As summer heats up, locals and tourists flock to the Colorado mountains to take in their natural splendor. While we love the high regard held for our state, the top postcard views receive a high level of traffic that can make a serene weekend adventure feel a little cramped. So if you've seen the greatest hits, here are some hidden tracks that will level up your Colorado local credentials and help avoid the crowds:
Maroon Bells may be Colorado's most photographed location, but Aspen has a lot more views to offer! Cathedral and American Lake are two of the most picturesque high alpine likes in the state. A beautiful drive up Castle Creek Road to access their trailheads is worthy in and of itself. These hikes are indeed challenging with steady inclines and altitude gains, but the reward is definitely worth it! For those that would like a more leisurely hike closer to town, Hunter Creek trail is a great alternative. Featuring its namesake flowing creek, wildflowers, aspen forest and beautiful views of the town, the lower portions of this trail are popular but provides wonderful solitude the further you venture.
Located past Georgetown but before reaching the Continental Divide, this amazing hike is easily accessible up I-70 just a hour drive from Denver. A local insider favorite, this hike is one of the best wildflower hikes near the city. The 6.4 mile round trip is only moderately difficult with the steepest eleveation gains found towards the start. After that, it is relatively smooth sailing along a fantastic creek side trail which opens up to a lush mountain meadow complete with a lake and beautiful views of Pettingell Peak. Be sure to be prepared for sudden changes in weather, especially in the afternoon.
Located in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, the trail up to Mirror Lake and its spire like peak is one of the most scenic in the state. It's most easily accessed by the Monarch Lake trailhead at the end of Lake Granby. The trail follows Cascade Creek where you'll encounter the flowing Cascade Falls 4.5 miles in. For those game enough for a full day hike or an overnight backpacking trip, the additional 3 miles to Mirror Lake is more than worth the reward. This hike is a rare gem that features diverse Colorado landscapes. While popular and a reservation is required to camp, there rarely is any trouble finding parking and plenty of available solitude.
There are several "Lost Lakes" in Colorado, but this one outside of Buena Vista is a hidden gem. The trailhead is unmarked but located off the side of Cottonwood Pass. Once found, the relatively easy and short hike yields maximum views for relatively minimum effort. The short 1.3 mile trip each way leads you to the namesake lake featuring an island in the middle. A great warm up hike for beginners, more adventurous hikers can continue climbing up the surrounding summits to enjoy further vistas.
Not for the faint of heart when it come to heights, this awesome hike located in the flat tops wilderness area features a narrow land bridge along the flat top peaks known as The Chinese Wall. The bridge and its peak produce dramatic vistas flanked by 80ft cliffs and 800ft slopes into the valley below. Outside of the narrow bridge, the elevation gain and terrain are only moderately challenging and doable for most experienced hikers. Actually crossing the bridge is optional!
Back in the metro area, trekking around Red Rocks and Chautauqua park in Boulder is a well known past time. South of Denver is another great sandstone formation to explore that over gets overshadowed. With close to 4000-acres, Roxborough State Park is filled with dramatic red-rock formations, distinct plant communities, and a variety of wildlife. The best part it's only a 45min drive from Denver!