts at the Visitors Center and will lead the hiker on a loop through the Fountain and Lyons formations on moderate grades. If you do the trail in the clockwise fashion, you will start by walking through the geologic formations. The vibrant red rocks make excellent subjects for the photographer, as do the different varieties of wildflowers that will be present in the spring and early summer.

Continuing on the trail, you will reach verdant, wide open meadows that make an excellent habitat for the wildlife that call the park home. Be on the lookout for mule deer, fox, hawks and eagles.

About halfway through the trail you will reach the historic Persse House. Henry S. Persse was one of the first land owners in the area and built his house here in the early 1900s. Take a stop to learn about his plans to develop the area into a world class resort complete with hotel and golf course.

After leaving the Persse House, the trail will take hikers on the east side of the Hogback and meander through rolling grassland. Be sure to a take a short detour when you see the sign for the Lyons Overlook as this will take you to an elevated overlook of the formations.

Timberline Falls

  • Distance: 8 miles Round Trip
  • Drive Time: 2 Hours
  • Difficulty: Difficult

Timberline Falls is a waterfall on the way from the Loch to Sky Pond. The waterfalls are 4.1 mi/6.6 km from the Glacier Gorge trailhead, and the trail extends 0.8 mi/1.3 km to Sky Pond. In order to reach Sky Pond, you have to climb over the side of the waterfalls.

Instead of Glacier Gorge, we started at the Bear Lake trailhead and hiked to Nymph, Dream and Emerald Lakes, Lake Haiyaha, Mills and Jewel Lakes before hiking to the Loch. It took us 1 hour to hike from the Loch to Timberline Falls. We thought the switchbacks from the Mills Lake junction to the Loch were steep, but the trail to Timberline Falls was even more steep and difficult (rocky terrain). The views, however, made up for it. There is a gorgeous view of the Loch Vale, including the Loch.

We made it to the falls around 3pm on a Friday in September. Since we were the only ones, we were able to take our time climbing the steep, slippery rocks. It’s definitely not for the faint-hearted. We wore good water-repellent hiking shoes (highly recommend) and struggled clambering over the rocks, slipping into the stream on multiple occasions. By the end of the climb, we were soaked, either from the waterfall or sweat. Way down was even harder than the way up because we couldn’t really see where we were stepping. It was a scary climb but a memorable one. Don’t be deterred by the climb; Sky Pond is the most beautiful lake that we’ve ever seen.

About The Author:  Olivia Wade,
Born and raised in beautiful British Columbia, I grew up playing in the forest with my dog and hiking in the mountains with my parents. I became an avid hiker and now I live in Denver, Colorado with my husband, Brian and dog Nelson. You can follow my adventures on my site Hiking People.

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