With over 300 annual days of sunshine, and blue skies nearly year-round, Denver is an ideal city for anyone who enjoys spending a bit of time outdoors. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker, or someone who would prefer a casual stroll, you don’t have to get up into the mountains to enjoy the great outdoors. Here are five of the best easy-to-moderate hiking trails in or near the Denver Metro area:
1. Castlewood Canyon – The Eastern Preservation Loop Trail
Location: Castlewood Canyon State Park (East Entrance), near the town of Franktown
There is a small fee to enter Castlewood Canyon State Park ($7/vehicle/day, with seasonal or annual passes available if you choose to hike there often), but the views, trails, and wildlife in the Canyon make the fee a small price to pay! The Eastern Preservation trail is a 4 mile loop accessible from the East Entrance of the Park, which takes the hiker from the Canyon rim, down into the Canyon itself, out to the grasslands, and up again. This trail is unique in the area as it offers a glimpse of every ecosystem the Park has to offer. Before starting on the trail, the hiker can stop by the Visitor Center to pick up a list of wildflowers, bird life, or reptile life to keep an eye out for along the way. Since the trail is one of the lesser-traveled of the Park, it provides the perfect opportunity to get away from the hustle-and-bustle of the city. Because of the delicate environments which the trail passes through, this is one of the few trails in the Park on which dogs are not allowed. The length of the loop, fact that the trail markers are not always maintained, and the changes in elevation make this a moderate-level hike.
2. Castlewood Canyon – The Lucas Homestead Trail
Location: Castlewood Canyon State Park (West Entrance), near the town of Franktown
Off Castlewood Canyon State Park’s other entrance, the Lucas Homestead Trail provides a short and easy hike, notable for the view into Colorado history it offers. Instantly visible to the hiker is the concrete skeleton of the old Lucas house, and a trail winds its way through the remnants of homestead life. Bring your smart phone for this hike – there is a scannable QR code at the trailhead which will direct you to a self-guided tour of the area, pointing out things which are harder to see than the house, but no less interesting: the location of the Lucas family’s spring house and the boundaries of the old orchard, for instance. This trail is a “must” for anyone interested in frontier life, Colorado history, or homesteading! The short nature of the trail also makes it easy to fit in a visit between other, longer, trails if you have dedicated a whole day to exploring the Canyon. Dogs are permitted on leash.
3. Castle Rock Trail
Location: Castle Rock
If you’re looking at homes for sale in Castle Rock, you’ll recognize the instantly iconic rock formation for which the town was named. The Rock sits atop a large hill, reigning over what is called “Rock Park”, with a small parking lot accessible just off of Front Street. Castle Rock Trailhead begins a roughly 1.4 mile loop which takes the hiker zigzagging up the rocky hill and right up to the base of Castle Rock. Though there were once stairs leading up to the top of the Rock itself, they have since been removed and climbing the Rock is discouraged. However, the base of the Rock provides a clear view in all directions of the town of Castle Rock, and there are benches and picnic tables available for hikers to sit down and drink in the views, or their bottled water. During the spring the Rock swallows who build their nests in the Rock frequent the area, and the views of fall foliage in the autumn are stunning. Dogs are permitted on leash. The elevation increase can be difficult, and there is some scrambling over rocks necessary – not recommended for those afraid of heights!
4. Devil’s Head Lookout Trail to Fire Tower
Location: near the town of Sedalia
Not far from Castle Rock sits the small town of Sedalia, and the large granite formation known as “Devil’s Head”. There are several trails which traverse the mountainous structure, but the Fire Tower trail is an area favorite. The trail runs about 1.4 miles each way, bringing the back-and-forth trip to roughly 2.7 miles, shaded most of the way by the surrounding forest. The main attraction of the trail is the titular Fire Tower, which is currently the only working fire tower in Colorado. From the tower (reached by 143 steps at the end of the trail) the hiker can see for leagues in every direction. The trail is particularly popular in the summer for wildflowers, and in the autumn for the changing of the aspen leaves. Dogs are welcomed on leash. There are many shady benches and rocks available along the trail where the hungry hiker can stop for a snack or picnic. Between November and March, the road leading to the trailhead may be closed due to snow, not advisable to visit during winter months.
5. Paradise Cove
Location: near the town of Florissant
Though this hike is a further out from Denver than some of the others listed, it is a trail well worth the trip! An easy half-mile hike from the trailhead leads to a swimming hole walled in by beautiful granite cliffs. The water is cold year-round, and perfect for a dip on a hot Colorado afternoon. While the cliffs are often used for jumping and diving by the daredevil sort, the water is accessible without taking such adventurous measures. Hiking up to the swimming hole provides a glimpse at a variety of Colorado wildflowers, and dogs are permitted on-leash. Paradise Cove provides the ideal location for a summer picnic, or quick interlude if you have a day of other activities in the area. Glass bottles are NOT allowed at the swimming hole, though if you make the hike early in summer you may see evidence of newly freed high-schoolers using the Cove as a party spot.
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