As temperatures gradually warm up and flowers peek through the snow, Coloradans know what time of year has arrived. No, not springtime: hiking time.
Snow-wary outdoorsmen are beginning to dig out their hiking boots again, ready to stretch their legs across the state’s many trails. But with all those options, it can sometimes be difficult to choose which trail to set out on, especially because of lingering snow.
We’ve got something to help with that.
A new Colorado guidebook, “Base Camp Denver: 101 Hikes in Colorado’s Front Range” (Imbrifex Books), comes out this month, and with it information on just over 100 day hikes. The author, Pete KJ, breaks down each hike, giving you details on every trail, including its difficulty, how kid-friendly it is and — crucial for this time of year — which season the trail is best for.
So using KJ’s breakdowns as a guide, we selected five hikes that are best done in spring, whether you’re looking to get in shape for the summer or just want to appreciate a trail’s solitude before the hoards of summer hikers can interrupt it.
All ratings out of 5.
|Trail difficulty:||****||Distance; time:||7 1/2 miles; 3 1/2 hours||Where:||Roosevelt National Forest|
|Children:||**||Trailhead elevation; hiking gain:||7,000 feet; 2,300 feet||Features:||Varied forest, steep ascent, panoramic mountain views, wildflowers|
|Solitude:||****||Best seasons:||Spring and fall||Notes:||No toilets at the trailhead. The trailhead and small parking lot are on the left of CR 43 while heading toward Glen Haven and are easy to miss, so look sharp.|
The hike is a great spring workout that’ll whip your legs into shape for the summer, KJ writes. It takes hikers through a secluded forest that offers views of the Twin Sisters, Meeker and Longs peaks, Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park. When you arrive, you’ll find a nondescript trailhead. After 2 miles on the trail, take a left at a junction to stay on the Crosier Mountain Glen Haven Trail, which will eventually take you through a dense area of narrow lodgepole pines. KJ warns that you’ll be heading down the mountain, and may think you missed the turnoff when the path turns upward for another junction where you go right to reach the Crosier Mountain summit.
|Trail difficulty:||**||Distance; time:||6 miles; 2 1/2 hours (out-and-back)||Where:||Roosevelt National Forest|
|Children:||****||Trailhead elevation; hiking gain:||8,300 feet; 1,000 feet||Features:||Forest, creek, rock scramble to views|
|Solitude:||**||Best seasons:||Spring and fall||Notes:||No toilets at trailhead|
This kid-friendly hike, which is often snow-free by April, is another great one to take if you want to get your legs ready for summer, KJ writes. When you reach Miller Rock, you can either shimmy up a chimney to the top or go around to the north side for an easier way. From there, you’ll get views of the plains, James Peak, the Indians, Mount Meeker, Longs Peak and the Mummies. Heads up: You’ll have walked on two unpaved roads by the time you hit the third mile.
|Trail difficulty:||**||Distance; time:||4 1/2 miles; 2 hours (a balloon loop)||Where:||Arapahoe National Forest|
|Children:||****||Trailhead elevation; hiking gain:||7,700 feet; 1,000 feet||Features:||Forest, creeks, small waterfalls, rock formations|
|Solitude:||**||Best seasons:||Spring and fall||Notes:||No toilets at trailhead. The parking lot is 3.6 miles down South Brook Forest Road. More parking is available farther down on the left.|
While trails at higher elevations are still covered in snow, KJ describes this one as ideal during the “cool, moist spring.” It’s a kid-friendly hike that will take you past small, gentle waterfalls. The big attraction of this hike is its deep-nature feel and tranquility, so KJ recommends avoiding it in the summer when it can be crowded. In just under a mile, you’ll run into a five-way junction that can confuse hikers. Ignore the left and right paths and go straight. If you are looking for a nice picnic spot, turn right on the Cliff Loop Trail, which will pop up after crossing a footbridge. Veer left after 100 yards, which takes you away from the stream, and head up a forested ridge where you’ll be greeted at the top with a nice view of Maxwell Creek’s valley. Finish the loop to get back on Maxwell Falls Trail.
|Trail difficulty:||***||Distance; time:||5 1/2 miles; 3 hours (out-and-back)||Where:||Pike National Forest|
|Children:||***||Trailhead elevation; hiking gain:||6,100 feet; 1,200 feet||Features:||River, forested hillside, views of craggy peaks and snowy mountains|
|Solitude:||****||Best seasons:||Fall, winter, spring||Notes:||Toilets at trailhead. The South Platte River Trailhead and its parking lot are on the right of CR 96 shortly after crossing the river.|
To get the most out of this hike’s solitude, KJ says hikers need to go during the off-season in late fall through early spring since it gets crowded in the summer with all the Colorado Trail hiking traffic. At the Gudy Gaskill Bridge parking area, head in the opposite direction of the red walls and make your way through the grassland. The trail will take you through dry-country vegetation, including prickly pears, yucca and juniper, until you hit ponderosa forest. Prepare for lots of switchbacks on this one. You can stop at the campsite along the trail for a nice view or keep going an additional 1 1/2 miles for a nice trek through a valley, around a hillside and into a forest. This hike might trick you into thinking you’re far from Denver but in actuality, it’s a great one that’s easy to do in a morning or afternoon.
|Trail difficulty:||***||Distance; time:||11 miles; 4 1/2 hours (out-and-back)||Where:||Dome Rock State Wildlife Area|
|Children:||**||Trailhead elevation; hiking gain:||8,800 feet; 1,400 feet||Features:||Creek, marsh, forest, rock formations, views of high peaks|
|Solitude:||****||Best seasons:||Spring and fall||Notes:||No entrance fee, no dogs, toilets at trailhead, trail begins at Dome Rock State Wildlife Area’s second parking area that is farther north|
“Few people ever lay eyes on Dome Rock,” KJ writes. It’s located in a “hike-if-you-are-in-the-know kind of place.” To get there, you take an unpretentious access road to a dirt parking lot. The trail is snow-free and takes you by a gushing creek in the spring, KJ says. The trail crisscrosses the creek but there is no bridge at the second ford. To avoid getting wet, take the rugged side trail before the first creek crossing and rejoin the main trail after the second crossing. Make sure to bring layers as different hillsides on the trail can fluctuate in temperature. Although you may be tempted to take the streamside trail to loop around Dome Rock, it’s closed until July 15 so bighorn sheep can lamb in peace — oh, and it also has five creek crossings. Instead, take the Cabin Creek Trail through a gated barbed-wire fence. You’ll hit a four-way junction where you should head left, taking the 4 Mile Overlook Trail, which will eventually give you a view of Dome Rock. The trail ends just half a mile further down. KJ says it’s worth it to finish out the trek for another view of Dome Rock that also features Pikes Peak.
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