7 great beginner hikes near Denver

Posted at 8:34 PM, Aug 04, 2015
and last updated 2016-05-30 18:03:55-04

Hiking. It's a great sport and lots of people who come to Colorado want to go hiking. But where can you take your friends on a scenic, memorable hike that won't leave them miserable for days

Here are 7 of my favorites:

Roxborough State Park

The red rocks, the green trees and the blue skies make Roxborough State Park a place for great photos and memories.

The 2.3-mile Fountain Valley Trail is not paved, but the park's website says, "Most wheelchairs can ride the Fountain Valley Trail with little or no difficulty during good weather conditions."

The park also says the the trail "takes you through some of the most magnificent land in the park."

Get directions, a park map, more trail information and park fees on the Roxborough State Park website.

St Mary's Glacier

St. Mary's Glacier may not be an official glacier anymore, but the scenery here is great.

Enjoy a drive on Interstate 70 to Fall River Road, just past Idaho Springs. Take the scenic road about 9.2 miles to the St. Mary's Glacier parking lot. (Bring cash, because there is a parking fee.)

The trail starts at a sign that says, "Glacier Hike. 3/4 mile to base of Glacier. Use extreme caution on the glacier, injuries and fatalities occur each year."

Hike up the old mining road to the lake and "glacier." I don't recommend hiking on the glacier without crampons and other gear, people do slide and get seriously injured. However, just wandering around the lakeshore is very nice.


Dream Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park

I love recommending Dream Lake to visitors who don't mind the drive to Rocky Mountain National Park. In summer and winter, this lake is beautiful and your friends will go home with photos that are calendar-worthy.

The hike starts at Bear Lake. If you come in the summer, use the shuttles because the Bear Lake parking lot fills early.

From the parking lot follow the signs to Bear Lake. Take a picture of this beautiful lake with Hallett Peak above it. If you're up for some extra hiking, take a walk on the 1 mile path around the lake. Or go back to the trail split and head uphill, following the signs for Nymph and Dream Lake.

The trail to Nymph Lake goes through a forest, but the trail is sunny. Watch for openings in the trees to see the view of Longs Peak in the distance. If you have a Colorado state quarter, this is the mountain range you see on the quarter.

Just 0.5 miles along the trail, hikers arrive at Nymph Lake. If you come in late summer, you should see lily pads covering much of the lake. Take photos from different spots around the lake, then continue on the main path.

Between Nymph and Dream Lakes, hikers will walk pass several cascades. Dream Lake is 1.1 miles from the trailhead and it is aptly named. Take the time to sit on the rocks next to this lake and enjoy the scenery. You may see people fishing in the lake. You may even spot a duck. But bring your camera for this view. That's Hallett Peak on the left and Flattop Mountain on the right. I know, it doesn't look flat, but if you hike up there, it is quite flat on top.

If you're visiting Colorado, Dream Lake is a perfectly fine place to have a picnic lunch and turn around. If you're up for some more hiking, then follow the trail along the shore of the lake and hike another 0.7 miles to Emerald Lake.

Learn more on

Devil's Head Fire Lookout

While the trail is currently closed due to a large blowdown of trees, this is a very popular hike for families.

The 1.4-mile trail gains nearly 1,000 feet in elevation, so it's not easy, but there are benches and rocks along the path so you can sit and take a break. The trail ends with 143 steps to the actual lookout - the last of the original seven Front Range Lookout Towers.

Get directions, learn more about the tower and watch for when the trail closure is lifted on the Pike National Forest's website.

Castlewood Canyon State Park, Franktown

Castlewood Canyon State Park, southwest of the metro area, is quite popular with families because the hikes are fairly easy and there's a creek running through the canyon that kids (and adults) love to play in.

I recommend the Inner Canyon and Lake Gulch Trail and the Dam Trail.

Learn about the trails, get a park map, directions and admission fees on the Castlewood Canyon State Park website.

Lair o' the Bear, Jefferson County

I ALWAYS recommend Lair o' the Bear Park near Morrison as one of my favorite, close-to-the-metro area hikes for families.

Walk the flat Creekside path one mile to a castle. The castle is behind a fence, but still fascinating to see, even from a distance.

Want a little bit of elevation gain? Then hike the Bruin Bluff Trail.

Lots of families come here to picnic or just play in the water.

Get directions and a park map on the Lair o' the Bear website. One note, the Creekside Trail is very popular with cyclists who follow the Creekside Trail to the Bear Creek Trail. The BCT winds through several parks in this canyon.

Brainard Lake, Long Lake & Lake Isabelle (seen above), Indian Peaks Wilderness

The Indian Peaks Wilderness is a place of incredible scenery, if you're willing to drive about 90 minutes from Denver. The road takes visitors right to the shore of Brainard Lake.

After a photo stop at Brainard Lake, drive to the Long Lake/Lake Isabelle trailhead. It's about a third of a mile hike from the parking lot to the first view of Long Lake. You can circle Long Lake or stay on the main trail a total of 2.1 miles to Lake Isabelle.

Lake Isabelle is so beautiful, I used a photo of this lake as my Christmas card photo my first year in Colorado to convince my friends to come visit.

Notes: 1. Lake Isabelle is a reservoir and is sometimes drained in the summer. In 2015, that happened at the end of July. 2. The trailheads open late in June, and sometimes not until July, after the snow melts. 3. The parking lots fill up fast here, so come early.

Learn more about the Brainard Lake Recreation Area, including fees and opening and closing dates here. Read about the hike to Lake Isabelle here.

While these are my top seven favorite, I asked a Facebook group of Colorado hikers for their favorite beginner hikes. Here are their recommendations:

  • Chautauqua Trail, Boulder
  • Flagstaff Trail, Boulder
  • Red Rocks Trading Post Loop at Red Rocks Amphitheater
  • Calypso Cascades and Ouzel Falls, Rocky Mountain National Park
  • Maxwell Falls, Evergreen
  • Cub Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park
  • Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs
  • Pence Park, Jefferson County
  • Diamond Lake, Indian Peaks Wilderness
  • Mount Falcon, Jefferson County
  • Mitchell & Blue Lakes, Indian Peaks Wilderness
  • Alderfer/3 Sisters Park, Evergreen
  • Staunton State Park
  • Mayflower Gulch, Summit County
  • Chief Mountain, near Evergreen
  • Beaver Brook Trail, near Golden
  • Horsetooth Reservoir area, Ft Collins
  • Hanging Lake, Glenwood Springs

Looking for more Colorado adventures? Check out 7 waterfalls with little to no hiking and 7 incredible places within 150 miles of Denver.

Find more Colorado hiking trails and things to see in our Discover Colorado section.