Best Moderate Day Hikes In Colorado

Our home state of Colorado has some of the most beautiful hikes in the United States. We’ve covered our favorite easy day hikes around the state, and now we’re turning our attention to hikes that will help you work up more of a sweat. 

Sure, there are hikes all around the state that can give you more of a challenge. But which ones have the best hiking in Colorado, and are really worth the time, the drive, and will offer the absolute best view as a reward? 

Lucky for you, we’ve got a ton of experience scoping out these exact trails. Each trekking adventure that made the list below was thoughtfully chosen for a moderate level of difficulty, and features some of the most photographic scenery in the Rocky Mountains. 

We’ve included Colorado hiking trails across the state, so you can easily find one nearest you. Wherever you are in the state, we’ve got your next outdoor escapade covered. 

1. Loch and Lake of Glass 

Photo credit:  iwanderlust_ig

Photo credit: iwanderlust_ig

  • Length: 8.8 miles (14.2km)

  • Elevation Gain: 1,850 feet (563.9m)

  • Dogs Allowed: No

  • Reservations Required: Yes – Rocky Mountain National Park is now requiring timed entry permits. You can reserve your timed entry pass here

  • Nearest City: Estes Park

  • Trailhead Location: Glacier Gorge Trailhead

Located in Rocky Mountain National Park, Loch and Lake of Glass is a moderate hike featuring waterfalls, creeks, subalpine and alpine lakes, and beautiful views of the surrounding landscape. 

Since this hike takes you above the treeline, it’s important to keep an eye on the sky and turn back at the first sign of thunderstorms.   

From Glacier Gorge Trailhead, take the Glacier Gorge Trail. In less than a mile, you’ll pass two junctions before you reach the popular Alberta Falls. Take a picture of the impressive waterfall, then continue up the switchbacks for sweeping views of the Rockies (and fewer crowds). 

At each junction from here on out, follow the well-marked trail toward Loch Vale and Sky Pond. Continue to hike the switchbacks until the trail evens out and you reach the Loch. 

At 3.1 miles from the trailhead, this lake is a gorgeous location to stop, take another incredible photo, and power up with a snack.

Continue on the trail to the right, and look up to catch your first glimpse of Timberline Falls. In less than a mile, a small boardwalk crosses a creek, guiding you to bright green wetlands. Stay on the wooden planks but be careful — they can be slick. 

At this point, you’re on alpine terrain. It’s extremely important to travel on the rocks from here on out. 

Not long after this point, you’ll see a sign for Sky Pond, pointing up to what looks like a miniature waterfall. Be careful as you trek up the slick rocks in this drainage. 

Finally, scramble up a 10-foot rock wall with slightly worn holds, and continue to follow the drainage. Within a few minutes, you’ll be rewarded with the crystal-clear Lake of Glass surrounded by stunning craggy mountaintops. 

Time to sunbathe, eat lunch, take a few pictures, or jump in the freezing alpine lake if you’re feeling adventurous! 

If you want more of a challenge, continue to the right and blaze a trail around .4 miles to Sky Pond. To descend, follow the same trail and be careful on the downclimb.

The Loch and Lake of Glass hike features wet rocks and scrambling, so it’s important to wear hiking shoes or boots with a grip bottom. Pack a lightweight, hooded jacket due to cooler temperatures at elevation and the chance of afternoon rain.

Make sure to pack enough food and water to last you the entire trek. Finally, pack sunscreen and bug spray.

2. Crater Lake Trail  

Photo by:  the itinerant two

Photo by: the itinerant two

  • Length: 3.6 miles (5.8km)

  • Elevation Gain: 500 feet (152.4m)

  • Dogs Allowed: Yes

  • Reservations Required: Yes, you can make reservations here

  • Nearest City: Aspen

  • Trailhead Location: Maroon Lake Trailhead

he Crater Lake Trail is an aspen-shaded hike that features lakes, creeks, wildlife, and stunning views of the Maroon Bells. These 14,000-foot mountains are named for their iron color, and they reflect majestically in the glassy Crater Lake. 

Start the steep ascent from the Maroon Lake Trailhead. You’ll reach Maroon Lake within minutes, and there are a series of trails that skirt the lake. Follow the well-marked trail to Crater Lake. 

You’ll soon encounter switchbacks that take you above Maroon Lake and into a forest flush with aspen. From here the trees clear, and you’ll continue up the rocky trail over sporadic snow patches — so be sure to wear hiking boots!

The grassy shore of Crater Lake will come into view shortly. That means it’s time to relax and take in the natural beauty of one of Colorado’s most photographed locations. 

When you’ve had your fill, we recommend hiking an extra half-mile for more open views of the Bells. To return to your vehicle, follow the same trail back.

Bring a hooded, waterproof jacket for the hike, as the weather can change from a bluebird day to a stormy nightmare in a matter of minutes. Also, carry sunblock and insect repellant: the sun and mosquitos can be brutal!

Although this hike isn’t very long, it’s more strenuous than it appears. Bring sufficient water and snacks, or lunch for a picturesque picnic. This trek is best done in the summer and fall.

3. Bridal Veil Falls

Photo by: Tessa Izdepski

Photo by: Tessa Izdepski

  • Length: 2.4 miles (km)

  • Elevation Gain: 850 feet (m)

  • Dogs Allowed: Yes

  • Permits/Reservations Required: No

  • Nearest City: Telluride

  • Trailhead Location: Pandora Public Parking and Trailhead

Bridal Veil Falls are the highest free-falling waterfalls in Colorado, at 365 feet high. Once you catch your first glimpse, it’s not hard to see why this is a highly trafficked hike. 

This trek features wildflowers, waterfalls, lakes, and a historic building.

Start your journey by parking at the Pandora Mill. Follow the road up 1.2 miles of switchbacks to the falls. The road features many roots, uneven bedrock, and loose gravel, so wear sturdy hiking shoes or boots for ankle support.

About 15 to 20 minutes before you reach the crème de la crème of waterfalls, you’ll hear another waterfall off to the side. Take the small path off the trail to find a runoff fall and crystal-clear pool. Feel free to take a refreshing dip and unique pic!

Photo by: Tessa Izdepski

Photo by: Tessa Izdepski

A few minutes before you reach the waterfalls, you’ll have the opportunity to take a photo of Bridal Veil Falls framed by the mountains. Be mindful the mist at the bottom of the falls is very thick, so the views are better from the road.

At the top of the waterfall, you’ll see what looks like a house. This is the Bridal Veil Powerhouse that provides electricity for 25% of Telluride. Once you reach the base, you can continue the .6 miles uphill to this historic structure or turn around to return.

Since this multi-use trail is a road, so you will be sharing the space with OHVs and bicyclists. The earlier you start, the easier it is to avoid traffic. Additionally, this hike is at elevation so watch the weather as you ascend and bring a hooded, waterproof jacket. 

This road is entirely in the sun, so sunscreen is a must. There are quite a few standing bodies of water around, so bring along insect repellant. And, as always, bring enough water and food for the steep, rocky 2.4 miles. 

4. Crystal Mill Hike

Photo by:  THE ITINERANT TWO

Photo by: THE ITINERANT TWO

  • Length: 8.0 miles (12.9km) or 9.0 miles (14.5km)

  • Elevation Gain: 1,391 feet (424m)

  • Dogs Allowed: Yes

  • Permits/Reservations Required: No

  • Nearest City: Carbondale

  • Trailhead Location: Crystal Mill Trailhead or Lizard Lake Trailhead

Located outside of Carbondale, the Crystal Mill Hike follows the Crystal River for most of the trek. This hike features waterfalls, lakes, rivers, wildlife, and a historic site. At the end, you can bask in picturesque views of the mill and a mountainous backdrop. 

Be aware — this trail follows an unpaved road, and is heavily traveled by OHVs and bicyclists. 

There are 2 potential trailheads. It’s best to park in the first area and avoid the worry about whether your vehicle has proper clearance or not. Additionally, you will get the extra .5 miles of steps to your overall hike.

The first bit of trail is shaded and, depending on recent weather, there may be puddles and mud. As you follow the road, you’ll see waterfalls cascading down distant mountains and feeding into the Crystal River. 

Around 4 miles, look down to find an old, rusted truck that fell off the road. When you reach aspens, you’re only half a mile from your destination!

Once you get to the roped-off area, you’ve reached the end of the hike. Here’s where you can get a killer photo opp. If you want to go inside this area to swim or explore, you have to pay $10. 

A half a mile or so beyond, there’s a small town and souvenir store with restrooms. 

The mill is a nice place to eat your packed lunch before trekking back to your vehicle. If you plan to get in the water, bring water-appropriate shoes with a sturdy toe to avoid stubs.

This is a long hike, so bring plenty of water, food, and sunscreen. Wear comfortable, sturdy hiking shoes for the rocky road and bring bug repellent for the mosquitoes. And as always, Colorado weather changes quickly, so pack a rain jacket.

5. Star Dune in Sand Dunes National Park 

Photo by:  Christian Martin

Photo by: Christian Martin

Star Dune might be the most unique pick on the list, as there’s no formal trail to follow. It’s also the tallest dune in North America, at 750 feet from base-to-summit!

To reach the top of Star Dune, cross the parking lot and follow the sidewalk to the Medano Creek bed. There’s water in this creek from May to mid-June, and you can take a dip or sit and relax “on the beach.” During these months, insect repellant is a must!

Photo by:  Christian Martin

Photo by: Christian Martin

Follow the creek bed south until you see a huge, pyramid-shaped dune. This is Star Dune. From here, choose ridgelines and follow them to the summit. At the top you can see all the way across the desert to beautiful snow-peaked mountains. Follow the route down the way you came (or don’t!)

The National Park Service estimates this hike will take between 6 and 9 hours. That means you need to make sure to pack plenty of water and food. In this case, it’s better to be overloaded than underprepared. To keep sand out of your hiking shoes, wear higher socks. And this is definitely not the hike to forget your sunblock or sunglasses.

Great Sand Dunes National Park is stunning, but it can be dangerous. During afternoon hours in the summer, lightning strikes are a hazard, and sand temperatures can reach 150°F (66°C). To stay safe, hike the dunes in the early morning or evening. 

Explore More Colorado 

No matter which hike is calling your name, always remember to follow the leave no trace principles

With thousands of trails in this state, you never have to trek the same hike twice. To make this goal even easier, check out our guide to the best outdoor adventure apps, and our 5 Best Easy Hikes in Colorado to explore more of the great outdoors.