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How to Be an Eco-Conscious Hiker in Colorado

Sponsored by Visit Colorado

May 6, 2020

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With park-filled cities and wilderness everywhere, Colorado makes it easy to experience the outdoors. Here’s how to care like a local.

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After a long, satisfying hike, you reach the summit of a mountain and gaze out at snow-capped peaks that stretch off into the distance. Despite the elevation, this spectacular sight isn’t from the top of one of Colorado’s famous “14ers,” or 14,000-foot-plus mountains. It’s from a “13er”—equally spectacular mountains that are often less crowded. (You’ll also find more of them—a whopping 637—far more than any other state!).

Taking the trail less traveled not only brings the thrill of discovery to your journey—it’s good for the planet. And Colorado boasts tons of stunning spots off the beaten path that make for a magical visit. Here’s how to hike, trail run, and appreciate the wilderness in a way that can help protect it for generations to come.

Hike Right
There’s actually a very simple way to go hiking in an environmentally conscious way: Stick to the trails. These pathways are cleared and created after a lot of thought and planning about the effect they will have on the landscape and wildlife. Veering off the trails may seem harmless, but it can do serious and potentially long-lasting damage to vegetation, soil, and animal habitats.

By following the defined trails—even when it means splashing through the occasional puddle or missing out on the perfect photograph—you’ll be doing your part to reduce your impact and preserve these spaces for others to enjoy.

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It also means leaving things as you found them. Yes, Colorado has 750 (!) species of wildflowers, which can stay gorgeous…if they’re left alone. It’s the same with wildlife (though there are tens of thousands of those species!). Don’t approach them, don’t feed them, and if you’re traveling with your dog, keep Fido leashed.

Other tips: If you pack it in, pack it out (hint: reusable water bottles help you limit waste), and while you’re hiking, yield to uphill hikers and bikers, since they’re the ones who need the momentum. Also, be careful with fire; it can spread easily if left unattended. And remember that this is a great opportunity to disconnect digitally and connect with nature instead!

Doing the Research
Colorado offers endless opportunities to enjoy these trails, whether you’re looking for an easy day hike or a challenging, multi-day backpacking adventure. In fact, the state boasts a whopping 38,000 miles of trails that make it easy to enjoy everything from famous areas to lesser-known gems. Download the Colorado Trail Explorer app or use a site like AllTrails.com to search for the perfect hike, and make sure that your chosen trail is open before you go. (Bonus tip: If you love to mountain bike, use the trails info when visiting Gunnison County, where all 750 miles of single-track trails are mapped.)

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You’ll even find great parks in or close to major cities like Denver, Fort Collins, and Colorado Springs. From there, it won’t take long to get out into the wilderness, where you can explore four awe-inspiring national parks, 11 national forests, alpine lakes, wildlife (like bald eagles, moose, and bighorn sheep), and much more.

Visiting Smart Sites
Some places are so beautiful that they’ve become Instagram stars. Two examples: iconic twin peaks near Aspen that reflect off a mountain lake, known as Maroon Bells; and the otherworldly Hanging Lake, just east of Glenwood Springs, into which wispy waterfalls tumble off cliffs. They’re gorgeous—and popular—so they’ve pioneered an innovative time-entry system for visitors, which not only enhances the experience but also helps keep the landscape pristine. It’s a true win-win.

And wilderness areas aren’t alone in taking steps to preserve their lands. You’ll find examples all over the state, like the C Lazy U Ranch in Granby, which has partnered with the Nature Conservancy to create protected lands in perpetuity. Another forward thinker: the town of Breckenridge, which has invested more than $22 million in protecting land from development since the inception of its Open Space and Trails program. Here in Colorado, everyone works to help protect the stunning landscape. It’s just part of the magical Colorado experience.

Discover other ways to minimize your impact while enjoying the gorgeous outdoors at Colorado.com!

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