Want to breathe in Colorado’s fresh mountain air without a strenuous uphill climb? Thanks to many of the state’s year-round resorts, there are plenty of places in Colorado to enjoy chairlift-assisted hiking trails.
Open for business in the summer and fall, chairlift-assisted hiking allows visitors to easily enjoy loop trails, downhill walks, and access to connected wilderness areas. So prepare your future self to sit back and enjoy the scenery as we explore Colorado’s best hiking trails with chairlift and gondola assistance.
With rugged terrain nestled against the Continental Divide, Arapahoe Basin is a small but mighty resort located under an hour and a half from Denver. Of course, as A-Basin has one of the longest ski seasons in the state, this means that it also has one of the shortest hiking windows.
Annually, the Black Mountain Express welcomes hikers from mid-June to late September. Located in the White River National Forest, the area is full of dramatic views from a series of enchanting alpine meadows. Before your visit, please note that bikes and pets are currently not permitted to ride the lifts in the Arapahoe Basin Ski Area.
A ticket is required to ride the chairlift unless you are a season pass holder, in which case, it’s free. After the ride up to mid-mountain, many visitors enjoy the Half Moon Vista Trail, which offers an easy and scenic walk about the area. Hikers looking for a bit more of a workout can also enjoy the steep Argentine North Fork Trail, which features many seasonal wildflowers.
Aspen – Snowmass
Pitkin County’s internationally famous Aspen-Snowmass is a great Colorado destination for chairlift-assisted hiking. Catering to families and hardcore-hikers alike, scenic views and mountain air await travelers on Snowmass’s Elk Camp Gondola and chairlift, Aspen’s Silver Queen Gondola, and Buttermilk’s Summit Express.
Beaver Creek Resort
Just outside Avon, Beaver Creek Resort continues to run its Centennial Express Lift for scenic summer chairlift and gondola rides. At the top of the lift, guests arrive at Spruce Saddle, which offers food, drinks, games, and restrooms and provides access to a network of hiking trails.
Like in ski season, Beaver Creek Resort offers summer trails of varying difficulty to satisfy guests of all ages and ability levels. For an easy walk with incredible views, both the Discovery and Spruce Saddle Loops are great mid-mountain hikes. Avid hikers can take the moderately difficult Overlook or Royal Elk trails to the base or ascend even higher on the challenging PHQ Hill Climb.
Breckenridge Ski Resort
For another free ride on the other side of the Rocky Mountains, the Breckenridge Ski Resort also offers cost-free trips all summer long on the BreckConnect Gondola. Leaving from the North Gondola Parking Lot, BreckConnect lifts visitors over the Cucumber Gulch Wildlife Reserve and onto the resort for easy access to hiking trails.
From the resort, hikers can choose to head uphill on two feet or purchase a ticket to climb even higher via the Colorado SuperChair. On top of the mountain, guests can enjoy the water, restrooms, food, and unforgettable views of the White River National Forest at the aptly named Vista House.
For the best Breckenridge hiking experience, we recommend taking the Horseshoe Bowl hiking loop for a bike-free stroll near the treeline. The BreckConnect Gondola operates year-round, and the SuperChair is typically open to foot traffic through the end of September.
On the other side of the Ten Mile Range, Copper Mountain is another great ski resort with summer chairlift access to breathtaking hiking trails. From the base of the mountain, Copper visitors can take either the American Eagle or Woodward Express lift to instantly access a network of easy and intermediate trails.
With all of the mountain roads open to foot travel, hikers have many options to customize their route around picnic sites, overlooks, and personal preferences. For a purely downhill hike with chairlift access, many visitors enjoy Chickaree Way, which eventually merges with the Colorado Trail.
Crested Butte Ski Resort
In the Elk Mountains of Gunnison County, Crested Butte Ski Resort keeps the mountain open each summer for visitors to enjoy chairlift-assisted hiking. By taking the Silver Queen Lift from the base area to 11,400 feet above sea level, visitors can sit back and enjoy the expansive Gunnison National Forest views.
From the top of the lift, there are opportunities to hike to a picnic shelter, overlook, or the summit of Mt. Crested Butte. For those interested in a full day or overnight journey, Crested Butte’s hiking trails also connect to the famous Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area.
Ninty miles from Denver, the scenic Granby Ranch is a low-key ski resort that maintains summer lift operations for hiking and mountain biking. Encompassing 500 acres of varied terrain, it is very easy to find a hike to fit any skill level and timeframe.
During the summer, the chairlifts typically operate from Wednesday to Sunday and are completely free to ride. From the top, visitors will find several family-friendly routes for hiking back down to the base area.
Just down the road from Arapahoe Basin, Keystone Resort welcomes summer hikers with a wide variety of choices for post-adventure meals or accommodations. Taking the River Run Gondola, guests can quickly ascend from the base of the mountain to Summit House Food Court on Dercum Mountain.
Here, the 2.3-mile Dercum Summit Hiking Trail offers incredible views of the area while only climbing roughly 180 feet. The trail is rated as easy, traverses the Mozart Ski Run, and includes an overlook deck. On the loop, clockwise travel is recommended, bearing left at the junction.
Annually, Keystone Resort offers chairlift-assisted hiking experiences from June through September. ATV rentals, tours, and other activities may also be available at the top of the lift. Late in the season, gondola service may only be available Friday through Sunday, with additional trails and activities such as golf and tennis located at the base of the mountain.
Atop Grand Mesa, Powderhorn Mountain Resort offers one of the most secluded chairlift rides in the state. From the base, guests will ride the Flat Top Flyer lift over the trees to a scenic view with picnic tables and restrooms on top of the world’s largest flattop mountain.
From here, there are several ways to return to the main resort area via easy, intermediate, and difficult hiking routes. There are several other picnic areas along the way and the small resort is working to create additional hiking trails in the near future.
Outside of Durango, Purgatory Resort is a great place to hike in the San Juan Mountains with an extra boost from the summer lifts. Before a visit, hikers should familiarize themselves with the area and be sure to steer clear of mountain biking only trails.
From the top of Lift 4, hikers have an excellent opportunity for small or large loops on the backside of the mountain. To reach the base without getting back on the lift, hikers can take the World Champs XC trail, which may be difficult for visitors with mobility challenges.
In the Park Range of the Rockies, Steamboat Ski Resort stays open each summer to offer visitors scenic lift rides and ample hiking options. Located in the beautiful Routt National Forest, guests can sit back and enjoy the ride on the gondola or Christie Peak Express and find easy, intermediate, and difficult hiking trails.
Steamboat’s summer lifts typically operate from Memorial Day to Labor Day, with restrooms and multiple food options located mid-mountain at the Thunderhead Lodge. Visitors looking for a quick hike will enjoy the Vista Nature Trail, while serious hikers and backpackers are welcome to extend their trip over the Continental Divide.
Telluride & Mountain Village Gondola
Transporting millions of visitors through one of Colorado’s most picturesque box canyons, the Telluride & Mountain Village Gondola provides million-dollar views at a zero-dollar ticket price. With most riders starting their journey at the Telluride Station, visitors of all kinds can enjoy the scenery, trails, and wonder of the San Juan Mountains.
Hikers can choose from several small loop trails, traverse the terrain on the Village Trail, or even ascend to 12,000 feet via the See Forever Trail. Restrooms, food, and water are available near every station, and interested tourists are encouraged to visit the St. Sophia Nature center to learn more about the area.
Each year, the free gondola service is typically running for hikers to take advantage of from late May to mid-October.
Vail Ski Resort
Vail is the largest ski resort in the state, so it should come as no surprise that it is also a great place for chairlift-assisted hiking. Every summer, Vail continues to operate both the Gondola One and Eagle Bahn Gondola for visitors of all ages to see expansive Rocky Mountain views from 10,000 feet in elevation.
At both Mid-Vail and the Eagle’s Nest, hikers can step off the lift and onto easy or moderately difficult trails. Before or after your hike, there are also food services, restrooms, and access to other fun activities within the resort’s full-service facilities.
Winter Park Ski Resort
Although named “Winter” Park, the fun does not stop when the snow melts at this year-round Colorado resort. With a scenic gondola ride from Winter Park’s base area, visitors can take in the views of the Continental Divide on several established hiking trails. From the end of the lift, many hikers choose to travel down the Ute Trail, a difficult 2-mile descent back to the resort.
For something a bit easier, we recommend a walk along the Lower Roof of the Rockies Trail to Fantasy Meadow.
Other Chairlift Hiking Opportunities Around the State
Aside from its many ski resorts, Colorado is also home to a few independently owned seasonal chair lifts for high-elevation hiking. Here are four more places to ride and hike around the state.
- Royal Gorge Bridge & Park Gondola – Outside of Cañon City, The Royal Gorge Bridge and Park features a gondola, hiking trails, and many more ways to enjoy the dramatic Arkansas River canyon. One of the best ways to explore the park is by hiking across the bridge and riding the gondola back over the gorge, or vice versa.
- The Monarch Crest Tramway – Stationed atop Monarch Pass, the Monarch Crest Tram is open from May to September. Visitors must purchase a lift ticket for the nine-minute ride to the observatory. It is possible to hike back to the base, as well as extend your journey on the Continental Divide Scenic Trail.
- The Estes Park Aerial Tramway – In the eastern gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, the Estes Park Aerial Tramway is a fun and easy way to see the town and its surrounding wilderness from above. At the top of the scenic journey, there is an observation deck, coffee shop, and restrooms as well as a small network of family-friendly hiking trails.
- Glenwood Caverns Iron Mountain Tram – Finally, it’s difficult to talk about summer gondola fun without mentioning Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, the country’s only mountain-top theme park. To reach the park entrance, visitors must ride the Glenwood Gondola. From here, guests can enjoy the views, attractions, and services as well as several hikes into the mountain with guided cave tours.
Although many people pride themselves on climbing Colorado’s famous mountain tops on foot, lift-assisted hiking is a great way to quickly ascend to panoramic views of some of the state’s most scenic areas. With chairlifts and gondolas open seasonally in over a dozen resorts, we hope that this guide has helped you seek out your next adventure.