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. While Colorado’s famous “14ers,” or 14,000-foot-plus mountains offer spectacular views, the state’s abundance of “13ers” are equally spectacular and are often less crowded. You’ll also find more of them here—a whopping 637—far more than any other state. The 13,233-foot Belleview Mountain in Snowmass is one of these grand experiences.
Whichever 13er you choose, you’ll want to check trail conditions before heading out as part of their under-the-radar appeal means not all 13ers are as developed as 14ers. Read trail descriptions and reviews to research the technical nature of your destination—some may require route finding while others may have hazards to avoid.
Another local tip is avoiding peaks and other attractions at peak times. Taking the trail less traveled not only brings the thrill of discovery to your journey—it’s good for the planet. In Colorado, the local attitude is all about finding ways to be sustainable and follow the “Care for Colorado Leave No Trace” principles in nature. 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.
There’s actually a very simple way to Do Colorado Right and 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.
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 (COTREX) app to search for the perfect hike, and make sure that your chosen trail is open before you go.
If you love to mountain bike, use the trails info when visiting Gunnison County, where all 750 miles of single-track trails are mapped. And when you’re out on the trail there, you can also track just how much you’re reducing your carbon footprint with CBGTrails. This new program, unique to the Gunnison Valley, shows how riding, hiking, or running offsets the environmental impact of travel by using the easy and free CBGTrails app. For every carbon-free mile reported, there will be an offset of 22 pounds of carbon. Download CBGTrails to get started!
There’s no shortage of ways to go green by going outside in this Western wonderland. 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, with the chance to see wildlife like bald eagles, moose, bighorn sheep, and much more. (Pro tip: Keep wildlife wild by avoiding interactions with the animals you encounter.)
Do it for more than the ‘gram
Among the state’s Instagram-worthy locations, Rocky Mountain National Park, Maroon Bells and the otherworldly Hanging Lake, just east of Glenwood Springs, are not just absolutely gorgeous, they’re also popular (as you might know if you’ve ever spotted the Keep Colorado Wild geo-tag). To visit Maroon Bells and Hanging Lake, you’ll need a reservation or a permit. The innovative time-entry system has been a good way to mitigate crowds, but the real way to Do Colorado Right is to find your own “wow,” off-the-beaten-path moments, which haven’t already made the social media rounds. The true Colorado experience is filled with these jaw-dropping views away from the crowds.
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 guest ranch in Granby, which partnered with The Nature Conservancy to protect its wetlands and wildlife for the long run. Another forward thinker: the town of Breckenridge, which introduced a 0.5 percent sales tax in 1997 dedicated to protecting land for its successful Open Space and Trails program. Seeing Colorado like a local is about sustainability and low-impact travel year-round. Doing the right thing is just part of the magical Colorado experience.
Discover other ways to minimize your impact while enjoying the gorgeous outdoors at Colorado.com!