8 Picturesque Colorado Hiking Destinations
By Emily Krempholtz
Look, I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that Colorado is really freaking beautiful. We’ve got plains and mountains and lakes and rivers… and thousands of miles of hiking trails you can use to explore them. Whether you’re bringing your camera with the intent of glamming up your Instagram page, or looking for a scenic spot to set up an easel, read a book, cool off with a quick dip, or enjoy a picnic with a friend, check out some of these beautiful hiking destinations this summer.
Sky Pond - Rocky Mountain National Park
The Glacier Gorge Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park will take you on a 9.5 mile round trip to Sky Pond, an incredibly scenic body of water tucked amongst the picturesque peaks of the Rocky Mountains and the granite spires called the Sharkstooth. The pond itself is an incredibly beautiful destination, but the hike itself is also very scenic—from Alberta Falls to Loch Lake to Timberline Falls, which you’ll have to scramble up to get to the end, and past the Lake of Glass, practically every part of the hike will have you dying to whip out your camera. Parking at Glacier Gorge Trailhead is limited and fills up quickly, but it is a stop on the Bear Lake Shuttle, so you can park at the Park and Ride or the Bear Lake parking lot and hop on the bus to the trailhead.
West Maroon Pass - Crested Butte and Aspen
Crested Butte is known far and wide as the wildflower capital of Colorado, because in July and August, it is awash with a rainbow of gorgeous wildflowers. Meanwhile, nearby Aspen is home to the stunning Maroon Bells and Maroon Lake, which is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful sights in a state full of beautiful sights. Experienced hikers might consider taking in both of these views on West Maroon Pass, a 10-mile trail between Crested Butte and Aspen. Hiking time varies based on your level of fitness and experience, and if you’re planning on staying the night you’ll need a bear canister, but no matter your plans, you can be sure of an incredible view basically from start to finish.
Ice Lakes - Silverton
These beautiful lakes in the San Juans get their name from the intense icy blue color of the water. In the summer, the hike to Ice Lakes is packed with colorful wildflowers and the rolling green meadows of the Lake Basin set against a backdrop of the San Juan Mountains. The round trip hike is about 8 miles, and you should know that it gets pretty crowded during the summer, and parking at the trailhead is limited, so plan ahead.
Rattlesnake Arches - Grand Junction
With vibrant red rock formations and a ton of wildflowers in the summer, Rattlesnake Arches is an incredible hike with some great views. Some of the unique rock formations you’ll spot include arches, windows, and alcoves. It’s not an easy trail, and isn’t well marked in places, so this 13.5-mile trail should be reserved for experienced hikers. If you’re planning on making it a multi-day trip, be sure to pack enough water, because the trail is not just difficult, it’s also hot (bring sunscreen!) and there isn’t water available on the trail. All that being said, if you’re up for the challenge, the desert scenery here is pretty unbeatable.
Hanging Lake - Glenwood Springs
Hanging Lake is one of the most regularly photographed sights in Colorado, and with good reason. This beautiful lake, with its gemlike green water, split waterfalls, and algae-covered logs on its surface, is incredibly scenic. For the purposes of conservation, Hanging Lake is only accessible to hikers who have a permit, which can be purchased here.
Guffey Gorge/Paradise Cove - Guffey
About a two-hour drive from Denver is Guffey Gorge, which is managed by BLM and located about ten miles east of Guffey. There is a $6 per vehicle parking fee at the trailhead, then a short, one-mile hike through rocks, meadows, and ponderosa pine trees to the swimming hole, which is bordered by tall rock cliffs. Guffey Gorge is a great place to swim and cool off, and you might spot a few cliff divers jumping into the water from the rocks above.
American Basin - Lake City
This incredible trail will take you through a sea of wildflowers amidst the dramatic peaks of the San Juan Mountains and Handies Peak Wilderness. The American Basin Trail is only a two-mile round trip, but you can make it much longer and more scenic by heading through Cinnamon Pass, or to Sloan’s Lake. If you’re feeling really ambitious, you can continue on to summit Handies Peak for a 14,000-foot view of the region.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park - Montrose County
Black Canyon of the Gunnison is one of the most overlooked National Parks not just in Colorado, but also in the country. That being said, this stunningly beautiful place is not to be missed. It’s a compact park, so most of its hiking trails are short and accessible by viewpoints along the road, but they all offer incredible views. If you’re looking for a more intense hiking experience, head down into the bottom of the canyon and backpack along the river, and no matter what you do, make sure you’re in the park after the sun goes down. Black Canyon of the Gunnison is an International Dark Sky Park, and if you can swing a visit on a clear night during a new moon, you’ll see the Milky Way in full view and an incredibly beautiful sky full of stars.