We Coloradans know that when June comes along, and the summer sun finally melts the high alpine snow, the Rocky Mountains are the only place to be. Our state is home to thousands upon thousands of trails traversing some of the most stunning terrain in the country, including rugged peaks, turquoise lakes and expansive meadows dotted with wildflowers.
While conquering a 14er (or a few) is always a worthy goal for the summer, maybe consider turning your hiking trip into a multi-day adventure. Backpacking is a less stressful way to enjoy the great outdoors, offering a chance to pitch a tent, watch the sun set over the Colorado scenery, and sip a local brew to celebrate your day’s work.
The opportunities for adventuring are endless, but we’ve rounded up some of our favorite backpacking treks in Colorado to get you started. The trips range from an easy overnighter to a full five-day excursion, but you’re bound to find something on this list that fits your skill level. So dig those old boots out of your closet and get going — after all, those boots were made for walking.
Total Distance: 27 miles
Driving Distance to Trailhead: Near Grand Lake | 143 miles | 3 hours and 18 minutes
Photo courtesy of Wildland Trekking
The Continental Divide Loop combines the best of Rocky Mountain National Park in one thrilling adventure. You’ll traverse 27 miles of peaks, valleys, glaciers and marshy meadows, enjoying spectacular views along the way. You’ll pass by several waterfalls and lakes over the first sections of the hike, which are perfect sites to make camp or enjoy a midday lunch break, but the latter portions are all above tree line! Set aside at least five days to complete the loop (unless you’re Iron Man), or opt to tackle a partial loop instead. Regardless, make sure to do your research and come prepared for the journey. If you prefer to be guided, Wildland Trekking offers excursions throughout the summer.
Total Hiking Distance: 26.6 miles
Driving Distance to Trailhead: Near Aspen | 261 miles | 4 hours and 35 minutes
Photo courtesy of Louie Traub via Outdoor Project
The Four Pass Loop is one of the most iconic hiking destinations in Colorado, and for a good reason. The trail circles the spectacular Maroon Bells, climbing four 12,000-foot passes. Prepare yourself for spectacular scenery, including wildflowers, rugged peaks, expansive meadows, scenic forests and alpine lakes. It should take three to four days to complete the loop, which is considered challenging even for those in good shape. When backpacking, try to complete the loop clockwise for an easier journey (the path is slightly less steep), and make sure to bring a bear-proof container for your provisions — they are now required in the area.
Total Hiking Distance: 14ish miles depending on your route
Driving Distance to Trailhead: Near Durango | 396 miles | 6 hours and 58 minutes
Photo courtesy of Jonathan Stull via Outdoor Project
Located near Durango, the Chicago Basin trip offers a unique backpacking experience. Start your journey by train on the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. Your ride leaves at 8 a.m. daily, and be sure not to miss it — you’ll need all the time you can to hike into Chicago Basin. Exit at the Needleton stop about 30 miles north of Durango and let the fun begin.
There are several routes you can take due to the trail offshoots, but each is as beautiful as the next. Expect to hike up steep terrain toward Twin Lakes (reach one of them and you’ll find spectacular views with Centennials in the background), and summit one or two of the eight 14ers in the area. The plethora of gorgeous places to camp make it an easy destination to spend multiple days, but regardless of how long you choose to adventure, you’ll enjoy some of the most spectacular alpine terrain in the state and likely meet a few mountain goats along the way.
Total Hiking Distance: 8.6 miles
Driving Distance to Trailhead: Near Telluride | 364 miles | 6 hours and 52 minutes
Photo courtesy of Denis LeBlanc via Outdoor Project
If you’re looking to embark on a slightly less strenuous (but still gorgeous) backpacking trip, perhaps opt for Blue Lakes Trail, located just outside of Telluride. This stunning path traverses through the San Juan Wilderness to high alpine lakes, each more beautiful than the last. The lower lake is just 3.5 miles from the trailhead and offers a nice spot to camp for the night if you choose to make it a multi-day trek. From there, hike a half mile to the middle lake, and another quarter mile to the upper lake to experience a profusion of wildflowers and breathtaking alpine views.
Total Hiking Distance: 17 Miles
Driving Distance to Trailhead: Near Aspen | 258 miles | 4 hours and 23 minutes
Photo courtesy of Jake Wheeler via Roots Rated
Located just 15 minutes from the heart of Aspen, this 2-day trek takes you through gorgeous terrain with views of sprawling meadows, rugged peaks and evergreen forests. The trail is well-traveled and well-maintained and ends up at a grouping of clothing-optional pools overlooking Conundrum Peak Valley. Your muscles will revel in the chance to unwind in 102-degree water after a long day of hiking, and you’ll enjoy cracking open a well-deserved beer to celebrate your accomplishment! Set up camp at one of the 18 sites surrounding the springs, and make sure to get there early — the summer months can be crowded.
Total Hiking Distance: 25 miles – 35 miles
Driving Distance to Trailhead: Near Fairplay |147 miles | 3 hours and 51 minutes
Photo courtesy of The Trek
This loop is the adventurer’s paradise, offering stunning Colorado scenery, excellent rock climbing on granite faces, and a plethora of campsites. You could do this in just two days, but we recommend lingering for a few extra to take in all the Lost Creek Wilderness area has to offer. Embark from the Goose Creek trailhead and traverse your way through aspen groves, meadows, and the Goose Creek drainage (with granite spires), and enjoy glorious views toward the west of the Collegiate Peaks and Mosquito Range.
As the trail is long, you’ll likely encounter only a handful of other hikers on your journey, but you also have the option to cut off a portion of the loop part-way into the hike to make it a shorter trip. Regardless, we recommend taking the loop counter-clockwise, which leaves the best scenery for last.
Total Hiking Distance: 16 miles
Driving Distance to Trailhead: Near Nederland | 79 Miles | 1 hour and 47 minutes
Photo courtesy of ProTrails
At 16 miles, this loop is a popular option for day-hikers on a mission but is an easier and more enjoyable trip if turned into an over-nighter (in our humble opinion). Trek through the Indian Peaks Wilderness and try not to gasp at the breathtaking scenery — on this hike you’ll find turquoise alpine lakes and endless views from above treeline. This hike is especially stunning during the fall when the aspens light up and coat the hills in friendly yellows and oranges.
Embark from the Hessie trailhead (located less than an hour from Boulder). The trailhead gets packed early in the day, so instead of competing for a coveted parking spot, perhaps take the shuttle from the nearby town of Nederland. You can stop once you reach Devil’s Thumb Lake if you which (a little over five miles up), or continue up to the High Lonesome Trail to King Lake and Devil’s Thumb Pass to complete the lollipop.
Total Hiking Distance: 10.9 Miles
Driving Distance to Trailhead: Near Near Red Cliff | 175 miles | 3 hours and 19 minutes
Photo courtesy of Esther Drebelbis via Outdoor Project
The Notch Mountain trail winds through the Holy Cross Wilderness, passing abundant spruce and fir trees. Your goal is to reach the Notch Mountain Shelter, which was built in 1924 to accommodate the hundreds of people who would hike yearly pilgrimages to view Mountain of the Holy Cross. While camping in the structure is prohibited, it’s a good stopping place to enjoy the spectacular views with a beer or a snack and provides a great temporary shelter from sudden afternoon thunderstorms. Continue up the trail to find a place to camp — just make sure you settle at least 100 feet from water sources and note that fires are prohibited above the tree line.
Have you conquered any of these backpacking treks? Or is there a trip you’d like to recommend? Let us know in the comments below so we can continue to add to our list! There are so many amazing backpacking opportunities in Colorado, and we’re always on the lookout for new adventures.
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