Elevated Escapes: Discovering Colorado's Summer Trails
In this guide to the best hikes in Colorado during the summer, I invite you to immerse yourself in the captivating beauty of nature. Having personally trekked these trails with a backpack on my back, I believe that connecting with the wilderness is essential for a fulfilling lifestyle. Through awe-inspiring vistas, vibrant wildflowers and encounters with wildlife, these trails embody the essence of our oneness with nature. My intention is to inspire and empower you to venture outdoors, explore these remarkable trails and forge your own profound connection with the natural world.
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Where to stay in Colorado
Dunton Hot Springs
An alpine valley ghost town turned private resort, with a bathhouse and spa, and on-tap mountain adventures.
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Canyon Hideout Bungalow
A charming, rustic retreat nestled in the heart of natural beauty, providing a tranquil getaway with breathtaking canyon views.
The Little Nell
At the base of Ajax Mountain, Aspen’s only ski-in/ski-out hotel is the spot for a lively après scene, top people watching and personalized service.
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Things to do in Colorado
Best Summertime Hikes in Colorado
Crested Butte to Aspen Hike: This trail connects the picturesque mountain towns of Crested Butte and Aspen, offering hikers a scenic journey through the heart of the Colorado Rockies. The trail takes you across alpine meadows, through fragrant pine forests and over majestic mountain passes, providing breathtaking views along the way. You can hike it in a day or take the long way around and hike four different peaks over the course of a longer backpacking trip.
Silver Dollar and Murray Lake Trail: Nestled in the San Juan Mountains, the Silver Dollar and Murray Lake Trail takes hikers on a mesmerizing adventure through pristine wilderness. The trail showcases high alpine meadows, wildflower-filled basins and two stunning mountain lakes, Silver Dollar Lake and Murray Lake, surrounded by towering peaks.
Willow Lakes via Gore Range Trail: Situated in the Gore Range near Silverthorne, the Willow Lakes hike is a challenging but rewarding experience. Hikers navigate through dense forests, ascend steep slopes, and arrive at the tranquil Willow Lakes, nestled in a picturesque alpine basin. The pristine beauty of the lakes and surrounding peaks make it a true backcountry gem. Stop in Outer Ranger Brewing in Frisco, CO on your way home.
Missouri Lakes: Located in the Holy Cross Wilderness near Leadville, the Missouri Lakes trail offers a serene and scenic hike through alpine meadows and dense forests. As you ascend, you'll be rewarded with stunning views of the jagged Sawatch Range and eventually reach a series of shimmering alpine lakes, known as the Missouri Lakes, surrounded by towering peaks. There is some quiet and stunning dispersed camping around the trail making for a classic Colorado summer weekend.
Huron Peak via North Huron Trail: Huron Peak, located near Buena Vista, is a popular 14er among hikers. The North Huron Trail takes you through dense forests and across talus slopes, leading to the summit of Huron Peak. From the top, hikers are treated to panoramic vistas of the surrounding mountain ranges and expansive views of the Arkansas River Valley. Explore the charming town of Buena Vista after your hike and fuel up on some mountain town burgers and beer.
James Peak Trail in James Peak Wilderness: The James Peak Trail, located in the James Peak Wilderness near Nederland, offers a challenging and rewarding hike for experienced adventurers. The trail winds through alpine tundra, showcases stunning wildflower displays and leads to the summit of James Peak, providing breathtaking views of the surrounding peaks and valleys. This is an extremely rewarding hike not a far drive from Denver.
Lake Isabelle in Brainard Lake Recreation Area: The first Colorado hike I fell in love with. Situated in the Indian Peaks Wilderness near Nederland, the Lake Isabelle trail is a popular choice for hikers of all skill levels. The trail meanders through dense forests and opens up to picturesque meadows before reaching the stunning Lake Isabelle, framed by towering mountain peaks and surrounded by alpine beauty. Keep your eyes peeled for moose – they love this trail too!
American Lake Trail in White River National Forest: Located near Aspen, the American Lake Trail offers a challenging yet rewarding hike through aspen groves, evergreen forests and rocky slopes. The trail leads to the crystal-clear waters of American Lake, nestled in a picturesque cirque surrounded by rugged mountain peaks. Skip the busy Maroon Bells and head up to American Lake for a more remote experience.
The Copper Creek Trail to Copper Lake in Gothic Natural Area near Crested Butte: This trail in the Gothic Natural Area near Crested Butte leads hikers through enchanting wildflower-filled meadows, dense forests and rocky terrain. The highlight of the hike is the serene Copper Lake, reflecting the surrounding mountains and offering a peaceful setting to rest and take in the natural beauty. The San Juans have some of the best wildflowers in Colorado – don't miss them this summer!
Sky Pond via Glacier Gorge Trail: Rocky Mountain National Park: The Sky Pond hike, accessed via the Glacier Gorge Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park, is a breathtaking adventure. Hikers traverse through glacier-carved valleys, pass stunning waterfalls and reach the picturesque Sky Pond, nestled beneath towering cliffs and surrounded by alpine grandeur. You'll pass by Alberta Fall and Loch Vale, both offering a diversity of ecological phenomena.
Chasm Lake: Chasm Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park offers a thrilling, scenic adventure. Traverse through alpine meadows, boulder fields and steep terrain to reach Chasm Lake, nestled beneath the towering walls of Longs Peak. Longs Peak is one of the few 14ers you can see most days from Denver.
Things to keep in mind in Colorado
Tips for hiking in Colorado in the summer
Colorado's summer days can get hot, so it's best to start your hikes early in the morning to avoid the midday heat. This also allows you to take advantage of cooler temperatures and avoid afternoon thunderstorms that are common in the mountains.
Hydration is crucial when hiking in Colorado's higher elevations. Carry plenty of water with you and drink regularly to prevent dehydration. Consider using a hydration bladder or water bottles with built-in filters for convenience.
Dress in Layers
Colorado's weather can change quickly, even during the summer. Dress in layers so you can adjust your clothing as needed. Start with moisture-wicking base layers, wear a lightweight but insulating mid-layer and carry a waterproof jacket in case of rain or chilly mountain winds.
Protect Yourself from the Sun
The sun can be intense at higher elevations, so don't forget to protect yourself. Wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses and apply sunscreen generously. Consider using sunscreen with a higher SPF rating to provide better protection against the sun's rays.
Pack Snacks and Energy-Boosting Foods
Hiking at high elevations can be physically demanding. Pack lightweight snacks such as energy bars, nuts and dried fruits to keep your energy levels up throughout the hike. Trail mix and jerky are also good options for quick and nourishing snacks.
Know and Respect Wildlife
Colorado is home to a variety of wildlife, including bears, mountain lions and elk. Familiarize yourself with the wildlife in the area you're hiking and know how to react if you encounter them. Keep a safe distance, never feed wildlife and store food securely to avoid attracting animals.
Leave No Trace
Colorado's natural beauty is precious, so practice Leave No Trace principles while hiking. Pack out all your trash, stay on designated trails and respect any regulations or guidelines set by the park or wilderness area you're visiting.
Be Prepared with Navigation and Emergency Essentials
Carry a detailed map, compass or GPS device to ensure you stay on the right path. Familiarize yourself with the trail route before setting out. Additionally, pack a first aid kit, whistle, headlamp, extra batteries and a fully charged phone for emergencies.
Remember, these tips are general guidelines, and it's essential to research specific trails and conditions before embarking on your hikes.
Need to Know
For more travel tips, check out Fora Advisor Awilda Rivera's guide, 3-Day Itinerary for Exploring Colorado in September.
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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to Colorado.