The best way to define hiking in Colorado is through the numbers: 41 Colorado State Parks, 11 national parks and monuments, 13 national forests and grasslands and 54 14ers (peaks that rise more than 14,000 feet above sea level). All of these add up to thousands of miles of Colorado hiking trails waiting to be explored.
One of the highest profile Colorado hiking trails is the Colorado Trail. Popular with backpackers and experienced hikers, the nearly 500-mile trail climbs, crosses and descends the Rocky Mountains between Denver and Durango, passing beneath 14ers, beside rushing rivers and through wildflower meadows. As one of the nation’s premier long-distance trails, it takes at least 21 days to traverse its entire length (though backpacking shorter sections is also a popular pursuit).
For those out for shorter hikes, Colorado State Parks and national parks offer seemingly endless options. Visitor centers inside every park can provide excellent trail maps and advice on which hiking trails are best suited for all levels of hikers. These parks, as well as 100,000-plus acres of roadless areas in Colorado, can get you on a hiking trail within just a short drive of major cities like Denver, Colorado Springs and Boulder.
Besides granting access to postcard-worthy views and fresh air, Colorado’s best hiking and backpacking trails will lead you to some of North America’s most incredible wildlife-watching locales. Watch elk bulls fight for their ladies in Rocky Mountain National Park, see baby mountain goats scurry across crags near Mount Evans and spot bald eagles and other rare birds nest in the cottonwood trees of the Alamosa and Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuges.
Before setting out on any Colorado hike, make sure you have adequate water (at least two quarts per person), sunscreen, enough clothing and layers for changing conditions and a good map.