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Trail Guide: 10 Best Hikes Near Denver

Denver, Colorado was my home base for over two years before I moved over to the Western Slope. During that time I became intimately familiar with the best hiking that the Front Range has to offer, so I decided to compile the top 10 hikes within 90 minutes of Denver!

While Denver proper has a number of trails and parks to explore, the city is in the plains, which means everything is relatively flat. You have to drive at least 30 minutes to the foothills in order to find a hike with any significant elevation gain, and if you want a true mountain hiking experience, plan to drive at least an hour.

Sunrise over Chicago Lakes in Colorado.

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The list below contains 10 carefully curated hikes for the best scenic views you can find less than 90 minutes away from Downtown Denver! Whether you’re a local or just visiting, they’re all sure to take your breath away (if the elevation hasn’t already!).

*Note: The distance from Denver is measured from the Colorado capitol building to the trailhead with NO traffic. Weekend or mid-day traffic can easily add 30-60+ minutes of driving time. If you’re heading out on a weekend during the summer I highly recommend getting out the door before 6:00 am, otherwise you may not find parking at the trailhead!

Recreate Responsibly

All of these hikes near Denver are located on public lands that have seen an increased number of visitors over the past few years. Please be considerate of your impact on the land and be sure to follow Leave No Trace principles!

  1. Plan ahead and prepare.
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
  3. Dispose of waste properly.
  4. Leave what you find.
  5. Minimize campfire impacts.
  6. Respect wildlife.
  7. Be considerate of others.

The Top 10 Hikes Within 90 Minutes of Denver

1. Herman Gulch

With a trailhead located right off I-70 past the tiny town of Silver Plume, Herman Gulch is a great option for folks looking for mountain views and an easy drive. Herman Gulch is one of the best dog-friendly hikes in Colorado with epic views and water for dogs to splash around in.

Black dog sits on the trail in Herman Gulch, Colorado.
Becket enjoying Herman Gulch.

The trail is a moderately difficult climb that eventually takes you up above tree-line to a gorgeous alpine lake. Wildflowers along the trail typically peak in mid to late July, but the exact timing depends upon the quality of the snowpack the previous winter. I last hiked the trail in drought conditions, so a lot of the wildflowers were already looking pretty crispy by the second week of July.

Columbines blooming along the trail to Herman Gulch in Colorado.
Columbines were blooming early on July 8, 2018 after a bad snowpack year.

Location: Arapaho National Forest 

Distance from Denver: 54 miles; 59 minutes

Distance: 7 miles out-and-back

Elevation Gain: 1,781 ft.

Difficulty (1-10): 7

AllTrails Link

2. Mt. Sanitas

If you’re looking for a solid after-work hike near Denver, look no further than Mt. Sanitas. Rush hour traffic typically isn’t bad traveling from Denver to Boulder, and by the time you head back home major traffic has died down.

Woman in pink tank top with a black dog on the summit of Mt. Sanitas in Boulder, Colorado.
The summit of Mt. Sanitas.

There are 2 routes to the summit of Mt. Sanitas- a steep trail up the backside of the mountain, or a longer hike through Sanitas Valley before a slightly easier climb up the frontside.

I recommend doing the hike as a loop up the East Ridge Trail and down the Sanitas Valley Trail for a great workout that’s easy on the knees. Be sure to keep an eye out for elk in Sanitas Valley!

Location: Boulder, Colorado

Distance from Denver: 29 miles; 37 minutes

Distance: 3.2 miles

Elevation Gain: 1,256 ft.

Difficulty (1-10): 6.5

AllTrails Link

3. St. Mary’s Glacier

St. Mary’s Glacier is a short hike with big rewards making it great for families with young kids. You can spend time exploring around the lake or continue along the trail to the “glacier” (actually a semi-permanent snowfield) and play in the snow.

Black dog hiking St. Mary's Glacier in Colorado.
Becket enjoying the cool mountain air.

If you’re looking for a bigger adventure, then follow the trail up and beyond the snowfield and continue to the summit of James Peak.

Location: Arapaho National Forest (near Idaho Springs, Colorado)

Distance from Denver: 44 miles; 57 minutes

Distance: 1.9 miles out-and-back

Elevation Gain: 807 ft.

Difficulty (1-10): 3.5

Trailhead Fee: Update for 2023- $20

AllTrails Link

4. Royal Arch

If you’re looking for a little taste of Utah without leaving the Front Range, head on over to Boulder to hike Royal Arch. This is one of the best hikes near Denver thanks to its easy accessibility, unique rock formations, and breathtaking views of downtown Boulder.

Black dog in front of Royal Arch in Boulder, Colorado.

The hike up to Royal Arch begins at the Chautauqua Trailhead in Boulder. The trail is well marked and weaves through the forest, before a steep climb that takes you up to the arch. The trail is accessible year-round, but be sure to carry microspikes if hiking during winter months!

Boulder flatirons.

Location: Boulder, Colorado

Distance from Denver: 28 miles; 33 minutes

Distance: 4 miles

Elevation Gain: 1,492 ft.

Difficulty (1-10): 5.5 

AllTrails Link

5. Lost Lake via Hessie Trail

There are a number of different hikes that begin at Hessie Trailhead, but if you’re looking for something easy and kid-friendly set your courses towards Lost Lake. You can loop around this scenic sub-alpine lake surrounded by stunning mountain views. If you’re looking for more of a challenge, then continue along the trail up to King Lake or Devil’s Thumb Lake.

Lost lake in Nederland, Colorado in the fall.

Be advised, parking at the trailhead fills up EARLY during the summer, but Boulder County offers a free shuttle to the trailhead. More information can be found here.

Location: Roosevelt National Forest. Nederland, Colorado

Distance from Denver: 49 miles; 1 hour 15 minutes

Distance: 4 miles out-and-back

Elevation Gain: 830 ft.

Difficulty (1-10): 3.5

AllTrails Link

6. Chicago Lakes

The hike to Chicago Lakes begins at the Echo Lake trailhead off CO-103 near Idaho Springs. The trail descends for about a mile before climbing through forest and past burn scar from the Reservoir Fire of 1978. The highlights of the hike are two scenic alpine lakes awaiting at the end.

If you’re looking for an extra adventure, continue on the trail beyond the upper lake and climb to the summit of Mount Blue Sky.

Location: Mount Blue Sky Wilderness Area

Distance from Denver: 45 miles; 58 minutes

Distance: 11.3 miles out-and-back

Elevation Gain: 3,330 ft.

Difficulty (1-10): 8.5

AllTrails Link

7. Blue Lake

Located within the Brainard Lake Recreation Area, Blue Lake provides classic Rocky Mountain views without the extra effort it takes to get to other popular alpine lakes. The trail climbs just under 1,000 ft. over 3 miles, so it’s not overly strenuous making it another great option for families.

Blue Lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness in Colorado.

Brainard Lake Recreation Area is a popular hiking destination during the summer and reservations are currently required to access the area. There are also countless other trails to hike in the area.

Location: Indian Peaks Wilderness Area

Distance from Denver: 55 miles; 1 hour 26 minutes

Distance: 6.2 miles out-and-back

Elevation Gain: 994 ft.

Difficulty (1-10): 6

Fee: There’s a $12 vehicle use fee for passenger vehicles for the Brainard Lake Recreation Area during the summer. America the Beautiful passes are also valid!

AllTrails Link

8. Crater Lakes

The Moffat Tunnel East Portal Trailhead has ample parking and is the starting point for a number of hikes in the James Peak Wilderness Area, which makes it a safe bet for a scenic weekend hike during the summer.

A woman and black dog stand in front of Crater Lake in the James Peak Wilderness Area.

The hike to Crater Lakes begins along the South Boulder Creek Trail. This section of trail is heavily trafficked, but once you make the turn towards Crater Lakes (which is well marked, so you can’t miss it!), the crowds thin out. 

Crater Lakes also makes a great destination for an easy overnight backpacking trip!

Location: James Peak Wilderness Area

Distance from Denver: 55 miles; 1 hour 24 minutes

Distance: 8.3 miles roundtrip 

Elevation Gain: 1,893 ft.

Difficulty (1-10): 6.5

AllTrails Link

9. Bear Peak

One last Boulder hike! If you’re looking to practice scrambling for tougher climbs and 14’ers without going too far from Denver, then head to Bear Peak.

Woman in pink tank top at the summit of Bear Peak in Boulder, Colorado.

There are a couple of routes to the summit, but the route I linked below takes you along Shadow Canyon Trail before your final ascent of Bear Peak. This is a difficult hike with a significant amount of elevation gain and a scramble to the summit. There are plenty of easier trails in the area if you’re looking for something more mellow.

Location: Boulder, Colorado

Distance from Denver: 28 miles; 37 minutes

Distance: 8.1 miles

Elevation Gain: 2,890 ft.

Difficulty (1-10): 9

AllTrails Link

10. Chief Mountain

If you’re looking for an easy sunset summit near Denver, this one’s for you! Located less than hour from the city and only 3.5 miles round-trip, Chief Mountain is one of the best hikes near Denver and perfect for a quick after-work adventure.

Woman in blue jacket stands on the summit of Chief Mountain in Evergreen, Colorado.

The trail begins at over 10,000 ft. in elevation and quickly climbs through the forest to the summit at 11,709 ft. with 360° views of the Front Range.

Location: Arapahoe National Forest

Distance from Denver: 36 miles; 50 minutes

Elevation Gain: 961 ft.

Distance: 3.1 miles

Difficulty (1-10): 4.5

AllTrails Link

Adventures Near Denver You May Enjoy:

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