Colorado

Mile-High Hiking: The Best Hikes Near Denver and Boulder

by Mac Misseldine

best hikes near denver boulder co

With a nickname like the Mile-High City, you know you’re in for outstanding hikes that rise above the rest.

Sitting at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains precisely one mile above sea level, fresh mountain air is in no short supply in Denver. With the Front Range a mere 12 miles east of the downtown district, the snow-capped Rockies are always beckoning to adventurous locals and visitors.

Whether you’re looking for an invigorating trail run, a brag-worthy summit, or a nature walk through the woods with your family, the perfect hike is always within driving distance.

Of course, the real hiking paradise in the Denver area is around Boulder, a smaller city a little more than 30 minutes northeast of the capital city.

You’ll find world-class hiking and climbing here, from the historic Red Rocks Park to the towering Flatirons that dominate the Boulder skyline. Venture east into the Rockies and you’ll find even more enchanting mountain hikes in Arapaho National Forest.

We’ve put together a list of the best hikes near Denver and Boulder based on a little personal experience and a lot of community reviews.

All of the hikes on our list are within an hour of Denver or Boulder, with many hikes requiring 30 minutes or less in the car. There’s a hike for every skill level and appetite for adventure here, including several family-friendly options for growing hikers.

Beaver Brook and Chavez Trail Loop

beaver brook trail
Photo: Jonathan Reyes

Why you should go: A scenic nature walk through pine forest along a babbling brook.

  • Distance: 5.1 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,100 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate

The Beaver Brook and Chavez Trail Loop is a hidden gem about 30 minutes west of Denver. This hike is a must for hikers who love ambling through the forest, featuring rolling hills, meadows of wildflowers, and plenty of animal sightings.

You’ll enjoy striking vistas from the northern end of the loop, including a nearby waterfall.

The trail is mostly shaded, making it an excellent hike on hot summer days. Don’t be surprised if you spot a few locals cooling off in the creek — it’s a great way to beat the heat after working up a sweat!

This hike is widely rated one of the most popular hikes in the area, yet surprisingly few people make the trek — probably because the trail requires some extra effort scrambling over a few boulders and downed trees. There are also frequent creek crossings, so be prepared to get your feet wet.

Royal Arch Trail

royal arch colorado
Photo: Lakpa Sona

Why you should go: Ascend Bluebell Canyon to a natural arch and enjoy incredible views of the city of Boulder.

  • Distance: 3 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,400 feet
  • Difficulty: Challenging

The Royal Arch Trail is a serious workout, but if you can handle the natural Stairmaster machine you’ll be rewarded with some pretty epic views. Royal Arch is the focal point of this hike, offering the chance to admire and walk through an ancient natural arch carved into the stone. But it’s not the only scenic attraction — the hike through Bluebell Canyon affords some wonderful views, and you’ll enjoy a fantastic vantage of Boulder from the top.

This heavily trafficked trail gets pretty congested during peak hours, especially through the rock steps, so we recommend setting out for Royal Arch on weekdays or early in the morning on weekends. The local raptor population is particularly active in the morning, so come early if birding is on the menu.

Maxwell Falls

maxwell falls colorado
Photo: Ryan Donnelly

Why you should go: The best waterfall hike near Denver.

  • Distance: 4.2 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 875 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate

An ideal Colorado hike for families, the Maxwell Falls Lower Trail takes you through a variety of terrain past two small waterfalls to the best waterfall near Denver. The peaceful cascades of Maxwell Falls carve through a ravine surrounded by lush green forest, the perfect destination for an afternoon picnic. It’s not exactly a thundering waterfall drawing oohs and aahs from enraptured crowds, but it’s still undeniably beautiful.

There are a few different paths leading to Maxwell Falls, with the Lower Trail being the most popular. You can also take the Upper Maxwell Falls Trail (2.4 miles), or you can park near the falls and make the short half-mile walk if you’re in a hurry. Whichever route you choose, try to hit the trail early to avoid the crowds.

Mount Bierstadt Trail

mount bierstadt trail
Photo: James Tiffin Jr.

Why you should go: One of the easiest 14ers in Colorado, a popular choice for first-time 14er hikers.

  • Distance: 6.9 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 2,750 feet
  • Difficulty: Challenging

Ready to summit your first 14er? The Mount Bierstadt Trail offers the glory of bagging one of Colorado’s 54 14,000+ peaks via a strenuous (but relatively as 14ers go), making it immensely popular with first-time peak baggers.

The well-marked trail is a walk in the park at first, taking you over a creek and past a couple of small mountain lakes.

As you make your way to the top, you’ll enjoy stellar views of the expansive valley floor as well as nearby 14ers including Torreys Peak, Grays Peak, and Mount Evans. Time your trip right in July or August and you’ll witness a magnificent display of wildflowers across the valley.

Be warned there are some steep switchbacks on the second half of the hike, and the trail earns its Class 2 rating in the final portion as you clamber over rocks and boulders to the summit.

Consider bringing some gloves to spare your hands, and be sure to get an early start to avoid getting caught in an afternoon thunderstorm near the summit.

Mount Sanitas

mount sanitas colorado
Photo: Tracy Ann Koch

Why you should go: An easily accessible summit just a mile outside of Boulder, offering superb views of Colorado’s Front Range.

  • Distance: 3.2 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,250 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate / Challenging

At 6,843 feet, Mount Sanitas is more of a towering hill compared to Boulder’s iconic Flatirons, but the Mount Sanitas Valley Loop Trail and its series of log and rock steps will leave your legs aching for days. If your quads can take the beating, this local favorite is one of the best hikes near Boulder.

There’s plenty to see on this hike from start to finish. Enjoy beautiful wildflowers throughout your journey, and keep an eye peeled for local wildlife including foxes, coyotes, deer, and black bears.

When you reach the top of Mount Sanitas, take a moment to soak in the views of Longs Peak and the Front Range to the north.

Mount Galbraith Loop Trail

mount galbraith colorado
Photo: Natalie Magee

Why you should go: A moderate hike featuring outstanding views of Golden Gate Canyon, Clear Creek Canyon, and downtown Golden.

  • Distance: 4 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 950 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate

The Mount Galbraith Loop Trail is only 25 minutes from downtown Denver, making it an ideal afternoon escape from the hustle and bustle of the city into the fresh air of the foothills. Visit Mount Galbraith in the spring or late summer and you’ll see plenty of wildflowers in full bloom along the trail.

After crossing a stream the trail steadily climbs Mount Galbraith, delivering splendid views into Golden Gate Canyon. Before you hit the backside of the mountain, take a look back at downtown Golden and try to spot the Coors factory (a great place to visit after your hike, by the way). You’ll also see Clear Creek Canyon to the southwest.

The hike features some great rock formations along the trail, and if you climb to the top one you’ll probably be able to spot local wildlife. The locals recommend this as a great sunrise hike, and it’s a fun destination for afternoon picnics.

St. Mary’s Glacier

st marys glacier colorado
Photo: Kevin Ekmark

Why you should go: Hike to a serene glacial lake, then climb to the top of the glacier for an outstanding view of the Rocky Mountains.

  • Distance: 1.9 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 800 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Beat the summer heat with a quick, moderately challenging hike up to St. Mary’s Glacier in Arapaho National Forest. You’ll ascend through a lush forest to St. Mary’s Lake, where you’ll find snow along the shore year-round.

The best time to visit the lake is in the morning, when the glassy surface reflects the glacier towering above. From there it’s a short climb to the top of the glacier, where you’ll enjoy stunning panoramic views of the surrounding area.

While the trailhead for St. Mary’s Glacier is clearly marked, the trail itself unfortunately isn’t. The hike to the lake is extremely rocky and the climb up the glacier can be slick, so we recommend bringing along your trekking poles. It’s best to leave the kids at home for this one.

Rattlesnake Gulch Trail

rattlesnake gulch colorado
Photo: Brad Fagan

Why you should go: Visit the remains of the old Crags Hotel, then head to a scenic overlook with a jaw-dropping view of the Continental Divide.

  • Distance: 3.7 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 950 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate

One of the most rewarding hikes in Eldorado Canyon State Park, the Rattlesnake Gulch Trail will satisfy nature lovers and history buffs alike.

The first stop on the trail is the Crags Hotel — or at least, the charred remains of the historic building. Built in 1908, the Crags Hotel was only accessible by an incline railroad and an old wagon trail. Sadly it was short-lived, burning to the ground in 1912. All that remains today are the charred ruins, and a few interpretive signs to paint a picture of what the site looked like over a century ago.

After visiting the ghostly remains of the Crags Hotel, continue along the trail to reach an overlook with a stupendous view of the Continental Divide. The Great Continental Divide runs all the way from Alaska down to the tip of South America, following the Rocky Mountains down to New Mexico where it jumps to Mexico’s Sierra Madre Occidental.

First and Second Flatirons

first and second flatirons hike
Photo: James Tiffin Jr.

Why you should go: The Flatirons are the most prominent features in the Boulder landscape, a definite must-see for experienced hikers.

  • Distance: 2.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,440 feet
  • Difficulty: Challenging

You can’t help but marvel at the Flatirons in Boulder. They look magnificent from a distance, and they’re even better when you get to explore them for yourself.

The First and Second Flatirons hike is a challenging climb with some serious elevation gain in a short distance, so lace up your boots and bring your A-game. The trail takes you through a series of spectacular meadows before you climb through a notch between the First and Second Flatiron.

You’ll enjoy unparalleled views of the surrounding area, including a bird’s eye view of the adjacent canyon between Flatiron Two and the imposing Third Flatiron.

When you reach the top, find a rock shelf to rest and soak in the stellar view of the Colorado Rockies to the west.

Red Rocks Trading Post Trail

red rocks trading post trail
Photo: Jose C. Dimas

Why you should go: A highlight reel featuring the best rock formations in Colorado’s famed Red Rocks Park.

  • Distance: 1.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 350 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy

If you’re visiting Denver and only have time for a quick hike, visit the Trading Post Trail at Colorado’s famed Red Rocks Park. It’s a short drive from downtown Denver, and the minor elevation gain is easily doable for travelers who haven’t adjusted to the altitude. The Park is gorgeous year-round, so it doesn’t matter when you swing by for a visit.

The Trading Post Trail weaves through ten of the park’s best rock formations, delivering picturesque views of the magnificent park from start to finish.

The quick-and-easy hike is an excellent family adventure, though the trail is a little narrow with some steep areas. Time your trip right, and you can catch a concert afterwards at the famous Red Rocks Amphitheater.

Mount Falcon Castle Trail

mt falcon castle
Photo: Natalie Magee

Why you should go: Hike to the ruins of the Mount Falcon Castle and enjoy panoramic views of Denver, Red Rocks, and Colorado’s Front Range.

  • Distance: 6.7 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,600 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate

A castle in Colorado? Well, sort of. Mount Falcon Park was privately owned back in the day, and local tycoon John Brisben Walker built an extravagant three-story stone mansion on his humble 4,000 acres of wooded paradise. The magnificent structure was destroyed after a lightning strike in 1918, but you can appreciate what’s left of the ruins on the Mount Falcon Castle Trail.

The ruins of the old Walker House are neat, but it’s the panoramic views that take the cake on this trail. From the fire tower, you’ll enjoy sweeping views of Denver, Red Rocks, and the Front Range. Stop at the Eagle Eye Shelter for an afternoon picnic, and you can munch on a sandwich with a great view of Mount Evans and the surrounding foothills.

Chief Mountain Trail

chief mountain colorado
Photo: Jacquelyn Longoria

Why you should go: Incredible mountaintop views that are especially gorgeous when the leaves turn to gold in the fall.

  • Distance: 3.1 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 980 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate

The Chief Mountain Trail is about an hour outside of Denver, but it’s worth the drive — especially in the fall. You’ll get to appreciate the changing seasons up close on a scenic drive, then enjoy a bird’s eye view of the explosion of fall colors from the summit.

The Chief Mountain Trail climbs through alpine forest into the high-country tundra, so you’ll experience a variety of terrain on your hike.

The trail becomes steeper and more demanding as you progress, though you’re quickly rewarded with greater views on each switchback. The trail also highlights some interesting rock formations that gradually grow in size as you get closer to the summit.

Chief Mountain offers some pretty incredible views from the top. You’ll enjoy 360-degree views of the snow-capped landscape, from Mount Evans in the west to Squaw Mountain in the east.

Lost Lake

lost lake hike nederland
Photo: Sarah Koons

Why you should go: A more challenging family-friendly hike to a picturesque alpine lake surrounded by the Indian Peaks Wilderness.

  • Distance: 4.1 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 875 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Sights abound from start to finish along the Hessie Trail to Lost Lake. You’ll start near the site of the old mining town of Hessie, surrounded by waterlogged meadows that are often teeming with moose. Following Middle Boulder Creek, you’ll pass a slide waterfall and a set of tumbling cascades.

The trail is peppered with wildflowers, and you’ll spot even more colorful explosions in the small meadows and along the creek as you climb. When you reach Lost Lake, you’ll enjoy excellent views of the nearby Indian Peaks.

Hiking to Lost Lake is a splendid family adventure, though the uphill hike is demanding enough your kiddos will need some strong legs for the journey.

Parking is pretty limited at the trailhead, so it’s best to arrive as early as possible on weekends. If you can’t swing an early start, take the Boulder County shuttle from Nederland over the summer to avoid parking altogether.

Alderfer Three Sisters Trail

three sisters trail colorado
Photo: Natalie Magee

Why you should go: Stunning vistas, landmark rock formations, and beautiful old stands of Ponderosa pine.

  • Distance: 6.7 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1,200 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate

The Alderfer Three Sisters Trail is the most difficult trail in this foothills park, but it’s also the most rewarding. The trail climbs through three unique rock outcroppings to a lookout with stunning vistas of the mountainous landscape. Look down and you’ll see the quaint little town of Evergreen circling Evergreen Lake.

If you’d like to explore Alderfer / Three Sisters Park via easier trails, you’re in luck. The park features the most trails per acre of any foothills park in Colorado, with over 15 miles of trails across 1,127 acres. Needless to say, there are plenty of trails for all skill levels here.

Chicago Lakes Trail

chicago lakes trail
Photo: Jenny Carter

Why you should go: A challenging climb passing three mountain lakes and amazing views.

  • Distance: 9.1 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 2,150 feet
  • Difficulty: Challenging

If you’re a fan of serene mountain lakes, follow the Chicago Lakes Trail to Lower and Upper Chicago Lakes. As the trail beings at Echo Lake, you’ll have the chance to appreciate three beautiful subalpine lakes in a single excursion.

The Chicago Lakes Trail is a strenuous climb with over 2,100 feet in elevation gain, but you’re rewarded throughout with expansive meadows, massive cliff walls, and wonderful views.

It’s an excellent tour through the Mount Evans Wilderness from start to finish, though the best views are reserved for the finish line when you reach Upper Chicago Lake.

All three lakes are fishable, so bring your rod and reel for some afternoon fishing while you catch your breath after a challenging hike.

Rocky Mountain National Park

You’ll find some of the best hikes in the entire state at Rocky Mountain National Park, including the Glacier Gorge Trail, the Gem Lake Trail, and the Emerald Lake Trail. It’s a bit of a drive — about 1.5 hours from Denver, or an hour from Boulder — but it’s absolutely worth a road trip.

A day trip from Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park makes for a pretty long day, so we recommend turning it into a weekend getaway when you can spare the time. When planning your mountain paradise escape, be sure to check out our guides to the Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park and the Best Cabin Rentals in Estes Park.

Planning a trip to Denver?

Check out our popular guides to finding the perfect accommodations in Denver, including the Best Cabin Rentals Near Denver, the best Secluded Cabin Rentals in Colorado, and the Best Glamping Resorts and Sites in Colorado.

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