I’ve explored a number of different hikes in the front range near Denver, and I decided to put together my list of personal top 5 hikes – even though as the title suggests, there’s way too many more places to explore for this to be anything but a “way too early top 5”. I’ve had my share of hikes that have surprised when I wasn’t expecting much, but unfortunately there has to be some that disappoint, as well. In putting this list together, I’m hoping this could potentially help someone as they’re deciding what hike to take when visiting Denver the next time, or maybe a local will see it and feel inspired to try one of them they haven’t before. Or maybe someone can give me a suggestion on where to go for my next adventure! I fully expect that some on this list will be replaced as I go to new places and take in new sights, but for now, here goes!
5. Glacier Gorge to Loch Lake – RMNP
Number 5 on the list feels a little bit like cheating, because it’s in Rocky Mountain National Park, which is beautiful no matter where you look or where you go. It was a long hike made more difficult by the snow, but knowing that there was a payoff at the top kept us going. It certainly didn’t disappoint and made us feel like our efforts were well worth it.
This hike was one that I’ll never forget, and made the top 5 for a few reasons. To start us off, it was the first time that Carly or I had ever gone snowshoeing, which proved to be quite the adventure. We didn’t need them for most of the time, until the last half mile or so, which started to get deep, but we looked really cool carrying them on our backs!
The next thing that made this an unforgettable journey for me was that my brother came to visit and went on this hike with us, which of course makes it more memorable for me.
And lastly, how can you beat these views?! I felt like I was on top of the world standing there on Loch Lake, with the majesty of the national park around me.
I could definitely see us coming back to snowshoe this one again, or maybe visit in the summertime to see what the lake actually looks like under all that snow and ice!
4. Adams Falls Trail – Grand Lake, Colorado
This hike will always hold a special place in my heart, as it was the hike that everyone took at our welcome picnic for our wedding. The hike to the falls is short and something that most everyone could do, and the waterfall didn’t disappoint, though it was a bit more impressive when we hiked it last weekend in July and there was more water flowing than there was in September for our wedding.
If you continue up the trail a little bit further, you’re presented with what I have called one of the most amazing views I’ve seen in Colorado, and it still holds true. There’s a meadow, with a creek flowing through it on its journey to Adams Falls, and huge mountains as your backdrop. It’s one that everyone should try to see. This spot is also special for me, as it brings back memories of being there with my friends and my fiancée just days before becoming a married man.
We’ve never gone too far down the trail, but there are camping sites further along and I’m sure some day we will have to check out what that has in store!
3. Chicago Lakes Trail – Mt Evans Wilderness
This is a hike that I did recently for the first time, and it was one of the hardest workouts I’ve done, but it made the list because of several different features that make it stick out to me. It all started very near the beginning of the trailhead, when I was met with the challenge of a steep dropoff and a very narrow trail. I turned around a few times due to my fear of heights, but finally was able to push past it and overcome the situation.
From there it was an uphill battle, literally and figuratively. I passed the first lake and was underwhelmed with what I had found, so I continued on well past what I thought were my limits in terms of distance and elevation gain combination in a hike.
I eventually reached the second lake, and my legs were tired before I even started the descent. I took some time to enjoy the peacefulness of the surrounding landscape (and to give myself a rest) before starting on my trek back down.
This trail already would’ve been in my top 5 I think, but I had a lucky break on my way down when I ran into a couple of moose right off the trail! I stayed and watched them for quite a while, and it was honestly hard to walk away even when I did.
This is another highly recommended hike if you’re up for a challenge! The views are spectacular, and there’s even a third lake if you continue the hike past where I forced myself to turn around.
2. Mt. Bierstadt – Guanella Pass
There’s no way that I could put together a top 5 hikes without including the only fourteener that I’ve ever tried and completed. For anyone that doesn’t know, a fourteener is a 14,000 foot peak, of which there are quite a few in Colorado (58 to be exact). Mt. Bierstadt is generally considered to be one of the easier ones, though any time you’re hiking at 14,000 feet, it’s not going to be easy.
We were also treated to a couple of moose on this hike, thought we didn’t get nearly as close as I did on the Chicago Lakes hikes. There were also quite a few more people.
I was also confronted with my fear of heights when we got up to the top. There was a saddle with a little patch of snow right before the scramble to the top. I was fine all the way up to the saddle, but after it turned into a scramble with the multitudes of people crawling over the rocks like ants, it was enough to make me really nervous!
If you’re properly acclimated and in the right shape, I can’t recommend this hike enough. Not only can you say that you hiked to the top of a 14,000 foot peak, but the trail is nice the entire way and you truly feel like you’re on top of the world towering over the surrounding peaks.
1. St. Mary’s Glacier – Near Idaho Springs, CO
The number one hike on my list has the most meaning to me of any other hike in Colorado, but that doesn’t diminish the beauty that awaits everyone. This one is particularly special to me, because this is where I got engaged to my amazing and beautiful wife. I was so nervous that day, digging in my backpack for the ring alongside the lake and forgetting everything I was going to say. It was an even more beautiful setting than the pictures I had seen online, and it couldn’t have been more magical. We’ve made it a tradition to return and do this hike on the anniversary of our engagement every year, and we haven’t missed a year yet!
The hike up is rocky and steep, but it’s also short at under a mile to the lake. When we visited from Oklahoma and did the hike, we were definitely struggling for air, but now when we return, it’s no problem carrying up a picnic. We find a spot along the lake to relax and enjoy a lunch, while watching the crazy people jump into the ice cold water from the cliffs above.
Even if you didn’t get engaged here, I think this is the best hike near Denver because of the combination of a short hike for a huge payoff, being able to touch snow year-round, and also for the ability to have a picnic and relax by the lake.
Many More To Come!
There are so many amazing hikes near Denver that it was hard to leave some of them off the list. What I love about Colorado is that there are still so many trails nearby that are on my “want to do” list, that this list will continue to be updated for years to come. There are some that will never be able to leave my top hikes because of the special meaning to me, but maybe it will have to expand to a top 10 soon, to capture all the incredible adventures that are in store! Also, if you have a favorite hike in Colorado that I should check out, definitely let me know!!