Colorado has four national parks and 42 state parks, offering a multitude of wonderful hiking trails. However, if you’re looking for some free hiking places, here is a list of my recommendations. These are all easily accessible from Denver, and are ranked by difficulty. There is something for everyone here, and the All Trails app is very helpful if you want to get out and find some of your own favorite hikes! No matter where you go there are always great places to get outdoors and do some hiking in Colorado.
Boulder Canyon – Boulder, CO
This is a 1.9 mile trail that winds along Boulder Creek, just outside of Boulder’s city limits. There is no elevation gain, but the views of the creek and the canyon are gorgeous! It’s a great way to start out if you still need to acclimate to the elevation of Colorado.
Pawnee Buttes – Grover, CO
This trail is located in the Pawnee National Grassland in Northeast Colorado, a part of the state that is often overlooked because it isn’t mountainous. This 4.6 mile out and back trail winds around two bluffs, and even through a small canyon area. I crossed what was once the river that carved out this landscape, but is now completely dry. You may even see wildflowers like the beautiful sunflowers that I saw on the trail.There is zero shade on this trail so be sure to cover up and drink lots of water!
Loch Lomond – Idaho Springs, CO
This trail is 4.6 miles total and has a 900 ft elevation gain. The trail is rocky, and at times run off from the lake can cover the trail. It offers incredible views of the Rocky Mountains and at the top is a lake with a waterfall. Be careful though, even in June half of this trail was covered in snow! Even the lake was frozen over. That’s to be expected since the elevation was over 11,000 feet.
Lookout Mountain – Golden, CO
This trail is 2.5 miles to the top, starting at Chimney Gulch trail, and 5 miles total. There is about 800 feet in elevation gain, and it is a steady uphill for most of the hike. The views over the water-carved canyon are incredible. You can even see a snow-capped mountain in the distance. If you’re not up for hiking it, it is possible to drive to the top, where you will find great views and a nature center.
Mallory’s Cave – Boulder, CO
If you want to hike the flatirons but it’s too crowded, drive five minutes toChautauqua Park and try this 5.4 mile hike. The trail steepens, narrows and becomes rocky and unstable, making for a difficult hike. The switchbacks help with the elevation gain, but much of the hike is in direct sunlight. I do not recommend this hike on hot July days like I did! Use ProTrails to get directions & descriptions of which trails you need to take to get to the Mallory Cave Trail. When I hiked this the actual cave was closed, so I couldn’t see it, but I did see some spectacular views of Boulder and beyond.
The Flatirons – Boulder, CO
The Flatirons are incredible slabs of stone that shoot out of the ground, and are a very popular spot for hiking in Boulder. If you want to get a parking spot I recommend going during the week or going very early! The First & Second Flatirons hike is popular because it is short but strenuous and offers incredible views of Boulder. This is a 2.6 mile roundtrip hike with over 1,400 feet in elevation gain. There are many trails in and around the flatirons, so do some research and decide which trails are best for you.
Hanging Lake – Glenwood Springs, CO
What may be the most popular hike in all of Colorado, Hanging Lake is an incredible hike that follows Dead Horse Creek up to a stunning waterfall and a lake that practically hangs off the side of a mountain. This trail became a National Natural Landmark in 2011. The trail is one mile long and rises over 900 feet in elevation. It is extremely rocky, which is what makes it so difficult. Most importantly, do not touch the water. Although it is inviting after a strenuous hike, the ecosystem is very delicate.