Hiker on summit of bear peak near boulder colorado

Bear Peak Near Boulder

Bear Peak is a demanding 7.4-mile hike (round trip) through the broad meadows of South Mesa, up through the rocky trail of shadow canyon, to the granite summit with sweeping 360 degree views of the Colorado Front Range. You can summit South Boulder Peak on your way and make a loop hike out of your adventure by returning via Fern Canyon. Explore the full Bear Peak hike profile below for the trail map, driving directions, and more tips and details to help you enjoy this adventure near Boulder, Colorado.

Bear Peak Trail Snapshot

Parking & Trailhead Information for Bear Peak

south mesa trailhead with sign near boulder hike for bear peak

Access to Bear Peak is from the South Mesa Trailhead off of Eldorado Springs Drive just South of Boulder. From Denver, drive North on interstate 25 to 36 toward Boulder. Take the McCaslin Blvd exit and then go South/West onto McCaslin. At the intersection of McCaslin and Marshall, take a right onto Marshall Road. Marshall will intersect with Eldorado Springs Drive. Here, take a left onto Eldorado Springs Drive. About two miles down the road, you'll find the South Mesa Trailhead on your right. The South Mesa Trailhead is a part of the Boulder County Open Space and requires a daily parking fee, or an annual pass. I went online and bought an annual parking pass through the Open Space website. This gives you access to all the southern fee parking areas as well as the parking areas on Flagstaff Mountain. There are restrooms at the trailhead.

The Hike: Bear Peak

From the South Mesa Trailhead, the trail leads across a small bridge spanning over Boulder Creek. Willow trees arch over the stream making it worth a short pause to take in the sounds of water before you set off across the meadows of South Mesa. There are many trail options, but the most direct is to take the Homestead Trail, which heads West across a gentle grade toward Shadow Canyon.

bridge across creek with bear peak and flatirons in distance trail for bear peak hike

This first mile or so of the hike is easy and offers stunning views of the Flatirons and views of the entrance of Eldorado Canyon. An old stone building, part of an early homestead is the first marker you'll pass early in the hike.

old stone building along south mesa homestead trail on hike to bear creek

After about 1.3 miles, the trail will split. Take the left (West) trail, which leads to the South Shadow Canyon Trail. After about a 1/2 mile, you'll encounter a 2nd trail split. The Shadow Canyon Trail will again bear to the left and begin heading up steeper terrain.

bear peak lit by sunrise south of boulder colorado

As the trail ascends, you soon leave the meadow and enter into more dense ponderosa pine forest. The vegetation in the understory grows tall and green at the entrance to the canyon. You'll see another cabin with a metal roof (pictured below). Soon past the cabin will be another important trail juncture. Again, the trail up Shadow Canyon will bear left (West).

old cabin in shadow canyon on the way up to bear peak near boulder colorado

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

Once in Shadow Canyon, the trail now becomes much more steep and requires navigating over rock and tree roots. This segment of the trail traveling up through the canyon is over a mile, so be ready for a steady and demanding climb.

sign for trail split shadow canyon to bear peak and wildflowers in foreground

The canyon is an access route for Devils Thumb, a prominent rock formation along this ridge. There are seasonal closures (see photo below) because of nesting raptors. Be sure to stay out of this area from Feb. 1st to July 31st. You are welcome to stay on the Shadow Canyon trail--it's not closed during this time--but refrain from going off-trail or taking social trails during this time up to Devils Thumb.

sign for area closure in shadow canyon on way up to bear peak near boulder

Eventually, the trail emerges from the canyon onto the saddle between South Boulder Peak and Bear Peak. This area is marked by a burn area, and in the late summer, raspberry plants grow trailside full of ripe berries. The burn was ignited by lightning in June of 2012. Named the Flagstaff Fire, it consumed about 300 acres before being contained by firefighters.

above shadow canyon looking down into canyon from a burn area on the saddle between south boulder peak and bear peak in the flatirons

Another trail sign notes the way to Bear Peak, a 0.3 mile trail segment curving North up the back of the summit.
sign for trail split on saddle between bear peak and south boulder peak

You'll notice more burn area on the left (West) side of the trail. The rock on the trail becomes increasingly brittle as you go, so be aware of those hiking below you and be sure to hike on the most secure and durable surfaces.

trail through burn area leading up to bear peak in the flatirons near boulder colorado

The final segment requires a scramble along about 25 yards of angled rock. Take your time and scope out the safest route to the summit. Most peaks along the Front Range have broad tops, but Bear Peak is tapered to a point. Several USGS markers are set into the rock (I think I counted 3--which is unusual). The views are great, both to the East and to the mountains in the West.

View from Bear Peak Near Boulder Colorado Orange granite peak looking down toward rolling green and trees landscape

There are two options for the return hike: 1) to hike the 3.7 miles back through Shadow Canyon, retracing the same trails, or 2) to make a loop out of the hike by descending via Fern Canyon (about 4.7-mile return). The rest of this profile will follow the Fern Canyon to Mesa Trail return.

trail sign at split just below the summit of bear peak pointing to fern canyon

A sign marking the trail down Fern Canyon is located right at the base of Bear Peak (where the trail turns into a scramble up the summit). The descent into Fern Canyon is very steep and the rock is very loose. Hikers will also encounter people making their way up the trail, so be sure to move off to the side and grant right-of-way to hikers who are doing the harder work of ascending the trail. I would not recommend hiking up to Bear Peak from this route because the trail is way more demanding than the Shadow Canyon approach.

descent trail that is very steep and rocky leading down into fern canyon from bear peak in the flatirons

After about 1/2 of a mile descending this steep saddle, the trail will bear right (East) into Fern Canyon via a series of switchbacks. Eventually, the trail will emerge from Fern Canyon back onto the more gentle slopes of South Mesa. Look for signs for the Mesa Trail, and follow them South back to the South Mesa Trailhead.

mesa trailhead sign below flatirons near boulder colorado

The hike back on the Mesa Trail travels in and out of the shade of Ponderosa pines and along the pink and orange Flatiron mountains that make this area so spectacular. We took the Upper Bluestem trail to some small connector trails leading back to the trailhead. Another approach is stay on the Mesa Trail (see map) until it connects back to the Homestead Trail.

meadows and ponderosa pine along mesa trail in the south mesa area of the flatirons south of boulder colorado with the flatirons in the background

Tips & Resources for Hiking to Bear Peak

  • Hiking with Your Dog: Though dogs are allowed on leash, and I've encountered people hiking with their dogs on the trails up to Bear Peak, I wouldn't put Bear Peak on the dog-friendly list because of the steep rock at the summit summit and the difficulty of the terrain leading up through the canyons.
  • TIP: Be ready for a hike that is really demanding on your legs, especially the descent through Fern or Shadow Canyon. Trekking poles would be helpful on the descent.
  • TIP: Hike to South Boulder Peak. It adds just 0.6 mile to your trip.
  • Trail Map: Bear Peak Map from South Mesa Trailhead
  • 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 Cafe: Walnut Cafe in Boulder
  • After the Hike Brewery: Sanitas Brewing Company

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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


Cub Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Cub Lake, in Rocky Mountain National Park, is known for its unusual halo of lily pads. The 4.6 mile, roundtrip hike dazzles with its variety - especially the wildflowers. You'll pass through wetlands, glacial formations, and meadows before arriving at the lake. Explore the full Cub Lake hike profile below for trail map, driving directions, and all the details you need to enjoy this adventure in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Trail Snapshot: Cub Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Parking & Trailhead Information for Cub Lake

The Cub Lake Trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park has a very small parking area where only 7 to 8 vehicles can park. Chances are, if you don't arrive early in the morning, you'll need to park just .3 mile further down the road at the Fern Lake Bus Stop parking area. If both lots are full, then your best bet is to park in the RMNP Park & Ride lot and use the shuttle service to get to the Cub Lake Trailhead. Please do not park alongside the road. This causes significant erosion and damage to roadside--and you might get a ticket.

The Hike to Cub Lake in RMNP

One of the things we love about Rocky Mountain National Park is the diversity of landscapes. The Cub Lake trail is a great example. Over the course of the 2.3 mile journey to the lake, you'll encounter plenty of sights that you will want to take in. The trail begins in the wetland meadows of Moraine Park, replete with willows and other wetland shrubs. It's a perfect habitat for a variety of birds, including western tanagers and warblers.

The trail crosses several bridges, including one over the Big Thompson River, (just a mountain stream at this point) then begins a climb into stands of evergreens, and then into an unusual area scraped by an ancient glacier, riddled with unusual boulders and rock. Leaving this strange landscape, the trail goes down to another meadow area and meets up with the horse trail that runs along the southern border of Moraine Park. The local YMCA offers horseback rides along this area, so keep your eyes out for horses. At this trail junction, the trail that leads up to Cub Lake is the one to the right.

Soon, the trail goes from easy to quite demanding, working its way up a series of switchbacks before reaching Cub Lake. Two things will catch your eye at Cub Lake. First is the strange halo formation made by the yellow pond lilies that grow around the inside of the lake. The middle of the lake, open to reflect the sky, looks like a big, blue eye staring into the heavens. The second thing you may notice is a large stand of dead trees from a forest fire in the 1970s.

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Cub Lake at Dawn - Courtesy of NPS Debra Miller

Tips & Resources for Hiking to Cub Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

  • TIP: It is advisable to arrive early as parking is limited. One may opt to ride a shuttle that drops you off at the trailhead.
  • Trail Map for Bear Lake Corridor: 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
  • Photo: We would like to express our gratitude to Jeff Livingston for sharing such an amazing photograph of this hike to Cub Lake in RMNP.
  • After the Hike: Baba's Burgers & Gyros

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Andrews Glacier and Tarn in Rocky Mountain National Park

Andrews Tarn and Andrews Glacier are high up in a more secluded area of Rocky Mountain National Park. It's a strenuous, almost 10 mile hike for those who are up for the challenge. Though it can be demanding, the Andrew's Creek area is one of our favorite trail sections in RMNP. Explore the full Andrew's Tarn and Andrew's Glacier hike profile below for trail map, driving directions, and all the details you need to enjoy this adventure in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Trail Snapshot: Andrews Glacier in Rocky Mountain National Park

Parking & Trailhead Information for Andrew's Tarn and Glacier

The trail to the Andrews Tarn 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.

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Alberta Falls - Courtesy of Bert Cash

The Hike to Andrew's Glacier and Andrew's Tarn

Hikers will begin on the trail leading to Glacier Gorge and Loch Vale. The first destination that you'll encounter 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--this is the trail that will eventually lead into the Andrew's Creek area and to Andrew's Tarn and Andrew's Glacier.

the loch rocky mountain national park header

The Loch in Loch Vale, RMNP

Having hiked about 2.7 miles, you'll arrive at the shores of The Loch, one of the most photographed lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park and a popular destination for hikers and those looking to catch some trout.

After this point, you should see fewer hikers. The trail continues along the northern (right-hand) side of the Loch for about .6 mile where there is a final trail junction. The trail to right will lead to Andrew's Glacier and Andrew's Tarn. The other option leads to Timberline Falls, Lake of Glass, and Sky Pond.

The next segment may be my favorite in all of Rocky Mountain National Park. The trail weaves through a verdant forest following Andrew's creek. Its clear waters spill over tree roots, rock, and snow as it makes it way through this fairy tale valley. In the early summer of 2004, I camped in the valley just before a snowstorm. Everyone was leaving this part of the park, so I had it all to myself. A cow elk and its calf were my only visitors. The Andrews Creek Backcountry Campsite is the only campsite in this area of the park and must be reserved through the backcountry office.

As the trail ascends it becomes more of a challenge, and hikers may need to pause to locate cairns (stacks of rocks) that indicate the location of the trail as it courses through scree and talus. Snow lingers up in this part of the park, so trekking poles and traction devices can be a great help. After hiking this 1.3 mile segment, the trail terminates at Andrew's Tarn, an emerald meltwater lake that has formed in this bowl high in the Rocky Mountains. It's about another 1/4 mile around the lake to the base of Andrew's Glacier.

While Andrew's Glacier is a used route for accessing the continental divide and peaks such as Taylor, and is used as a route of descent after summiting Flattop and Hallet Peaks, travel on the glacier is both problematic and can be very dangerous. Though it's a small glacier, in the summer, crevasses open in its surface. And sliding down, especially when it's icy, can quickly turn into an out-of-control trip down its surface. Hitting rock on the way down could even be fatal. Please talk with a ranger or call the park service before making travel on Andrew's Glacier a part of your plans.

List and Links of Destinations Along the Loch Vale Trail

1. Alberta Falls - @ .8
2. The Loch - @ 2.7 miles
3. Andrew's Glacier and Andrew's Tarn - Junction at 3.65 miles - Destination at 4.85 miles
4. Timberline Falls - @ 4 miles
5. Lake of Glass -@ 4.2 miles
6. Sky Pond - @ 4.6 miles

elk bedded down in tall grasses of moraine park in rocky mountain national park hike with text overlay explore more hikes in rocky mountain national park

Tips & Resources for Hiking Andrews Glacier in Glacier Gorge RMNP

  • TIP: If parking at the Glacier Gorge trailhead is full, park in another established parking area. A shuttle bus is also available.
  • Add Timberline Falls to Your Hike: Before or after your trip to Andrew's Tarn and Glacier, hikers can enjoy Timberline Falls--one of the best waterfalls in the park--and located approximately 1/4 mile beyond the Andrews Creek trail junction along the main Loch Vale trail.
  • Trekking Poles in Spring and Winter: Because the snow and ice can settle in until early Summer we recommend Trekking Poles and/or Traction Devices for this trail.
  • Start early in the morning: Do so on a day with a good weather expected. This is to secure a good parking spot and to avoid thunderstorms.
  • Rocky Mountain National Park Trail Conditions: Click for RMNP Trail Conditions
  • Trail Map for Rocky Mountain National Park: Trail Map Link
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • Photo: We would like to express our gratitude to Ed Ogle for his photograph of Andrew's Tarn and Glacier .
  • 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


black lake rocky mountain national park header

Black Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Black Lake is among the most spectacular lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park. The journey to Black Lake is a strenuous, 10 mile, round-trip hike with significant elevation gain--but both the destination of Black Lake and the several waterfalls along the way make it more than worth the effort. Explore the full Black Lake hiking trail profile for trail map, driving directions, and all the details you need to enjoy this adventure in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Trail Snapshot: Black Lake Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park

Parking & Trailhead Information for Black Lake RMNP, Colorado

The trail to Black Lake 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 more limited parking, 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 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 Hike to Black Lake RMNP

Hiking to Black Lake takes you into the Glacier Gorge Trail system with many wonderful destinations including Mills Lake, Jewel Lake, and Ribbon Falls. Be sure to review the different waypoints and destinations below so that you don't miss any of the sites. The first destination--and one you can't miss because it's right along the trail--is at .8 miles, Alberta Falls. After the waterfall, the trail ascends toward an eventual trail junction. The way to Black Lake is to follow the Glacier Gorge/Loch Vale trail that bears right. This trail climbs steadily for about another half mile until arriving at a second major trail junction with three options. The left-hand trail leads into Glacier Gorge and eventually to Mills Lake.

mills lake rocky mountain national park steve bratman creative commons

Morning Light at Mills Lake in the Early Spring - Courtesy of Steven Bratman

List and Links of Destinations From Glacier Gorge Trailhead to Black Lake

1. Glacier Gorge Trailhead
2. Alberta Falls - @ .8 mile
3. Mills Lake - @ 2.8 miles
4. Jewel Lake - @ 3.2 miles
5. Ribbon Falls - @ 4.8 miles
6. Black Lake - @ 5 miles

At Mills Lake, the trail follows its eastern shore for about 1/2 a mile until arriving at Jewel Lake, a much smaller body of water surrounded by lush green marshes. The next segment of the trail is my favorite, a challenging stretch of approximately 2 miles that leads hikers across bogs, and through verdant forest where the snow hangs on well into the summer months. In fact, this stretch may prove very difficult in the spring and early weeks of June depending on that year's weather. The trail continues to follow Glacier Creek up into the higher reaches of the park and ever closer to Keyboard of the Winds, the jagged rock formation ever present against the eastern sky.

Keyboard of the Winds is named for the sounds that flow from it's sharp edges as high winds whistle and roar across its peaks. Be sure to stop and listen for the music. It can be a mesmerizing experience.

If snow is still on the ground, then the last bit of the trail may require some basic route finding. The established trail skirts the left/east side of Black Lake, but can at times be hard to find. Stay close to the creek and you should be okay. Soon, hikers will encounter Ribbon Falls, a beautiful slide waterfall. Black Lake is just .2 mile further up the trail. This final segment is steep and requires negotiating some rocks and boulders before coming over the rise to gain breathtaking views of Black Lake.

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

Tips & Resources for Hiking Black Lake in Glacier Gorge RMNP :

  • Start Early: The hike to Black Lake is challenging and hikers will want to begin early to avoid being in this exposed area when afternoon thunderstorms often tear through the area in Summer.
  • Trekking Poles in Spring and Winter: Because the trail is high in the mountains, the snow and ice can hang around into late Spring and even early Summer, then pick up again in the Fall. Because of this, we recommend Trekking Poles and/or Traction Devices for this trail when the trail conditions are such.
  • Parking: If the parking lot is full at Glacier Gorge Trailhead, there is a shuttle available to take you to the trailhead, or you can park at the Bear Lake Trailhead.
  • Rocky Mountain National Park Trail Conditions: Click for RMNP Trail Conditions
  • Trail Map for Bear Lake Corridor Trails: Trail Map Link
  • Rain Gear Recommended: On every occasion I've been into Glacier Gorge, it's been gorgeous weather--and it rained. So, bring Rain gear. In the summer months, thunderstorms can form quickly in this area, especially in the afternoon--just another reason to begin your hike early.
  • 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: Inkwell Brew Coffee
  • Photo: We would like to express our gratitude to Erik Page for sharing such an amazing photograph of this hike.

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


timberline-falls-rocky-mountain_header

Timberline Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park

Timberline Falls is a demanding 8-mile round-trip waterfall hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. The trail takes you past Alberta Falls up into beautiful Loch Vale. Beyond Timberline Falls hikers will find Lake of Glass, additional falls, and breathtaking Sky Pond.

Glacier Gorge is the home to some of the best hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park, and this waterfall hike is one of the best. Be sure to read through the trailhead and parking information below, because, in the busy season, parking fills up fast. Explore our Timberline Falls trail profile below for trail details, driving directions, maps, and more.

Trail Snapshot: Timberline Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park

Parking & Trailhead Information

The trail up to Timberline Falls 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 Hike to Timberline Falls

The hike up into the Glacier Gorge/Loch Vale trail system takes you past one of Rocky Mountain National Parks' most accessible waterfalls, Alberta Falls.

alberta falls rocky mountain national park

After the waterfall, the trail begins to wind up a series of switchbacks for just shy of a mile until a trail junction with the NorthLong's Peak Trail. The trail into Glacier Gorge/Loch Vale then bears right and ascends for about another .5 mile to another trail 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 (fun to say three times fast) but this trip to Timberline Falls takes the middle trail onto the Loch Vale Trail.
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The path follows the path of Icy Brook through a series of longer switchbacks. The brook can be heard gushing and pouring over the rocks below, and one particular switchback there is a great view of its waters casacading through a green canyon (pictured above). At approximately 1 mile after leaving the junction, the trail opens up to more level ground at The Loch. In the distance, beyond the Loch in the west, the cliff face of the Cathedral Wall calls technical climbers to its challenging routes.

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The trail continues along the right side of the Loch until another trail junction beyond its western shores and deep in the the lush forest surrounding Icy Brook. The trail up to Timberline Falls, Lake of Glass, and Sky Pond is on the left, and the path to the right will take hikers into the Andrew's Creek area, one of my favorite areas of the Park. Here the trail up to Timberline Falls gets more steep, working its way up through subalpine forest of fir and spruce, the ground bejeweled with Columbine flowers. Soon you'll gain views of the falls in the distance.

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A series of stone stairs takes you to the base of the waterfall. In the late Spring and Early Summer, the falls cut through the winter snowpack and creates fantastic shapes out of the snow. For hikers who want to see more, a very steep and slick trail can be found to far right side of the waterfall. This leads up to the Lake of Glass, it's own waterfall, and to Sky Pond.

Video of Timberline Falls in RMNP

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

Tips & Resources for Hiking Timberline Falls :

  • More to Explore: Be sure to budget extra time to explore the lakes above Timberline Falls.
  • Parking: If the parking lot is full at Glacier Gorge Trailhead, there is a shuttle available to take you to the trailhead. See details at the the top of this trailprofile
  • Gear: Wear good boots with soles that are good for grabbing the rock if you plan to scramble up the steep trail to Lake of Glass and Sky Pond.
  • Pack a Lunch: This is a long hike and you'll certainly need water, but you'll also most likely need fuel for the journey back. Download our hiking guide for a list of great hiking food and snacks.
  • Trail Map for Bear Lake Corridor: 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: Inkwell & Brew Coffee

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elk bedded down in tall grasses of moraine park in rocky mountain national park hike with text overlay explore more hikes in rocky mountain national park


red rocks with blue sky background and green trees along trading post trail red rocks park in Denver Colorado

Trading Post Trail at Red Rocks Park

Ready for a hike around Colorado's Red Rocks Park and famous amphitheater? The Trading Post trail at Red Rocks takes you around 10 of the park's giant red rock formations. It's a short, 1.4-mile loop hike just 25 minutes from downtown Denver. Check out our full hiking trail profile below for all the details.

Trail Snapshot: Trading Post Loop Trail

If you are looking for a family adventure that's quick to get to, this hiking trail at Red Rocks is a great option. The Trading Post trail weaves through some of Colorado's most majestic red rock formations, into meadows, and great views of Red Rocks park. Because the trail is narrow and has some steep areas, keep a good eye on the kiddos.

We hiked the Trading Post Trail on a sunny Saturday in February with our children, ages 7 and 4. They loved it, but were definitely tired at the end. However, after we finished the 1.4 mile loop, it was their idea to hike up to the amphitheater, then all the way to the top.

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We started at the trading post, and hiked the loop counter-clockwise. I'd recommend hiking it this way because it gives you the move favorable views, and offers a bit of shade about 3/4 of the way through the hike--right when you need it the most. The sand and grave on the rock surface of the trail can cause your feet to slip, but as long as you are aware and take your time, it makes for a perfect leisurely hike.

You can bring your dog on this hike, however we haven't added this trail to our list of best trails for hiking with your dog near Denver because the trail can be narrow and can be high traffic. So, if you are bringing fido, we recommend going early in the morning, or take the Red Rocks trail, which is more open and has fewer people on it.

I get a lot of emails from people who are only in Denver for a few days, limited when it comes to their transportation, and want to experience the outdoors. This is the hike I send them to. Why?

  • The Trading Post is gorgeous year round.
  • Red Rocks is super close to Denver, and while it's still expensive, you could take a Lyft or Uber there from downtown. Get a group of friends to share the cost and you're golden.
  • Elevation is less of an issue for out-of-towners, and it's a relatively easy hike. It's short, but long still long enough to get a workout.

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Tips & Resources for Hiking the Trading Post Trail at Red Rocks :

  • Sunscreen: There's not much shade on this hike, so bring the sunscreen
  • Rattlesnakes: There are rattlesnakes in Red Rocks, as there are in many parks along the front range. Like us, they love to sunbathe, but on rocks and other warm areas. Don't let their presence deter you from enjoying this hike, but keep an eye out for the varmints.
  • Climbing: Rock Climbing is Prohibited at Red Rocks
  • View of Denver: After your hike around the Trading Post loop, walk up into the Red Rocks Amphitheater. It's worth climbing all the stairs to the top for a great view of Denver.
  • Hours: The hiking trails at Red Rocks open one hour before sunrise and close one hour after sunset
  • After the Hike: Ice Cream @ The Blue Cow
  • Trail Map for Red Rocks Park: Trail Map Link
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions

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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

horseshoe trail golden gate canyon state park

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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Golden Gate Sate Park Blue Grouse Trail Landscape

Blue Grouse Trail at Golden Gate Canyon Park

The Blue Grouse Trail is a short, 1.6-mile hike on the western edges of Golden Gate Canyon State Park. A pleasant trail with little gain in elevation and mellow terrain makes this a great escape from the city. The Blue Grouse Trail is a perfect hiking trail for spotting wildlife, from birds to deer, viewing fall colors and wildflowers, and taking in the beautiful scenic view along the trail. Explore the full hiking trail profile below for hike details, trail map, and links to similar trails near Denver.

Trail Snapshot: Blue Grouse Trail

Before you start this hike there are some things you should know - a Colorado State Park Pass is required to enter Golden Gate Canyon State Park. A day pass can be purchased at the Visitors Center upon entrance into the park. Some trails offer passes at self-serve dispensers, but the Blue Grouse Trail does not.

To get to the Blue Grouse trailhead, pass Kriley Pond and take the first right at Mountain Base Road. The trailhead parking area is to the right at the fork in the road. At the trailhead you’ll find picnic tables. There is a porta-let at Kriley Pond and there are restroom facilities at the Visitors Center. Below you'll find more details on the trail, Kriley pond, and some information on camping at Golden Gate Canyon State Park.

Hiking the Blue Grouse Trail

You'll make your way along a nice dirt path with a few rocky sections. The elevation gain is slight, and this short hike can be turned into a longer one by joining up with the Mule Deer Trail where the Blue Grouse trail terminates at .7 mile. Mule Deer Trail is a 7.4 mile loop, and there is a Golden Gate Park map at the trail intersection.
Blue Grouse Trailhead Golden Gate Colorado

The Blue Grouse Trail is a popular trail for mountain bikers who use it to access the longer trails in Golden Gate. Mountain bikers in Colorado are typically very considerate of hikers, but just be aware that you'll be sharing the trail with others. After the initial rise, the trail is more gentle as it ascends the hillside. You'll be drawn to the rock outcroppings ahead and a beautiful grove of aspens.

Blue Grouse Trail

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 Blue Grouse Trail:

    blue grouse trail marker

    • Trail options: View the Golden Gate Canyon Park map to see the various other trail options you have after hiking the .7 mile in on Blue Grouse.
    • Rim Meadows: a great destination if you would like to continue on the Mule Deer Trail but are not wanting to hike the entire Mule Deer trail loop.
    • Picnic: Because Golden Gate Canyon State Park is an hour drive, make a half-day or full-day out of your trip. Bring a picnic, and sling up a hammock for a nap in the shade.
    • Download our Dayhikes Hiking Guide for a day hike packing checklist
    • Sun protection: The trail is only partly shaded, so be sure to bring sun protection for the parts not covered.
    • After the Hike: Buffalo Moon Coffee
    • Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
    • Trail Map for Blue Grouse Trail: Trail Map Link

    Kriley Pond at Golden Gate Canyon State Park

    Kriley Pond is a popular fishing spot in Golden Gate Canyon State Park. In the fall, the hillsides are peppered with the golden glow of Aspens.The early morning hours are the best time to visit if you want to soak in the songs of Colorado songbirds before families and fisherman arrive. Fishing in Kriley Pond requires a Colorado Fishing License. There are several other ponds to visit at Golden Gate Canyon, including: Ranch Ponds, Slough Ponds, Dude's Fishing Hole, and the pond at Forgotten Valley.
    kriley pond at Golden Gate Canyon State Park

    Camping in Golden Gate Canyon State Park

    There are several camping options at Golden Gate. However, because this State Park is less than an hour from Denver, the sites can fill up fast in the busy summer months. There is a car camping area at Reverends Ridge, a tents only site at Aspen Meadows, 20 backcountry shelters, and a limited number of cabins and yurts that can be reserved. All sites require fees which are posted at the Golden Gate Canyon Camping page.

    We want to thank 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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White Ranch Sunset Loop Near Golden, Colorado

This loop hike in White Ranch Park is a great escape, a place to watch the glow of twilight on the city of Denver as the sun sets in the West. This Colorado trail is set at the very beginning of the foothills. You'll journey across a tranquil meadow punctuated with ponderosa pine and decorated with Spring and early Summer wildflowers. In the trail profile below, we'll show you how to create what we are calling the Sunset Loop by putting together a series of short trails. To get the details on this hike near Denver, Colorado, scroll down and take a look at the detailed trail profile, map, hiking trail tips, and the video panorama.

Trail Snapshot: White Ranch Park Sunset Loop Trail

Ifyou are looking for a great family hike or for a mountain biking experience in the foothills, White Ranch Park offers you a network of trails, with enough variety to please anyone. There are two parking lots .3 miles apart. The second parking at White Ranch has more capacity. We went on a Friday afternoon and only a handful of folks were on the trails, but we hear that it gets much more traffic on the weekends. The Ralston Buttes, a unique geologic formation, dominates the landscape in the distant northeast region of the park. It's a protected area because of its sensitive ecosystem. Though it's not accessible by trail, you'll get a lot of great views of the Buttes at various points of this loop hike.

White Ranch Loop parking lot
Start your adventure at the second parking lot with the Rawhide Trail.

Rawhide trail lays on the edge of a vast meadow. The complete trail is 4.5 miles long, but to form this loop, you'll only hike a segment, before you join up with the Longhorn trail. It can be tricky to find the Rawhide trail, but it's the first one to the east at the trailhead (on your right, if you are facing the trailhead sign). See the photo just below.

White Ranch Loop Rawhide trail beginning

In the distance you will have a chance to see some old ranch buildings and farm machinery. You can imagine what it might have been like to farm this rugged area perched above Denver. While cattle no longer graze these meadows, White Ranch Park is home to several species of wildlife including elk, deer, mountain lions, bears, wild turkeys, and bobcats.

White Ranch Loop North View Along Rawhide

When you get to the intersection with the Longhorn trail, you'll turn right and enter the second part of the hike. Open meadows are replaced with shade and the distinct perfume of Ponderosa pine as you walk along the trail.

White Ranch Loop Longhorn Trail

The trail itself is pretty clear and very well-kept. After about of a mile of ups and downs with some nice and easy inclines you can stop and enjoy the view before you turn right again and take the Maverick trail.

White Ranch Loop Hiking The Trail

Maverick Trail is good for riders and hikers of all skill levels. It's 0.9 miles long and it is primarily used for hiking. While hiking on this trail your eyes may be drawn to the beauty of the high plains, but watch out for the shallow roots that make their way into this part of the trail. It is not technically challenging but some riders have found themselves on their backs on this segment, and I'm sure a few hikers have tripped.

White Ranch Loop View of North Table Mountain

After some great views of Denver and out to the horizon in the East you will reach the end of the Maverick trail and an intersection with Belcher Hill trail. Turn right on the trail split and take a short path to the next intersection. Looking from right to left in front of you will be three roads - Sawmill trail (0.5 mi) that will take you back to the parking lot where you started your trail, Belcher Hill trail (0.6 mi) and Sawmill trail (0.8 mi) that can take you to Sawmill Hicker Camp. Take the Sawmill Trail to complete the Sunset Loop hike.

White Ranch Loop Sign to Camping area
White Ranch is one of just two Jefferson County parks with campsites.

There are 10 campsites available on this site, each has a picnic table, a metal fire ring, and some food storage poles. Also there is a maximum of three tents and eight people per site. Camping permits are free and valid for a maximum stay of up to three nights. Click here for more details on camping in White Ranch Park and the most up to date regulations.

White Ranch Camping Permits

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 The Sunset Loop at White Ranch Park

wildfowers in foreground on top of north table mountain in golden colorado

North Table Mountain Hike Near Golden, Colorado

When the sun rises over the North Table Mountain, you'll see this mesa rising above the town of Golden, Colorado. A vast network of trails awaits hikers, mountain bikers, and nature photographers. This is a perfect hike near Denver for when you don’t have much time on your hands but need some fresh air. While the trails on Table Mountain are accessible all year round, the best time to hike it is in the Spring and early Summer when wild flowers start to bloom. Check out our detailed description of the hike, the Table Mountain trail map, driving directions so that you can explore this unique Colorado hike.

Trail Snapshot: North Table Mountain Near Golden

Start your tour of North Table Mountain (really it's a mesa) a few hours after the daybreak by entering the main parking lot off of Highway 93, just north of Golden, Colorado. At the trailhead, you'll find a kiosk with trail maps, and a public restroom. There are three ways you can explore the North Table Mountain, so scroll down to read the details on all three options.

Hiking North Table Mountain

road trail up to north table mountain hike near golden

#1 The (short) North Table Loop trail - 3.2 Miles

The first part of the trail starts with a wide path, a long ramp up to the top of the mesa. It's a bit of a challenge, but when you get to the top, the paths level off and are much easier. Leaving the parking lot, take the North Table Loop trail south for 0.7 miles until you reach a trail intersection. Take a left onto the Tilting Mesa trail. Follow Tilting Mesa trail for approximately 1 mile until the next trail junction. Take a left onto the Mesa Top Trail, hiking on it until it intersects with the North Table Loop trail again. Take a left onto the North Table loop trail which skirts the sides of North Table Mountain and takes you back to the trailhead.

north table mountain west side looking toward golden colorado

#2 The Longer North Table Loop Routes - 6-8 Miles

Shake it up a bit: This is a longer route that combines a tour of the top of Table Mountain and a hike around the perimeter. Start the same way you would start the short table loop trail by taking the North Table Loop for 0.7 miles until you reach the Tilting Mesa trail. Follow the trail to the first unmarked intersection and then turn right. On your next intersection turn right again onto the Mesa Top trail. After about .6 mile, you'll encounter a trail intersection with the Rim Rock Trail which is closed seasonally (March 1 through July 31). Continue on the Mesa Top trail until it intersects with the North Table Loop trail which will take you all the way back to the west side of the mountain and to the parking area. This is approximately a 6 mile loop.

Adapt to a Closure Route: At the time of this post, April 2014, a segment of the Mesa Top trail is closed due to flood damage. An alternate route adds some mileage and difficulty to this loop, but that just may be what you are looking for. Here's the route: Same as above, but when on the Mesa Top Trail, take the Cottonwood Canyon Trail (right) until it links you back up with the North Table Loop trail. Then take a left back on to the North Table Loop trail which will then take you on a tour of roughly 3/4 of the perimeter of North Table Mountain. Here's a link to the North Table Mountain Trail Closure map that should help you plan this route. This Route is approximately a 7.5 mile loop.

The Straighforward Approach: The final route is pretty straightforward, just take the North Table Mountain Loop all the way around the perimeter of the mountain. This results in an approximate 7.7 mile loop.

mountain biker on top of north table mountain with denver skyline in background
#3 The Golden Cliffs Trail - 2.7 miles RT

If you are a climber or just looking for a shorter hike, you can take North Table Mountain trail to the Golden Cliffs trail. The Golden Cliffs are very popular Colorado rock climbing attraction. This area is actually a preserve managed by the Access fund. For more information on rock climbing the Golden Cliffs, see the Golden Cliffs page on the Mountain Project and Access Fund Sites. This is a 2.7 mile (Round Trip) out-and-back trip.

Tips for Hiking North Table Mountain:

  • Wear sunscreen because there is no shade once you are atop Table Mountain.
  • Camping and open fires are not permitted at North Table Mountain Park.
  • Don’t forget to bring your camera. You can get some very interesting wildlife images.
  • Rattlesnakes: Jefferson County Open Space notes that North Table Mountain is a known Rattlesnake habitat. They recommend downloading their Snakebite Prevention and First Aid Guide to better understand this native reptile of Colorado.

whitetail deer trailside on north table mountainWeather

Map and Directions to North Table Mountain West Trailheaad

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