5 hiking trails near Denver and Boulder to add to your must-do list

In researching over 70 hikes for my new book, “60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Denver and Boulder,” (Menasha Ridge Press, 2020), I hit some well-loved trails and even some lesser-known paths.

Interest in hiking seems to be growing by the day on Colorado’s Front Range, so it’s nearly impossible to find trails that are unknown or free of other hikers. That said, there are some hikes not far from Denver and Boulder that you may not yet have on your must-hike list.

Here are a handful of hikes from my book that took me by surprise, for one reason or another:

Greyrock Mountain

Greyrock Mountain outside of Fort Collins has quite the reward for hikers on top. The drive up the Poudre Canyon, along the Cache La Poudre River, is pretty and even lush by Colorado standards, but shortly after crossing a bridge over the river and hiking uphill less than a mile, you are in one burn scar after another.

There have been a few forest fires here — both natural and human-caused — and it makes for a stark and exposed (and educational!) hike off and on. A brief scramble to the top of the mountain reveals several small ponds with trees and grasses and, best of all, little frogs croaking. There are 360-degree views from up there and you could easily be looking into Wyoming on a clear day.

Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge

There’s a fair amount of controversy over Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge between Golden, Arvada and Boulder due to its history of not only nuclear weapons storage but improper handling of the toxic materials. Today hikers and bicyclists are welcome to cruise across this windswept land on 10.3 miles of trails where elk roam and you can see the remains of a homesteaded ranch that is part of the area’s rich history.

South Boulder Creek Trail

If you’ve been to Boulder, you’ve literally driven over this trail. Starting at the Bobolink trailhead, the South Boulder Creek Trail heads south along the creek and ducks under Hwy. 36 before it briefly heads west and then south again through active agricultural fields with grazing cows and a prairie dog colony.

There is no elevation gain, but you have views of the iconic Flatirons, the occasional sounds of the creek gurgling along, wildlife such as herons and more, and roundtrip you can hike a respectable 6.5 miles. I think of this trail when I see people on Facebook asking for recommendations for a hike after they recover from knee surgery or simply can’t do an incline.

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Peaks to Plains Trail

When I tell friends that we are going hiking and it’s a paved trail, the disappointment is obvious. Still, I recommend the Peaks to Plains Trail in Clear Creek Canyon for many reasons: You are hiking along water the whole time, are likely to see bighorn sheep in the surrounding canyon rocks, are likely to see rock climbers and it’s good for people who are struggling with hiking for whatever reason. You can also drive back down to Golden for a drink or a meal after your hike. There are plans to extend this trail significantly, but there’s plenty to enjoy right now.

Mount Audobon

Before you climb a fourteener, try a thirteener. Mount Audubon is in the very popular Brainard Lake Recreation Area outside of Nederland and Ward. You get so many different views from various points on this hike. There are vistas to the east of the mountains now below you and beyond down to Boulder, then as you continue to ascend and look north, you’ll see Longs Peak and other high points of Rocky Mountain National Park.

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From there, you make your way up the rock pile to the top where there are wind shelters made of rocks and you can glimpse yet more mountain peaks, including another thirteener, Paiute Peak. When it comes to hiking above treeline, go early and get down early to be safe and avoid possible lightning.

In my book, there is a complete description of each of these hikes (plus 55 others), along with driving directions to the trailhead, elevation gain, type of trail, mileage and more.

Wonder which trails are best hiked on weekdays? Looking for a dog-friendly trail with great wildflowers? Trying to figure out which fourteener to summit first? Follow The Know Outdoors on Facebook and join us at 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 8, for a Facebook live with author Mindy Sink, who will answer any and all of your Colorado hiking questions. Already have a question in mind? Drop it here.

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