Explore these 10 Colorado trails and find nature at its colorful best.
Story and photos by Jack Olson

Colorado may have the most spectacular, accessible, high-altitude trails to be found anywhere. Whether it’s the vistas, the physical recreation, forests, meadows, wildflowers, streams, or lakes, you’ll find something exciting in the Columbine State. Here are 10 of the best trails, all within 100 miles of Denver.

Above: Indian paintbrush and asters color the trail along Boreas Pass.

n Title: Alpine sunflowers front a view of the Continental Divide along the west ridge of Loveland Pass.
Straight Creek White River National Forest

This user-created trail, while not developed by the forest service, is chock-full of wildflowers in mid-July. Colorado blue columbine overwhelm you in the first few minutes, if you can keep your eyes off the field of deep red Indian paintbrush across the trail. The show continues down the trail toward the end of the valley, about 1.5 miles ahead. Hikers can climb to the top of the Continental Divide by taking the right hairpin in the trail and switchback to the top.

From Denver, take Interstate 70 west to the Eisenhower Tunnel. The parking area will be on your right immediately after exiting the tunnel. Walk up a short hill, go around the gate to the right and continue up the trail.

Shrine Mountain Pass White River NF

This is another good trail for July wildflowers. The tromp to the top of the ridge starts in a marshy area before beginning a gentle climb through meadows overloaded with Indian paintbrush from yellow to deep red. In about two miles, hikers will crest the top of the ridge and gasp at the first glimpse of the sprawling Sawatch Range featuring Mount of the Holy Cross. Try the trail to the left. It’s beautiful, lightly traveled, gentle, and there’s a surprise at the far end of the ridge, about a mile away.

From I-70 west, take exit 190 and continue straight on a dirt road about 2.5 miles to the top of Shrine Pass. Park in the designated area; the trail is straight ahead.

Loveland Pass West Ridge Arapaho and White River NF

While not the only choice for a hike, the west ridge off the top of Loveland Pass is preferable due to the abundance of wildflowers. The hike begins at nearly 12,000 feet and is fairly easy at the top of the Continental Divide.

Tundra flowers won’t wait, so the end of June or first of July is a great time to catch the color. Alpine sunflowers, sky pilot, and snow buttercups will announce that you’re in the real high country. At the top of the Divide, head right and you’ll experience a rolling land of tundra and rocks and unending vistas.

From I-70 west, take exit 216, drive to the top of the pass and park in the lot.

Boreas Pass to Black Powder Pass Trail, Pike NF

The 1.7-mile moderate trail begins at the Boreas Station at the summit of Boreas Pass (Forest Road 33). Take the north trail where you soon begin to encounter fields of multi-hued Indian paintbrush and magenta fireweed seen in August. The trail turns right and parallels a small stream, breaking into meadows above timberline and ending at Black Powder Pass with views into South Park. But you may never make it past the tall, bright yellow balsamroot, carpets of lavender asters and Indian paintbrush of most colors on the palette.

From I-70 west, take exit 203 and continue through Breckenridge. At the last stoplight in town, make a left onto Boreas Pass Road.

French Pass Trail White River and Pike NF

This little-known jewel is in South Park. The 3.8-mile trail gets better as the hike progresses. Late in the season, there could be a magnificent display of multicolored mushrooms in the woods. But the most impressive location on this trail comes after crossing the creek after about two miles. Hikers break into meadows carpeted with asters and about every yellow wildflower that grows in the high country, especially the balsamroot. The pass is about another mile up, around 12,000 feet elevation. French Creek can be enjoyed for several months, but the wildflowers will peak in mid-July to mid-August.

From U.S. 285 west, go through South Park and the town of Jefferson. At Jefferson Lake, turn right on Forest Road 54 toward Georgia Pass. The parking area is 2 1/4 miles past the Michigan Creek Campground.

Colorado Mines Peak Arapaho NF

From the top of 11,315-foot Berthoud Pass, on U.S. Highway 40, take the relatively gentle Continental Divide Trail on the climb to the top of this 12,493-foot peak. It’s not as crowded as many in the high country, but boasts a great variety of alpine wildflowers and affords views in all directions. The hike can be extended, if desired, along the spine of the Continental Divide.

From I-70 west, take exit 233 and drive to the top of the pass. Park in the lot.

Herman Gulch Trail Arapaho NF

This immensely popular moderate trail is just off Interstate 70 at exit 218, about three miles west of Bakerville. It’s also one of the most variably exciting near Denver. Begin the hike in deep woods and eventually meet up with a rushing stream. Then the 3 1/4-mile trail breaks out into meadows, carpeted with a garden of wildflowers in midsummer. You may feel this should be a national park as you climb higher above timberline, ending at a 12,000-foot-high alpine lake. It’s not just the thin air that’s breathtaking.

Kenosha Pass Pike NF

The 469-mile-long Colorado Trail winds its way from Denver to Durango crossing 10,000-foot-high Kenosha Pass. This gentle trail is popular with hikers and mountain bikers. There are inspiring views over South Park. Meadows mix into aspen and pine forests. This trail is exceptional, and especially popular in the fall, when golden quaking aspens make every bend an entry into a different cathedral of color.

From Denver, drive west on U.S. Highway 285 just past the small town of Grant. Drive up to Kenosha Pass, and park on either side of the road at the summit.

Gore Creek Trail White River NF

Take the Gore Creek Trail from the campground parking area and enjoy forests and wildflowers with colorful, dancing aspen leaves in the fall. The trail winds about 5.5 miles to Gore Lake.

Or explore a lesser-known trail used by both hikers and bikers. It’s the old paved U.S. Highway 6, now closed to vehicular traffic. This trail parallels I-70 and is a good introduction to hiking in Colorado. Park at the gate and walk as far as you want on the road. Or cut off the road at one of the gorgeous meadows.

From I-70, exit 180 for East Vail and continue down Bighorn Road about 2 1/4 miles. See the trailhead on the left before Gore Creek Campground.

Centennial Cone Park Jefferson County

There are many excellent foothill trails near Denver, and this Jefferson County Open Space Park is just one example of the area’s extensive system. One enjoyable and easy trail in the park is the Travois Trail, coupled with the Evening Sun Loop. If you hit the right time in April or May, you’ll be surprised by wildflower-carpeted meadows rolling up pine-capped hills.

For details and directions, visit http://openspace.jeffco.us.

Jack Olson is a contributor from Denver, Colo.
Mar/Apr 2008 Issue

The national forest service has maps and other resources to guide you to these hiking trails. Visit www.fs.fed.us/r2, or call these ranger district offices:

• Clear Creek, Idaho Springs, (303) 567-3000

• Dillon, Silverthorne, (970) 468-5400

• Holy Cross, Minturn, (970) 827-5715

• South Park, Fairplay, (719) 836-2031.

To visit Colorado, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks®, TourBook® or CampBook® guides. Click here for a list of offices.

Order free information about Colorado through the Reader Service Card, online at http://southern.ai-dsg.com.

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