5 Exquisite Day Hikes Within 2 Hours of Denver Offering Fewer Crowds and More Solitude

Denver, CO provides a great mix for those loving the hustle and bustle of the city while being able to escape to the mountains all in a day.

There is a huge stigmatism in Colorado surrounding climbing one of the state’s 54 14ers. Many of these hikes can be absolutely packed with folks ticking off peaks over 14,000 ft. I hiked a popular 14er route bagging 4 peaks in a day trek loop and at one point stepped off trail waiting for a few minutes watching 20+ people trek up as we were on the descent. Even though we got to the trailhead at 6:00 am, it still felt like Grand Central Station with over 100 other people gearing up for their day hike.

I think it’s great that so many people are getting out and about being active. I’m selfish in the sense that when I make an escape to nature, I prefer to be by myself in my own peace and solitude. Some folks enjoy the camaraderie and encouragement other humans bring when hiking up a mountain and some do not! For the latter, this post is for you!

This post is by no means meant to be an official trail guide or map. It is merely a starting point for your adventure! Check in at a visitor center or ranger station for trail and weather conditions!


James Peak near Idaho Springs (8.3 miles)

St. Mary's Lake with the snowfield in the background.
St. Mary’s Lake with the snowfield in the background.
  • Description – At 13,294 ft., James peak doesn’t have the status as one of the revered Colorado 14ers, lucky for the solitude seeking hiker! This hike has incredibly variety including St. Mary’s Lake, hiking along a snowfield (it used to be St. Mary’s Glacier) and making your way across a deserted tundra flat to the base of James Peak. Climb on up the peak for private, panorama views of the front range.
  • Directions  From I-70, take exit 238 (“Fall River Road”). Drive north on Fall River Road until you reach a parking area on the left hand side just before mile marker #9. There is a $5 fee per car to park. The trailhead is just up the road and to the left! Keep left at the 2 intersections making your way to St. Mary’s Lake. Once you reach the lake, hike around the right side and towards the snowfield. Stay to the right of the snowfield and top out on the tundra flat above. James Peak will be straight ahead of you.
  • Relevant Information – Dogs are permitted on this hike. The short hike from the trailhead to St. Mary’s Lake is quite popular. Start your trek early to avoid crowds and enjoy the peaceful hike up past the lake. For a more detailed trail map, check out ProTrails’ write up!
St. Mary's Lake as viewed from the boulder field near the snowfield.
St. Mary’s Lake as viewed from the boulder field near the snowfield.
So private I can attempt to even out those tan lines! Don't stop exploring at St. Mary's Lake, hike up the right side of the snowfield and up onto the flat wonderland above!
It’s so private on the tundra flat that I can attempt to even out those tan lines!

Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park (9 miles)

Sky Pond.
Sky Pond.
  • Description – The trail to Sky Pond leads past a waterfalls, lakes and through beautiful trees for an incredible day of nature! There are quite a few folks that enjoy the hike to Alberta Falls (0.8 miles in), the further you hike towards Sky Pond, the less people you will encounter. This is considered a strenuous trail based on a short scramble near the end and the 1780 feet of elevation gain. Don’t let this deter you, it is very manageable with ample time and the scenery will be more than worth it!
  • Directions  From Estes Park, follow HWY 36 towards Rocky Mountain National Park. Pass the fee station ($20/day, $80 annual pass for ANY National Park) and turn left on Bear Lake Rd and drive until you reach the Glacier Gorge Trailhead after about 8 miles. The Sky Pond trail begins at Glacier Gorge Trailhead. The trail is very well marked but for a more detailed account, check out this trail description.
  • Relevant Information – Dogs are not permitted on any trails inside Rocky Mountain National Park.
The waterfall just before reaching Lake of Glass.
The waterfall just before reaching Lake of Glass.
Lake of Glass
Lake of Glass. Sky Pond is just beyond this viewpoint.

Lost Lake Trail at Hessie Trailhead near Nederland, CO (2.7 miles) 

Lost Lake in all of her peace and serenity.
Lost Lake in all of her peace and serenity.
  • Description – Lost Lake is a beautiful spot for a relaxing day, possible picnic lunch or a great first backpacking trip! The trail to Lost Lake is short but steadily and gradually uphill while passing a waterfall through Indian Peaks Wilderness. Plan this hike for a mellow day of relaxing hiking and lounging near a pristine alpine lake. There are plenty of trout in Lost Lake to keep the fishermen and women happy! For more trails accessed by Hessie Trailhead, stop at the Visitor Center in Nederland for a trail map!
  • Directions  From Nederland, drive south on CO 119 for 0.5 miles. Turn right (west) onto CR 130 (there will be signs for Eldora). Take 119 through the town of Eldora, past where the pavement turns into dirt and you will reach a small parking area with signs for Hessie Trailhead. Park here unless you have a high-clearance, 4WD vehicle. The trail to Lost Lake will begin on the left hand side of the road. After walking 0.25 mile, you will reach a footbridge. Cross it and stay on the main/obvious trail until you reach a junction pointing to Lost Lake. From there, the trail is well marked.
  • Relevant Information – Dogs are permitted on this hike. Lost Lake is just outside of Indian Peaks Wilderness so you do not need a permit to use the backcountry campsites. However, do check in with the Visitor Center in Nederland to check if a fire ban is in effect. For a more details, click here for information put out be the USDA.
Autumn comes and goes within a short week or two but it sure is beautiful while it lasts!
Autumn comes and goes within a short week or two but it sure is beautiful while it lasts!
Enjoying solitude.
Enjoying solitude.

Rattlesnake Gulch Trail in Eldorado Canyon State park (3.8 miles)

A foggy morning overlooking the mouth of Eldorado Canyon.
A foggy morning overlooking the mouth of Eldorado Canyon.
  • Description – Just south of Boulder lies the mouth of an incredible canyon featuring elegant pines, private trail systems and great solitude! The Rattlesnake Gulch Trail features an old hotel foundation, incredible canyon views and a bird’s eye view of the Continental Divide. Check out the visitor center up the canyon for a complete trail maps; there are some other great trails in the canyon such as the Fowler Trail, Walker Ranch Loop and Crescent Meadows.
  • Directions  From highway 93, drive west on CO 170  approx. 3 miles into the town of Eldorado Springs. Drive slowly through the town to reach the park entrance and into the mouth of the canyon. There is an $8/car fee to enter the State Park. The Rattlesnake Gulch Trailhead is located .7 miles past the fee station on the left hand side of the road. At the first intersection on the trail, take the right trail continuing up the canyon. The trail is well marked from here.
  • Relevant Information – Dogs are permitted in Eldorado Canyon State Park. For a detailed trail map and GPS coordinates, check out ProTrails’ write up.
My parents' dog, Willy, a sure trooper after 2 ACL surgeries. If he can do it, you can!
My parents’ dog, Willy, a sure trooper after 2 ACL surgeries. If he can do it, you can!
Sometimes the less than optimal weather conditions make for the best experiences!
Sometimes the less than optimal weather conditions make for the best experiences! My mom enjoying the weather front moving in.

Emerald Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park (3.5 miles)

Emerald Lake on a cloudy day with Hallett Peak in the background.
Emerald Lake on a cloudy day with Hallett Peak in the background.
  • Description – The trail to Emerald Lake passes Nymph Lake and Dream Lake as it climbs steadily uphill to reach Emerald Lake. Many folks hike to Nymph Lake and turn around there. The further you hike towards Emerald Lake, the less people you will see. For the real prize in this hike, don’t stop at the shore of Emerald Lake! Hike around the lake on the left hand side skirting the boulder field towards the waterfall. From the right side of the waterfall, start up the scree field following a very slight climber trail. Make your way up as far as you desire depending on your ability and enjoy the peaceful solitude with a few marmots overlooking Emerald Lake from a different viewpoint.
  • Directions  From Estes Park, follow HWY 36 towards Rocky Mountain National Park. Pass the fee station ($20/day, $80 annual pass for ANY National Park) and turn left on Bear Lake Rd and drive until you reach the Bear Lake Parking Area after about 9 miles. From the trailhead, the trail is very well marked. Head left towards Nymph Lake then on to Dream Lake and finally Emerald Lake.
  • Relevant Information – Dogs are not permitted on the trails in Rocky Mountain National Park. For a more detailed description of the hike with mile markers and gps coordinates, check out this trail description.
The true test for peace and solitude.
The true test for peace and solitude.
Alex hiking up the scree field on the far side of Emerald Lake
Alex hiking up the scree field on the far side of Emerald Lake.
A perfect reflection on Emerald Lake.
A perfect reflection on Emerald Lake.

Tips and Tricks

  • The best way to enjoy nature is make it your own adventure! Sure, you may only have Saturdays and Sundays off work to play but avoid crowds and mainstream activities by planning an overnight backpacking trip, hike up a mountain under the full moon or explore by making your own trail.
  • Begin your hikes early in the morning, you’ll be rewarded with fewer people and the incredible morning light casting reflections on lakes.
  • Even if the weather in Denver is a warm and balmy 80 degrees, be sure to bring extra layers for the higher elevation!

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Happy Trails, Folks!!


107 thoughts on “5 Exquisite Day Hikes Within 2 Hours of Denver Offering Fewer Crowds and More Solitude

  1. I’ve been there but thank you for taking me there again. In a new way, and one that made me smile and say, “Ahhhh….” thank you

    Like

  2. So I’m looking at articles for places to hike with my young son, scrolling through this, and there you are topless. Seriously? Ok, it’s not showing anything but come on. Where are your boundaries? Even if he doesn’t realize what it is, i do… It’s really disappointing… Stay classy huh?

    Like

    1. a woman cant post a picture of her bare back without being told to “stay classy?” Good ole fashion sexism. Hope your son doesn’t pick this up from you as he grows up. these are AWESOME pictures

      Liked by 1 person

    1. You can always live your dreams, you just need to find a way to make it happen! For us, it meant sacrificing a career because 2 weeks of vacation would never be enough time to see everything we wanted to! That lead us to discovering how to travel extremely frugally and appreciate the little things in life 🙂 Find what makes you feel alive, and then make it happen! Happy travels!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Thank you so much! The picture of hiking braless and topless is priceless! Only to do that! Such a person of solitude in hiking. I go to the mountains to GET AWAY from people! It’s getting hard these days! Thank you so much!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As a naturist who enjoys hiking “clothing optional” whenever possible, I agree. It is so sad that when people see someone clothed as they were created, they believe the person to be obscene.

      Like

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