From short day walks to long-distance mountainous trails, which state has the best hiking trails suitable for an amateur to serious hikers? What makes a great hike might depend on personal preference, but one specific state provides an excellent environment from easy to more technical hikes.
Colorado has the best hiking trails. It offers thousands of miles of hiking trails with expansive mountain views and pristine lakes. From day hikes to longer backpacking trips, Colorado offers an endless variety of terrain to suit every type of hiking enthusiast.
The remainder of this article will illustrate why Colorado is the best state for hiking, a list of the best hikes in Colorado, and the reasons why these Colorado trails are considered the best in the United States.
Why Colorado Is the Best State for Hiking
There are many reasons why Colorado is considered the best state for hiking. Many hiking enthusiasts of all skill levels can find trails that range from easy to difficult, exploring Colorado’s scenic views and wildlife.
Number of 14ers
A “14er” (also known as a fourteener) is a mountain peak at least 14,000 feet (4,267 meters) high. Colorado has the most 14ers of any state in the United States, with more than 50 fourteeners. The actual number of Colorado’s 14ers are passionately debated amongst enthusiasts as many argue that there are 53 or 54, while others say that there are 58.
The second state with the most 14ers is Alaska with 22 fourteeners, and the third state being California with 12 fourteeners.
In the United States of America, Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado is one of the most popular and visited national parks. More than approximately three million people visit the park every year, lured by majestic mountain peaks and to watch the local wildlife roam the valleys.
More than 100 peaks rise above 11,000 feet in altitude, including Longs Peak at 14,259 feet (4346 meters). These mountains provide visitors and hikers with an astonishing view of mountain peaks and an outdoor adventure, unlike any other.
The Colorado Trail is known as one of the state’s best long-distance trails enjoyed by hikers, bikers, and horse riders. The Colorado Trail features more than 560 miles (approximately 901 kilometers) of trails between Durango and Denver, passing through some of the most stunning scenery in the Colorado Rocky Mountains.
Hikers that travel from the beginning to the end of the trail experience lakes and towering peaks of mountain ranges. The Colorado Trail’s average elevation is 10,300 feet (about 3139 kilometers), topping out at 13,271 feet (about 997 kilometers) high.
Continental Divide Trail
The Continental Divide is a boundary that separates the continent’s river systems that can often create a distinctive water flow. There is a continental divide that is on every continent, and North America has about three to five such divides. From Alaska down to Colorado Rockies, and eventually the Andes in South America, the Continental Divide is the longest continental divide in the whole world.
In Colorado, the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) divides the western slope and front range mountains. The Continental Divide Scenic Trail (CDT) is approximately 3,100 miles (about 4,988 kilometers) long, of which 740 miles (about 1190 kilometers) are within the state of Colorado.
The CDT’s front range section runs along the Indian Peaks Wilderness and the Rocky Mountain National Park. The highest point of the trail is Grays Peak in Colorado, at 14,270 feet (about 22,965 kilometers) tall and part of the front range section.
One of the CDT’s most popular hike in the front range is the Devil’s Thumb Loop. Hikers can encounter elk in meadows, snow-capped peaks, and a granite spire known as the Devil’s Thumb.
Best Hikes in Colorado?
Pikes Peak is known as Colorado’s most iconic and well-known peaks, with both a road and a trail to the top. It is well known to be one of Colorado’s most beautiful hikes and is also one of the most popular attractions.
According to historians, Katharine Lee Bates stood on top of Pikes Peak in the summer of 1893, and the view was what inspired her to write a poem called “America.” Known today as the United States’ national song “America the Beautiful,” she describes the spacious skies, waves of amber grain, and the purple mountain majesties of Colorado’s peaks.
Hikers will see summits of shorter mountain peaks, lakes, nearby towns, and cities. You may also see Denver’s skyscrapers, the Great Plains extending to Kansas, and the Sangre de Cristo mountain range towards New Mexico. This iconic 14er offers some of the most breathtaking views you will find on the planet.
It’s essential to be prepared for this challenge, as it is an approximate 13.5 miles (21.7 kilometers) climb uphill at approximately 7,400 feet in elevation. The only trail that will take you up to Pikes Peak’s summit is Barr Trail. While it is well-maintained, the course does not have much signage to guide you, so you should have a map just in case.
Barr Camp is open during the entire year and offers Pikes Peak hikers an ideal halfway point to stop and rest, whether it is an overnight stay or a casual picnic. If you book your stay in advance, you can have breakfast and dinner as well. Dinner service is limited to specified nights, but there are also dry meals available for purchase.
At Barr Camp, there are different types of stays, from hostel-style cabins to tent camping so ensure to make a reservation if you plan on resting. Due to the recent pandemic, Barr Camp is not available for overnight stays, but it is still open for purchasing light refreshments and food. You will need to bring your water or a filtration system to refill your hiking pack.
Longs Peak is considered as one of the most challenging and deadliest hikes in Colorado but is one of the Rockies’ best outdoor adventures. While many hikers attempt Longs Peak, it is one of the most formidable 14ers as it requires more than 5,000 feet of elevation gain, 15 miles (about 24 kilometers) of hiking, and rugged terrain with storms.
More than approximately 60 people have died on Longs Peak, and more than 50% of the hikers attempting Longs Peak do not manage to reach the summit.
If you are new to 14ers, Longs Peak is generally not recommended, and it is better to start with the less complicated Colorado summits. While Rocky Mountain National Park rangers patrol the area to keep hikers safe, parts of the Long Peak trail such as the Keyhole will be closed if storms are moving in on the horizon.
But after scrambling over rocks and successfully navigating through sudden drops, if you dare to venture up to the Longs Peak summit, your reward will be an unbelievable one-of-a-kind view of Colorado. This view is what entices thousands of hikers to take on the trail every year.
Handies Peak is also a terrific hike through the American Basin, one of the most scenic valleys covered with wildflowers and meadows during early August. Hikers visit Sloan Lake, an alpine lake, and then ascend to the Handies Peak summit that showcases spectacular San Juan Mountains’ panoramic views.
While the trail is steep, the peak is considered one of the easiest 14ers to climb. The scenic route is among the best in the area, so make sure to get an early start on a day with good weather to enjoy the incredible panoramic views at the summit.
There are hundreds of trails that range from strolls to challenging climbs in Colorado. With many miles of different hiking terrains and scenic views, hiking enthusiasts from all skill levels will find that Colorado is the best state for hiking.
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Erick is a freelance writer and outdoor enthusiast. Growing up in Nairobi Kenya and now calling Glasgow, United Kingdom home. Sipping on homemade spiced swahili tea and enjoying a good book is his idea of bliss.