Getaway Compass

Best Hikes in Colorado

Island Lake

Colorado is full of incredible hiking trails that take you to breathtaking views, waterfalls, and lakes. It can be hard to narrow down which hikes to do while planning a trip to Colorado because there are so many beautiful destinations to see and hikes to chose from. Plan your trip to Colorado with this list of the best hikes in Colorado.

Best Gear for Hiking in Colorado

  • Hiking Boots: A must for hiking in Colorado is a good pair of hiking boots. 
  • Hiking Poles: Hiking poles are very helpful on steeper hikes to reduce pressure on your knees on the way up and down and also prevent you from slipping on the way down.
  • Water Bottle: Bring a reusable water bottle with you to stay hydrated throughout the hike.
  • Day Pack: Make sure to bring a good hiking day pack with you to carry your water, camera gear, and layers.
  • Rain Jacket: Weather can change unexpectedly on hikes. In the summer afternoon thunderstorms are very common, so make sure to have a rain jacket with you.
  • Warm Coat: If you are hiking between fall and spring in higher elevations you will want a warm down jacket with you as the weather gets drastically colder as you go up in elevation.
  • Camera: Don’t forget to bring your camera to capture these incredible hikes.
  • Flashlight: I always have a flashlight with me while hiking just in case we get stuck or the hike takes longer than expected.
  • Sunscreen: The sun is very strong at the higher elevations so make sure to bring sunscreen.
  • Chapstick with SPF: Don’t forget your chapstick with SPF!
  • Sunglasses: Because you don’t want to miss incredible views.
  • Baseball Cap or Winter Hat: Depending on what season you are hiking you will either want a baseball cap for the sun or a warm hat in the winter.
  • Bug Spray: Bug spray is a must while hiking in Colorado during the spring or summer.
  • Snacks: Make sure you have plenty of high protein snacks for the hike.

Hiking Seasons in Colorado

Fall: Fall is the best time to hike in Colorado since the weather is nice and it is less likely to rain. In the fall you can also enjoy the beautiful Aspen foliage.

Winter: Winter is not a great time to hike in most of Colorado as there is often snow and many of the hikes aren’t accessible. If you do plan to hike in the winter make sure to check the road conditions before and use snow shoes.

Spring: Spring is a nice time to hike in Colorado as the weather starts to warm up and there are wild flowers. Make sure to check the weather at your hike destination as many areas still have snow in the spring, and roads can remain closed until late spring.

Summer: In the summer you will get warmer weather but it can be too hot in some of the lower elevation areas, so make sure to bring plenty of water. A big risk while hiking in the summer are the afternoon thunderstorms which can be dangerous if you are hiking, especially in higher elevations where there is no tree coverage.

Ice Lake Trail to Ice Lake and Island Lake

Ice Lake Trail Colorado Road Trip
Ice Lake Colorado
Ice Lake Trail Colorado
Island Lake Colorado Road Trip

Difficulty: Hard
Length:
 8 miles
Elevation Gain:
2,700 ft
Trail Elevation (Start – Highest): 9,843 ft – 12,445 ft

Ice Lake trail is one of the best hikes in Colorado that features two breathtaking lakes. The trail starts with switchbacks that feature great views and a waterfall. In the fall you can enjoy the fall foliage in the beginning of the trail before reaching the alpine layer. The hike is 3.3 miles to Ice Lake which is located at 12,300 feet. From Ice Lake you should take a left to continue up to Island Lake. This part of the trail is extremely steep and dangerous, and there are parts where you have to hold on with your hands. In about half a mile with 100 ft elevation gain you will make it to the beautiful Island Lake. There aren’t as many people that continue to Island Lake, but after making the trek all the way to Ice Lake it is worth the extra climb up. When you are finished admiring this beautiful lake, continue up past the lake and then take a right to loop back to the trail. This part is extremely steep and narrow and hiking boots and hiking poles are highly recommended so you don’t slip.

Blue Lakes Trail

Lower Blue Lake
Lower Blue Lake
Lower Blue Lake View
Lower Blue Lake from Above
Middle Blue Lake Colorado Road Trip
Middle Blue Lake
Upper Blue Lake
Upper Blue Lake

Difficulty: Hard
Length:
 8 miles round trip
Elevation Gain: 
2,404 ft
Trail Elevation (Start – Highest): 9,342 ft – 11,746 ft

Blue Lakes Trail is a difficult hike to three amazing lakes.  The first lake on this trail is Lower Blue Lake, a clear bright blue lake within the Mount Sneffels Wilderness Area at 10,952 ft elevation. The hike to lower blue lake is 6 miles round trip with 1,610 ft elevation gain. The first couple miles of the hike are extremely steep and difficult but have great views. If you made it to lower blue lake you already completed the hardest part of the hike, so it is worth continuing up to Middle Blue Lake. The hike to this lake is an additional 0.7 miles from Lower Blue Lake but is very steep, with about 664 ft elevation gain. Make sure to wear hiking boots and bring trekking poles as they will be critical for these steeper parts. Next continue a short 0.2 mile walk from Middle Blue Lake to Upper Blue Lake. This lake is located in the alpine layer at 11,746 ft and as you get closer to the lake it will get significantly colder and more windy. This beautiful blue lakes trail is one of the best hikes in Colorado.

Six Lakes Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park

Bear Lake Rocky Mountain
Bear Lake
Dream Lake Rocky Mountain
Dream Lake
Emerald Lake Rocky Mountain
Emerald Lake
Nymph Lake Rocky Mountain
Nymph Lake
The Loch Rocky Mountain
The Loch
Lake Haiyaha
Lake Haiyaha
Six Lakes Loop Rocky Mountain National Park

Difficulty: Hard
Length:
 10.5 miles
Elevation Gain:
1,660 ft

This trail is located at Rocky Mountain National Park and you can start hiking it from either Bear Lake Trailhead or Glacier Gorge Trailhead. Follow the trail route outlined above to hike one of the top hikes in Colorado that takes you to six lakes and a waterfall. Make sure to look out for signs along the route to lead you in the right direction.

  • Start at Bear Lake and do the short loop around the lake (0.6 miles)
  • Hike to Emerald Lake passing Nymph Lake and Dream Lake on the way (1.8 miles)
  • On the way back from Emerald Lake turn right to continue to Lake Haiyaha (1.8 miles)
  • – If you are tired this is the last point where it still makes sense to turn back to the Bear Lake Trailhead instead of continuing to The Loch lake-
  • As you return from Lake Haiyah turn right to continue towards The Loch (2.1 miles) 
  • Take another right and hike uphill to rest of the way to The Loch (0.9 miles)
  • Return from The Loch and turn right to continue to Alberta Falls (2.3 miles)
  • Continue to Glacier Gorge Trailhead (0.8 miles) or Bear Lake Trailhead (About 1 mile) depending on where you parked

High Dune Trail, Great Sand Dunes National Park

Sand Dunes in Colorado
Colorado Road Trip Sand Dunes

Difficulty: Hard
Length:
 3 miles round trip
Elevation Gain: 
699 ft

High Dune Trail is one of the best hikes in Colorado, taking you to one of the highest dunes in Great Sand Dunes National Park. The High Dune Trail leads to the highest dune that you can see from the parking lot. The trail starts from the dunes parking lot, where you will then walk about half a mile across the Medano Creek Bed, and then find the best ridge to walk up to get to the dune. The closest ridge is usually the busiest so it might be better to walk a little further along the creek bed to find a less crowded route. The hike up is difficult since the sand is very thick and the dunes already start above 8,000 ft elevation. After you reach High Dune and enjoy the view, I recommend spending more time exploring the sand dunes. As you walk south further away from high dune you will get to experience the sand dunes all to yourself, and after even just 10 minutes walking south you won’t see anyone else. Once you are done exploring, the easiest way to get back to the parking lot is to go down to the Medano Creek bed and hike along the creek.

American Lake Trail

American Lake

Difficulty: Hard
Length:
 6 miles round trip
Elevation Gain: 
2,020 ft
Trail Elevation (Start – Highest): 9,410 ft – 11,378 ft

American Lake Trail is located 30 min southwest of downtown Aspen. The trail starts with switchbacks in an Aspen forest and then as the elevation increases you end up in a pine tree forest. American lake is one of the most beautiful alpine lakes in Colorado, with mountains reflecting in the clear blue water. If you are up for it you could go for a swim, but it will be very cold!

Maroon Bells: Maroon Lake, Crater Lake, and West Maroon Trail

Maroon Lake Colorado Road Trip
Maroon Lake
Crater Lake
Crater Lake
Maroon Bells Colorado
Maroon Bells

Difficulty: Moderate
Length:
Crater Lake is 3.6 miles round trip, can continue longer
Elevation Gain: 
Crater Lake is 700 ft up, more if continue longer
Note: Reservations are required ahead of time to drive into Maroon Bells area or take the RFTA shuttle.

Maroon Bells is a beautiful area in Aspen featuring the 14,000 ft Maroon Peak, Maroon Lake, and Crater Lake. The hike to Crater Lake is one of the best hikes in Colorado. When you first arrive at Maroon Bells you will see Maroon Lake at 9,580 feet with Maroon Peak towering above. From Maroon Lake you can hike to Crater Lake which is a nice hike to a smaller lake with beautiful views. In mid-September to early October there is nice Aspen foliage along the hike. If you have more energy, you can continue hiking on West Maroon Trail for more incredible views of Maroon Bells area. 

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links for products and services I recommend. At no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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