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Being born and raised in South Florida means growing up without mountains, forests, and hiking trails... so when the husband and I took our first trip a few years back to Colorado and laid our eyes upon the majestic Rocky Mountains - it was love at first sight.
Ever since, Colorado has had a special place in my heart.. so much so that we've been back three times since our first trip there and have explored many corners of this enchanting and beautiful state.
On our last trip there we decided to explore the western side of Colorado. These are a few of our favorite best day hikes we explored during our time in Western Colorado.
All the hikes listed below are either short half-day or full-day hikes that are easy to moderate (depending on your hiking skill level) and offer beautiful scenery that shouldn't be missed when exploring the great outdoors of Western Colorado.
#8. Rainbow lake trailhead
Rainbow Lake Trail gets the number 8 spot on the list because it is literally a walk in the park (or woods...) lol. In other words, it's very easy and do-able for most adults and kids regardless of hiking experience. It's short, mostly flat, and leads to a nice lake with plenty of space to hang around and have a picnic.
We were spending a night in Frisco before heading on to our next stop so decided to do this quick hike while in the area. It was fall time so we were able to enjoy the beautiful sights of fall foliage but I am sure this place is also beautiful in the winter (albeit covered in snow) and summer months as well.
- definitely one of the easier hikes on this list - short and flat.
- beautiful fall colors during the months of fall
- great stop to stretch out your legs if you're on a long road trip
- dogs allowed!
- compared to other hikes it can be a bit underwhelming but it is still a nice spot to spend an hour, stretch out your legs, or get a quick hike in before moving on to another activity or hike in the area.
#7. Castle Rock Peak Via Elbert Creek Trail
If you want to feel like you're on top of the world, or on top of Durango at the very least, you should definitely check this hike out. The trail meanders through an Aspen forest, which looks beautiful in the fall when all the leaves are a golden-yellow, hikes up a beautiful valley through an open meadow, and finally reaches Castle Rock Peak which overlooks the town of Durango. This is a great place to have a snack or enjoy lunch before heading back down the same way you came in. Be extra careful with the kiddos up here and do not get super close to the cliff's edges!!
- Awesome fall foliage during autumn months because of the Aspen trees
- An abandoned cabin that makes for a great photo-op
- Beautiful open meadow in which you can catch a glimpse of wildlife
- Parking is limited - you'll have to find the Needles Country Store and then park on the south end near the horse corral.
- Depending on the time of year that you visit, there will be a creek crossing that can be challenging.
For more information on Castle Rock via Elbert Creek Trail, check this website out.
#6. Cascade Creek Trail
Cascade Creek Trail is a relatively easy to moderate trail that runs parallel to Cascade Creek. The hike takes you through beautiful aspen groves and pine forests. If you go during the fall as we did, take advantage of the beautiful fall foliage throughout this hike. At around 3 miles in, you'll find an outstanding waterfall. This is a great spot to have a picnic and then turn back around. The hike does continue for many more miles so keep that in mind if you decide to make this a longer hike.
There are two paths to this hike - the western route and the eastern route. The western route is the most recommended and the easier paths of the two but does require a creek crossing. If the water is low, crossing the creek is no big deal (we just stepped over rocks and didn't get wet) but if the water is high and rushing, it may be more difficult and dangerous.
For more detailed information about this hike, this article does a wonderful job of explaining the important details.
- Awesome fall foliage during autumn months
- beautiful waterfall at around 3 miles as a reward
- It is recommended that you park at around 3/4 of a mile before the main entrance (red gate) because the road becomes reallllly rocky and bumpy.
- If you are taking the western route - there is a creek crossing which depending on the time of year can be dangerous/more difficult to do.
#5. Rifle Falls State park
Our next stop on this list is Rifle Falls State Park - a 48-acre park featuring three hiking trails, beautiful lush vegetation surrounding an impressive triple-waterfall cascade, and awesome caves ready to be explored.
All three trails (Bobcat trail, Squirrel trail, and Coyote trail) provide access to the caves, the top of the falls and the creek but vary in distance (short, long, and longest) so make sure to research beforehand so that you can choose the trail that fits your needs for the day. You can find a breakdown of each hike on the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website.
- three wonderful hikes to choose from depending on your skill level and how long you want to hike for.
- a beautiful triple-waterfall cascade that is perfect for photo ops
- awesome fun caves that you can walk into and explore
- easy parking
- great place for camping!
- if you don't want to hike long and just want to see the falls, you can skip the trails and head to the base of the falls for a great photo op.
- tends to get busy on the weekends because of its popularity
#4. Saint Mary's Glacier
Located just an hour west of Denver, this hike is great for those who are visiting the mile-high city and don't want to wander too far. It is also a great spot to break up a long drive if you are heading west to a further town (that's what we did on our way to Frisco, Co).
- a relatively moderate but short hike (around 2 miles)
- beautiful lake and mountain views
- plenty of space to enjoy a picnic near the water
- dogs allowed
- easy parking but you do have to pay ($5 last time we were there)
- tends to get crowded especially on the weekends because of it's proximity to Denver, however, there is still plenty of space to roam.
- uphill rocky trail which can be a problem depending on your physical status.
#3. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
If you know my husband and me at all, then you know we loveeeee our national parks, so it's no surprise that we must add a national park hike to this list. We have actually been to all four of Colorado's national parks, but that's a post for another day. 😉
North rim vs south rim
As we only had half a day to explore the park - we had to choose between the North Rim or the South Rim entrance. It's very important to note that there is no direct access through the park and no connecting roads between rims, and each entrance is about 2 hours away from each other - so choosing the right entrance for your trip is imperative before heading out to the park.
The South rim is definitely the more popular of the two with many more viewpoints, facilities, and a bigger visitor center. If you only have one day to explore, and this is your first time in the area, I would go with the south rim entrance over the north.
You can learn more about the north and south rim, and other places to explore in the park by clicking HERE.
Warner Point Nature Trail
Since we didn't have much time to explore we opted to hike the Warner Point Nature Trail. If you don't have much time to explore this park, I think this is a great trail to explore to really get a feel for the magnitude and beauty of this place. There are plenty of benches along the way to sit down and take breaks. You'll enjoy views of mountain ranges, valleys, the Gunnison River, and Black Canyon.
This park has too many hiking trails to name but you can find a full list here, straight off of the NPS website.
There are also plenty of stops along the way where you can pull over, walk a bit and take in the vistas and views.
- So many wonderful hikes to choose from depending on how much or how little you want to hike!
- If you don't want to hike, there is plenty of driving to do and you can pull over in certain spots with minimal walking and take in the views.
- It's a national park! What more can I say?!
- If you only have one day to explore the area you'll have to pick and choose what you want to see because there is so much to do and see that one day just isn't enough.
#2. Hanging Lake
Another beautiful gem on the west side of Denver, this one, however, is around 2 hours and 45 minutes away from the city so I wouldn't recommend it as a day trip (I mean, unless you really wanna drive that long to and from).
We completed this hike on a previous trip when we were on our way to Moab, Utah - we stopped here along the way to break up the drive and witness the beauty of this lake.
You have probably heard about Hanging Lake or have seen pictures of it on Instagram - it is a super popular trail, and very much deserving of the attention it gets because the area is definitely dreamy.
However, due to the high demand for this trail, they have now implemented a permit and shuttle service requirement for the months of May through October - so make sure to research that ahead of time before heading out there if you are going during those months.
and please remember... no swimming in these precious waters!
- a moderate 3-mile hike, mostly uphill, that will get your heart pumping.
- beautiful rewarding vistas of the lake, mountains, and waterfalls once you reach the top
- there is a boardwalk and a few benches near the lake where one can sit and relax after the intense hike up. Bring lunch and enjoy the views, and remember to always pick up after yourself (and it doesn't hurt to pick up other's trash if you come across it, too).
- gets very crowded due to its popularity but now with the permit system that has been implemented there is probably better crowd control.
- uphill all the way - will definitely get your heart pumping!
#1. Ice Lakes Basin Trail
My favorite trail of them all on this list, and taking the number one spot is the Ice Lakes Basin Trail - one of the best and prettiest hikes I have ever done, and also in my experience, one of the hardest. Ice Lakes Basin trail is rated moderate to hard, depending on your hiking skill level. This is definitely a tough hike because it's essentially ALL uphill for about 3 to 3.5 miles until you reach Ice Lake. Some say Ice Lake is the bluest lake you'll ever see, and I might have to agree with that (yes, it might even beat out Crater Lake!)
If you are coming from below sea level (like us flatlanders) be prepared for a lot of breaks and a lot of shortness of breath as this hike is located upwards of 12,000 feet elevation - but it's worth every step.
- Outstanding mountain views everywhere
- The bluest lake you'll ever see (rivals Crater Lake)!
- Wildflowers during season
- Limited parking
- popular hike so does get crowded on weekends
There you have it.
Eight of the best day hikes in Western Colorado that you shouldn't miss out on!
Tell me, have you been to any of the hikes on this list? What other hikes in Western Colorado should we visit next time we're there? Drop a comment below.
*Remember, when planning any trip to always do plenty of research from multiple official government websites as information on hikes can change by the minute. Pay attention to weather conditions and always be prepared! The information provided by this website is based on our experience and purely for entertainment purposes only.
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