The Top 10 Hikes Within 90 Minutes of Denver

colorado day hikes hiking Mar 27, 2021

Denver, Colorado was my home base for over two years before I moved over to the Western Slope. During that time I became intimately familiar with the best hiking that the Front Range has to offer, so I decided to compile some of my favorite trails!

While Denver proper has a number of trails and parks to explore, the city is in the plains, which means everything is relatively flat. You have to drive at least 30 minutes to the foothills in order to find a hike with any significant elevation gain, and if you want a true mountain hiking experience, plan to drive at least an hour.


The list below contains 10 carefully curated hikes for the best scenic views you can find less than 90 minutes away from Downtown Denver! Whether you’re a local or just visiting, they’re all sure to take your breath away (if the elevation hasn’t already!).

*Note: The distance from Denver is measured from the Colorado capitol building to the trailhead with NO traffic. Weekend or mid-day traffic can easily add 30-60+ minutes of driving time. If you’re heading out on a weekend during the summer I highly recommend getting out the door before 6:00 am, otherwise you may not find parking at the trailhead!

Tread Lightly

These hikes are all located on public lands that have seen an increased number of visitors over the past few years. Please be considerate of your impact on the land and be sure to follow Leave No Trace principles!

1. Herman Gulch

Located right off I-70 past the tiny town of Silver Plume, Herman Gulch is a great option for folks looking to get into the high country without a long drive.

 

The trail is a moderately difficult climb that eventually takes you up above tree-line to a gorgeous alpine lake. Wildflowers along the trail typically peak in mid to late July, but the exact timing depends upon the quality of the snowpack the previous winter. I last hiked the trail in drought conditions, so a lot of the wildflowers were already looking pretty crispy by the second week of July.


Columbines were blooming early on July 8, 2018 after a bad snowpack year.

Location: Arapaho National Forest 

Distance from Denver: 54 miles; 59 minutes

Distance: 7 miles out-and-back

Elevation Gain: 1,781 ft.

Difficulty (1-10): 7

AllTrails Link

2. Mt. Sanitas

If you’re looking for a solid after-work hike near Denver, look no further than Mt. Sanitas. Rush hour traffic typically isn’t bad traveling from Denver to Boulder, and by the time you head back home major traffic has died down.


There are 2 routes to the summit of Mt. Sanitas- a steep trail up the backside of the mountain, or a longer hike through Sanitas Valley before a slightly easier climb up the frontside.

I recommend doing the hike as a loop up the back and down the front for a great workout that’s easy on the knees. Be sure to keep an eye out for elk in Sanitas Valley!

Location: Boulder, Colorado

Distance from Denver: 29 miles; 37 minutes

Distance: 3.2 miles

Elevation Gain: 1,256 ft.

Difficulty (1-10): 6.5

AllTrails Link

3. St. Mary’s Glacier

St. Mary’s Glacier is a short hike with big rewards making it great for families with young kids. You can spend time exploring around the lake or continue along the trail to the “glacier” (actually a semi-permanent snowfield) and play in the snow.

If you’re looking for a bigger adventure, follow the trail up and beyond the snowfield to the summit of James Peak.


Location: Arapaho National Forest (near Idaho Springs, Colorado)

Distance from Denver: 44 miles; 57 minutes

Distance: 1.9 miles out-and-back

Elevation Gain: 807 ft.

Difficulty (1-10): 3.5

Trailhead Fee: $5

AllTrails Link

4. Royal Arch

If you’re looking for a little taste of Utah without leaving the Front Range, head on over to Boulder to hike Royal Arch.

The hike up to Royal Arch begins at the Chautauqua Trailhead in Boulder. The trail is well marked and weaves through the forest, before a steep climb that takes you up to the arch. The trail is accessible year-round, but be sure to carry microspikes if hiking during winter months!


Location: Boulder, Colorado

Distance from Denver: 28 miles; 33 minutes

Distance: 4 miles

Elevation Gain: 1,492 ft.

Difficulty (1-10): 5.5 

AllTrails Link

5. Lost Lake via Hessie Trail

There are a number of different hikes that begin at Hessie Trailhead, but if you’re looking for something easy and kid-friendly set your courses towards Lost Lake. If you’re looking for more of a challenge, then continue along the trail up to King Lake or Devil’s Thumb Lake.

Be advised, parking at the trailhead fills up EARLY during the summer, but Boulder County offers a free shuttle to the trailhead. More information can be found here.


Location: Roosevelt National Forest. Nederland, Colorado

Distance from Denver: 49 miles; 1 hour 15 minutes

Distance: 4 miles out-and-back

Elevation Gain: 830 ft.

Difficulty (1-10): 3.5

AllTrails Link

6. Chicago Lakes

The hike to Chicago Lakes begins at Echo Lake off CO-103 near Idaho Springs. The trail follows Chicago Creek and climbs through the forest before reaching two scenic alpine lakes. 

 

If you want an extra adventure, continue on the trail beyond the upper lake and climb up to meet the trail that leads to the summit of Mt. Evans.

Location: Mount Evans Wilderness Area

Distance from Denver: 45 miles; 58 minutes

Distance: 11.3 miles out-and-back

Elevation Gain: 3,330 ft.

Difficulty (1-10): 8.5

AllTrails Link

7. Blue Lake

Located within Brainard Lake Recreation Area, Blue Lake provides classic Rocky Mountain views without the extra effort it takes to get to other popular alpine lakes.


Brainard Lake is a popular destination during the summer and reservations are currently required to access the area.

Location: Indian Peaks Wilderness Area

Distance from Denver: 55 miles; 1 hour 26 minutes

Distance: 6.2 miles out-and-back

Elevation Gain: 994 ft.

Difficulty (1-10): 6

Fee: There’s a $12 vehicle use fee for passenger vehicles for the Brainard Lake Recreation Area during the summer. Annual National Parks passes are valid!

AllTrails Link

8. Crater Lakes

The Moffat Tunnel East Portal Trailhead has ample parking and is the starting point for a number of hikes in the James Peak Wilderness Area, which makes it a safe bet for a scenic weekend hike during the summer.


The hike to Crater Lakes begins along the South Boulder Creek Trail. This section of trail is heavily trafficked, but once you make the turn towards Crater Lakes (which is well marked, so you can’t miss it!), the crowds thin out. 

Crater Lakes makes a great destination for an easy overnight backpacking trip!

Location: James Peak Wilderness Area

Distance from Denver: 55 miles; 1 hour 24 minutes

Distance: 8.3 miles roundtrip 

Elevation Gain: 1,893 ft.

Difficulty (1-10): 6.5

AllTrails Link

9. Bear Peak

One last Boulder hike! If you’re looking to practice some scrambling without going too far from Denver, head to Bear Peak.


There are a couple of routes to the summit, but the route I linked below takes you along Shadow Canyon Trail before your final ascent of Bear Peak.

Th trail is steep and involves some scrambling to get to the summit, making it a great training hike for 14’ers!

Location: Boulder, Colorado

Distance from Denver: 28 miles; 37 minutes

Distance: 8.1 miles

Elevation Gain: 2,890 ft.

Difficulty (1-10): 8.5

AllTrails Link

10. Chief Mountain

If you’re looking for an easy sunset summit near Denver, this one’s for you! Located less than hour from the city and only 3.5 miles round-trip, Chief Mountain is perfect for a quick after-work adventure.

The trail begins at over 10,000 ft. in elevation and quickly climbs through the forest to the summit at 11,709 ft, that provides 360° views of the Front Range.

Location: Arapahoe National Forest

Distance from Denver: 36 miles; 50 minutes

Distance: 3.1 miles

Elevation Gain: 961 ft.

Difficulty (1-10): 4.5

AllTrails Link

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