Written by Alex Ferguson
Colorado’s hiking trails weave in, out and around some of the most diverse and unspoiled landscape in the country. With natural highlights, historical sights and spectacular geological features along Colorado’s trails, it’s easy to see why hiking is one of the most popular outdoor activities in the state.
Mesa Verde National Park
To amaze and inspire, Mesa Verde National Park boasts over 5,000 archeological sites amongst 52,000 acres of preserved and protected southwestern Colorado land. In Mesa Verde, hikers can peer into history with trails careening through some 600 cliff dwellings where the Ancestral Pueblo people resided between AD 600 to 1300. One such location is the Badger House Community, which is widely accessible with paved, graveled, walking and bicycle trails. For over two miles, visitors will travel through four communities: Modified Basketmaker Pithouse, Developmental Pueblo village, Badger House, and Two Raven House. Mesa Verde National Park is and unforgettable experience, sure to inspire hikers, bikers and history buffs alike.
Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Hikers and campers visiting Black Canyon of the Gunnison in southwestern Colorado encounter the timeless geography of Planet Earth. Sculpted and carved by a 2-million-year-old river and ages of weathering, Black Canyon offers high craggy peaks, stunning views and a variety of ecosystems from the rim down. Pinyon pine, juniper and scrub oak forests lead down to shady inner canyon walls, to the unique riparian habitat along the Gunnison River. Enter by the south rim or the north rim in summer months, and hike along 12 miles of the most dramatic and rugged scenery on the planet. Be sure and keep a close watch on children hikers, as some sections contain steep drop offs.
Great Sand Dunes National Park
For an otherworldly experience, visit Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in south-central Colorado. Here, visitors will play amongst the highest sand dunes in North America, experience the thrill of sand sledding, hike along the many diverse trails and splash around in Medano Creek, a flowing stream of fun. Keep in mind, seasonal flow of the stream is dependent on snow in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains above the dunes. Though the creek typically has a peak flow from late May to early June in most years, check current conditions on the National Park Service website. Depending on water level, visitors may engage in any non-motorized activities in the creek, like wading, splashing, skimboarding, floating and sand castle building. Visitors to the famed dunes explain the phenomenon known as “singing sand” and water surges. For the hiking/sledding experience, the park provides several trails, including those accessible by 4WD only, like Castle Creek Picnic Area from Point of No Return. Once at Castle Creek, visitors gain an elevated perspective of the park, from a viewpoint not many are aware of. For sand sledders it is recommended to sled on the first high ridge of the dunes only to avoid crashing into the stream bed. Keep in mind, the park and preserve are always open, even for nightly stargazing adventures, so pack up and head out to the dunes!
Rocky Mountain National Park
For another unforgettable experience, visit Rocky Mountain National Park and feel the thrilling height of alpine beauty at its peak, pun intended. Visitors to Rocky Mountain Park can choose from an endless array of enjoyable activities. Plenty of folks come for wilderness camping, biking, hiking, fishing and just plain looking; sightseeing is a sport too, when you feel like you’re standing on top of the world! The park provides a plethora of trails to choose from, over 355 miles, for every level of hiking experience. For a more relaxed journey, stroll along the flatter surfaces of the lakeside trails. The experienced hiker may confront steeper mountain peak climbs for a challenging thrill. Trail Ridge Road crests at 12,000 feet, where hikers can pause and take in the incomparable and spectacular alpine and sub-alpine views. If you’re unsure about where to go, park rangers can help determine which trail is right for you and your family. Rangers also provide free guided hikes to help visitors gain familiarity with the park and understand how the thin, high-altitude air can affect the human body.
Whatever your age, fitness level or familiarity of Colorado wilderness may be, there is a trail for you. Visit one or visit them all; hikes along Mesa Verde, Black Canyon, the dunes or Rocky Mountain National Park are worthy of any bucket list. For adventurous souls seeking nature’s bountiful beauty, unique ecology and geological features, historical dwellings and unstoppable enjoyment, hike Colorado; there’s no place like it on earth.
*Featured image courtesy of National Park Foundation