cascade waterfall leaping over granite boulders eldorado falls in walker ranch hike near boulder colorado

Eldorado Cascades at Walker Ranch

Eldorado Cascades is tucked back in Walker Ranch near Boulder, Colorado. It's an easy to moderate 1.25 mile hike from the Ethel Harrold Trailhead down to where South Boulder Creek winds through the park and crashes over the boulders blocking its path. Explore the full trail profile below for all the details: tips, trail map, and driving directions to the trailhead.

Trail Snapshot: Eldorado Cascades at Walker Ranch

Eldorado Cascades can be reached from several different trailheads that tie into the Walker Ranch Loop system. However, the shortest and probably easiest access is by starting at the Ethel Harrold Trailhead. See the directions driving directions links on this page, and be sure to make note of your last couples turns because cell phone services are spotty.

The drive up to the trailhead on Flagstaff Road is a beautiful one, but do be aware of the many hikers, climbers, and cyclists along the road. After Flagstaff road, the two roads that lead to the trailhead, Pika, then Bison, are improved dirt roads. These were recently graded when we visited (early April) and were fine to drive. However, 4-wheel drive is probably necessary during the winter months or after early Spring rains or snowfall. The trailhead parking area has a pit toilet and information board. If you are interested in birdwatching, you'll find a Birds of Walker Ranch Chechlist at the board.

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The Hike to Eldorado Cascades

The hike begins with expansive views of Walker Ranch and out towards Eldorado Canyon State Park (pictured above). The air was full of the scent of juniper trees, and we found abundant Elk sign in the meadows near the trailhead. The trail winds down to a intermittent stream that was gushing with the early Spring snowmelt. A bridge buried in snow leads across the creek, then the trail skirts the hillside for most of the hike, gradually working its way down to a junction with the Walker Ranch Loop Trail. At the junction, the trail to Boulder Creek and Eldorado Cascades is to the right and takes hikers further downhill to a bridge that crosses South Boulder Creek.

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The sound of water is almost always within earshot, and the chirps of a variety of birds fill the air. Shortly before the bridge, hikers may notice a "To Eldorado Canyon" sign and trail on the left side of the Walker Ranch Trail. This leads to Eldorado Canyon State Park, about 3.5 miles away, but does not lead to the cascades. The cascades can be found almost immediately after crossing the bridge that spans South Boulder Creek. Here the trail becomes a series of uneven rock stairs that lead to the top of the cascades (pictured above is view from the top).

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"Eldorado Falls" seems to be a local and unofficial name given to this set of cascades. The trail map simply marks them as "falls." On the back side of the cascades, South Boulder Creek seems to disappear under massive boulders that block its path. Here the water slips under the rock then shoots out on the other side in a series of small cascades. The water pools, then pours over another lower cascades (pictured above) before returning to calmer waters.

The hike back is mostly uphill, but it's only about a +500' of elevation gain. The park is open in the winter; however, the trail from the Ethel Harrold trailhead down to the Walker Ranch Loop might become difficult to discern after a blanket of snow. So, the ideal times are Spring through Fall.

girl on trail with black dog in colorado mountains spruce tree in foreground and snow and evergreen trees in background

Tips & Resources for Hiking to Eldorado Cascades

  • Come Prepared in Spring and Winter: Because the trail is mostly in shade of ponderosa pines, the snow and ice can settle in during both winter and spring. Therefore, we recommend Trekking Poles and/or Traction Devices for this trail (I wish I had brought mine).
  • Exercise Caution Around the cascades: The area around Eldorado Cascades is rocky and uneven. The cascades are also difficult to photograph because of how it's tucked back into the canyon. For this reason, exercise caution along the slippery rock and near the waters of South Boulder Creek.
  • Trail Map for Walker Ranch: Trail Map Link
  • Packing List: Always pack the 10 Essentials. Download our Hiking Guide to get list and dayhiking packing checklist.
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: Ozo Coffee in Boulder

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Map & Driving Directions


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waterfall in canyon with bridge in foreground fish creek falls waterfall in colorado

Looking for waterfalls near Denver? Explore our more than 50 Colorado Waterfall Hikes, our favorite Waterfall Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, or 7 Waterfalls within One Hour of Denver.


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The Loch in Rocky Mountain National Park

If lakes are your favorite destination, then the hike to The Loch should be added to your trail list in Rocky Mountain National Park. It is a moderately difficult hike on the eastern side of the park where you can hike along the edge of the lake, fish for trout, or come early in the morning to photograph the iconic scenery in Loch Vale. Explore the full trail profile below for driving directions to the trailhead, trail map, and other destinations that can be added to the hike.

The Loch is the Gaelic name given to this lake, the major destination along the Loch Vale trail and the source of Icy Brook, the stream that spills from its eastern edge. Because of it's beauty and the wide variety of vantage points for outstanding scenery, the Loch is popular with photographers. We've found it to be a perfect hike to a tranquil spot to take in the views and enjoy a picnic lunch.

Trail Snapshot: The Loch in Rocky Mountain National Park

Parking & Trailhead Information

The trail to the Loch, and the destinations beyond, begins at either the Glacier Gorge Trailhead (see driving directions above), or at the Bear Lake Trailhead (driving directions). Because the Glacier Gorge Trailhead has a much smaller lot, you may need to drive further up to Bear Lake. There you'll find a short connector trail that will put you on the path down and over to the Glacier Gorge Trail system. In the event that parking at Bear Lake is full, you'll then need to park at the Park & Ride near the Bierstadt Trailhead and take the bus into the trailhead. This service runs 7am to 7PM and more information on the RMNP shuttle bus routes can be found at this link.

the loch alberta falls along trail

The Hike to The Loch

The first destination that you can't and don't want to miss is at .8 miles, Alberta Falls (photo above). The trail then climbs toward an eventual trail junction. The way to the Loch is to follow the Glacier Gorge/Loch Vale trail that bears right and ascends for about another .5 mile to another trail junction. At this second junction the trail to the left will take hikers to Glacier Gorge, and the trail to the right takes hikers on a jaunt to Lake Haiyaha. The middle trail leads onto the Loch Vale Trail, and up to the Loch.

the loch rocky mountain national park

Pictured Above: The Loch as seen from the heights near Timberline Falls. Take care to stay the trail as you explore the Loch. It's a heavily visited area with equally heavy impact. The Loch hosts a variety of trout: brookies, cutbows, cuthroats, and rainbows. Mayflies and Caddis flies are common hatches, and black or chernobyl ants can be a particularly good terrestrial pattern to use at the Loch. The wind can kick up along the lake, especially as the rises and warms the rock walls that surround the lake. Some areas on the southern side provide calmer waters. Photographers will find morning sunrises the best time to photograph the amazing landscape of the lake and mountains.

List and Links of Destinations Along the Loch Vale Trail

1. Alberta Falls - @ .8
2. The Loch - @ 2.7 miles
3. Timberline Falls - @ 4 miles
4. Lake of Glass -@ 4.2 miles
5. Sky Pond - @ 4.6 miles

Tips & Resources for Hiking to the Loch in RMNP:

  • Hike Further: Be sure to hike and additional approx 1.25 mile (one-way) to Timberline Falls to see one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Rocky Mountain National Park.
  • Get There Early: There are two important reasons to begin your hikes early in the morning in Rocky Mountain National 1)The trail head parking lots fill up early, and 2) in the Summer months, thunderstorms will form in the early afternoon.
  • Parking: If the parking lot is full at Glacier Gorge Trailhead, there is a shuttle available to take you to the trailhead. This service runs 7am to 7PM and more information on the RMNP shuttle bus routes can be found at this link.
  • Trail Map for Bear Lake Corridor: Trail Map Link
  • Recommended Map for Rocky Mountain National Park: The trail maps provided by Rocky Mountain National Park are usually sufficient. However, if you plan to hike RMNP often, we recommend purchasing a National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map.
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: Inkwell Brew Coffee

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ouzel falls waterfall in rocky mountain national park wild basin hike with text overlay explore more hikes in rocky mountain national park


South Rim Loop Trail at Roxborough State Park

The South Rim Loop Trail at Roxborough State Park is a moderate hike that leads to breathtaking views of the red rock formations that make this Colorado State Park famous. It's a perfect hike for a weekend afternoon, or a great choice for visiting family and friends. We also put this on our list for great hikes to take if you want to acclimatize before hiking into higher altitudes deeper in the mountains. Read further to explore the trail details, tips, and to get the trail map for this adventure in Roxborough State Park.

Roxborough State Park is like the Garden of the God's of Denver. Nestled against the foothills south Littleton, Colorado, it makes for a quiet escape from the sounds of the city. The South Rim Trail provides some of the best vantage points for photography of the Fountain and Morrison formations, the same rock that forms sister parks, Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, and Red Rocks Park in Morrison.

Trail Snapshot: South Rim Loop Trail at Roxborough State Park

Parking and Trailhead Information

The last two miles of access road into Roxborough State Park are a maintained dirt road, but it can get washboarded and can be tough on the car. Still, it's not a long drive in. Undulating green hills can be seen to the west where deer and antelope graze. Roxborough can fill up during it's busiest hours on the weekend. If that's the case, you can wait until enough vehicles exit the park then drive in. My guess is that the peak times are around 10AM-2PM. If the line looks long, you can always turn around and head over to Waterton Canyon or to South Valley Park--both are great options.
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The South Rim trail begins just west of the visitor center and makes its way through tunnels of scrub oak. This first trail segment takes you to several different destinations: the Willow Creek Loop, Carpenter Peak, and Elk Valley.
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The trail will eventually come to a small meadow with a lone cottonwood tree. Here the trail forks and the trail to the lef leads to the rest of the South Rim Trail. It crosses a small brook via a footbridge and into an area that our kids kept calling the "magical forest." The way the light plays in Roxborough State Park is enchanting. I think it has something to do with how the hogback formations and the red rocks filter the light coming into the valley.

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About 1 mile into the hike, the trail begins to climb. We've rated this trail as moderate because the climb may be challenging for those not acclimated to the altitude or who are not in great shape. The great news is that there are benches placed at regular intervals along the trail. A couple of these bench sites offer incredible overlooks into the park and are ideal points for photographing fountain valley. Most of the benches offer shade in bowers under fir and scrub oak trees.

The South Rim Trail makes its way over the top of a bright and orange cliff band that dominates the southern end of the park for most of the hike. At the highest point, a very short spur trail affords hikers views to the east, and another viewpoint on the descent offers views to the north, all the way into the city of Denver.

Be mindful of the loose gravel as the trail descends back into the valley. Back on the valley floor, the trail will fork again. To the left (west) will take hikers onto the Willow Creek trail, adding approximately 1/2 mile onto the loop back to the visitor center, making it a 3.5 mile hike. Or you can continue North for approximately 1/2 mile back the the parking area.

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baby mountain goat on mount evans colorado more easy hikes

Tips & Resources for Hiking the South Rim Loop in Roxborough

  • Loop Hiking Direction: This description of the South Rim Loop is hiked as counter-clockwise. Just reverse the description for hiking the trail to hike the loop clockwise.
  • Hiking in Winter: If you plan to hike the South Rim Trail in the winter, it is advised that you have traction devices like YakTrax because much of the trail will be in shadow, and ice will likely form on the trail.
  • Trail Map for Roxborough State Park: Trail Map Link
  • Packing List: Always pack the 10 Essentials. Download our Hiking Guide to get list and dayhiking packing checklist.
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: Waterton Tavern in Roxborough

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above bear lake in rmnp looking to glacier gorge colorado hike finder


maroon bells reflected in crater lake near Aspen Colorado Maroon Bells Hikes

Ultimate Guide to Maroon Bells in Colorado

The Maroon Bells offer several hikes and some of the most beautiful scenery in Colorado. It's a Rocky Mountain landscape painted with cascades, lakes, golden aspens, and all against the backdrop of the peaks of the Maroon Bells. This guide to the Maroon Bells features 5 different hiking trail options, spanning from easy hikes to moderately demanding.

We've attempted to create the definitive guide to hiking from the Maroon Bells Trailhead. In this guide, you'll find: Driving directions to Maroon Bells, Trail Maps, Important Shuttle Bus information, Photography tips, Camping information for the Maroon Bells area, and Tips & Resources for planning your Colorado Vacation. This guide to Maroon Bells is extensive, so we have created a table of contents to help you navigate. Have fun exploring!

Maroon Bells Hiking Guide Contents

1. Trail Snapshot
2. Driving Directions
3. Parking & Trailhead
4. Hiking the Trail
5. Maroon Lake Trail
6. The Scenic Loop Trail
7. Maroon Creek Trail
8. The Crater Lake Trail
9. The Willow Lake Trail
10. Photography
11. Hiking with Kids
12. For Out-of-State Hikers
13. Things to Do Nearby
14. History and Geology
15. Protect Maroon Bells

Maroon Bells Hike Snapshot

Driving Directions to Maroon Bells

Because the Maroon Bells trailhead is one of the heaviest used recreation areas in the state of Colorado, there are some driving and access restrictions during the busy summer months. That's why it's important to carefully read these details before you plan your trip. There are three different sets of driving directions that you may find helpful.

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Directions to Maroon Bells in the Summer

From about the mid-June until early October, you can drive Maroon Creek road to the Maroon Bells trailhead before 8am and after 5pm. There is a $10 fee for driving the road, which--especially in Autumn--is one of the more beautiful drives in the country. From 8am to 5pm, visitors must take a 10-15-minute shuttle bus ride to the trailhead. The shuttle lot with free parking is located at Aspen Highlands, a local ski area (here is a link to a Google map and driving directions). However, there is a cost for the bus ride, and beginning in 2016, there a parking fee will be assessed at the Aspen Highlands lot. You can purchase your bus ticket for the Maroon Bells shuttle at Four Mountains Sports, located near the parking area at the base of the ski mountain. The best resource for shuttle information can be found at the RTF Maroon Bells Shuttle page or by calling the USFS Maroon Bells Hotline at (970) 945-3319.
If the Aspen Highlands lot is full--which happens during Summer months--or if you are in Aspen, but without a vehicle, you can take the free Castle/Maroon bus from Ruby Park in Aspen to Aspen Highlands, where can pick up the Maroon Bells shuttle (link and map for directions to Ruby Park).

There are a few exceptions to the 8am-5pm shuttle rule: 1) Handicap registered vehicles, and 2) Vehicles with 11 or more people ($3 fee per person), 3) Vehicles with children age 2 and under, 4) If you are camping at some of the Maroon Bells campsites: Silver Queen, Silver Bar, or Silver Bell, 5) If you are towing a horse trailer.

Even if you fit one of the exceptions, it's important to remember that the Aspen Highlands lots fill up during the busy summer months. Your best bet is simply to get to the trailhea early and to take in the scenery of Maroon Bells in the cool and quiet of the morning, before visitors begin to stream into the area. It's also important to note that if your plans are to backpack and camp in the Maroon-Snowmass Wilderness, you will not be given a parking exception, but will need to take the bus in from the Aspen Highlands lot during the 8am-5pm timeframe.

Another option is to cycle the 8 miles, one-way from Aspen Highlands up to the Maroon-Snowmass trailhead. There is no fee for cyclists, only vehicles. However, it's important to remember that the road is still very busy, even during the 8am-5pm hours when the driving restrictions apply. As with hiking the area, plan to bring proper gear for the frequent afternoon thunderstorms--yet another reason to go early.

Driving Out: It's important to note that if you drive in to the trailhead, you may drive out at any time.

Getting to Maroon Bells During the Rest of the Year

In Late-Spring: From when Maroon Creek road opens, which is historically mid-May, and until mid-June--when the shuttle bus service starts--you are allowed to drive the road from 8am-5pm. Of course, the access fee does apply.

Early October to Mid-November: You can drive Maroon Creek road to the trailhead any day and any time of the week. Again, the access fee applies. Historically, this has begun on Oct. 5th but this is subject to the forest service decisions and weather.

Maroon Bells During the Winter Months: Winter comes in early at this elevation and it holds on well through April. Maroon Creek road is closed during the winter months, beginning in mid-November. Until the road reopens around mid-May of each year, the trailhead is only accessible by hiking in, cross-country skis, or via snowmobile tours. Snowmobile tours can be booked through T-Lazy-7 Ranch. From the gate, the hike/ski in is about 6 miles one-way, and from Aspen Highlands, it's about 8 miles one-way.

Parking and Facilities at the Maroon Bells Trailhead

The Maroon Bells Trailhead--officially titled the Maroon-Snowmass Trailhead--has limited parking and no facilities, except for restrooms. There is plenty of space to lock up your bike on the provided bike racks. There are 35 parking spaces designated for backpackers who are overnighting in the wilderness and you may park for up to 5 consecutive nights in those designated spots. These fill up during the busy season, so be sure to have the shuttle as your plan-b. If you get to Aspen Highlands after the last bus, then you will need to have a plan-c: take a taxi (expensive) in or ask a friend to drive you into the trailhead. Overnight backpackers are not allowed to park in the day-use area.

Guide for Hiking at Maroon Bells

Trail Option #1 - The Maroon Lake Trail at Maroon Bells

  • Distance: Less than One Mile
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trail Type: Out & Back
  • Elevation Gain: Nominal

The Maroon Lake Trail heads out from the trailhead to the northeast side of Maroon Lake (elevation 9580’) where hikers can take in iconic views of the peaks of the Maroon Bells reflected in its mirrored waters. Fishing is allowed at Maroon Lake, but a Colorado fishing license is required. Be sure to follow limits and regulations. Bring a picnic lunch and soak in the scenery, which includes aspen groves, Maroon Creek, and surrounding meadows. Do be mindful to stay to the trail as the high amount of foot traffic has a profound impact on the environment. For tips on taking a great photo of the Maroon Bells, check out the Photography at Maroon Bells section below.

Trail Option #2 - The Scenic Loop Trail at Maroon Bells

  • Distance: 3 Miles
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trail Type: Lollipop Loop
  • Elevation Gain: Approx. +120'
  • Dogs are prohibited because of Moose inhabiting this area.

The Scenic Loop Trail is probably the most popular trail at Maroon Bells, and for good reason: the views are incredible, the loop takes you along the cascades of Maroon creek for much of the hike, and wildflowers spring up at your feet along the trail. A lollipop loop is a hike that begins with a straightaway (part of the out & back hike above), which takes you to a loop on the end. The Scenic Trail Loop begins at a footbridge on the far/west end of the lake. A way up the trail, hikers will notice another footbridge on the right. This can be taken to shorten the trip by crossing the creek then turning right to head back to Maroon Lake and the trailhead. However, the loop trail actually goes further and past some exceptionally beautiful cascades before turning back toward Maroon lake.

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Trail Option #3 - The Maroon Creek Trail

  • Distance: 2.5 or 3.5 Miles - One-Way
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trail Type: One-Way
  • Elevation Gain: -870'
  • Maroon Creek Lake Trail Map: Map Link

If you are looking for a less crowded option, the Maroon Creek Trail may be the best choice. The Maroon Creek Trail winds downhill alongside Maroon Creek for 3.5 miles. Being near water, the chances of seeing wildlife are pretty good. Maroon Creek Trail begins at Maroon Lake and the trail can be picked up by hiking across the footbridge, turning left, then following the trail down into the valley (away from the Maroon Bells). The trail offers two options.

#1 - 2.5 Mile Hike:

Hikers will encounter and cross a bridge at about 2.5 miles into their hike. At this point, a trail off to the left can be taken across the meadow and up to the road where they can catch the bus back to Aspen Highlands or back to the trailhead. Of course, be mindful of the traffic.

#1 - 3.5 Mile Hike:

The second option is to continue on the trail, cross another bridge, then to stay left onto the East Maroon Trail. This will wind downhill a bit further to another area where you can catch the bus along Maroon Creek Road. As you hike, don't forget to stop occasionally to take in the views behind you of the Maroon Bells.

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Trail Option #4 - The Crater Lake Trail at Maroon Bells

  • Distance: 3.6 Miles Round Trip
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trail Type: Out & Back
  • Elevation Gain: +500'
  • Crater Lake Trail Map: Map Link

The Maroon/Snowmass trail (right of lake) will lead hikers through a meadow and to a forest service bulletin board at the far end of the lake. From this point the correct trail is the West Maroon/Crater Lake trail which leads up through meadows, aspens forests, and scree fields. The trail can be extremely rock, so be sure that you have excellent footwear. The trail will split at about 1.7 miles where the correct trail to follow is the West Maroon/Crater Lake Trail. At this point, Crater Lake is not far away. The trail will eventually dip down into a beautiful basin that holds Crater lake and incredible views of the Maroon Bells. Crater Lake is not stocked or fishable as it is a dead lake. It is also an area that has been negatively impacted by heavy use and poor camping practices. Because of this, camping is now prohibited and great care should be exercised to keep human and canine impact to a minimum.

#2

Trail Option #5 - The Willow Lake Trail at Maroon Bells

  • Distance: approx. 13 Miles Round Trip
  • Difficulty: Difficult
  • Trail Type: Out & Back
  • Elevation Gain: +3020' to Willow Pass
  • Willow Lake Trail Map: Map Link

The Willow Lake trail is demanding and may require an overnight. The trail begins at Maroon Lake and follows the same trails that lead to Crater Lake. At the Crater Lake bulletin board, the trail forks to right and makes its way up through Minnehaha gulch, through alpine meadows and eventually to a trail sign for Maroon-Snowmass/Willow Lake Junction. Here the trail goes to right. Switchbacks lead to top of Willow Pass. After making it over Willow Pass, Willow Lake is a more gradual 1.5 miles further down the trail. This hike is difficult, steep, and more exposed to the regular thunderstorms that form in the afternoons. Camping is prohibited in the meadow near Buckskin Pass, and camping is discouraged at Willow lake. The best option is to camp in the established sites in Minnehaha Gulch.


hikers in snow with evergreen trees in foreground and snowcapped mountains in background this is the cover of a hiking guide

Get our Dayhikes Near Denver Hiking Guide. It includes our favorite hikes near Denver, packing lists, hiking food and snack ideas, and tips for hiking the Front Range of Colorado.


Photography: How to Get Great Photos of the Maroon Bells

We would like to thank photographer Jerry Blank for the stunning photo of the Maroon Bells at the top of this post. We asked him for a few photography tips and he emphasized the importance of arriving early in order to 1) get a parking spot, and 2) to get a shot of the water before the wind kicks up ripples on the early morning mirror surface of the lakes. More of his photos can be viewed and prints can be ordered from his galleries at this link.

  • Fall is the Best Time for Photos: The changing aspens peak in their golden hues during the latter half of September. However, this is just a rule of thumb because much depends on the changing temperature, so it varies from year to year.
  • Sunrise Shots are Primo: We all have our best side, and the Maroon Bells' best side faces east. This means that the morning sunrise provides the best opportunity for photos.
  • What Time Should I Get There? Earlier than you think. The shoreline of Maroon Lake fills up fast with tripods, so you'll want to get there well before sunrise.
  • Dress for the Occasion: Wear your down coat and bring a thermos of hot coffee. The morning breeze and cold temps will conspire to make the wait for sunrise a cold one.

Hiking with Kids at Maroon Bells

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  • Hydrate: We hike a lot with our kids and it's easy for them to get dehydrated, especially in the dry climate and at high altitude in Colorado. Bring water bottles full of water for everyone.
  • Pack Snacks or Bring a Lunch: The drive back to Maroon Bells takes you pretty far out of town and you'll want to stay a while. Bring snacks or a picnic lunch to refuel while you are exploring.
  • Choose a Hike with Options: If your children are younger then you may want to begin with the Maroon Lake Trail. If you are still feeling adventurous after that, you could add on all or part of the Scenic Loop. Be aware of Moose and keep your distance from them.

Visiting Maroon Bells From Out-of-State

  • Download our Hiking Guide for a list of hiking tips, 10 essentials that everyone should pack for their dayhike, and recommended hiking snacks.
  • Take it Easy: Hiking at altitude (almost 2 miles above sea level at the Maroon Bells trailhead) can be really demanding. Choose a trail that matches your physical shape and be prepared to go at a slower pace.
  • Don't Drink from Streams or Lakes: There is a misconception that drinking from a mountain stream or lake is the purest water in the world--it's not! Mountain streams and lakes are watering holes for wildlife, especially rodents that carry parasites like giardia and other waterborne infectious diseases that can completely ruin your vacation. All water from these areas should be properly filtered and/or purified.

Camping Near Maroon Bells

There are three established USFS camping areas along Maroon Creek Road on your way in to the Maroon Bells Trailhead. These three are some of the more popular campsites in the state during the summer and fall, so you will want to reserve them well ahead of time. You'll find profiles for the three camping areas below. Reservations can be made at all three campgrounds by calling 1-877-444-6777 or by reserving online at www.recreation.gov
Crater Lake Campground has been closed because of bear activity in the past, so be sure to check to see if it is currently open. However, there are about 20 USFS campgrounds in the White River National Forest area near Aspen. The USFS has a handy camping brochure that can be downloaded at this link.

Silver Bar Campsite

  • Driving Directions to Silver Bar Campground: Click for Directions
  • Four primitive walk-in campsites only
  • Elevation: 8500'
  • Drinkable water and toilets, as well as picnic tables and fire-grates are available.
  • Five-day camping limit with 2pm checkout.
  • Eight-person, two car limit per campsite.
  • Pets allowed but must be leashed at all times.
  • Reservable Dates: 5/26 - 9/13
  • Fees: Camping Fee + Vehicle Fee

Silver Bell Campsite

  • Driving Directions to Silver Bell Campground: Click for Directions
  • Fourteen campsites
  • Elevation: 8350'
  • Drinkable water and toilets, as well as picnic tables and firegrates are available.
  • Five-day camping limit with 2pm checkout
  • Eight-person, two-car limit per campsite.
  • Pets allowed but must be leashed at all times
  • 30' RV limit
  • Reservable Dates: 5/26 - 9/13
  • Fees: Camping Fee + Vehicle Fee

Silver Queen Campsite

  • Driving Directions to Silver Queen Campground: Click for Directions
  • Six campsites
  • Elevation: 9100'
  • Drinkable water and toilets, as well as picnic tables and firegrates are available.
  • Five-day camping limit with 2pm checkout
  • Eight-person, two-car limit per campsite.
  • Pets allowed but must be leashed at all times
  • 30' RV limit
  • Reservable Dates: 5/26 - 9/13
  • Fees: Camping Fee + Vehicle Fee

above bear lake in rmnp looking to glacier gorge hike finder


Backcountry Camping in the Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness

  • Camping is allowed within the Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness area. Be sure to follow all the Wilderness Use Regulations and Practice Leave No Trace principles.
  • Camping at the designated spots at Crater Lake is currently allowed, but has been closed in 2014-2015 because of increased bear activity in the area, which is due to poor camping practices. The USFS will close the area again if bear activity becomes problematic.
  • Bear canisters are required
  • Self-registration required at the trailhead
  • Pets allowed but must be on a 6' leash at all times in the wilderness.

Things to Do Near Maroon Bells

History and Geology of Colorado’s Maroon Bells

The brick red color of the Maroon Bells is created by the oxidation of iron in the ancient sedimentary rock that makes up the mountains. They were formed when ancient granite mountains eroded, then were thrust toward the sky in a later mountain building event. Glaciers then cut valleys and cirque lakes, like Maroon Lake and Crater Lake. The Maroon Bells are considered Colorado Fourteeners with North Maroon at 14,014' and the summit of South Maroon Peak at 14,156'. They are called "the bells" because the shape of the mountains resemble church bells. The surrounding Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness area was one of the first US Wilderness areas established in 1964. The ruins of mine riddle the landscape from the silver mining activity of the late 1800's.

The sedimentary siltstone that makes up the Maroon Bells and nearby mountains, like Pyramid Peak, makes them very dangerous to climb. It's described by climbers as "rotten" rock and very unstable. In fact, in 1965 there were five different climbing accidents on the Maroon Bells, taking the lives of eight climbers. This gave the Maroon Bells the new monicker, the "Deadly Bells". There are yearly accidents and usually deaths on the Bells. Because of this, we recommend that those contemplating an ascent of the Maroon Bells should contact a professional guiding service.

How You Can Protect the Maroon Bells Area

  • Camp in Designated Spots: Camping has been prohibited at many of the high-mountain lakes in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass area in order to protect these overused and highly impacted environs. The USFS has inventoried over 700 campsites, that have impacted the equivalent of 35 football fields of land. So, be sure to use established camping areas in both the wilderness and along Maroon Creek road.
  • Keep Out of the Water: People and Dogs can greatly disturb fragile ecosystems in streams and lakes because of detergents and oils on our clothing and skin. The water sources around Maroon Bells are at a much higher risk because of the sheer volume of hiker and backpacker traffic.
  • Keep Dogs on a 6' Leash: I have regularly hiked with my dog for years, and have often let her off the leash. But in the last few years, I've become much more aware that man's best friend has a significant impact on the wildlife that make our wilderness areas their home. Even in areas that don't require leashes, I now leash our dog. As much as you would love for your dog to run free, it's important to remember that both we and our dogs are guests in this place and we want to leave the least amount of impact possible. Of course, this is a 6' leash required area. The Ranger District is now giving special attention to unleashed dogs and writing tickets.
  • Pack Out All Trash: It should probably go without saying, but be sure to pack out your trash, including both human and dog waste. In 2015 alone, forest rangers packed out over 500 pounds of trash left by visitors to the Maroon Bells-Snowmass area.

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Pine Valley Ranch Park Hike

Pine Valley Ranch Park has become one of our family's favorite parks near Denver. Pine Valley Ranch Park boasts several hikes, a beautiful lake, a lot of history, a small island with a gazebo, and the best picnic area on the Front Range of Colorado. If that's not enough, the North Fork of the Platte River runs through the park, lined with enormous spruce trees and granite cliffs. Explore the trail profile below for hiking options, trail map, driving directions and more.

Trail Snapshot: Pine Valley Ranch Park Trail

Hiking Options at Pine Valley Ranch Park

#1 - Park View Out-and-Back Hike - Approx. 2 Miles Round Trip

The Park View trail can be located on the other side of Pine Lake (not the far side). Take the narrow gauge trail across the bridge and you'll locate the trailhead just on the other side of a shelter that sits along Pine lake. The trail is moderate to strenuous and will take you up to some great views of the surrounding Pike National forest and the Platte River. You'll get views of the extensive Hayman Burn, the burn scars left from the 2000 fire.

#2 - Full Park View Loop - Approx. 2.5 Miles

If you would like to take a longer loop hike, take the Park view trail (.8 mile) up to the strawberry jack trail (.5), which will connect you to the Buck Gulch trail (.4) which will take you back down to Pine Lake. The Strawberry Jack trail will take you out into Pike National Forest. Be sure to have a map you--which you can pick up at the park--because a wrong turn onto the Buck Gulch Trail can take you far out of the way.

#3 - Pine Lake Loop Hike - Approx. .7 mile

You can take a leisurely hike around Pine Lake at Pine Valley Ranch. Go early (before 7:30AM) to catch site of the birds and wildlife around the lake.

#4 - Narrow Gauge Trail Hike - .5 to 3.8 miles

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This is the hike that our kids most enjoy. We like to hike the southeast segment that takes you along the North Fork of the South Platte River. There are willows to pass through, and probably some good trout fishing along the banks. The Narrow Gauge trail stretches about half a mile in this direction and is surrounded by granite cliffs, pine, and spruce.

If you hike the Narrow Gauge trail to the West, you'll follow the river past Pine lake for about 1.5 miles, then can hike it back.

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Pine Lake at Pine Valley Ranch Park

Pine Lake packs out with fisherman on the weekend but can be a great quiet escape on the weekdays, especially in the mornings and evenings. The lake has a fishing pier and a great shelter. In the winter months, there is ice fishing and skating. The shoreside shelter at Pine Lake has several picnic tables and a fireplace.

The Best Picnic Area Near Denver

pine valley ranch picnic area
As our family explores hikes and parks near Denver, we get to see a lot of picnic areas. See our Seven Great Picnic Areas Near Denver post. The picnic area at Pine Valley Ranch Park is hands down our favorite. A few reasons why: 1) It's along a river, 2) it's surrounded and shaded by enormous spruce trees, 3) has great facilities: two large covered shelters, and 4) there are a lot of activity options for families.

girl on trail with black dog in colorado mountains spruce tree in foreground and snow and evergreen trees in background

Tips & Resources for Hiking the Pine Valley Ranch Park:

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  • Gazebo: There are some hidden treasures at Pine Valley Ranch. One you can't miss is the gazebo. Behind the large picnic shelters you'll find a small trail that leads to a bridge. The bridge leads to an small island in the Platte River and a beautiful old gazebo. The island is man-made and was created to contain the domesticated goats that used to roam the ranch.
  • River's edge: The Platte river can swell and be quite dangerous, especially in the Spring and after heavy rains, so keep a close eye on children along the river's edge.
  • Eagles: Keep your eyes peeled for bald eagles and osprey
  • Use sunscreen: Though there are a lot of trees, like most Colorado hikes, most areas are exposed to the sun, so hike early and use sunscreen.
  • Handicap accessibility: This would be a great place for family with physical limitations or who are wheelchair bound. I should point out that the park is not built around handicap accessibility, but we saw several people fishing from wheelchairs along the lake, and there is a lot of beauty to take in without having to go far or negotiate obstacles.
  • Historical significance: Pine Valley Ranch is replete with historical significance. The best place to start is to take a tour of Baehrden Lodge, a 27 room estate perched over the top of Pine Valley Ranch Park that is now in the care of Jefferson County Parks.
  • pine valley ranch park narrow gauge trail

  • Carved initials: Look for initials carved into trees a long the paths of Pine Valley Ranch. These go back many decades to when Pine Valley Ranch was a resort and folks would take the train from Denver to escape into the mountains.
  • Dr. Robert Dudley: We want to express our gratitude to Dr. Robert Dudley, who in the 1970's kept the park from being parceled out to the highest bidder, and to the Jefferson County Parks staff for the care they give to keep Pine Valley Ranch Park available to the public.
  • After the Hike: Aspen Perk Cafe
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • Trail Map for Pine Valley Ranch Park: Trail Map Link

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baby mountain goat on mount evans colorado more easy hikes


Horseshoe Trail at Golden Gate Canyon Park

The Horseshoe Trail in Golden Gate Canyon State Park is a wonderful hike for older kids, experienced and non-experienced hikers. It's a great trail for spotting wildlife, from birds to deer, viewing fall colors and wildflowers, and taking in the beautiful scenic view along the trail. Several of the backcountry campsites areas are also accessible from the Horseshoe trail. We'll detail those locations, provide links to a trail map, driving directions and more in the trail profile on this Colorado hike.

Trail Snapshot: Horseshoe Trail at Golden Gate Canyon Park

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Golden Gate Canyon's Horseshoe Trail is a 3.6 mile out-and-back hike (1.8 miles one-way). We've rated it as moderate in difficulty because of the 900+ feet of elevation gain. The Horseshoe Trail is popular because it follows the beds of several small streams, winds through groves of aspen trees, and leads to beautiful meadows, as well as three of Golden Gate Canyon State Park's backcountry camping areas.

To get to the trailhead (first,use our driving directions). Once in the park, exit to the right out of the Visitors Center--you'll want to stop here first to pick up a map. You'll find the Frazer Meadows parking area and trailhead for the Horseshoe Trail on the left-hand side of the road. Keep in mind that parking is limited, so it would be best to arrive early. There are also restrooms at the Horseshoe trail trailhead and we found them to be kept up and clean.

peak along horseshoe trail in golden gate canyon state park

One of the highlights of this trail are the streams that run along it. You'll find that there are several small bridges to cross as you make your way up the trail. Seasonal streams also mean that sections of the Horseshoe trail will get muddy on after rains and during the Spring melt-water runoff. But water also means wildflowers, and this trail comes alive with them in late Spring through the Summer.

The Horseshoe Trail also leads you to access trails for three of the five Golden Gate Canyon backcountry camping areas. Use this link to the backcountry camping brochure to get details on cost per night and how to make campsite reservations in Golden Gate Canyon State Park. The first campsite access trail is at 1.1 miles and will take you to Greenfield Meadows, which has 4 campsites. Continuing on the same spur, you can hike further in to the Frazer Meadow campsite which has 4 campsites and one backcountry shelter. If you continue on the Horseshoe trail, you'll come upon the access trail for Rim Meadow campsite at 1.3 miles. Rim Meadow also has 4 campsites.

girl on trail with black dog in colorado mountains spruce tree in foreground and snow and evergreen trees in background

Tips & Resources for Hiking the Horseshoe Trail:

  • Park Pass: A Colorado State Park Pass is required to enter Golden Gate Canyon State Park. Check the Golden Gate Canyon Fees page for details on park passes. Some trails offer passes at self-serve dispensers.
  • Printed map: The trail forks to the left, make sure to have a printed map on hand which you can pick up at the Visitors Center.
  • Bug spray: for hot summer days not a bad idea.
  • Sun protection: The trail is often shaded--a rare thing for Front Range hikes--but be sure to bring sun protection because it is almost 4 miles round trip and there are areas exposed to the sun.
  • No cell phone: There is no cell phone coverage at Golden Gate Canyon State Park.
  • Download our Dayhikes Hiking Guide for a day hike packing checklist
  • After the Hike: Windy Saddle Cafe in Golden
  • Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • Trail Map for Golden Gate Canyon State Park: Trail Map Link

A big thanks goes out to Lisa Palmer, a member of our Dayhikes Pathfinder Team, who hiked this trail with her family, gathered the information for the trail profile, and took the photos for this post.

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man painting red rocks at trading post trail in red rocks park near denver with red rocks in background hikes 30 minutes from denver


hanging lake waterfall flowing over verdant cliff face into turquoise pool on hike near glenwood springs colorao

Guide for Hiking Hanging Lake in Colorado

Hanging Lake is a short hike to two waterfalls and one of the most beautiful lakes in Colorado. On the same hike, you can explore Spouting Rock Falls, and even walk behind the waterfall. Reservations are required to hike Hanging Lake so don't leave home without booking (see info in trail snapshot below). It’s not a day hike near Denver, but it’s definitely worth the nearly three-hour drive to the Hanging Lake Trailhead just outside of Glenwood Springs.

We've attempted to create the definitive guide to hiking the Hanging Lake Trail. In this guide, you'll find: how to make reservations for hiking hanging lake, 10 hiking tips, notes on driving directions to Hanging Lake. You can download the Hanging Lake trail map, find tips on photography at the lake, and some notes on hiking this trail with kids. If you are planning a Colorado vacation, there is helpful information for planning both your hike and trip to this Colorado destination. This guide is extensive, so we have created a table of contents help you navigate your way around.

Hanging Lake Guide Contents

  1. Trail Snapshot
  2. Reservations and Permits
  3. Driving Directions
  4. Parking & Trailhead
  5. Hiking the Trail
  6. At Hanging Lake
  7. Spouting Rock Falls
  8. Photography
  9. Hiking Hanging Lake with Kids
  10. For Out-of-State Hikers
  11. Ten Hiking Tips
  12. Fishing Prohibited
  13. Dogs Prohibited
  14. Camping Nearby
  15. Lodging Nearby
  16. Things to Do Nearby
  17. Proposing at Hanging Lake
  18. History and Geology of Hanging Lake

Trail Snapshot: Hanging Lake Trail

Hanging Lake Reservations and Permits

Year-round, permits are required to hike Hanging Lake. You can purchase your permit and schedule your reservation slot online at the Hanging Lake Shuttle site.

You might be wondering why permits are necessary? The trail receives over 100,000 visitors each year, which is common for some areas in the National Parks system, but there are two other factors at play: first, hanging lake is a sensitive area and because of the sheer volume of visitors, the ecosystem was becoming threatened by the impact; second, the trailhead parking area is in a canyon alongside interstate 70, so it would be incredibly difficult and expensive to expand the parking and trailhead facilities. Not to mention that by expanding, we would end up expanding the problem of impact. In short, Hanging Lake was getting loved to death. Now the city of Glenwood Springs and the Forest Service have teamed up to preserve this natural wonder, so that future generations will get to enjoy it, too.

Hanging Lake Driving Directions

Hanging Lake Driving Directions - May 1 - Oct. 31 - Peak Season

During peak seasons, Park at the Hanging Lake Welcome Center in Glenwood Springs to access the shuttle. From Denver, take interstate 70 West to Take exit 116 for CO-82 East toward Glenwood Springs/Aspen. You'll stay on 82 as it wraps back around to the South and becoming Grand Avenue. After going over the bridge, take 8th street west/right. After about 0.4 mile, take a right onto Midland Ave. Go about 0.5 mile and turn right onto Wulfsohn. The Hanging Lake Welcome Center is just up the road on Wulfsohn next to the Glenwood Springs Community Center. Check up-to-date maps via the links above, as construction may change driving directions.

The Return Shuttle: The hanging lake return shuttle is on a 3-hour schedule, meaning that it will be ready to take hiker back after three hours from their drop-off. Hikers who stay longer will be on standby, so plan accordingly.

Hanging Lake Driving Directions - Nov. 1 - April 30 - Off-Peak Season

These directions to the Hanging Lake Trailhead are only for those visiting during the off-peak season (Nov.1 to April 30th). The trailhead is closed to vehicles during the peak season. Driving to Hanging Lake from Denver (the east) can be a bit confusing. Here’s why: you have to drive past the trailhead because there is not westbound exit, then take exit 121, go under interstate 70 and get back on eastbound I-70. Then you’ll take exit 125 to the Hanging lake Trailhead. I’ve posted a map below that shows all this in detail.

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When leaving the Hanging Lake Trailhead, you can only exit onto the Westbound lane of interstate 70. So, you’ll have to do the same thing and take exit 121 again to double-back and head back to Denver. If you are coming from Glenwood Springs or the west, then things are pretty straightforward. Driving from Denver, this maps out as a 2.5 hour drive using Google maps, but be sure to add time for construction.

Parking and Facilities at Hanging Lake Trailhead - Nov. 1 - April 30

We arrived at the Hanging Lake Trailhead parking lot at 8AM on a Saturday morning in July. The first parking lot was full, and by 8:30, the second lot was nearly full. Beginning in 2015, a gate has been installed to close the lot when it is full.The restroom facilities were large enough to serve the number of people who frequent this popular Colorado hike, and were well kept. This is important: if you get there when the lot is full, you will either need to try again later, or make other plans. An alternative is to rent bikes in Glenwood Springs, to bike in, and lock up your bikes at the trailhead (be sure to get locks at the rental shop).

There were a few shaded picnic areas near the parking area, and some unshaded ones along the river. On our way out, the parking lot was at full capacity with cars having to turn around and leave because there was no place to park. Parking is prohibited along the the I-70 exit ramp, so if the parking lot is full, your best bet is to drive into Glenwood Springs, grab something to eat, and try back later. Don't wait idling or clog the ramp, it prevents emergency vehicles from accessing folks who really need their help. It's also important to note that recreational vehicles and trailers are prohibited from parking at the hanging lake parking lots as there is not sufficient space to turn around.

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Hiking the Hanging Lake Trail

The Trailhead begins along the Colorado River with a paved bike path surrounded by the banded rock walls of Glenwood Canyon. The morning air was cool, and steam was lifting from the warm surface of the Colorado River. After about a quarter-mile you’ll see a bike rack and the Hanging Lake Trail on your left. This is the beginning of Dead Horse Creek Canyon, the canyon that you’ll follow for about 1 mile up to Hanging Lake, then to Spouting Rock Falls.

Depending on your pace, it may take you anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour and a half to get to the top.Though the prize at the end of this hike are two breathtaking Colorado waterfalls, one of our favorite features of the Hanging Lake trail is that it follows and crosses a mountain stream all the way up to the lake. In fact you’ll cross seven bridges on your journey up to Hanging Lake. You’ll be refreshed by the sights and sounds of cascades and the cool air of the canyon.

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Most of the hike is in the shade of towering spruce, cedar, and fir trees. You’ll find several benches and rocks where you can stop and rest. If you are acclimated to the altitude, the hike up the Hanging Lake is relatively easy and short, but it is steep and there are a lot of rocks to negotiate, so we have categorized the Hanging Lake trail as a moderate hike.

If you are not acclimated to the altitude, or not a regular hiker, this Colorado hike will be a real workout, so you may classify it as difficult. If this is you, then be sure to read our Tips for For Out-of-State Hikers. The piece you may find most challenging is just how slippery some of the rock can get. I hiked this in Chaco sandals, which had great grip, but I got a few blisters on the descent. I’d recommend wearing a shoe or a boot that you know won’t be prone to slipping.The piece you may find most challenging is just how slippery some of the rock can get. I’d recommend wearing a shoe or a boot that you know won’t be prone to slipping.

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At bridge three you’ll come across a beautiful cascade. The canyon soon opens to display clifftops that look like the ancient ruins of some abandoned castle. In areas where the sunlight breaks through, you may find raspberries along the trail in the latter half of the Summer. You’ll find more cascades near bridge number five. Dead Horse Canyon is a particularly lush ecosystem packed with spruce trees, moss, lichen, ferns, and sweet woodruff. As our six-year old daughter hiked into this part of the trail, she looked up to me and said, “It’s a rainforest, Dad!”

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Close to the one-mile point, you’ll climb a steep staircase of rock complete with handrails. While the handrails are helpful, it would be easy for a child to slip over one.So, we’d recommend that you keep smaller children on the inside of the steps as you ascend and hold their hand. It’s a sheer drop on the other side of the handrail.At the top of the stairs follow the path about 100 yards to Hanging Lake. On the way, just before Hanging Lake, you’ll notice a sign to Spouting Rock. We’ll detail this trail in a moment, but you absolutely must hike this short 200 yard trail to this waterfall hidden behind Hanging Lake.

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At Hanging Lake

Hanging Lake is a masterpiece of the natural world. You could spend the entire morning staring into its waters and discovering new things. We spotted trout in its green and blue waters, and dippers, little birds that create nests right on the rocks along the water. There are a variety of moss, ferns, and wildflowers all along the lake. Because of all the traffic at the lake, we saw a bit of trash floating at the base of the waterfall. Dayhikes Near Denver would like to challenge you to look for a piece of trash at the lake and to pack it out with you. Of course, don't go in for it, but pick up what is along the trail and edge of the lake. If we all do this, we can do a little part to help keep this natural wonder beautiful. With over 130,000 people visiting a year, the impact adds up fast.

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The back side of Hanging Lake was my favorite spot. The light play and the water spray made for great photos (see our photographing hanging lake tips below), and it gives you a real stunning perspective of the waterfalls pouring into the lake.

You may notice what looks like a huge chain-link cage along the canyon wall above Hanging Lake. It’s there to hold back the rocks that are prone to pile up and roll downhill toward the lake.

Stay off the Log

There is a log that stretches out into the lake, and its tempting to walk out onto it. However, it’s important to know that the oils and detergents on our bodies and clothing--even our shoes just touching the water--can damage the sensitive ecosystem of Hanging Lake. So, as cool as it might be to get that pic of you out on the log, it’s even cooler to help preserve this place for the next generation who gets to see it.

So, as cool as it might be to get that pic of you out on the log, it’s even cooler to help preserve this place for the next generation who gets to see it.

Spouting Rock Waterfalls

On your return, be sure to hike the short spur (about 200 yards) up to Spouting Rock Falls. That’s right, it’s plural--there are multiple falls. This set of waterfalls is much higher than the Bridal Veil falls at Hanging Lake, and instead of pouring over the cliffside, the falls shoot out from holes that the water has carved through a sheer wall of limestone. When the water is really flowing (which is most of the time), an additional gusher of a falls spills out from the heights above Spouting Rock, creating a breathtaking series of waterfalls.

Photography: How to Get Great Photos of Hanging Lake

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The key to getting the best photos of Hanging Lake is to go very early or later in the afternoon when the sun is close to setting. We hit the trail around 8:30 AM, and by the time we got to the lake, there was direct sun on the waterfalls pouring into Hanging Lake.

The real problem is that part of the waterfalls and lake are in direct sun and part in in the shadow of the canyon walls. This makes for two very different exposures within the same frame. So, that’s why we recommend that you go earlier or much later when the sunlight is still indirect and diffused. For some incredible shots, be sure to walk over to the back side of hanging lake where you can take photos that reveal the area carved out under the falls--but be sure to keep out of the water.

You will find the light at Spouting Rock Falls much more forgiving. Spouting rock is shaded more by both the canyon walls and trees that surround it. However, I would expect that light might be a bit harsh around midday.

Hiking with Kids at Hanging Lake

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The trail is steep and the rock steps are high, so if you are bringing your kids, be prepared to hike at a slower pace and for a lot of people to be passing you. Be aware that there is a lot of slippery rock along the trail, so both good hiking shoes with grip and close supervision of kiddos are important. We brought our 4-year old and 6-year old with us and they did fine. Take into account that we have been hiking with our kids since they were a few weeks old, so this is more normal for us. We read an online comment where another family recommended this hike only for kids 10 and up. If your kids are young, I wouldn’t recommend this as a first hike.

The experience of hiking the Hanging Lake trail with our four-year old was a bit like hiking with a marionette. A lot of the rock steps on the trail were above her knees, so we were helping her up most of the way. This eventually turned into a game of leapfrog, as there were a lot of folks visiting from out-of-state who quickly became winded and needed to take stops, too.

The trail got busy quickly, so we found ourselves stopping often and stepping aside to let others pass us. Our children were particularly taken with the snails we found along the trail when we took breaks. The snails are easy to miss, but if you just stop and look around for a moment, they seem to appear from out of nowhere.

Visiting Hanging Lake From Out-of-State

  • Be ready to feel winded by the altitude change. You can help yourself adjust to altitude and to have a successful hike up to Hanging Lake by getting a good nights rest, drinking lots of water, and by going at a slower pace than you may be used to. This is good basic advice for anyone vacationing in Colorado.
  • As I mentioned earlier, the rock on the trail can be wet and slippery, so make sure that you have footwear that can grip the rock.
  • If you are overweight or have knee or ankle problems, then trekking poles are an absolute necessity. Coming down the trail is tough on the joints, and you’ll be weary at that point, so it’s easy to turn an ankle (I did, but that was probably because I was wearing Chaco sandals).
  • Don’t give up. We saw several people about 400 yards shy of the lake talking about turning around and heading back. They were so close. Of course, if you think that your health would be compromised by continuing, or if a bad lightning storm is rolling in, then it’s always wise to turn around.
  • If you are from out-of-state, or just not in the best of shape, plan for your hike to take longer. And definitely get to the parking lot early, 7AM, to avoid the heat and crowds. If you would consider yourself very out-of-shape, I’d recommend building up to this hike. See our Easy Hikes Near Denver or Short Hikes Near Denver pages for a good place to start.

waterfall in canyon with bridge in foreground fish creek falls waterfall in colorado


Ten Hiking Tips for Hiking Hanging Lake

Because there are a lot of first-time hikers on this trail (and you might be one), we wanted to share a few tips.

  1. If you find that you are going at a slow pace, step off to the edge of the trail to let other groups pass.
  2. If you are going at a faster pace, simply say, “Pardon us as we pass on your left.” Just like driving, always pass on the left.
  3. Take your time and don’t pass folks on the handrail section. It gets crowded here, but it’s just a short jaunt, so take your time so that everyone can make a safe passage of it.
  4. Don’t feed Bucky: We encountered one woman who had tried to feed an almond to a squirrel, but the squirrel mistook her finger for the nut. As a rule, you don’t want to be feeding wildlife because it makes them dependent upon an unnatural food source (especially fingers), but it’s also not a good idea because you could get bit.
  5. Make sure to bring a snack and some water. Be sure to pack out your plastic water bottles and other trash.
  6. Hike the Hanging Lake Trail early in the morning, not just because of parking and traffic, but to cut down on the heat and humidity of the day. Depending on when you hike this trail, it can feel like two completely different experiences. If you hike in the early morning, the canyon is cool and refreshing. Hike it after 11am in the summer and it can feel more like a sauna.
  7. This is one of the most popular if not the most popular hike in Colorado, so avoid holiday weekends. Or go very early, by 7am, if you want a parking spot.
  8. Don't forget to bring a camera.
  9. There will likely be snow on the trail in the Spring, Fall, and of course Winter, so we advise bringing a traction device like YakTrax and trekking poles.
  10. Don’t cut through the switchbacks, these are here to cut down on erosion, which can be significant with around 130,000 visitors hiking the trail each year.

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Can I Fish at Hanging Lake?

There are trout at Hanging Lake, but fishing is NOT allowed because of the lake’s unique and fragile ecosystem. However, if you would like to add fishing to your day, I’d recommend fishing the Colorado River along the Hanging Lake trailhead. I’ve not fished this section of the Colorado River, but I saw trout rising while we were walking past, and there looks to be some pretty good access to the river banks.

Are Dos Allowed at Hanging Lake

You’ll have to leave Fido at home for this one because dogs prohibited on the Hanging Lake Trail and at Hanging Lake. In fact, the forest service sites that dogs, and the trash left by visitors, are biggest threat to the sensitive environment of Hanging Lake. A lot of people ask if you can swim in Hanging Lake, and for the same reasons swimming is prohibited. In fact, the US Forest service details that there is to be "no bodily contact" with the water.

Camping Near Hanging Lake

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We decided to camp with our family on Friday night, then to get up early on Saturday to do the Hanging Lake hike. I was surprised by how difficult it was to find a campground near Glenwood Springs.

However, we eventually found and reserved amazing campground. In fact, it’s so good that I’m hesitant to share it. We booked a campsite at Bogen Flats Campground along the Crystal River. It was a 1 hour drive from the campground to the hanging lake trailhead. Though, not as beautiful, you could camp at Redstone Campground, which is a bit closer. We would also recommend (if you have a good clearance 2WD vehicle), the Avalanche Creek site--no reservations required. There is a KOA near Glenwood Springs that gets great reviews, too.

Lodging near Hanging Lake

If you don’t want to rough it, there are plenty of lodging options in Glenwood Springs and great places to stay.

Other things to Do in Nearby Glenwood Springs

If you are driving from the east, there is a good chance that you may want to spend the weekend or a couple vacation days in Glenwood Springs. If you are looking for some things to do, here are a few suggestions.

  • The Hot Springs at Glenwood Springs - Sit back and soak in the main attraction and namesake of Glenwood Springs, Colorado. This is a perfect way to recover after your hike up to Hanging Lake.
  • Glenwood Caverns Cave Tours and Adventure Park - Go on one of the many different cave tours, or seek some above ground thrills on the parks many rides and attractions.
  • Rafting - There are a ton of rafting outfits in the Glenwood Springs area. Check out this Glenwood Springs page for a listing of Colorado guided rafting tours.
  • A Whole Lot More - Glenwood Springs was voted as one of the best vacation spots in the West--there is just a surprising amount of fun to be had in this Colorado town. The best place to really explore and find out more about the area’s attractions, see the Visit Glenwood site and begin planning your trip.

Proposing at Hanging Lake

Hanging Lake is a picture perfect place for an engagement. The downside is that there is a lot of traffic on this popular Colorado trail. So, here are three tips that should help you out.

  • Go early on the weekend, on a weekday, or off-season. By early, I mean parking the car by 6:45 AM.
  • Hanging Lake is great, but Spouting Falls is, in my opinion an even more spectacular spot for an engagement, especially because you can walk underneath the waterfall.
  • There are some rocks on the back side of Hanging Lake that you could scramble up with your significant other and get engaged under the spray and sound of the waterfall along Hanging Lake.
  • For a great example of engagement photos, check out Kristen Hakes Photography's photo shoot at Hanging Lake and Spouting Rock.

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History and Geology of Colorado’s Hanging Lake

Hanging Lake was formed in a really interesting way. At some point in it’s geologic history, about 1.5 acres of the valley floor dropped out and formed the bed of the lake. This happened because it sits right on a fault line. The blue and green colors in the lake is a result of the carbonates, minerals that have dissolved in the water. Most of the rock in this area is travertine, a kind of limestone that often precipitates out of hot springs and mineral springs.

It was supposedly first discovered by an early pioneer prospecting for gold in the area. He and his family lived on the real estate near Glenwood Springs for some years before the city of Glenwood Springs purchased it as a park. Hanging Lake is now under the authority and management of the White River National Forest. In 2011, Hanging Lake was declared a National Natural Landmark.

Links & Resources for Hiking Hanging Lake :

st marys glacier near idaho springs colorado header with snowcapped mountains in background

St. Mary’s Glacier near Idaho Springs, Colorado

The hike up to St. Mary’s Glacier ascends through a beautiful forest and ends with stunning panoramic views--the kind you expect from a perfect short hike in Colorado. If you walk around St. Mary's lake then hike up the glacier, you will gain incredible views of the Rocky Mountains to the west. It is a quick hike--1.5 miles round-trip if you climb to the top, but only about 1 mile round trip if you only hike the lake and back. The St. Mary's Glacier trailhead is about an hour from Denver and a great way to beat the summer heat, as there’s snow above the lake year-round.

ST. MARY'S GLACIER TRAIL SNAPSHOT

It was the first day of June, and when I arrived at the base of St. Mary's Glacier, I could see snowboarders and skiers zig-zagging their way down its slopes! Even the trail up to St. Mary's lake was still decorated with snow. We only made it about halfway up the glacier as it was very slick and I didn’t have my Yaktrax, but the views we got from (almost to) the saddle at top of the glacier were incredible.

st marys glacier near idaho springs skiing june

Just St. Mary's Lake alone is breathtaking – especially in the morning calm, as it reflects the glacier in its mirror surface. It's a wonderful place to have a picnic before beginning the rocky descent back down the mountain. If you walk around the right side of St. Mary's Lake, you'll come to a bridge that takes you over a small stream – this is how you pick up the trail to hike up the glacier.

st marys glacier near idaho springs beginning snowfield

How to Get the Best Experience when Hiking to St. Mary's Glacier

First is parking at the St. Mary's Glacier Trailhead (this is important): There are two parking lots for the trailhead (one south of the trailhead which is fairly large and one north of it that’s smaller) and both require you to pay a $5 fee and display a permit on your windshield. Permits are easily obtained from marked posts in both parking lots, but you’ll need to bring your own pen to write down your license plate number on the fee envelope. Restrooms in the parking lots are a giant bonus and seemed (today, at least) to be very well-maintained. Do not park along the road as it interferes with access to homes and heavy fines are assessed.

st marys glacier near idaho springs starting up trail

The trail up to St. Mary's Glacier is surprisingly short - just about three-quarters of a mile to the top of the glacier - but the route is extremely rocky, and at times, it could be difficult for smaller children to scramble over larger rocks. The lower portion of the trail is quite dry, but as you ascend to the glacier there is a lot of wet and deep snow to traverse through. I’d recommend wearing hiking boots, or at the very least wearing water-resistant/treated shoes with good traction. The winter season at St. Mary's would surely demand snowshoes. If you are hiking in the winter, exercise real caution. Because this hike feels short and is accessible from the interstate, it's easy to forget that you are in an alpine environment. Be sure to stay the trail because this is an area where avalanches are possible on the neighboring slopes.


baby mountain goat on mount evans colorado more easy hikes


The trailhead to the St. Mary’s Glacier is well-marked, but after that there are no more signs for the trail itself. I’ve heard folks on the trail say that as long as you’re climbing upwards you’ll eventually reach the glacier, but this type of unmarked trail may be a bit intimidating for less experienced hikers. Personally, in the winter I just follow footsteps in the snow and in the summer I follow the small stream upwards (reduces to a light trickle of water in the late Summer) and I have always made it to the glacier just fine.

st marys glacier hike trailhead

Dogs are allowed on the trail on leashes. They should really be kept leashed on the ascent and descent as the land the trail runs through is on private property. Be sure to bring some doggie bags to pick up after your best friend.

Tips & Resources for Hiking St. Mary’s Glacier near Idaho Springs, Colorado:

  • Picnic Area: Pack a picnic! The St. Mary's lake is truly a stunning setting for a quick bite.
  • Snowboarding Area: Bring in skis/snowboards/sleds and have a blast on the glacier.
  • Ask for direction: The trail can pretty confusing of you've not hiked it before, so don’t be afraid to ask hikers coming down if you’re headed in the right direction.
  • Trail Map for St. Mary’s Glacier near Idaho Springs, Colorado: Trail Map Link
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: Beau Jo's Pizza Idaho Springs
  • Hike Profile Credit: We would like to express our gratitude to Leslie W., a member of the Dayhikes Near Denver Pathfinder Team, who did this hike, wrote the trip report, and took the photos you see above. Thanks, Leslie!

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waterfall in canyon with bridge in foreground fish creek falls waterfall in colorado


ponderosa pine arched over mt galbraith trail with foothills at sunset near denver hike

Mt. Galbraith Loop via the Cedar Gulch Trail

Hiking Mt. Galbraith near Golden, Colorado will spoil you with it's views into two canyons and into the City of Golden. Mount Galbraith is about 25 minutes from downtown Denver, so it makes for a quick escape from the bustle of life in town to take in the fresh air of the foothills. This Colorado hiking trail is a moderate loop great for avid hikers but still accessible for beginners. Explore the full Mt. Galbraith Loop hike profile below for trail map, driving directions, and more tips and details to help you enjoy this adventure near Golden.

Trail Snapshot: Mt. Galbraith Loop Trail Near Golden

Mount Galbraith

TMt. Galbraith Loop Hike via the Cedar Gulch Trail

The Mt. Galbraith hike profiled here is a lollipop loop, and the out-and-back section of the Cedar Gulch trail starts in Cedar gulch along a stream. I hiked this in the early morning when the sounds of hummingbirds could be heard all along the stream bed. It makes for a perfect sunrise hike.

After crossing the stream, it's a steady, moderate climb with views into Golden Gate Canyon. In the Spring and early Summer, wildflowers will be blooming trailside.

Mount Galbraith view north

The Cedar Gulch trail runs for 1.3 miles skirting the side of Mt. Galbraith until it hits the intersection with the loop. At this point, you can choose to take the Mt. Galbraith loop trail to the left (clockwise), or to the right (counter-clockwise). We recommend taking the clockwise (left) route which will make for a nice shaded downhill hike off the mountain.

Mount Galbraith trail split

Before you hike to the backside of Mt. Galbraith, you'll get some great views into Golden, Colorado with the Coors Brewery dominating the landscape below, and views to the southwest of Clear Creek Canyon. The video below gives a short panorama from the overlook where you can look down into Golden.

As you continue on the Mt. Galbraith, the trail will take you west until you encounter a rock outcrop (pictured below). I scrambled up to the top and got some great views of the sides of Mt. Galbraith and far down into Clear Creek Canyon. If you are hoping to see wildlife, this is where I'd recommend stopping for a while and breaking out the binoculars.

Mount Galbraith rock outcrop

The back side of Mt. Galbraith provides a bit of shade under ponderosa pines. You'll enter a burn area, and that's when the rest of the hikes shifts to going gradually downhill. As the trail enters the canyon again the pines will transition to spruce and fir, and the trail will become more rocky. I talked with a volunteer ranger and he mentioned that this section can be a bit harrowing when it's covered with snow and ice, but on the May morning I hiked it, only small patches of snow were left.

Soon, you'll emerge from the canyon and be back on the hillside. You'll see the familiar trail intersection where you'll want to take a sharp left onto the Cedar Gulch trail which will take you back down Mt. Galbraith to the trailhead.

Mount Galbraith trees

girl on trail with black dog in coloardo mountains spruce tree in foreground and snow and evergreen trees in background

Tips & Resources for Hiking the Mt. Galbraith Loop Near Golden

  • Packing List: Always pack the 10 Essentials. Download our Hiking Guide to get list and dayhiking packing checklist.
  • TIP: The Mt. Galbraith trailhead is on the south side of the road. Be aware as you pull out and back onto Golden Gate Canyon Road, as it’s difficult to see cars coming around the bend.
  • TIP: If you’re taking your dog to hike Mt. Galbraith with you, it’s a good idea to bring extra water because there is only one stream at the entrance of the trail and no where else for them to drink. However, after a rain, near the rock outcrop, you should be able to find water pooled the rock alongside the trail.
  • TIP: Bring the sunscreen. Although there are a lot of trees on the western and northern sections of the loop, most of the trail is exposed to the sun.
  • Keep and Eye Out for Rattlesnakes: Like many of the trails in the foothills and along the Front Range, hikers should keep their eyes out for Rattlesnakes as they will often sun themselves to keep warm on the path or along the path.
  • TIP: Take it easy at the beginning of the trail. Hiking Mt. Galbraith is most challenging at the start and the rest of the trail is more peaceful and relaxing after that initial incline.
  • Trail Map for Mount Galbraith Park: Trail Map Link
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: Big Daddy Bagels

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above bear lake in rmnp looking to glacier gorge hike finder


Red Rocks Trail at Red Rocks Park Foreground grasses across meadow to Red Rocks amphitheater

Red Rocks Trail at Red Rocks Park

The Red Rocks Trail at Red Rocks park gives you a chance to wander through the meadows just east of the imposing red monoliths that this Denver Mountain Park is named after. Close to Denver, the Red Rocks Trail is great for a sunrise hike, an inspiring trail run or a challenging bike ride. There's more: a cave carved into the sandstone a great geological overlook. Read our full trail profile below to get all the information you need on this Colorado hike: trail description, driving directions, Red Rocks Hiking Map, a video panorama of the park and more.

Trail Snapshot of Red Rocks Trail at Red Rocks Park

This 6 mile loop trail actually spans across two parks. First is the Red Rocks Park which is a Denver Mountain Park, and the second is Matthews/Winters Park which is part of Jefferson County Open Space. Because of this, you should check out two different maps to connect all the trails together into one.

Start your trail at Lower North Lot (our directions above will take you right there). As you can see on the picture above, the actual trailhead is a little difficult to see from the parking lot. To find the Red Rocks Trail trailhead, go to the northeast corner of the lot, cross the street (east), and you will see the beginning of the trail just on the other side of the road.

red rocks trail trailhead

After a few minutes of hiking, you'll come to a trail junction Dakota Ridge Hogback (see photo below). We recommend you take a right and ascend the Dakota Hogback. Here are a couple reasons for this approach: First, you get one of the more difficult sections of the trail out of the way at the beginning of the hike. Second, you can get a visual of your return trail from the top of the hogback. This will help when you are descending into Matthew's Winter's park and are trying to match the map up to the connecting route. The yellow arrows on the photo below will be your return route (just imagine the arrows going the opposition direction).

red rocks trail split

Ahead of you is about a mile of rock-strewn path followed by another mile on a wider path. Good hiking boots or shoes are a necessity, especially on this part of the hike. Eventually, you'll bear left and let the trail take you off the mountain and to County Road 93. Here you will cross the street and enter Matthews/Winters park. You'll find restrooms here and a bit of shade under the cottonwood trees that line the creek.

Before you cross the Mt. Vernon Creek, you can pick up park brochure and map. Take the Village Walk trail which is a hiker & equestrian-only if you are on foot. If you are biking this, you'll want to take the Village Ride trail (0.6 mi) which is a bikes only trail. After .3 mile on the Village Walk Trail you will pick up the Red Rocks Trail again. This section isn't very demanding. You'll travel for 2.8 mi back to the trailhead where the hike began. If you want more of a workout on your return, turn right after 0.8 miles and take the Morrison Slide Trail, which will add an additional 0.4 mile and some elevation to your hike or run.

Overall this loop hike gives you great expansive views of Red Rocks, but if you want something closer in to the rock and shorter, then you should check out the Trading Post Trail in Red Rocks Park.

Jaunt #1 - Shallow Cave at Red rocks

From the lower north parking lot, take the stairs up to the road, then walk left up the road about 50 yards to check out a shallow cave carved into the ancient sandstone. There is also a tunnel carved out of the rock that the road passes through. It’s a great place for photos, but be sure to keep aware of the cars.

red rocks trail road to shallow cave

Jaunt #2 - Geologic Overlook at Red Rocks

As you can see on the photo below, on the north side of the parking area, just east of the stairs, you’ll find another trail marker that reads “Geologic Overlook”. It’s just a short hike, maybe a few hundred yards but it will take you to a great overlook in Red Rocks Park.

red rocks geologic overlook trail

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Tips & Resources for Hiking Red Rocks Trail at Red Rocks Park :

  • TIP: There is no shade at all, so we recommend that you bring sunscreen and hats. This trail should be hiked in the morning before the sun is bearing down on you.
  • TIP: Be aware of mountain bikers, especially if you have small kiddos who love to wander around on the trail. We passed several cyclists along the trail, and like most Colorado mountain bikers, they were kind and considerate.
  • Trail Map for Red Rocks Park: Trail Map Link
  • Additional Map: Matthews/Winters Park Trail Map Link
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: Morrison Joe

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man painting red rocks at trading post trail in red rocks park near denver with red rocks in background hikes 30 minutes from denver