castle rock incline challenge hill at base of steps looking up the 200 steps toward the top

Incline at Castle Rock

The Incline at Castle Rock is a 0.6 mile loop that begins with a 200 step climb up the Challenge Hill to the top of a promontory. From the top, a trail winds down the side of the mesa for 1/2 a mile back to the bottom. It makes for a great workout in the outdoors, and is about 30 minutes south of the center of Denver. Explore the full Castle Rock Incline hike profile below for trail map, driving directions, and more tips and details to help you get active and enjoy the beauty of Colorado

Trail Snapshot: Incline at Castle Rock

Parking & Trailhead Information for Incline at Castle Rock

The Hike: Incline at Castle Rock

Officially, these 200 steps are called The Challenge Hill, but the locals call it "the incline," and rightly so, because it's inspired by the Manitou Incline near Colorado Springs. Because it's just 5 minutes down the road, we've turned this into a regular family workout. It's a perfect place to get in some exercise and take in amazing sunsets over the Colorado Front Range.

castle rock challenge hill hikers climbing the 200 steps to the top

The first segment of the Castle Rock Incline is a 1/10th of a mile climb up 200 steps with close to 200' of elevation gain. This will kick your butt, especially if you take the steps back down. We prefer to run down the 1/2 mile loop trail, usually doing the loop a couple times. We've categorized this as a moderate trail because it has under 500' of total elevation gain and is only 0.6 miles, but many will find it difficult because of the grade of the ascent.

photo of map of the challenge hill loop at castle rock phillip s miller park

At the top of the Challenge Hill, you can take in views to the north and west of Longs Peak and Devil's Head. There's a wood bench if you want to rest or use it for stretching your legs after the climb. If you decide to descend via the steps be aware that the late afternoon sun can make it very difficult to see the steps.

child looking west at sunset at the top of the castle rock incline

A Zipline platform stands at the peak of this promontory. It's fun to watch zipliners fly through the air across the park. The Zipline tours are operated by Castle Rock Zipline Tours. But don't keep your eyes on the sky because the trail down has a lot of loose gravel and the trail demands your attention.

castle rock challenge hill at top of promontory zipline platform at dusk

The trail wraps around the mesa back to the West facing side. Snow and ice can take a while to melt free from the trail, especially in shaded spots. You can check on the trail conditions using the Castle Rock Trail Conditions Map online.

castle rock challenge hill trail looking south at sunset to pikes peak

On the back side of the hill, you'll find panoramic views of Pikes Peak and the broad rolling country to the South of Castle Rock. This segment starts out rock then gives way to a gravel trail.

trail runners running loop trail at castle rock incllat sunset

Trail Etiquette at the Castle Rock Incline

  • The trail is popular with trail runners, so be aware of approaching runners and keep right to allow them to pass.
  • Dogs are prohibited on the challenge hill, because--well, you can imagine why.
  • Keep to the right on steps and in single file, especially when others are trying to pass or are coming the opposite direction.
  • Let others know when you intend to pass them.
  • Descent via the steps is not discourage by the park signage because it's easier to get injured.
  • Hours are Dawn to Dusk

castle rock challenge hill as sunset looking east

From the photo above, you can get a feel for the scale of the Challenge Hill. Much of the lower trail is in scrub oaks, and this next part may seem a bit overly cautious, but after reading a ton mountain lions, I always keep my kids close. As a local ranger told me, "On the Front Range, where there are deer, there are mountain lions." And a kid running fast through an area like this can incite the instincts of a lion. That I know of, we've not had any attacks in this area, but this is just a protocol our family follows on any hike or run--kids and adults always stay together.

playground and workout stations at the phillip s miller park in castle rock colorado

Speaking of the kids, the Phillip Miller park complex recently added (2019) a workout playground that looks like something out of Ninja Warrior competitions. After running the loop a couple times, we spend some time with the kids catching our breath and stretching at the playground.

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

Tips & Resources for Hiking the Incline at Castle Rock

  • Check out Trail Conditions: Before going, check the trail conditions at the Challenge Hill at the Castle Rock Trail Conditions page.
  • Pace Yourself: On the ascent, start with a sustainable pace. It gets way more steep and challenging at step 140.
  • Trail Map: Incline at Castle Rock
  • Packing List: Always pack the 10 Essentials. Download our Hiking Guide to get the list and dayhiking packing checklist.
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: Since I'm a local, I've got two absolute favorite spots for after the hike. The first is CRAVE Burgers. We love the Love Stinks Burger and the Not Yo Mamma's Burger (on the hidden menu) Crave Burgers in Castle Rock. The second is Manna, a a restaurant in the local hospital. But this is by no means hospital food! It's locally sourced food at great prices. Manna in Castle Rock

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shanahan ridge loop trail near boulder header

Shanahan Ridge Hike Near Boulder

The Shanahan Ridge Loop Hike is an easy, 4-mile lollipop-loop trail with stunning views of the Shanahan Ridge of the Flatirons in Boulder, Colorado. Explore the full Shanahan Ridge Loop hike profile below for trail map, driving directions, and more tips and details to help you enjoy this hike in Boulder.

Trail Snapshot: Shanahan Ridge Loop Trail in Boulder, Colorado

Parking & Trailhead Information for Shanahan Ridge Loop Trail

The Shanahan Ridge Trailhead is located just along Lehigh Street south of Boulder. From US 36, follow Table Mesa Drive West to its intersection with CO 93. Turn left onto 93 and follow it for less than a mile. Turn right onto Greenbriar Boulevard which eventually becomes Lehigh Street. The trailhead is on the left/southwest side of the road and marked by a trail post and trash receptacle. There is actually no parking lot because the trailhead is located in a residential area. Because of this please exercise extra care and respect for the residents as you park along Lehigh or adjacent streets. Be aware of city parking signage.

The Hike: Shanahan Ridge Loop Trail

The Shanahan Ridge loop is best hiked clockwise in order to gain the best views of the Flatirons and surrounding countryside. Going left on the first junction will take you onto a connector trail that will next intersect with the South Fork Shanahan Trail. This trail begins with a gradual ascent which becomes more demanding. If you are acclimatized to the altitude and hike a fair amount, you'll find this segment easy; but beginner hikers and those of us who are not in the best of shape will find this a moderately demanding trail.

Continue on the South Fork Shanahan Trail for about 1.8 miles as it weaves through ponderosa forest and opens out to captivating vistas of the Flatirons. The trail will terminate at a junction with the Mesa Trail. Follow this trail North (right) as it winds along the base of the Shanahan Ridge of the Flatirons.

red rock of shanahan ridge flatirons area outside of boulder colorado

After approximately a 1/2 mile on the Mesa trail, it will intersect with the North Fork Shanahan Trail. Taking a right onto the North Fork Shanahan leads backdownhill for about 1.3 miles to the trailhead.

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 Shanahan Ridge Loop

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snow capped pikes peak in background and orange rock of garden of the gods in foreground

Garden of the Gods Ultimate Hiking Guide

Garden of the Gods is argueabley the best place to hike in Colorado Springs. Designated a National Natural Landmark, the park is known for its towering red sandstone formations and panoramic views of Pikes Peak. Hiking, Horseback riding, mountain biking, birding, and climbing are among the activities that can be enjoyed here. This guide to the Garden of the Gods features 6 different hiking trail options, spanning from easy to moderate and 1/2 mile to 2.5 mile hikes.

We've attempted to create the definitive guide to hiking in Garden of the Gods. In this guide, you'll find: Driving directions to Garden of the Gods, Trail Maps, Photography tips, Camping information for the Garden of the Gods area, and other Resources for planning your Colorado Vacation. This guide to Garden of the Gods is extensive, so we have created a table of contents to help you navigate. Have fun exploring!

Garden of the Gods Hiking Guide Contents

  1. Trail Snapshot
  2. Driving Directions
  3. Hiking Trails
  4. Central Garden Trail
  5. Ridge Trail
  6. Siamese Twins Trail
  7. Palmer Trail
  8. Scotsman & Buckskin Charlie Loops
  9. Balanced Rock Trail
  10. Photography
  11. Hiking with Kids
  12. For Out-of-State Hikers
  13. Things to Do Nearby
  14. History and Geology
  15. Protect Garden of the Gods

Trail Snapshot: Garden of the Gods

Driving Directions to Garden of the Gods

Take interstate I-25 to Colorado Springs. Exit onto West Fillmore Road and head West. Fillmore will change names to Fontmore Road. Take a right onto North 30th Street, and you'll find the Garden of the Gods Visitor Center just 1.2 miles up on the right/east side of the road. We recommend you stop at the Visitor Center to pick up a free color trail map. The main parking area for hiking is located on the North end of the park. You'll find Gateway Road (the access road into Garden of the Gods) directly across from the Visitor Center. Head west on Gateway road, then right at the intersection with Juniper Way Loop Road. The main parking area is located on the left-hand/South side of the first bend of the Juniper Way Loop. There are restroom facilities available at both the main parking area and at the visitor center.

Before you park, consider driving around the entire Juniper Way loop to take in the sites and get your bearings. It's one of the most beautiful drives in Colorado, especially during sunrise and sunset. The loop is one way, has a low speed limit, and is frequented by cyclists. So, it also makes for a great bike ride-- the northbound loop is a gradual but demanding climb. Be attentive to hikers and cyclists as you drive in the park.

6 Hiking Trails at Garden of the Gods

concrete path winding through red rock formations with scrub grasses and juniper trees

Central Garden Trail at Garden of the Gods Steve Walser

Trail Option #1 - The Central Garden Trails

We've put this loop hike first on our list because it takes you right into the heart of the park. It's also paved and wheelchair and stroller accessible. From the parking lot, hikers will head south on the main trail (pictured above). On your right will be the largest of the sandstone Monoliths, North Gateway Rock. The tower on its north end is called the Tower of Babel, and its south end marks the gateway into the famous central valley. But before you enter the valley, be sure to look up at the Kissing Camels formation located at the middle-top of North Gateway Rock.

The loop begins right after you enter through the gateway at the twin spires of Sentinel Rock. Going left will take you on a clockwise circuit around the valley. You'll first pass between the Three Graces and Pulpit Rock before the trail bends to the North. Finally, the trail will bend South and meet back up with the trail that leads back to the main parking lot. There are many other trails that come off of the main loop trail, so bring a map with you if you plan to explore some of the nooks and crannies of the park.

snow covered pikes peak with red sandstone and tree in foreground

View of Pikes Peak from the South End of Garden of the Gods Courtesy of John Kalla


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

Looking for more places to hike with your dog? Explore more Dog-Friendly hikes near Denver by visiting our 25+ Dog Friendly Hikes and our Top 10 Dog Hikes Near Denver.


Trail Option #2 - The Ridge Trail at Garden of the Gods

The Ridge Trail is a short, half-mile loop on the southeastern end of the park. From the parking area indicated in the table above, the trail is located across the street to the left by takign a crosswalk. Before you cross, be aware of cars and cyclists (often the cyclists come around the curves of the park much faster and can take you by surprise). The Ridge trail makes it way to the foot of The Sleeping Giant formation before bending back toward the parking area.

two red rock towers rock formation with pikes peak mountain in background

Siamese Twins Rock Formation - Courtesy of Matt Santamarco

Trail Option #3 - The Siamese Twins Trail

To hike to the Siamese Twins formation, take the trail on the north end of the parking lot that leads North. As you hike, you'll observe a very different landscape to the West, desert terrain that stretches out and up to Rampart Range Road. At the Siamese Twins, be sure to grab a photo of Pikes Peak framed by the window in the rock. Be sure to adjust your camera to take it's light reading from the distant mountain rather than the foreground (on your phone, simply press your screen to readjust the reference point for the lighting and focus). The trail heads South and will pass the parking area as it bends around and back up to it.

garden of the gods colorado springs header

View of Central Garden From Palmer Trail - Courtesy of John Fowler

Trail Option #4 - The Palmer Trail (Chambers/Bretag Loop)

This 2.5 mile loop hike is a great way to take in the full spectrum of terrain and rock formations in the park. The route, as describe below is about 2.5 miles, and mileage may vary depending on the side trails you decide to take. From the main parking area/trailhead, the Palmer Trail can be picked up by crossing Juniper Way directly North of the lot. Heading left/West on the Palmer trail, it will wind around South, roughly following the main road through Garden of the Gods.

To make the loop, at about 1.3 miles on the Palmer Trail hikers will cross Juniper Way at the Scotsman Picnic Area and join up with the Scotsman Trail. It will dips South initally, then heads Northeast to meet up with the trails of the Central Valley. This area can be quite a labyrinth and the best way to pick up the Eastern side of the loop will be to keep an eye out for the gateway, the space between North Gateway and South Gateway Rocks. Once through the gateway, hikers will pick up the Garden Trail, head East, and join up with the Susan G. Bretag Trail, by crossing Juniper Way where it intersects with Gateway Road. Heading North on the Bretage Trail, it will eventually come to a fork. Taking the left-hand/West trail (Palmer Trail) will lead back to the parking lot.

Trail Option #5 - The Scotsman and Buckskin Charlie Loops

These are two loops found just South of the Central Valley area. The parking area is small and will likely be full during most days during the Summer months. One alternative is to begin your hike at the main lot, then pick up the Scotsman trail on the South end of the Valley.

The Scotsman Loop is 1.1 mile in its entirety. Picking up the trail from the Scotsman Picnic ground by following social trails East, the Scotsman dips South then winds Northeast before making a sharp turn South and back to the parking area. Bring your trail map, or have it up on your phone to keep oriented.

The Buckskin Charlie Trail can be added to double your hike. Hikers will pick up the Buckskin Charlie Trail on the southern bends of the Scotsman. The trail winds around until it begins again to head North, following the line of the main road, Juniper way, until it joins back up with the Scotsman and returns home to the Scotsman Picnic area.


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


giant red rock balanced on rock fulcrum in garden of the gods

Balanced Rock - Courtesy of Chica-Tika

Trail Option #6 - The Balanced Rock Loop Hike

You don't have to hike to Balanced Rock (see driving directions in the table above). In fact, this loop hike is named "the Balanced Rock Trail" only because it is near Balanced Rock, not because it takes you there. For visitors entering through the South end of the park, Balanced Rock will be the first stop, then on to the Trading Post. In fact, the best way to pick up the Balanced Rock Trail is from the Northern end of the Trading Post lot. Hikers will find a connector trail that goes directly from the lot North, crosses the road, and immediately picks up the Balanced Rock Loop trail. Hiking counter-clockwise, the trail follows alongside Garden road, then leads North until it terminates at another section of the road. Hikers can cross the road (watch for cars and cyclists) and pick up the Cabin Canyon Trail across the street. Taking the Cabin Canyon Trail South, it will come to a crosswalk where you can pick the Balanced Rock Trail up again and back to the parking area.

Photography: Great Photos in Garden of the Gods

  • All year round and any time of the day, Garden of the Gods is already photogenic. However, the best times to take photos are during the golden hours of sunrise and sunset when the rock faces are lit up and cast their shadows across the landscape. Going early in the morning will also help you avoid having people in your photos.
  • Snow adds its white contrast during the Winter months and early Spring. If you want a snowcapped Pikes Peak in the background, you'll likely need to get that shot before mid-June.
  • Wildflowers appear most noticeably in April through July.
  • After heavy rains, standing water can form what look like small ponds (but are really giant puddles). These offer the rare opportunity to capture the reflection of the rock formations on water.
  • One classic vantage point is to take your photo from the North End of the Palmer Trail at Sunset. This will give you one of the best photographs of the Central Valley area.
  • For sunrise, a great place to capture Garden of the Gods with Pikes Peak in the background is from the parking area up on Mesa Road that overlooks the park.

Hiking with Kids at Garden of the Gods

  • Hydrate: This goes for adults as well, but is even more important with kiddos. Almost all the trails in Garden of the Gods are exposed to the sun. You're also in a High-Plains Desert environment, so you simply need more water. Then add onto that physical exertion. So, bring water and hydrate.
  • Pack Snacks or Bring a Lunch: Even though the hikes are not long in Garden of the Gods, it always helps to have fuel. Plus, nothing beats finding a great view of Pikes Peak and kicking back to rest and enjoy a picnic.
  • Climbing can result in injury: Having hiked often in Garden of the Gods, I've witnessed people--usually young people--who have climbed up into areas and gotten themselves in a tough spot. Children should know that climbing up into an area is a lot easier than getting down.
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Visiting Garden of the Gods 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.
  • Free Full-Color Map: Don't get lost. Pick up this freebie at the Garden of the Gods Visitor & Nature Center information kiosk.
  • Bring Lots of Water: It can be very hot and dry, and there may not be a chance to refill, so bring a full water bottle.
  • Altitude: If you are visiting Colorado from out-of-state, chances ar that it will take you a few days to adjust to teh altitude. The good news about hikes in Garden of the Gods is that they are relatively easy. However, a little exertion at altitude can result in feeling naseauted, winded, and just plain tired. So, don't overdo it if you are not feeling well. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate (because it oxygenates your blood), and get good rest.
  • Camping Near Garden of the Gods

    Camping is prohibited in Garden of the Gods, and it's important to understand that the Park is located in the town of Colorado Springs--it's not a backcountry experience. Those looking to camp will need to explore campgrounds and tent camping options outside the immediate area. However, there is a nearby campground in Manitou Springs that offers cabins, bunkhouses, and RV spots. It's pet-friendly and even offers bike rentals. You can find current rates and more at Garden of the Gods RV Resort. Most of the tent camping is going to be out near Rampart Range Reservoir or further West past Woodland Park, CO.

    Things to Do and Places to Eat Near Garden of the Gods

    History and Geology of Colorado’s Garden of the Gods

    Imagine a prehistoric landscape of sand dunes plunged and crushed into the earth by some violent upheaval involving tectonic and hydraulic forces. That's how the red rock fins of Garden of the Gods were formed in the womb of the earth. Then another cataclysm. The Pikes Peak massif gets thrust to the sky along with the surrounding red sedimentary rock. Some at angles and some perpendicular to the land. Then the forces of wind and water began to wear down the loose rock creating the unusual holes and across the surfaces of the rocks. You'll find these types of rock formations stretching from North of Ft. Collins down into Southern Colorado. Some of the most notable are Roxborough State Park and South Valley Park near Littleton and Red Rocks Park in Denver.

    After his death in 1907, the children of railroad tycoon, Charles Elliott Perkins, fulfilled their father's wishes by donating 480 acres of Garden of the Gods to become a permanent park and free to the public. The park has expanded over the years to over 1,300 acres. The park got its name from a German surveyor mapping out the land in 1859.


    baby mountain goat on mount evans colorado more easy hikes


    How You Can Protect the Garden of the Gods Area

    • Stay the Trail: The sandstone in the parks is easily eroded, and because this area sees a lot of visitors the impacts of individuals quickly adds up. So keep on established trails during your hikes.
    • Keep Dogs on a 6' Leash: And be sure to bring bags for picking up after your pet.
    • Pack Out All Trash: It should go without saying but be sure to pick up after yourself. In the last few years it seems that litter along trails in Colorado has grown to be a real problem. Do your part to keep the park and our State beautiful. One of our family hiking habits is to pick up trash as we hike.
    • Climbing and Bouldering: Climbing and Bouldering in Garden of the Gods require both the proper equipment and permits. You can pick up permits at the Visitor Center or online at the City of Colorado Springs climbing permit page.
    • Thanks goes out to Joel Tonyan for his great photo of Garden of the Gods and snow-dusted foothills.
    • Care for the Rock: This should also go without saying, but don't carve or deface the rock in any way.
    • Let them sit and grow: Removing rocks, plants, or animals is prohibited.
    • Mountain Biking: Mountain biking is limited to designated trails.

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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


snow capped front range mountains of colorado from panorama at golden gate canyon state park along raccoon trail hike

Raccoon Loop Hike in Golden Gate Canyon State Park

Our kids loved this 2.5 mile loop hike in Golden Gate Canyon State Park. The trail sports lots of shade, panoramic views of snowcapped peaks, wildflowers, and trickling brooks. Be sure to see the details below regarding an annual raptor closure that detours one segment of this hike. Explore the full Raccoon Loop Hike profile for trail map, driving directions, and many of the details you need to enjoy this adventure in Golden Gate Canyon State Park.

Trail Snapshot: Raccoon Trail Loop at Golden Gate Canyon

Parking & Trailhead Information for the Raccoon Loop Hike

You can begin your hike at either the Panorama Point Trailhead or at the Reverend Ridge Campground Trailhead. Our family hiked this from the Panorama Point Trailhead. Though parking is limited, there is additional parking located directly across the street in a dirt lot. Reverend Ridge Trailhead, while a larger parking area, can fill up fast because it is located at the campground. Either one, however, is a good option. Driving directions for both trailheads are located in the trail snapshot above.

raccoon-loop-golden-gate-canyon-kids-hiking

The Hike: The Raccoon Loop Hike in Golden Gate Canyon

We hiked the Raccoon Loop counter-clockwise from the Panorama Point Trailhead and found it to be easy to moderate in difficulty. Our kids (at the time of this post) are 5 and 8. Both were wearing tennis shoes and did well on the trail. There was a steep segment with loose rock, where our youngest needed me to hold her hand as she navigated here way down the trail.

The trail begins with incredible views of the snowcapped Indian Peaks stretched out against the western sky. Soon, views of Thorodin Mountain and Starr peak dominate the landscape as the trail winds to the east and crosses a seasonal brook. Raccoon Trail then gently drops into aspen groves and green meadows full of wildflowers.

raccoon-loop-golden-gate-canyon-state-park-trail-and-snowcapps

Entering a more mature stand of aspens, the trail begins a more steep descent. This is where hikers will want to watch their footing on the loose rock and gravel surface of the trail. After this short descent, the trail crosses another brook over a small footbridge, then begins to climb a bit further west before turning sharply to the south.

raccoon-loop-brook-golden-gate-canyon-state-park

Shortly after the brook is where we encountered the closure of approximately 0.5 mile of the Raccoon trail. These closures are announced on the front page of the Golden Gate Canyon State Park website, and we knew about it before making our trip.

raccoon-loop-closure-sign-golden-gate-canyon-state-park

One of the Nesting Raptor Closure Signs

This rerouted us up to the Reverend Ridge Campground, then required that we hike down State Park Road for about 0.5 mile until we were able to pick up the Raccoon Trail again. Because the detour wasn't clearly marked, we've provided an image of the normal route vs. the detour route we took below.

raccoon-loop-closure-route-map-golden-gate-canyon-state-park

It probably goes without saying, but do exercise caution when walking the road, and assume that cars will not see you. There are several sharp turns/switchbacks. We were able to pick up the trail down where the road comes to a stop sign, then hike back to Panorama Point. The detour adds approximately 1 mile to the original hike, making this into a 3.5 mile loop hike.

raccoon-loop-golden-gate-canyon-state-park-detour-trail

Where we picked up the Raccoon/Mule Deer Trail after Walking the Road Detour

This last section had some elevation gain, but still was moderate in difficulty. This is a great hike for visiting friends and family, but those who have not acclimatized to the altitude, or who are not in the best shape, may find this last part challenging. There is a bench strategically placed on the ascent, and rocks where you can rest your legs.

At Panorama Point, hikers will find a large deck and viewing area. It's one of the best accessible views you'll get of the Front Range near Denver.

panorama-point-golden-gate-canyon-state-park

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 Raccoon Loop Hike

  • Be Aware of Closures: The Raccoon Loop has seasonal closures when raptors are nesting. However, it's just one segment of the trail that is closed, and a (not-so-well-marked) detour is available.
  • Look out for Mtn Bikers: We always find mountain bikers to be considerate on the trails near Denver. There is an established etiquette and they will call their pass. Still, it's good to know that this trail is popular with both mountain bikers and hikers, so keep your eyes and ears peeled and give them plenty of room to pass.
  • Trail Map for Golden Gate Canyon State Park: Trail Map Link
  • Packing List: Always pack the 10 Essentials. Download our Hiking Guide to get the list and dayhiking packing checklist.
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: Windy Saddle Cafe in Golden, Colorado

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bridal veil falls waterfall pouring over cliff face with waterwheel at base among green trees in idaho springs colorado

Bridal Veil Falls in Idaho Springs

Bridal Veil Falls is best viewed from Water Wheel Park, a short and easy walk from the downtown of Idaho Springs, Colorado. The legacy of steam locomotives and gold mining make this a historic hike in an historic Colorado town. Explore the full Bridal Veil Falls hike profile below for trail map, driving directions, and many of the details you need to enjoy this waterfall in Idaho Springs, Colorado.

Trail Snapshot: Bridal Veil Falls in Idaho Springs

Parking & Trailhead Information for Bridal Veil Falls, Idaho Springs

The parking area for this short hike/walk is in downtown Idaho Springs, at the corner of 17th and Water Street, which is situated behind the downtown restaurants and shops. Use the driving directions above, which lead to Harold Anderson Park. At this small park, just across from the parking lot, you'll pick up a concrete path that leads under interstate 70 to Water Wheel park (scheduled to open early June of 2016). See the marked map below for a visual of the parking area, trail (yellow dots), and the location of Water Wheel Park.

walk-to-waterwheel-park-idaho-springs-bridal-veil-falls1

The Hike: Bridal Veil Falls, Idaho Springs

It's a little hike (more of a stroll) with a lot of history. Starting at Harold Anderson Park, you'll want to take a gander at Locomotive #60, one of five remaining steam engines that ran on the narrow gauge rails of the Colorado and Southern Railway. Kids will love the train and the other sites along this short jaunt.

The Charlie Taylor Waterwheel Trail leads under Interstate 70 then goes west for about 1/10th of a mile before it arrives at the best viewing area for Bridal Veil Falls. The waterfall spills out of Soda Creek high above, making its way then into Clear Creek, a stream famous for its gold, river rafting, and Coors Beer. The water wheel that's just north of Bridal Veil Falls was built in the late 1800's by a local miner, Charlie Taylor. Taylor used the water wheel to drive a machine called a stamp mill--imagine a big hammer that grinds and crushes rock to get silver and gold ore out of it. It was relocated from Ute Creek to its present location by a group of volunteers in the 1980's and now belongs to the Idaho Springs Historical Society. The Colorado Department of Transportation is renovating Water Wheel Park during the Spring of 2016 with a goal to have the project completed and reopen the park in early June.

There are several Bridal Veil falls in Colorado. For Bridal Veil Falls at Hanging Lake, view our Guide to Hiking Hanging Lake page. Or Explore our trail profile for Bridal Veil Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park.

If you are vacationing in the area and looking for more places to explore with your family, we recommend checking out Echo Lake, the Mt. Evans Summit Hike, or the Mt. Bierstadt Trail on Guanella Pass. See our day trip recommendation in the tips section below.

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


Tips & Resources for Hiking Bridal Veil Falls, Idaho Springs

  • Plan a Day Trip: Make this a family day trip by arriving early at Echo Lake to see the reflection of Mt. Evans in its mirror waters, then drive up to the Summit of Mount Evans. After your drive back down, take in the sites of Bridal Veil Falls at Water Wheel Park, then grab lunch at Beaujo's Pizza in downtown Idaho Springs.
  • Add a Railroad Hike Tour: The Georgetown Loop Railroad still operates on what remains of track of the old C&S Railroad. Located just a few minutes drive from Idaho Springs, they offer a hike + railroad tour, a great family adventure near Denver. Explore more at our Georgetown Railroad Hike page.
  • Packing List: Always pack the 10 Essentials. Download our Hiking Guide to get list and dayhiking packing checklist.
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • Photo: We would like to express our gratitude to John Weitzel for sharing such an amazing photograph of Bridal Veil Falls in Idaho Springs, Colorado.
  • After the Hike: Beaujo's Pizza

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Monarch Lake Loop Hike

The Monarch Lake Loop is a perfect family hike that leads 4 miles through shaded forest, across creeks, and along the shore of the lake. It's one of the more diverse, but easy, hikes in the area. Monarch Lake is a popular destination for canoeing, kayaking, and access to the Indian Peaks Wilderness area. Explore the full Monarch Lake Loop hike profile below for trail map, driving directions, and many of the details you need to enjoy this adventure in Grand County, Colorado.

Trail Snapshot: Monarch Lake Loop, Colorado

Parking & Trailhead Information for Monarch Lake, Colorado

Following the driving directions in the above trail snapshot for Monarch Lake, the road will end at the Monarch Lake Trailhead. Here, you'll find parking spaces for about 40 vehicles. The parking area fills fast and cars and trucks often line both sides of the road to the trailhead. An Arapahoe National Recreation Area day use pass is required and can be purchased at the kiosk at the Arapahoe Bay Pay Station. This pay station is located shortly after you turn onto County Hwy 6 and before crossing over the dam. While Monarch lake is open in the winter, and Hwy 6 is plowed, the approximately 1 mile final segment of road that leads into the trailhead is closed from Nov. 15 to June 15. Because of this, hikers will have to park and snowshoe, cross-country ski, or hike in to the trailhead.

The Hike: Monarch Lake, CO

From the trailhead, a shaded tunnel of trees leads down a short gravel path to the Wilderness Information Cabin. Here you can pick up trail maps and information about hikes up into the Indian Peaks Wilderness area. The trail description here is of hiking the Monarch Lake Loop in a clockwise fashion. Begin on the Cascade Creek trail #N1. This will follow the shoreline of the lake and soon enter the forested area along the Northern end of the lake. After approximately 1 mile, the landscape changes and enters a wetland marsh. Keep your eyes peeled for moose and other wildlife here.

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Wilderness Info Cabin at Monarch Lake

After 1.5 miles on the Cascade Creek Trail, the loop will be continued by taking a right onto the Arapaho Pass Spur Trail. This will head south, crossing Buchanan Creek, then Arapaho Creek. Here, after .8 mile, the spur trail ends and the Arapaho Pass trail begins. This last segment on the Arapaho Pass trail #N6 is 1.7 miles long.

Because of the pine beetle kill, there are many dead trees throughout the Monarch Lake Loop hike. Be alert for falling trees, especially when gusts of wind blow through. Hikers may also encounter deadfall across the trail. Be careful going under any fallen trees as they are often unstable and may only be supported by a few small, dead branches.

The hike continues on the south shore of the lake, passing an old, rusty steam engine. These "steam donkeys" were used to pull logs down out of the mountains back in the logging camps of the 1800's. After the steam engine, the trail will cross two more creeks, and finally make its way across the dam at the northwestern end of the Lake.

Because this hike is so perfect as a family outing, or for visiting family and friends, we recommend the following day trip:
1) Leave early (take breakfast with you) and arrive at the trailhead at or before 8AM (better chance of seeing wildlife and better parking)
2) Hike Monarch Lake
3) Drive over Trail Ridge Road (fee required--but worth every penny)
4) Eat a late Lunch in Estes Park (so bring snacks)
5) Head back home or drive in to Moraine Park in Rocky Mountain National Park.

monarch-lake-colorado-loop-hike-yellow-flowers

Tips & Resources for Hiking the Monarch Lake Loop

  • Fishing: Monarch Lake is a popular fishing spot for trout. Colorado State fishing regulations apply.
  • Falling Trees: Because of the amount of dead trees in this area, hikers should be on alert for falling trees.
  • Trail Map for Monarch Lake Area: 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: Mavericks Grill in Granby, CO

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Hiking Davis Ponds Hike at Staunton State Park

The Davis Ponds loop is a short and easy hike, perfect for young families. Davis Ponds is a great place to take your kids fishing near Denver. Explore the full trail profile below for all the details: hiking trails, trail map, and detailed directions to the trailhead.

Staunton State Park is one of Colorado's newest gems and located just 45 minutes from downtown Denver. It's a great park for outdoor activities, including hiking, mountain biking, and rock climbing. Staunton has some longer and more demanding trails, but this hike, the Davis Ponds Loop Trail, is a lighter option with some beautiful views to the mountains and the prominent Lions Head outcropping.

Trail Snapshot: Davis Ponds Loop at Staunton State Park

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The trail begins just to the north of the initial parking lot (pictured above). We hiked the trail clockwise, taking the trail to the left, but it can be hiked in either direction. The Davis Ponds trail is hiker-only, so you will not encounter any mountain bike or horse traffic, making this perfect for young kids. There is scattered shade as the trail winds in and out of meadows and pine forest. Deer make their way grazing near the trail and hummingbirds buzz by, finding nectar in the wildflowers growing out of the rocky soil.

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Before the ponds, there is a cut-through trail that can be used to shorten the hike by approximately 1/2 mile, but it's worth going all the way to Davis Ponds and to gain views to the west. The Davis Ponds were under construction and improvements while we were there, but they have now been finished and stocked with rainbow and cutthroat trout. If you are looking for a weekend destination near Denver to fish with your children, this may be one of the best.
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On the way back, the trail will merge again with the cut-through trail. The trail back to the trailhead bears left and slightly uphill.

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 Davis Ponds Loop :

  • TIP: Getting into the park can be slow at times, so be prepared to wait at the entrance on busy weekends.
  • Wildlife: You'll find that deer are out grazing in the early morning and closer to twilight.
  • Winter: During the Winter, park hours are 8am - 7pm.
  • Trail Map for Staunton 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: Crow Hill Cafe in Bailey

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Georgetown Railroad Hike & Train Ride

After the hike, I asked our 7 year-old daughter what she thought of it. Her reply said it all, “Dad, it was awesome!” Here favorite parts were the fairy pond, a small, moss-rimmed pool probably created by miners long ago to hold drinking water, and the gleaming minerals in the rocks she picked up along the trail. I enjoyed the history and stories told by our guide, Kelsey, who had a particular love for the town and people of Georgetown and Silver Plume. This not your typical Dayhike Near Denver because it's actually a guided historic tour meets hike, plus a train ride on a vintage train back to the trailhead. Read below for all the details for this reservation-required hiking tour.

Trail Snapshot: Georgetown Railroad Hike & Train Ride

The Georgetown Railroad hike is a one-of-a-kind guided hike through the clear creek valley, a landscape decorated by the rich history of the Colorado Gold Rush of 1859. If you take just a moment to scan the mountainsides along interstate 70, you'll notice the yellow-stained tailings of abandoned gold mines. This hike takes you right through the very heart of that forgotten territory. We got to take a sneak-peek of the trail before it opened, so I brought our 7 year old daughter with me for our date-night, and she loved it.

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The hike begins in Silver Plume, Colorado at the historical railroad station and museum. On the hike you'll have one to two guides who accompany your party. Groups are typically about 10 hikers. The hike begins on a nondescript gravel road, but soon enters an old, overgrown cemetery. From the graveyard, the trail descends into a healthy stand of lodgepole pines. We could see mist in the valley below, and the sound of the train in the distance. Though the sounds of interstate 70 are not far away, it's like stepping back in time. The hummingbirds zooming past us, and the rapids of Clear Creek below us brought the valley alive.

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The best sounds, however, came from the steam train in the valley below. Kids will love this. It's a unique experience to be on a hike, then to watch a train pass in front of you, below you, and even above you on the tracks. And it creates anticipation of the train ride back.

The hike itself is quite easy and could be done in about 45 minutes--if it was all about speed. But the destination for the Georgetown Railroad hike is the entire journey. Our tour guide pointed out old claim markers from the 1800's, the remains of mining equipment, barrels, and tin buckets tucked away in the woods. She told stories, and showed us things we would have missed just hiking through. At roughly halfway through the hike, you'll stop for lunch (lunch is provided) in a grove of aspens that has a great story of its own. Keep your eyes peeled for the foxes and deer that frequent this part of the valley floor.
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My daughter was captivated by the gleaming biotite and muscovite in the rocks alongside the trail. Our guide picked some special ones out for her to take home. After lunch, you'll hike by the Hall Tunnel, and the old Lebanon mine. Crossing the tracks, then following inactive segments, you'll make your way down into Georgetown. The trail leads under the the Devil's Gate High Bridge and ends at the Devil's Gate Station--named such because of the way the wind howls through this part of the valley.

Just when you think the fun is over, you get a 30-45 minute train ride back to your car in Silver Plume.

Tips & Resources for the Georgetown Railroad Hike & Train Ride:

  • Call Ahead to book Your Hiking Tour: 1-888-456-6777
  • Great for Kids: I would guess that the youngest age to take on this hike would be 6 years old, but it really depends on the child. Our daughter is pretty rough-and-tumble. The pace is right, and their are a lot of things to keep their attention.
  • Supervise Kids on the Tracks: Kids will want to run fast down the railroad tracks, but the ties prove to be pretty uneven ground. Our 7 year old daughter tripped and got a little scrape on her knee, but was fine. Your guide will give you safety tips, but they will also be very engaged in giving you the tour.
  • Restrooms: There are restrooms about 1/2 way through the hike at the Lebanon mine site.
  • It's a Hike: I'd classify this as an easy hike, but there are some segments where the trail is steep and runs through soft gravel, where it's easy to slip. While it's a guided tour, it's not a bike path--it's still a hike.
  • Footwear: Wear close-toed shoes. Boots are not necessary, but I'd recommend something that laces up.
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: The Alpine Restaurant & Bar in Georgetown

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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.

pine-valley-ranch-park-pine-lake

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:

    pine-valley-ranch-park-gazebo-island

  • 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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Enchanted Mesa Trail Near Boulder, Colorado

Boulder's Chautauqua park boasts some of the best hiking in Colorado, especially if you are looking for accessibility--many of the trailheads are right in town. The Enchanted Mesa trail lives up to its name. The dense pine forest and the wide curving path looks like something out of a fairy tale. It's a fairly easy hike, with a surprising amount of shade, great views of the Flatirons, and close to Denver. Before you launch out to explore Enchanted Mesa, be sure to check out our detailed description of the hike, the Chautauqua Park trail map, and our hiking tips for this great Boulder Hike.

Trail Snapshot: Enchanted Mesa Trail - Chautauqua Park

Enchanted Mesa Boulder Colorado

Start your hike at parking lot near the Chautauqua Auditorium Trailhead. There is limited parking at the trailhead picnic shelter, but you can find more space around the auditorium and in side streets. Keep in mind that parking in the Chautauqua park area fills up fast.

Enchanted Mesa Boulder Colorado Header Trailhead Parking

There are a few options you can consider before starting the hike.

1# Enchanted Mesa - McClintock Loop - 1.4 mile loop

Your first possibility is to hike the trail clockwise by taking the Enchanted Mesa trail out, then returning on the McClintock trail, making it into a loop. You'll head out on the wide path of the Enchanted Mesa Trail which leads you gradually uphill, across a stone bridge, and onto the Mesa. Once you get on the Mesa, walk into a pine forest. The trees get thicker and taller as you go until you feel like you have walked into an enchanted forest. My kids, who are six and 3, hiked this early one Saturday in April (you'll see our muddy shoes at the end of the post), when snow still covered parts of the trail and the city was still asleep. It did feel like stepping, just for a moment, into another world.

Enchanted Mesa Boulder Colorado Forest

When you get to where the Enchanted Mesa Trail intersects with the McClintock trail, turn right and take the the McClintock Trail. Because it's so narrow, this part of the trail doesn’t allow dogs. The return trail at least one steep section, but you'll find stairs cut into the hillside to help you on your way. The Mclintock trail was very muddy coming down, so we expect this trail to be muddy in the warmer days of winter, a lot of spring, and after the Summer rains. We've got a great tip below to help you with that.

Enchanted Mesa Boulder Colorado go down not up

About halfway back along the McClintock trail, you’ll encounter an intersection where a rough set of steps lead up to the right, and on your left, you’ll see the path leading back down toward the creek valley. Go left/down (see the photo) to stay on the McClintock trail. On the way down, you will see the flood damage in the ravine caused by the 2013 flood.

2# - McClintock to Enchanted Mesa - Loop - 1.4 mile loop

This is simply hiking the same loop, but counter-clockwise. The benefit to this is that you get better views of the Flatirons hiking West on the McClintock trail. The McClintock Trailhead starts right from the picnic pavilion behind the Chautauqua Amphitheater. It is 0.7 miles long and ascends 335 feet to where it ties in with Enchanted Mesa.

Wood Quarry Hike

#3 - Enchanted Mesa + Quarry Loop - 1.8 miles

Quarry Loop is beautiful little jaunt off of the top of the Enchanted Mesa trail. If you wish to add 0.4 mile to your hike and enjoy the more of the mesa forest, follow either of the directions above, and look for the Quarry loop near the intersection of the two main trails. This turns your hike into a figure-eight. You will head uphill until you see an old stone cabin. When you get to the cabin, turn right and enter the short and steep stair-step climb to the quarry. When you get on the top you can relax in the hand-crafted chairs and take in the scenery of Chautauqua park.

Enchanted Mesa Boulder Colorado Woods Quarry trail

If you add the Kohler Mesa trail to option #3 you can make your hike close to 2 miles long, giving you the chance to explore even more of the mesa.

This is a great hike any time of year, but is especially great in the Spring. We always find the people of Boulder very friendly, so expect good company. People will be out with their dogs, trail running, and talking with friends. Particularly in the early hours of the morning, it's idyllic.

Tips & Hiking the Enchanted Mesa Trail:

  • It Can Be Muddy: Bring an extra pair of shoes or sandals, so that you’re not getting mud all over the floor of your car. There are bags at the trailhead for disposal of dog poop. Our kids shoes were covered with mud, and we used the bags to keep from getting mud all over the back of the car. An even better solution would be to bring plastic shopping bags with you.
  • Dog Restriction: Dogs are not allowed on the Lower & Upper McClintock Trail. So, you'll have to return on the Enchanted Mesa trail with Fido, or check the map for other options.
  • No Bikes: Bicycles are prohibited on the trails in the Chautauqua area.
  • Bring a picnic or a snack: There are some great picnic spots along the Enchanted Mesa hike.
  • Trail Map for Chautauqua Park: Trail Map Link
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: Lollicup Boulder Coffe&Tea

Enchanted Mesa Boulder Colorado muddy shoes

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