10 Beginner-Friendly Solo Hikes Near Denver

ACS_0058Hello hello! Long time no see (or in this case, post?)! This past year and a half has brought a ton of big changes into my life (more on that later…) but one of the most significant is that I’m currently living in Denver, Colorado. While living in New Orleans for college, I missed the front range like crazy. As many of you know, Nola isn’t terribly mountainous. In fact, the highest points in New Orleans are actually the levees, not the “monkey hill” dirt mound in Audubon park as propagated by urban legend. Anywho, when I moved back after graduation, I knew I wanted to take advantage of the landscape I had pined for while stuck in the Howie T cubicles writing papers.

So, in 2018 I set myself a goal of completing 52 hikes in 52 weeks. I knew the goal was ambitious with a full time job, traveling, and other lovely surprises that adulthood likes to throw in the mix but I’m proud to say that as of today, December 11th, I completed 31 hikes varying from 1.5-8 miles since January 1st. For some, I was joined by awesome friends and family, but for most, it was just my dog Finley and I packing up and heading into the woods for what I considered to be solo hikes. Not having lived in Colorado full-time for the past 4 years, I had no idea where to start. I was intimidated by the thought of going out by myself, and it took me a while to find my footing on the trails. As incredible as Colorado is, there is definitely a reputation here that you don’t really ‘do’ an activity unless you do it at expert level, whether it’s hiking, skiing, rock climbing, or even brewery tasting. There’s a stigma that you’re not really a hiker if you aren’t camping overnight at the trailhead or clocking 10+ mile routes, or that you can’t call yourself a skier if you don’t have an Epic pass and exclusively ski bowls. Well, let me tell ya, that is WRONG. After this year, I’ve realized that a hike is a hike is a hike, whether it’s a half mile service road through the woods or a fourteener- IT’S A HIKE. So, even if you’ve never hiked by yourself before, or you hike every weekend (in which case holy cow you rock because I wish I had your self discipline to wake up and drive into the mountains every Saturday), I want to share 10 of my favorite accessible routes near Denver, because sometimes finding the right trail is the hardest part!

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My hiking-partner-in-crime, Finley.

Bonus: all of these are dog friendly, and all of them can be done in a morning or afternoon within 1 hour of Denver, although for many you will want to wait until Spring (sorry I was too excited to write again that I’m posting about hikes in the dead of winter- my b).

Also, the mom-of-the-friend-group tendency in me just needs to provide the following quick tips when hiking solo:

  1. Always let someone know where you will be hiking and when you plan to return. (I know this seems silly when you’re going for a quick little walk but you don’t want to mess with nature and mountains without cell phone reception do ya??)
  2. Throw extra layers in your car even if you don’t plan on wearing them. I have no idea how many hikes I’ve gone on now where I’m so thankful I threw a sweater/hat etc. in my car even though it was blazing hot in Denver. Mountain weather is no joke people!
  3. Fill up your tank before you’re far into the mountains. First of all, this is just good from a weather safety standpoint but also gas is hella expensive out there.
  4. Bring twice as much water as you think you’ll need especially if you are bringing a dog. You can always leave a second bottle in the car, but don’t forget about your buddies who are literally hiking in fur coats.
  5. Bring a pack to hold onto your keys, phone, extra layers, hand sanitizer, swiss army knife, whistle, water, snacks, or whatever else floats your boat. I highly recommend snacks.
  6. Choose well-traveled & well-maintained hikes. While it’s not super fun to hike with 20 strangers, it is super safe. Hiking trails that have higher volumes of traffic means that if (hopefully not) something does happen, folks will pass by you soon enough to offer a helping hand. Get an earlier start on these and you can miss the larger crowds while still having others along the trail. I recommend checking out the AllTrails app to review trails you’re interested in- seriously one of my top 5 I use on my phone!
  7. PACK IT IN PACK IT OUT, PEOPLE. Many trailheads do not have facilities, aka trash cans & toilets. Don’t leave your literal and figurative crap on the trail- this includes food waste. If it wasn’t native to the environment before you got there, it certainly shouldn’t be there when you leave.

PHEW. Now that we’ve had a nice, long-winded PSA, check out these 10 perfect hikes for solo beginners & visitors near Denver!


1. Horseshoe Trail to Frazer Meadow in Golden Gate Canyon State Park

Length: 3.8 miles
Style: Out & back through the woods, aspen groves, and a meadow with old the old Frazer cabin.
Drive time: 50 minutes from downtown Denver

ACS_0033Golden Gate Canyon has a special place in my heart since it was the first place I hiked after moving to Denver. Since it’s a state park, there is a $7 day pass fee that you must pay at the ranger station when you enter the park if you do not already have a pass. BUT, the park is so worth it. Get an early start and you can have many of these trails to yourself for an hour or so. There’s a huge network to choose from but I personally love Horseshoe as it’s less crowded than the west side of the park (which has more panoramic views and campgrounds), is full of aspen groves, and includes some Colorado history with the Frazer cabin ruins.


2. Meadow View, Bear Creek and Picnic Loop Trail in Ofallon Municipal Park

Length: 3.5 miles
Style: Loop through the woods with an uphill start (gets the hard part over with!).
Drive time: 35 minutes from downtown Denver

Ofallon is a hidden gem beyond the lovely (but popular!) Lair O’ the Bear Park. On a Saturday afternoon in October, I crossed paths with less than 10 other hikers over the length of the hike. It was the perfect amount of people to feel like I had the trail to myself but wasn’t too isolated. Most of the loop is hikers only, but be careful on the Bear Creek portion of the trail as it is open to mountain bikes going pretty quickly. Technically, they should yield to you as a hiker but realistically this isn’t the case.


3. Hidden Fawn to Mount Muhly Trail in Alderfer/Three Sisters Park

Length: 6.6 miles

hikes for beginners and visitors outside denver colorado
Brother’s Lookout is the perfect photo-op for yourself & visiting friends.

Style: Loop through the woods with an option to add views from Brother’s Lookout.
Drive time: 45 minutes from downtown Denver

I absolutely love Alderfer/Three Sisters! Another awesome trail network, you can really choose your own adventure here whether you’d like to do 1-6 miles. It’s also a perfect place to bring visitors, as the elevation change is super gradual, it’s easy to cut the trails short if needed, and there’s an incredible panoramic view at Brother’s Lookout.


4. Squaw Mountain in Arapaho National Forest

Length: 4.1 miles
Style: Uphill out & back on a service road through the woods to a fire lookout.
Drive time: 55 minutes from downtown Denver

IMG_3415Squaw Mountain is one of the few hikes where it actually is about the destination instead of the journey. While the drive to the trailhead is beautiful, the actual trail itself is all uphill along a wide service road through the woods to reach a fire lookout. Not super scenic on the way up, but the 360 degree views of the Rockies when you reach the lookout makes it all worth it.


5. Turkey Trot Trail, Mt. Falcon

Length: 3 miles
Style: Loop through arid/red rock hills.
Drive time: 30 minutes from downtown Denver

While I personally prefer woodsy hikes, a lot of the closest options to Denver are more arid but offer awesome opportunities for views of the city and Red Rocks Park andAmphitheater. Turkey Trot is a great loop to feel like you still got a decent workout and hike in without spending half your day sitting on I-70. Watch out for rain & snow though- the trail can get very muddy very quickly.


6. Rawhide Trail in White Ranch Park

Length: 5 milesIMG_3348Style: Loop through the woods with views of northern Denver.
Drive time: 45 minutes from downtown Denver

Half of the fun of White Ranch is the beautiful drive through the mountains just to get to the trailheads! Once there, you have the choice of various trailheads offering woodsy paths and eastern views. My favorites include Rawhide and Sawmill trails. Try to get an early start on these, while there’s lots of parking, there’s also a lot of Coloradans going on hikes!


7. Maxwell Falls Lower Trail outside Evergreen

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Length: 4.2 miles
Style: Loop through the woods along a creek to the cascading falls.
Drive time: 45 minutes from downtown Denver

An early start is critical for this popular loop, but it is oh so worth it. Maxwell Falls combines the woods, a creek, and a cascading waterfall into a perfect 4 mile trail. In the summer, chacos or any other hiking sandals are an awesome choice to walk over the creek rocks. Be sure to pack a little picnic for at the top of the falls too!

 


8. Shadow Pines Loop in Flying J State Park

Length: 3.9 miles
Style: Flat and wide loop through peaceful woods.
Drive time: 40 minutes from downtown Denver

If you ever have a day where you think “I want to be outdoorsy and go on a hike but I’m tired af” this. is. the. hike. for. YOU. Essentially flat the whole time, Shadow Pines is perfect for a contemplative walk through the woods where you’re more likely to run into locals from Conifer or Aspen park strolling through the forest than fellow Denverites (cause sometimes you just need a break from city folk even if you yourself are city folk).


9. Bruin Bluff in Lair O’ the Bear

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Length: 1.5 miles

Style: Loop along creek and up wooded hillside.
Drive time:
35 minutes from downtown Denver

Lair O’ the Bear Park is a classic go-to for bringing out of town visitors as the path along the creek is flat and wide and offers just enough ~mountain vibes~ without having to drive to far into the mountains. For a quick hike, Bruin Bluff is perfect. There’s plenty of trails in the network that you can connect to to extend your hike, but I honestly like Bruin Bluff on its own in the Winter as the snow adds its own challenges.


10. Meyer Ranch Park Loop

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Length: 4.6 miles
Style: Loop through calm woods and aspen groves.
Drive time: 35 minutes from downtown Denver

Last, but not least, is old faithful: Meyer Ranch Park. Another wonderful place for contemplating life among some aspen groves, Meyer Ranch paths are perfect for self care Sundays and taking a moment to breathe some fresh air.


So, there you have it! I’m excited to share more of my favorite hikes near and far from Denver since hiking has become such a big part of my life in Denver and a positive contributor to my mental health, but for now, let me know below where  you love to hike near Denver!

xo,

ohh caroline


2 thoughts on “10 Beginner-Friendly Solo Hikes Near Denver

  1. Yay you’re writing again! I love this list. I’ve actually hiked Maxwell falls but haven’t heard of the others! I want to get more into hiking so this is perfect!

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