Top 5 Hikes Near Denver – Way Too Early Edition

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!

Husband and wife taking picture on snow covered trail
Beginning of the hike, so we didn’t have our snowshoes on yet!

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.

Two brothers taking a selfie in the mountains

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.

Man celebrating on frozen lake with mountains in background

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.

Waterfall cascading down rocks and in between pine trees

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.

Group of 4 friends taking a picture in front of the mountains
Husband and wife taking a picture in front of the creek and mountains

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.

Steep drop off on narrow trail

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.

Mountain lake with cool blue sky above

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.

Mountain lake with massive mountains in the back drop

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.

Two moose grazing in a meadow in the mountains

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.

Woman hiking on dirt trail in the mountains

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.

Line of people hiking up a mountain with two moose off the trail

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!

Panoramic view of St. Marys Glacier and the lake in front

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!!

Family Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

With the pandemic taking its toll on everyone, it’s been a while since Carly and I have had much contact with anyone other than each other, so it was nice when my parents decided to come to Denver for a long 4th of July weekend. Planning a visit from my parents during this, though, proves difficult, because most of the things that we want to do involve going out on the town and being near crowds of people, which obviously isn’t a great idea right now. We’ve been spending a lot of time hiking around in the mountains, as it allows us to get out and about, but still be in the open air and able to space out from others. So we decided to take our parents up to Rocky Mountain National Park near Grand Lake, Colorado, but not the busy parts that you have to drive into.

We left the house around 8 in the morning and stopped once along the way to enjoy the views from the mountain pass and snap some pictures by the waterfall cascading down the mountain. It was also a pretty good halfway point to get out and stretch our legs.

Waterfall cascading down past rocks and pine trees
This waterfall is just at a stop off on the side of the road heading up Berthoud Pass
Husband and wife standing in front of waterfall taking picture
We don’t usually have someone to take a picture for us!

The parking lot of the East Inlet Trailhead is extremely large to accommodate the traffic that Adams Falls regularly sees, so it wasn’t too hard to find a parking spot, even when we arrived around 10:30 on 4th of July weekend. It was warmer than we expected, about 70, so we took a few minutes to properly equip ourselves for the journey ahead before starting on our way.

Family on a hiking trail surrounded by tree
Mom leading the charge up the mountain and setting the pace!
Husband and wife taking a selfie in front of the river
Wife sitting on tree log over the river looking away
Man sitting on log over river facing camera

The hike to the falls is fairly easy terrain and not too far from the parking lot, so we quickly made our way up, but went counter clockwise on the loop, avoiding a large group of people. This meant waiting until our way back down to go to the outlook for the falls, but avoiding large groups of people was more important at this point, and we knew we could still see it on the way back.

We made it to the meadow with breathtaking views of the surrounding mountainsides, and our journey slowed down for the many pictures that had to be taken. It really is hard to describe how incredible this spot along the creek is in real life, but it’s one of the most spectacular views that I’ve found in Colorado, rivaling some views from being on top of a mountain.

Calm water with a mountain backdrop behind
One of my favorite spots in the world
Mom and dad standing in front of mountain view behind them
Mountain view with lush green meadow in foreground

We were keeping our eyes peeled for any wildlife that we could find, especially being in the national park. While we didn’t spot any moose, elk, or deer that we hoped to find, we did run into a family of geese trolling around on a pond and a tiny chipmunk along the way.

Family looking out over the meadow searching for wildlife to see
“Is that a deer?! No maybe that’s just a person… I can’t tell…”
Geese floating on serene mountain pond with mountains in background
Family of geese floating peacefully on the pond. A little bit jealous of their home.
Striped chipmunk eating a piece of grass

We made it about a mile down the trail before deciding to turn around and head back towards the lake. It was my parents first day in town and taking them too far at elevation didn’t seem like a good idea, plus we were ready for our picnic and to take the kayak out on the lake.

Family hiking downhill into mountains on trail
Family hiking down Rocky Mountain trail

We took the other route on our way back to go past Adams Falls, which was much more of a waterfall than it had ever been when we have been here before. We’ve always hiked this trail in September when the snowmelt isn’t nearly as abundant, and it was amazing to see it much closer to full strength!

River flowing through a forest and in between rocks
River flowing through pine trees in Colorado
Waterfall with mountain background
A lot more water than we’re used to!
Open meadow with lake and mountains in background

We made it back down to the lake and had some snacks and drinks that Carly had prepared, relaxing after our journey. This particular picnic area is where we had our welcome picnic for our wedding, and it holds a special place in our hearts. The warm weather today is what we were hoping for 3 years ago, but it was nice to enjoy it on this afternoon.

Family sitting around picnic table with drinks and snacks, and lake in the background
We’re a lively bunch…. Either we’re exhausted or not sure if we knew there was a picture being taken!
Mom sitting in chair looking out over the lake
Dad relaxing in chair in the shade

The picnic area also happened to be the perfect place to drop the kayak into Grand Lake, something that we’ve never done before. Carly and I took the kayak around the bend first, quickly realizing how much we were having to fight the wind on the lake.

Blue lake with mountains in background
The open seas ahead of us…
Husband and wife holding inflatable kayak with lake next to them
Husband and wife in kayak on lake with mountains behind
I promise we went further than this! This was just us coming in for a landing on the beach

Next, it was my dad’s turn to take it out for a spin, but we let him go by himself to explore wherever he wanted to!

Father and son with kayak getting into the lake
Kayak on mountain lake
My dad with nothing but open waters and mountains around him!

After our hike and being out on the water, we were all pretty exhausted, and it was time to make our way back to Denver to let the dogs out. After our wedding, every time we come to Grand Lake it has a special meaning, but this will be a day that we will all remember for a long time to come!

Exploring Staunton State Park – Mason Creek to Bear Paw Trail

Those of you who have read a few of my posts are probably starting to notice a theme that the hikes that I choose tend to have some sort of a view as a payoff for your hard work. The trail I decided on this week was another one that I chose for exactly this reason. There were a total of 3 overlooks along the way that each offered amazing views. This was another heavily trafficked trail, so I knew to get there as early as I could.

I arrived at Staunton State Park and paid the state park daily fee, appreciative that they had an option to pay with a card for those that may not carry cash. I navigated my way to the Mason Creek trailhead a short distance from the entrance of the park and made it to the parking lot at around 6:45, greeted by only three other cars. I held out hope that this “heavily trafficked” trail would turn out to be less so today. When I started, it was immediately obvious that I was in a state park, with the trail in immaculately maintained condition.

View of the beginning of the Mason Creek Trail with sunshine flowing through the trees
Sun peeking over the mountain top as it rises in the morning
View of the meadow and a sign describing the bridge just crossed

The trail starts out in a meadow setting before quickly turning to thicker forest, with Mason Creek along your right side. It was chilly again this morning and I tried to find the sun where I could. There were a couple areas off the trail and along the creek with benches constructed, which would be nice to read, write, or simply just meditate with the sound of the flowing water constantly next to you. There were also a couple of designated rock climbing areas right along the trail. Maybe one day I’ll come back and give that a try!

View of the heavily wooded trail
View of one of the seating areas along the creek
Sign detailing where to turn off for the Dines Cliff Climbing Access
Beautiful rock landscape along the trail
Trail leading to the Raven Climbing area just off the trail
Wooded and rocky trailing leading up
A stream crossing along the Mason Creek Trail
Rough hiking terrain on the Mason Creek Trail

I had a few different wildlife encounters during this stretch of the hike. First, I was startled by a deer that I could hear running alongside me, but he was hard to find.

Deer peering through the trees back at me
Closer view of the deer staring back at me through the trees
Oh hello there!

Next, I ran into a marmot who had his eye on me and definitely didn’t want me getting too close. I snapped a few shots from a distance before continuing on, with the little guy scampering off somewhere too.

Marmot sitting on a rock along the trail

I ran into another couple of deer right on the trail, and I wasn’t sure if the first one was going to let me pass or not! It was amazing getting so up close to them, and the second one even gave me a little leap as he hurried on to find a quieter place to graze.

Deer waiting alongside the trail for me
GIF of deer hopping away from me

It wasn’t until you got a few peeks at the surrounding cliff sides that you could tell you were making some progress, although my heavy breathing and heart rate might beg to differ. I reached the detour on the Mason Creek trail that forces you onto the Bear Paw trail, but honestly, this is the hike I wanted to do anyways, as this took me to the various outlooks.

Rocky landscape along the Mason Creek Trail, looking up at the sun beating down.
Detour off Mason Creek Trail to Bear Paw Trail

The first one that I reached was the Catamount Outlook, and the views certainly didn’t disappoint! You had a wide view of the surrounding low lying areas, and the taller peaks further in the distance. It was a great place to sit and reflect, but after a couple other groups of people came through, I realized that the crowds were hot on my heels and this wouldn’t be a peaceful place to rest for long. It was time to continue to the next outlook, the Pike’s Peak Outlook.

Viewing the surrounding landscape from the Catamount Outlook
Viewing the surrounding mountains from the Catamount Outlook
Selfie at the Catamount Outlook
Have to get at least one selfie to prove I actually did it!

On the way to the next outlook, you’re faced with a choice – you can either go the “technical terrain” route, or take the “bypass”. I’m not one to usually choose the route that takes me closer to the edge of the cliff, but I had to find out what “technical terrain” meant. Was I going to have to rock climb to get there? I could always turn around, so I made my choice to see what this route held in store for me.

Fork in the road where you must choose your path

Honestly, I wouldn’t classify it as technical terrain per se, but I think the sign and the two routes are really there to warn bikers not to go left. Hiking, though, it wasn’t any more difficult than the rest of the trail, just a little closer to the edge and a little more rocky. Since the detour won’t allow you to do the full loop right now, I’d recommend taking one route on the way there, and the other route on the way back like I did. Neither is more challenging than the other, but it offers two different views so the trip back isn’t the exact same.

Example of the technical terrain looking towards the mountains
“Technical Terrain”

The Pike’s Peak Outlook comes into view much the same as the Catamount, emerging on your left side just off the trail. The views from this outlook were just as spectacular, and I took the opportunity to snap a few more pictures of the beautiful landscape in front of me.

View of the surrounding area from the Pike's Peak Outlook
Looking through the trees at the mountains in the distance from the Pike's Peak Outlook
View from the Pike's Peak Outlook

There was one more outlook remaining, the Eagle Cliffs Outlook, and it was a bit more of a trek. The trail was in insanely good shape throughout the entire hike, and it made it very enjoyable. Not having to constantly look down for fear of tripping or twisting an ankle on a rock allows you to look around at the scenery around you for a change.

Forest of pine trees with the sun filtering through

I reached the Eagle Cliffs Outlook, and it was honestly a lot more daunting than the other two. It was a bit of a scramble up to the outlook, and my legs were already feeling tired. I decided that I was okay passing on scrambling up all the way to the top on this one, though I’m sure the views are outstanding as well.

View from the bottom of the Eagle Cliffs Outlook

I was 4.7 miles into my journey at this point, and I knew that I had pretty much the same hike ahead of me going back, though at least this direction it was almost all downhill. It was time for me to turn around and start heading back. As soon as I reversed course, I was hit in the face with the heavy traffic that I was warned about, but honestly, with the trail as nice and as wide as it was, it made passing easy and I never minded the people. You may have to pay to get into the state park, but the benefits were obvious all day long.

View heading down a rocky stretch of the Mason Creek Trail, with Mason Creek on my side
Lovely mountain meadow surrounded by pines and aspens

The return trip was fairly uneventful, with group after group of people almost certainly scaring off any more wildlife that might’ve been close to the trail. I enjoyed the wildflowers along the trail and the sounds of the birds chirping, while getting in a good workout. I would highly recommend this trail not only because of the wildlife encounters early in the morning, but also the well-maintained trail and the easily accessed scenic overlooks. Another successful Sunday!

Chicago Lakes Trail – Mt. Evans Wilderness

There are certain hikes that I’ve done over the past couple of years that I’ll remember for a lifetime, and this turned into one of them. It may be because of a particularly impressive view the inspires awe, or potentially an encounter with wildlife that makes me appreciate the beauty around me. This hike would end up having more than one element of a truly unforgettable experience.

I decided on the Chicago Lakes Trail for Sunday’s hike, despite the fact that it was a heavily trafficked trail (something I tend to try to avoid), mostly because I really wanted to do a hike with a mountain lake payoff. Since I knew I needed to beat the crowds, I left the house around 5:30 and arrived at the trailhead at almost exactly 6:30, greeted by quite a few cars in the parking lot – certainly more than I expected arriving that early. There were a few people casting out their lures, but overall, Echo lake was serene and peaceful.

Looking over Echo Lake in the morning towards Mt Evans in Colorado

Still slightly groggy from the early morning and the drive up, I was confident in the trek ahead of me, and my adventure began. The trail was very nice and well defined, following the lake for the first stretch, with signs pointing me in the right direction. It was chilly – about 45 – and I was grateful for the trees surrounding me that offered a little bit of solace from the wind.

Sign marking the trail ahead
Beginning of the Chicago Lakes Trail, where it splits from the Echo Lake Trail
Sunrise over the Rocky Mountains from the trail

The beautiful mountain trail that I was so peacefully enjoying quickly turned into a terrifying ordeal for me, as someone who is absurdly scared of heights, when I was confronted with a narrow, rocky, uneven trail, with a steep drop off on one side.

Steep cliff at the beginning of the Chicago Lakes Trail

I had a lot of time on my hike to think about how to present this part of my hike. I thought about acting like I was perfectly confident and conquered my fears. I thought about acting like I was nervous, but continued to press forward despite my trepidation. The truth is, I turned around and headed back towards my car the first time I got to this part. I decided this wasn’t something I was prepared for, nor something I could do mentally.

As I headed back to the trailhead, I passed a few groups of people that looked like they should be more scared than they were, and it honestly gave me a little bit of confidence. I turned around to actually conquer my fears, only to reach the same exact point and decide a second time that this maybe wasn’t worth it.

It wasn’t until I was heading back a second time and passed a family with a small child that I decided maybe I was a little more scared than I should be. So I turned around once again and started out a third time. As they say, the third time was a charm. I think I was just a little bit more awake and my legs were just a little bit more warmed up, allowing me to navigate through. The sketchy terrain continued for maybe a mile, and there was nowhere to hide as the mountain forced you forward. I kept my head down, looking down at my feet and every step I took, and I eventually made it through. I decided to tell the full story to hopefully inspire someone else to push themselves past their boundaries and conquer their fears. It certainly was a good feeling getting through there though and descending further into the trees, where I felt much more comfortable. I had added probably a mile to my hike that I would come to regret fairly quickly, though.

Looking back at the tricky terrain just crossed, with mountains in the distance.

It’s not often that hikes start off going downhill, but it was nice coming down from the heights into a valley of sorts. There was a small stream to cross and the wind was almost nonexistent, allowing me to finally relax for the first time in a while.

Rocky terrain at the beginning of the Chicago Lakes Trail
Heavily wooded portion at the beginning of the trail

The hike went quickly going downhill and it was no time before I was turning the corner to start heading back up to the first lake. This part was a workout, with a seemingly never ending steady incline. The trail was wide and allowed faster people to pass easily, but this definitely got the heart pumping for me.

View of the steady incline going up to the first lake

In all honesty, reaching this lake was the goal for my hike when I left this house this morning, but there was at least a small part of me that thought maybe I could keep going. Upon reaching the lake, though, I have to say that I was at least a little bit underwhelmed. I think it was the fact that the lake was manmade via a dam, when I envisioned a natural mountain lake. It was still beautiful, don’t get me wrong, and I could see myself returning here for a picnic. You can walk all the way around the lake and find a place all to yourself to relax.

View over the first lake that you reach on the trail
Another view of the mountain lake and surrounding Cliffside's

This wasn’t what I was hoping for, though, and especially after pushing myself through the beginning, I wanted to make this hike count. I knew from my map that it was going to add a lot of mileage to my journey, and my stutter at the beginning had already added enough, but I decided to see what I could do.

Looking back over the first lake towards the dam

As you move past the first lake, you’re greeted with two cabins, and I honestly couldn’t be more jealous of the people that own them. Although a ton of foot traffic passes by their quiet cabins every day, they seemed friendly to the hikers and even had a labyrinth set up to break up the hike.

Labyrinth Instructions along the hike
Looking at the very unique labyrinth set up

I moved passed the two cabins and the incline started yet again. I wasn’t sure how long I could endure this, but as I’ve said before, sometimes I don’t know when to stop when I’m by myself – especially when I know there’s something more to see if I just keep going a little further.

Looking up the trail at the surrounding cliffs

The views were spectacular as I climbed higher and higher, alternating between wooded forest with stream crossings, and open meadows that offered wide panoramas of the surrounding mountains.

Steam crossing on the Chicago Lakes Trail
Sign depicting your entrance into the Mt. Evans wilderness area
Panoramic view of the trail and the surrounding mountains
View of the. meadow and surrounding mountains
Panoramic view of Mt. Evans and surrounding peaks

I couldn’t believe that I had pushed myself so far, but I finally reached the second lake after what seemed like an eternity of steady incline, and I was glad that I did. This was the payoff that I was looking for! There was the natural mountain lake that I set out to find, fed by the still melting snow, that gave way to the sheer cliffs of the peaks all around. I felt such a sense of awe at the scene around me that I found a large rock upon which I could sit to take it all in for a while. It was really cold at this point, probably in the low 40s with a strong wind and no protection around, but I sat on that rock for about 20 minutes taking in the scene. It was truly incredible.

View of the meadow in front of the second lake on the trail
Selfie in front of the lake and the mountains
Panoramic view of the second lake, Mt. Evans, and surrounding cliffs
Another shot of the taller mountains surrounding me

There was at least a little part of me again that wanted to keep going to the next lake, but my ankles and knees were hurting already and I hadn’t even started the trek back yet. I knew it was time to turn around and hope that I could actually make it. I hadn’t done a hike this long in a really long time and was again kicking myself for adding an extra mile.

I’m glad that I headed back when I did though, because I timed it perfectly for running into a couple of moose right off the trail! This is what I hope for every time I go out, and they were right there, so close to us. I felt so lucky to have this encounter.

Two moose grazing in a mountain meadow with cliffs behind
Lots of moose footage in the video below!!

It was hard to pull myself away, but after watching them for probably 10-15 minutes, they started to walk away and so did I, continuing on down the trail.

Giant boulder next to the hiking trail

It seemed so long ago already, but when I reached the part that was the descent at the beginning, suddenly I was faced with a steep final climb back to the trailhead. This time, though, there was a steady stream of traffic coming the other way, and the two way traffic on such a narrow trail made the steep cliffs even worse. My legs were wobbly now too, which also didn’t help.

Rocky incline back to the trailhead and parking lot

Somehow I eventually made it back to the trailhead, and honestly felt better than I would’ve expected after such a long hike. Maybe I should’ve kept going to the last lake! Next time..

This was another classic example of me thinking that the parking lot was full when I arrived, but was then greeted by more people than I could’ve ever imagined. Echo Lake is apparently pretty popular for picnics and fishing, and there were cars all up and down the road when I got back. I was thankful for being able to enjoy the calm of the lake when I was heading up, and was happy to get out of there quickly on my way out, to let someone else have my spot.

Shot of the parking completely full, including along the road

Anytime I see moose, the trail is going to rate at the top of my list, but I truly think this was one of the best trails I’ve been on in Colorado. I would highly recommend it, but just make sure you go to the second lake at least!

Traversing the Twin Sisters Peak

Having the ability to escape to the mountains in less than an hour is one of the main reasons that we moved to Colorado, and the current pandemic has made us appreciate that quick escape even more. I personally can’t imagine being stuck in a place where there isn’t nature around to explore during these times, where the feeling of being cooped up is amplified. The playground that is the Rocky Mountains offers endless socially distanced adventures, and I’m certainly grateful for the beautiful state we now call home.

As I scanned the AllTrails map on Friday, the goal for my hike this weekend was fairly specific in what I was looking for, but not necessarily specific about where. I wanted to find a lightly trafficked trail that offered good views of the front range, a challenging hike, all while avoiding the trails still covered in snow this early into the summer. Given my affinity for the Nederland/Boulder area, it’s not surprising that I found what I was looking for not that far from where we were last weekend. I promise I tried to look elsewhere!

View of the mountains before me driving to the trailhead

I woke up and gathered the necessities as quickly as I could, packed up, and set out, arriving at the trailhead just before 8am. There were maybe 10 cars in the parking lot and plenty of open parking spots, which was something I was grateful for, and was glad that I set out as early as I had. From the parking lot, you are presented with a beautiful vista of Gross Reservoir below, and I immediately wanted to go towards it. It probably didn’t help that the only other people I saw setting out for the day were taking the trail going towards it.

View of the trailhead parking lot early in the morning
Panoramic view of the lake, trails, and picnic areas

I didn’t make it too far before realizing that I was already off the trail I intended to be on and hadn’t paid close enough attention to the map. Despite going the wrong direction, it wasn’t a total loss, as it afforded me some pictures of the lake and gave me an idea of what the trail down was like.

Trail heading down to Gross Reservoir
View of Gross Reservoir from the trail

I hiked back up to the parking and realized the trail that I actually wanted went beyond the restrooms, more or less along the road. I set out for the second time, glad that it was early and not too hot, and walked past several fairly private picnic tables that all had gorgeous views of the lake.

Sign warning of hiking in bear and moose country

I didn’t take a picture (for obvious reasons), but, about a half mile in, I passed a deer leg that had clearly been eaten by something, reminding me that there are in fact large predators in the mountains – something I take for granted all too often on our hikes. It wasn’t long, though, until I was walking along a dirt road that was, in fact, the trail, which allowed me to relax a little. It felt like deja vu from the hike last week, although it was significantly more “interesting” from the standpoint that it wasn’t a perfectly flat road. I guess it made me feel like I was hiking a little bit still, even though I was clearly on a road.

Sign warning against trying to drive standard vehicles down the path
“No soccer mom SUVs” Definitely true!!
Rocky terrain heading up the trail
I don’t think the Subby would do too well on this, and this wasn’t even the worst of it

Once again, I passed my turn off, but realized quickly yet again that I was going the wrong direction, turned around, and got back on my way. With all the private property on either side of the road, I was expecting something more well defined for the trailhead turn off, but it was just a gap in a fence. The trail quickly narrowed and steepened slightly. After this point, I didn’t see a single other person until I was at the top. I never saw any wildlife other than birds and chipmunks, but I certainly was keeping an eye out after my grisly discovery earlier, and I kept thinking to myself that I wish I wasn’t hiking alone. The trail was very narrow in spots and the trees thick on either side, adding to the feeling that I wasn’t in my natural terrain anymore.

Turnoff from road to the Twin Sisters trail
This is me coming back to the turnoff for the trail. It’ll normally be on your right and you just scoot through the fence to continue on your way!
Heavily wooded hiking trail with pine trees
Narrow hiking trail through trees
Imagine me scanning for bears and mountain lions through this!
Rocky hiking trail to the Twin Sisters peak
View of mountains in the distance from the trail

It did eventually open up into a magnificent meadow, filled with wildflowers, aspens, and pines. The wind was whipping through the trees at a decent pace today, and the leaves of the aspens let you know it.

Looking back down the trail over the meadow just crossed
Pine trees and aspens coming together in one forest
Pine trees on the left giving way to an Aspen grove on the right. I thought it made for a cool picture!
Don’t miss the turnoff when you see this pile of rocks. It’s hard to see to the left, and easy to keep going past the Twin Sisters peak.

It was a fairly gradual climb to the top once you turn off the road and it made for a good workout on the legs. I reached the top and had the place all to myself. It felt like I was the only one taking the trail today and the mountain was mine to enjoy. I took several pictures and videos, which don’t really do it justice due to my irrationally strong fear of heights, but it was an amazing feel standing on top, looking out over the mountains in the distance, with the wind blowing harder than ever.

View of snow topped mountains in the distance
From the top of the mountain looking out over the lower lying areas
If you can’t tell, that’s a cliff… I know it looks like I’m a long ways away from the edge, but I wasn’t about to get any closer!
A slightly different view from the top with mountain in the distance.
Another drop off on the other side of these rocks too. Maybe one day I won’t be so scared to go look over the edge..
Selfie at the top of the mountain with the peaks behind me
Trying to not look nervous with my back to the cliff and the wind blowing!

I spent maybe 20 minutes sitting on a rock at the top (sufficiently away from the edge), enjoying the sounds all around me and rehydrating, before the people started to show up. Apparently I wasn’t the only one to take the trail today, but it appeared that I was perhaps the first. I was thankful for the time and solitude that I was able to enjoy on top, but it was time to start heading back down. That’s when I realized that this was far from a “lightly trafficked” trail, as AllTrails had indicated. I started running into groups of people what seemed like around every turn. After not seeing anyone else on the way up, I saw probably 10-15 groups of people on my way down. It made me wonder if it would even be worth it at top with all of those people crawling the rocks all around you. I’m sure it would be, but still wouldn’t be the same as it was being up there alone. This made me even more thankful for the peace and quiet I was able to enjoy.

Mountain bike ramp heading down the trail over some logs
I guess people mountain bike this trail? I can’t imagine riding up, but maybe if you walked it over the more rough parts.

Once I got back to the dirt “road”, I started to run into large off-road rigs taking the OHV trail and determined that it probably wasn’t initially designed for both hikers and those kinds of vehicles. I had to step off the road to let them pass a couple of times, and it made me nervous every time I heard someone coming up around a corner that they would be going too fast to see me.

Scenic view perched above Gross Reservoir
Once last lake picture on my hike back!

I made it back to the parking lot around 11:30, and realized just how good of a decision I had made arriving as early as I had. I didn’t even know you could park on the other side of the parking lot, but now both sides were completely full, and there was a sheriff at the entrance to the parking lot turning people away. It became apparent that this parking lot was popular for folks hiking down to enjoy the lake, many with kayaks in tow. I would highly recommend arriving as early as I did.

Full parking lot at Gross Reservoir trailhead

All in all, I would definitely do this hike again, but would absolutely keep in mind to arrive early to avoid the crowds, find a parking spot, and not have to dodge cars. I honestly just wish so much of it wasn’t on a dirt road, but I’m starting to discover that that’s a thing.. Once I took the turn-off, it was an incredibly rewarding hike and rates highly for views and solitude. We’re going to have to come back and check out the lake next time too – I never did get any closer than I did taking the wrong trail at the beginning.

Summiting Bald Mountain Near Boulder

As a result of a very long series of events, we didn’t end up making it to the mountains to hike for Carly’s birthday last weekend, forcing us to reschedule to this weekend. Going for a hike for our birthdays has become somewhat of a tradition the past few years and it was better late than never! I already had the hike picked out, so it made it easy to decide where we were heading – the Sugarloaf Mountain trailhead near Boulder. Only we weren’t there for Sugarloaf Mountain. Although I’m sure we’ll return someday to tackle that magical sounding mountain, our sights were set a little further to Bald Mountain. This is not to be confused with my failed attempt at Old Baldy last year (I still plan on going back and conquering that one!) I chose this hike because this part of the state, near Nederland and Boulder, is one of my favorite parts of the state to hike because I usually see some sort of wildlife and every hike has offered a challenge, with spectacular views as the payoff. The perfect combination if you ask me.

We arrived at the trailhead a little after 10am on Saturday, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at least a little concerned that there would be no parking that close to Boulder on such a nice day. There were maybe 10-15 cars there, and there were already people making their own spots amongst the trees. We were lucky, though, and someone left a more “designated” parking spot right when we were wondering what to do. It’s nice when things work out like that.

As I mentioned before, there are two trails from this same trailhead, Sugarloaf Mountain, which was much shorter, and Bald Mountain that was about 5 miles. Since this was actually the first time we’ve been up to the mountains hiking this year, we decided we better make the most of it and go for the longer one, and just hoped that the rain we could see all around us would hold off.

The first part of the trail wasn’t exactly promising, and we had to stop and ask people if we were even going the right direction. The cars driving down the road didn’t give us much hope either, but we pressed onward, and despite the less than stellar “trail” situation, the views were still spectacular

We eventually realized that we missed the first turn-off for the trail, which would take you around the loop counterclockwise and the way the arrows pointed on AllTrails, but we did find the second turn off that took us clockwise. Looking back, I wish we would’ve seen the first turnoff, because this direction seemed like it was much more difficult.

There were cars at the bottom of the turnoff for the trailhead going this direction, which made it easier to spot.
Starting to get steep!

The route was steep, with many rocks and loose dirt to make the risk of slipping that much higher. Looking at the pictures, it doesn’t really give it justice. We also realized (again, after the fact) that we went off the trail for a little bit, taking a shortcut which proved to be the steepest part. It would’ve been easier to stay on the correct trail if we were going around the loop in the correct direction, but again, lessons learned for next time!

Up and up we go!

We reached what we thought had to be the top of the mountain because of how steep the climb had just been, and how spectacular the views were!

Like everything else up to this point, we were also wrong about this being the top of the mountain, and continued upward. The wildflowers continued to amaze throughout our entire journey, adding that extra sparkle of beauty to an already magnificent hike. As always, at a certain point, I have to let the pictures do the talking for me, otherwise I could go on and on!

Had to stop for a quick selfie, of course!
It just kept getting better and better the further up we went!

We did finally make it to what was actually the top of the mountain, and let me tell you, the payoff at the top was worth the hard climb! We didn’t see another hiker the entire time, and could’ve spent all day at the top in the solitude, listening to the chirps of the few birds that were around us up there.

As any seasoned hiker can tell you, the worst part of any hike is coming back down. That was certainly true of this one, where the descent was almost as steep as our climb. It made every single step treacherous, and we took the tiniest steps we could as we made our way down, just hoping that our knees didn’t give out on us. As you can imagine, I wasn’t taking pictures during the worst of it, but hopefully these pictures do it a little bit of justice.

Despite there being a few spots where the steepness of the terrain made us slightly uncomfortable, it was still one of our favorite hikes we’ve been. Between the wildflowers and the spectacular views, it was everything we could hope for, and I could definitely see us coming back to do this hike again or to tackle the Sugarloaf Mountain peak. There may have been more people on that trail, but we didn’t see a single other hiker on our trail the entire time, except for right at the beginning when we asked for directions. That’s hard to achieve this close to Boulder. We found the only problem with doing a really long hike during a pandemic, though, is not being able to stop at a restaurant at the bottom for a beer! Time to start planning the next adventure!!