Badass Hikes in Colorado

This great state is home to the southern half of the Rocky Mountains, the Continental Divide, Rocky Mountain National Park, and thousands of miles of steep, stunning hiking trails. Fill up your water bottle, lace up the boots, and hit one of these badass constitutionals.

The Incline, Colorado, USA
The description may sound daunting: a 2,000-vertical-foot gain in less than a mile. OK, it is a little daunting—but the trick is to take your time. This nearly mile-long wooden stairway was converted from a funicular railway that washed out in a rock slide in 1990. Averaging a 24-degree slope, it has a few “false summits,” where it looks like you’re about to get to the top only to discover there’s still more to go. The reward for this effort is an incredible view looking out from the foothills over Colorado Springs. Up for the speed challenge? The current record was set on Sept. 25, 2015, by U.S. mountain-running team member Joseph Gray, who did it in 17 minutes, 45 seconds. Good luck.
52068 W Fork Rd #38, Dolores, CO 81323, USA
Among the most lauded hotel openings in recent years, Dunton Hot Springs is a glitterati mainstay, with its batch of former mining community cabins that look straight out of a Ralph Lauren catalogue. You don’t have to book a pricey stay at this Relais & Chateaux property to be part of the experience, however—the spa is open to the public. Make an appointment for the indulgent, only-in-Colorado Dolores hot-stone massage, which uses heated stones culled from the Dolores River to work out your kinks. Then, take a soak in the on-site sulfuric hot springs, which were once a restorative playground for the Ute Indians.
Driving up Independence Pass is a beautiful way to spend the afternoon and along the way to the top of this 12,096’ pass you can stop at highlights. For the thrill seekers, near the Grottos there is a series of waterfalls that flow into a crystal clear pool of mountain river water called the Devil’s Punch Bowl. People jump from 20 foot cliffs into borderline hypothermic cold water that takes your breath away when you hit it. Make sure you jump out far enough so you don’t hit the jutting rock bed on the way down. Some might think it is crazy but it is the ultimate adrenaline rush.
Rio Grande Trail
My morning routine in Aspen always starts with a run along the Rio Grande Trail. The trail is easily accessed from downtown and stretches 41 miles between Aspen and Glenwood Springs with an elevation change of 2,120 feet. It used to be an old railroad corridor before it was converted into a mostly paved trail for cyclists in 2008. I start my run in Aspen and run out and back for about six miles. That stretch of the trail takes you past the Aspen Art Museum (which is moving locations in 2014), the John Denver Sanctuary, and stunning homes nestled along the river and up in the mountains. In July and August the wildflowers pop with color and if you leave early enough there’s a good chance you’ll spot deer, chipmunks, and other wildlife.
Piney Lake, Colorado, USA
The Upper Piney trail is about a 12-mile roundtrip hike through aspen and evergreen trees. You can cut it in half by turning around at the picturesque waterfall about 3 miles in. Beyond the falls the trail gets steeper the closer you get to Upper Piney Lake.
Twin Lakes, CO 81251, USA
The highest peak in the Rocky Mountains (and east of the Continental Divide) is also the second-highest peak in the lower 48 after Mount Whitney in California. The easiest way up is via the 5.5-mile South Elbert Trail, which climbs 4,600 feet from the Shore Pretty Overlook above Twin Lakes in the Arkansas Valley. The first 1.8 miles of the trail is along a 4x4 road and can be driven if your vehicle is capable. From there you’re nearly at tree line, and the trail gains the eastern ridge to the summit. This hike takes most of the day—but the Forest Service advises getting off the summit by noon to avoid thunderstorms—so get an early start (predawn) and pack a lunch, water, and appropriate gear.
1398 Longs Peak Road
Colorado has more “fourteeners”—mountain peaks higher than 14,000 feet—than any other state (53, compared to No. 2, Alaska, with 29). The northernmost of those Rocky Mountains giants is also one of the most popular, mostly since it’s so easy to see from the lowlands. A prominent diamond shape sits below the summit and is a favorite rock-climbing wall. But those keen to hike it usually start in the dark hours of the early morning to tackle the standard 8.4-mile Keyhole route. The trail starts at 9,400 feet and gains more than 5,000 feet. Around 11,000 feet, the trees thin out and the view down the slope appears, as does a nice look at the distinctive diamond face. The trail continues around a subpeak called Mount Lady Washington, and into the boulder field that leads up to the namesake Keyhole—the gateway to the last push to the summit.
Sunshine Canyon Drive
Starting from where Mapleton Avenue transitions into Sunshine Canyon, this beautiful ridgeline trail runs 1.3 miles up the southern spine, gaining nearly 1,200 feet to the 6,800-foot summit of Mount Sanitas. This is a moderately difficult trail, but it has a number of level spots that make for nice places to rest. And since it follows the ridgeline, it almost always has a great view overlooking the town of Boulder and out to Denver, especially once on the summit. For a gentler stroll, hit the wide Sanitas Valley Trail or cruise along the lower, but also scenic, Dakota Ridge trail, all accessed from the same parking lot.
Boulder, CO 80302, USA
Starting from the historic Chautauqua Park Ranger Station located on the southwest side of Boulder, the most direct route to this popular overlook and geologic feature is 1.6 miles with a nearly 1,300-foot vertical gain. Out of the parking lot the route starts on a gentle climb on a well-maintained trail across the slopey grasslands and into the shaded ponderosa pine forest. Once above the lower loops, the trail narrows some but is clear and well-marked with signs. Then the true vertical gain begins, with a mix of switchbacks and stone steps. Don’t be fooled by the crest over the eastern ridge coming down from Green Mountain. The trail dips about 150 vertical feet before starting the final climb to the arch.
Bear Creek Falls Trail, Colorado 81426, USA
For a simple day hike suitable for the whole family, head to the end of South Pine Street in Telluride and jump onto the Bear Creek Trail, a 2.5-mile path that leads to a jaw-dropping waterfall. The popular trail is as easygoing as the Telluride locals (read: it’s wide and well-marked), and gains about 1,000 feet of elevation, offering views of town along the way. Those keen to go farther won’t regret continuing on to where the path connects with the Wasatch Trail and Bridal Veil Basin.
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