Colorado is home to some of the most magnificent scenery in the country, thanks to the beautiful Rocky Mountains. And the best part is, you don’t have to be a rugged mountaineer to explore it all firsthand.
If you’re looking for a leisurely hike to soak in the sights around Colorado, we’re here to help.
From craggy sandstone formations to deep canyons, glaciers, and glistening alpine lakes, we’ve put together a list of the 5 best easy day hikes in Colorado that the whole family can enjoy. A couple of these are near Denver and Colorado Springs, which make them super easy to access without trekking deep into the Rockies. And we’ve even included notes on which trails allow you to bring your dog along for the adventure, too!
Although we don’t allow furry friends in Overland Discovery vehicles, these are hikes that Coloradans can quickly access within an hour from Denver.
1. Garden of the Gods Loop Trail
Length: 4.0 miles (6.4km)
Elevation Gain: 414 feet (126m)
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Permits Required: No
Nearest City: Colorado Springs
Trailhead Location: Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center
The Garden of the Gods Loop Trail takes hikers around one of the most stunning natural features near Colorado Springs. Officially registered as a National Natural Landmark, Garden of the Gods Park is home to 300 foot (91m) sandstone towers and offers fantastic views of the beautiful snow-capped Pikes Peak in the distance.
This approximately 4 mile (6.4km) hike starts off at the Garden of the Gods Visitor and Nature Center, and follows a number of different shorter trails as it makes a loop around the park. It begins on the Palmer Trail, which offers great photo opportunities of the Siamese Twins formation.
After leaving the Siamese Twins formation behind, hikers get a great view of the entire Garden of the Gods landscape before reaching the Buckskin Charlie Trail. From here, you can continue on to the Ute Trail and then the Susan Bretag Trail, which eventually ends at the trailhead.
The loop is well signposted throughout, so it’s easy to follow. Plus, the trail is dog-friendly (as long as you keep your four-legged friend on a leash).
There’s no need to make a reservation or arrange for permits before visiting the Garden of the Gods Park. But parking is limited, so arrive early to avoid having to wait in your car.
While there are no campgrounds within the park, there are two picnic areas — Scotsman and Spring Canyon — so it’s a good place to pack a lunch if you’re looking to spend the full day outside. It can get hot during the summer months at Garden of the Gods, so be sure to bring plenty of water and sunscreen for your hike.
2. St. Mary’s Glacier
Length: 1.9 miles (3.1km) one way
Elevation Gain: 1200 feet (365.8m)
Dogs Allowed?: Yes
Permits Required?: Self-issued at trailhead
Nearest City: Denver/Boulder/Idaho Springs
Trailhead Location: St Mary’s Glacier Trailhead
Although technically a permanent snowfield and not a true glacier, St. Mary’s Glacier is a popular summertime destination along the Front Range. The hike is short distance-wise, but it offers a great way to escape the heat in midsummer.
After arriving at the St Mary’s Glacier Trailhead, you’ll need to pay a $5 parking fee and get a permit. At the start of the trail, you’ll start gaining elevation as you make your way out of the woods and into the alpine.
Thankfully, you’ll reach a natural break spot shortly, at St. Mary’s Lake. Here, you can sit back and enjoy the views before crossing the stream and continuing your climb up to St. Mary’s Glacier.
If you keep going for 20 minutes, you’ll find yourself at a trail junction with the path to Kingston Peak. Even if you’re not interested in tacking on a peak ascent to your trip, this trail junction makes for great photo opportunities of St. Mary’s Glacier, and the stunning Rocky Mountain alpine zone.
While this hike is short it is steep, gaining some 1,200 feet (365.8m) in elevation in just under 2 miles (3.2km). So a good pair of hiking boots and even a set of trekking poles are a good option, especially if you don’t feel very confident on your feet while moving over rocky terrain.
The trail to St. Mary’s Glacier may start close to the highway, but it takes you into the mountains. So bring layers, plenty of food and water, and a good sense of adventure before leaving for the trail!
3. Rim Rock Nature Trail
Length: 1 mile (1.6km)
Elevation Gain: 195ft (59.4m)
Dogs Allowed: Yes (Except between June 1st and August 10th)
Permits Required: No
Nearest City: Montrose
Trailhead Location: South Rim Visitor Center
Located in the heart of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, the Rim Rock Nature Trail is a casual hike with great views.
The trail starts out at the South Rim Visitor Center near Montrose and follows a fairly flat path through the sagebrush. It can also be accessed from the Campground Loop C if you’re camping out in the park.
After leaving the trailhead, the Rim Rock Nature Trail takes visitors on a walk through a number of different ecosystems. It offers a good chance to see the diversity of plant life within the national park, which includes piñon pine, Utah juniper, and Gambel oak.
While the Rim Rock Nature Trail is mostly flat, it still manages to offer great views of the Gunnison River. Hikers on the trail also get to experience the steep walls of the Black Canyon first hand as they hike.
The Rim Rock Nature Trail is one of the few hikes in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park that allows pets during certain times of the year, but all dogs must be kept on a leash. However, dogs are not allowed on the trail between June 1st and August 10th each year to protect the local deer and their young fawns.
Since the trail is short and is close to the visitor’s center, hikers will generally just need a spare layer and some water for the Rim Rock Nature Trail. You can also pick up an interpretive pamphlet that explains the geology of the region from the Visitor Center or the Tomichi Point Overlook.
4. Emerald Lake
Length: 3.5 miles (5.6km) roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 650ft (198m)
Dogs Allowed?: No
Permits Required?: Yes
Nearest City: Estes Park
Trailhead Location: Bear Lake Trailhead
Emerald Lake is a gem in the alpine region of Rocky Mountain National Park that offers family-friendly hiking in some of the most beautiful terrain in Colorado.
The hike up to Emerald Lake starts at the Bear Lake Trailhead and climbs fairly steadily from the road as you make your way into the mountains.
Soon after leaving the trailhead, there’s a split in the path between the Emerald Lake trail to the left and the Bear Lake trail to the right. If you’re looking for a bit of extra adventure in your day, the Bear Lake Loop is a worthy side trip.
Continuing on from the trailhead, the path to Emerald Lake climbs up past Nymph Lake, where you can get excellent views of Longs Peak. Moving onward, the path then skirts around the northern edge of Dream Lake before continuing onward into the craggy Tyndall Gorge.
Eventually the path levels out as it approaches the base of Hallett Peak and the stunning Emerald Lake, which is fed by the Tyndall Glacier, one of the last remaining glaciers in the state of Colorado. Here you can sit back, relax, and enjoy the vistas as a reward for your efforts.
Keep in mind that Rocky Mountain National Park now has a timed entry permit system which limits the number of cars that can enter at a given time. Reservations are required for entry, so be sure to plan ahead to avoid disappointment.
Additionally, the trail to Emerald Lake takes you far into the mountains, so be sure to pack enough food and water for the trip. Bring spare clothing, and aim to start your hike earlier in the morning to limit the chances of being caught out in an afternoon thunderstorm.
5. Hanging Lake
Length: 1.2 miles (1.9km) one way
Elevation Gain: 1,000ft (305m)
Dogs Allowed: No
Permits Required: Yes
Nearest City: Glenwood Springs
Trailhead Location: Hanging Lake Trailhead
Hanging Lake is an absolutely classic Colorado hike, and is a must-do for any adventurous day hiker.
As a National Natural Landmark, Hanging Lake is a popular destination thanks to its beautiful waterfalls, emerald-green waters, and craggy surroundings.
The trail starts off at the Hanging Lake Trail Center near the city of Glenwood Springs. Although it’s quite short, the path is steep and rocky as it climbs up from the highway into the mountains and to a viewing area next to the lake.
Over the course of 1.2 miles (1.9km), the trail gains around 1,000 feet (305m) to the top of a geological fault. The lake itself was created by the movement of the fault, which caused the shore of the lake to drop off on one side down to the valley below.
Once at the viewing area, hikers can get a good look at the stunning green water of Hanging Lake and its unique geology. The sides of Hanging Lake are actually an accumulation of limestone deposits called travertine, which make for a fantastic backdrop to an already otherworldly scene.
Hanging Lake is a very popular hiking destination, so permits are required for access to the trail. Dogs are strictly prohibited at the lake in order to protect its fragile ecosystem.
Although it’s icy and slippery in the winter months, Hanging Lake is a great wintertime day hiking destination for those that come prepared with microspikes or other traction devices. During the summertime, food, water, sunscreen, spare layers, and a camera are a must for any trip to Hanging Lake.
Find More Hiking Trails With An Outdoor Adventure App
Once you’ve warmed up with the trails recommended here, you’ll be ready for a new challenge. Fortunately, Colorado is ready to take you on with thousands of trails across the state. And technology has made finding your new favorite trail easier than ever before.