Easy, medium and hard day hikes from Colorado’s Front Range cities

Ah, summer. Extra hours of sunlight and warm temperatures bring a renewed energy to get out and explore. If you’re feeling like a lot of us are this summer — a bit more adventurous after two years of curtailed outings — you may be resolved to hit up local gems on as many weekends as you can.

We applaud you.

So much so, in fact, we’ve compiled a list of some of our favorite Front Range day hikes. They’re all close enough that you can get out, hike and get back home in time to make or grab dinner. Each is special in its own ways — and we’ve noted a few reasons we like each trail.

Note: We’ve included the total mileage for each trail, from start to finish. However, many of these options are out-and-backs, leaving lots of wiggle room for shorter versions depending on how your and your hiking buddies are feeling on any given day.

Easy Front Range hikes

Dinosaur Ridge

You may think of Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison as just a music venue, but get there for sunrise one day and you’ll change your mind. After you witness the beautiful golden and red hues warm up the day, head to the Dinosaur Ridge trail. It’s a great hike to ease into the season — which is why it’s our trail season kick-off suggestion — with moderate enough terrain you can bring the whole family along.

  • 4 miles
  • Drive from Denver: 30 minutes
  • Family friendly
  • Dog friendly

Horsetooth Reservoir

There are a few trails that lead to Horsetooth Reservoir near Fort Collins, but we recommend the family-friendly ease of the Shoreline Trail. Its wildflower game is on point, and you can bring your dog if you keep it on a leash. Besides hiking, you can also rent paddle boards, and Fort Collins is a cool town to grab a bite to eat in before or after your outing. Or, pick up a ride from a shared bike service and go brewhouse hopping.

  • 1.3 miles
  • Drive from Denver: 75 minutes
  • Family friendly
  • Dog friendly

Paint Mines Interpretive Park

Located near Calhan northeast of Colorado Springs, this route is heavily trafficked but is not nearly as popular as the Incline in Manitou Springs. Although you can’t bring your pet, you can admire the amazing, colorful clays that Native Americans used as paint, and geological formations like spires and hoodoos that look their best at sunset or sunrise. Fun fact: It’s believed the earliest occupation here was about 9,000 years ago.

  • 3.4 miles
  • Drive from Denver: 90 minutes
  • Family friendly
  • History

Mule Creek Trail

This trail near Woodland Park is great on a hot summer day, and especially attractive if you have four-legged friends and young children in tow. The trail follows lovely Mule Creek the majority of the way, providing plenty of opportunities to dip tiny toes in the refreshing flow. It’s an out-and-back hike, so if you (or your toddler) have seen enough, simply turn around and head back to your car. And there are plenty of opportunities for other stops / short hikes along the drive.

  • 6 miles
  • Drive from Denver: 100 minutes
  • Family friendly
  • Dog friendly

Medium-difficulty Front Range hikes

Mount Morrison

Although on the spicier side (it’s pretty much straight up, then straight down), a summit of Mount Morrison is well worth the effort. Some may even describe it as fun. It’s not heavily trafficked, and you end up with a front-row seat to a view of pretty much the whole metro Denver area. If you time it right, you can have your climb serenaded by whatever concert is playing at Red Rocks Amphitheater which sits just below you.

  • 4 miles
  • Drive from Denver: 45 minutes
  • Dog friendly
  • Great views
  • Music

Silver Dollar Lake Trail

You can’t go wrong with this hike above Georgetown in any season (fall is gorgeous), but summer is the ideal time to go in order to make it to the lakes. You’ll reach Silver Dollar Lake first, but if you’re feeling frisky continue up (literally) the trail to Murray Lake. It’s a challenge but you’re greeted with glorious views of the valley. And hey, it’s all downhill on the way home! Whatever you do, do it early — parking lots fill up by 9:30 a.m. on weekends.

  • 4 Miles
  • Drive from Denver: 55 minutes
  • Family friendly
  • Dog friendly
  • Great views
  • Wildflowers

Mary’s Mountain

If you’re looking to escape urban or suburban life for the day, this trail is a must, even if you don’t hike the entire length. Located just outside the cute foothills town of Manitou Springs, this trail is a great way to see several of nature’s favorite attractions at once: beautiful wildflowers, mountain streams, interesting rock formations and aspen groves (with golden leaves in fall). You’ll start on Barr Trail, but once you leave this well-known route you’re unlikely to see other hikers. When you’re done, be sure to stop by the eclectic downtown to experience the arts and culture scene before heading home.

  • 10.9 miles
  • Drive from Denver: 75 minutes
  • Dog friendly
  • Wildflowers

Shelf Lake

Shelf Lake near Silver Plume is one of the best places to see glorious early-season flowers, but it is off the beaten path. If you don’t want to park before the road the trailhead is on and hike up (adding a few miles to your trip), you’ll need a high clearance four-wheel-drive vehicle or the confidence/connections to hitch a ride with someone who does. The added challenge pays off though with beautiful views and a magical (albeit a little chilly) mountain lake at the end.

  • 6.8 miles
  • Drive from Denver: 90 minutes
  • Dog friendly
  • Great views
  • Lake

Hard Front Range hikes

Mount Parnassus via Watrous Gulch

This trail is a great way to get a 13er under your belt this summer. It treats you to insanely beautiful views of the Front Range, but the trade-off is a pretty challenging final mile. We suggest heading out early in the day to avoid thunderstorms up high, and bring an extra layer for the cool winds at the top. An early morning start has its perks – you have prime pick of parking in a nice big lot and time to enjoy some road-trip coffee before you embark on your trek.

  • 6.7 miles
  • Drive from Denver: 1 hour
  • Dog friendly
  • Great views

Herman Gulch

Maybe one of the most gorgeous hikes that’s just an hour away from Denver, you’re guaranteed colorful wildflower scenery any time between June and October, but usually peaking in July. Although steep at times, the punishment doesn’t last long, and the break at the end by the lake will rejuvenate you in no time. This is another hike where an early start is best (to avoid storms and traffic on I-70 as you drive toward Silver Plume), and you may want to take your trekking poles for the journey back to the car due to the steep descent.

  • 7.2 miles
  • Drive from Denver: 1 hour
  • Dog friendly
  • Great views
  • Lake

Chasm Lake

With a parking lot perched just outside of Rocky Mountain National Park, Chasm Lake makes a great, free ice rink in winter. Come summer, you’re treated to lush tree cover for the first couple of miles, then a challenging yet satisfying scramble up to the lake. To take your mind off the ascent, look out for Peacock Pool and other small water features on the way up, and know that a stunning view of Longs Peak awaits. This is another hike that’s best to tackle early in the morning during summer to reduce the chance you’ll be caught in an afternoon thunderstorm (and to make it easier to find parking). Take a windbreaker no matter the forecast; the wind doesn’t mess around here.

  • 9.4 miles
  • Drive from Denver: 90 minutes
  • Great views
  • Lake

Gore Lake

We started this list of hikes with a great trail for easing into the season (Dinosaur Ridge). Think of the hike to Gore Lake as the celebratory fireworks to a season of hiking. Clocking in around six hours to complete, it’s tailored for the seasoned hiker. If you’re in it to win it, you can find picturesque Gore Lake at the end and maybe some mountain goats to share lunch with as well. If you don’t make it that far, no worries! You’re still privy to some beautiful scenery in the first few miles. Pro tip: Go on a weekday, or early, to avoid traffic on the trail.

  • 12.5 miles
  • Drive from Denver: 90 mins
  • Dog friendly
  • Great views
  • Lake

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