[Sunset on the CDT. Photo: BLM] Colorado is a hiker’s paradise, full of hidden overnight treks and magnificent multi-day trails. It’s among the best places in the world to be for stunning hiking trails.
Whether you’re looking for a simple day hike to do with your family or a longer jaunt for you and your pals, you’ll find it here. East to west, north to south, Colorado is covered in scenic hikes, some connecting to larger national trails. Summer is no doubt the most common time to hike, with the most popular trails usually being covered in visitors. But don’t let that deter you from visiting, there are plenty of fantastic trails that are could be yours, and yours alone. Colorado’s a big place after all.
Colorado’s Best Multi-Day Hiking Trails
Thanks to a varied topography and the highest average elevation in the nation, Colorado provides a one-of-a-kind destinations for families and hikers from all over. You can stand on the Earth as high 14,400 if you’re atop Mount Elbert, our highest 14er. Or walk around at 3,315 feet if you’re probably not wading in the Arikaree River in Yuma County. We have ancient Anasazi ruins to explore, deep natural alpine lakes, forest teaming with wildlife, historic dinosaur and tree fossils. It’s an interesting place that keep’s you on your toes.
Easy day hikes in Denver and seemingly anywhere here are as easy to find as walking out your front door. Keep in mind too that nearly every single campsite I can think of has a hiking trail by it, so overnight hiking is also not too complicated. However, you must treat it with the utmost respect.
Backcountry Hiking Tips: Any time you’re heading out into the backcountry, you must be properly prepared with survial supplies and mountaineering training. Bring all the necessities you think you could possibly need, such as a compass, clothing layers, whistle, food, water, purifier, fire starter, shelter, sunscreen, sunglasses, hat, bug spray, cell phone, GPS, map, knowledge of how to read a map and use a compass. Know your plan, is it a one-way or round trip, will you need 2 cars? And most importantly, ALWAYS TELL SOMEONE WHERE YOU’RE GOING, and hopefully you have a friend joining you in your quest.
- Start out early each day, afternoon storms are common.
- If you are injured and solo, it’s best to stay on the trail and wait.
- Cell phone coverage is spotty at best.
- Be in a good shape.
- Trekking poles can help tired knees.
- Purchase a CO Outdoor Recreation Search and Rescue Card, CORSAR, if you don’t have a hunting or fishing license. It’s only $3 for a year or $12 for 5 years.
Backpacking is a worldwide passion, with people from all walks of life enjoying wonderful nights under the stars, coupled with early morning departures. Everywhere from the Swiss Alps to South America, you’ll find outstanding multi-day hikes, like the Camino de Santiago routes, which depart from Sarria, from Tui, and from Baiona, in Chile. Oftentimes it’s beneficial to take a backpacking group tour, such as those offered by SantiagoWays, out of Chile. Colorado offers its fair share of choices for guided overnight hikes.
Here’s a look at the lesser strolled, multi-day hikes for your overnight pleasure. These are among the top multi-day hiking trails in Colorado:
Day hikers will be able to access 28 segments of the Colorado Trail, each with check-in points. This state wide trail runs from Metro Denver’s Waterton Canyon to Durango. Elevations and difficulties of the sections vary. Backpackers too will have a splendid time hiking any bit of the 486 miles.
Allow yourself 4 to 6 weeks if you’re actually looking to conquer this life-changing hike. The average elevation is 10,300 feet to give you an idea. Optimal time to go is summer, late June to early September, and you should be relatively snow free. You’ll still see the white fluffy stuff on the mountain peaks. It’s also possible to choose any in-between segment for a two day or longer jaunt. It’s best to take a couple cars so you can park at the finish, just don’t forget your keys.
Continental Divide Trail
This nationally scenic trail is not for the feint of heart. It’s called the Continental Divide Trail for a reason, it traverses the spine of the United States. Traveling south to north or north to south, the choice is yours while your climbing high over some of Colorado’s tallest peaks. Established in 1978, it covers 3,100 miles from Mexico to Canada, passing 5 states.
The average through hike time for the whole shebang is 6 months at 17 miles per day. 740 of those miles of CDT are available in central Colorado. It’s highest point in the trail is Grays Peak in CO at 14,270 feet. Waterton Lake in Montana is its lowest point at 4,200 feet. More than 1,000 summits in Colorado top 10,000 feet on the CTD, making it one of the route’s best. It passes geological feature after feature, with a lot of historic ruins, like the Hancock ghost town.
Chicago Basin in Weminuche Wilderness
For a wild memory, consider this southwest hike that combines a trip on the Durango train. The destination is the Chicago Basin, which offers access to 3 area 14’ers. It’s unofficially called the backpacking train, which allows you to backpack from the train mid way to Silverton. At 499,771 acres, the Weminuche Wilderness is the biggest if the state.
Most overnight hikers to Chicago Basin will camp in the basin. It provides simple access to Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and Eolus, Sunlight and Wisdom peaks. So how does this work? Reservations should be made through the Durango Train ticket office to ensure seating. Let them know what you are doing. You can also save time and money by boarding form Silverton. If you have no reservations, you can may still be able to buy directly from the conductor at either Needleton or Elk Park drop offs.
How to flag the train:
The correct method is by waving your hands horizontally across your knees. When flagging the train in either direction, you must be on the east side of the tracks.
Maroon Bells Four Pass Loop
This is one of the best shorter multi-day hikes in the state. It begins from the infamous Maroon Bells Scenic Area in Aspen Highlands. From here, it’s 28 miles roundtrip, with 8,000 feet of elevation gain between all the peaks. There is a special overnight parking area below Maroon Lake to start the hike. Take Maroon Creek Road past the Forest Station, after 8:30am requires a stop for a permit, to the parking area.
You can choose either way, clockwise or counter-clockwise, when you come to the fork in the road, AKA Maroon Lake. Backpackers generally take 3 to 4 days to complete the Four Pass Loop, which is best during summer. It’s rated as a difficult hike, beginning at 9,580 feet and peaking at 12,500 feet. Every party needs to self-register at the Trailhead and carry a copy of their free receipt. Good campsites are found on the hike.
Lost Creek Wilderness Loop
South Park is often overlooked at a hiking destination, especially multi-day treks. Upon first inspection descending from Kenosha Pass this high-elevation basin seems like a barren alpine desert. However, drive into it and you’ll soon realize its treasures, including elaborate rock formations at Lost Creek Wilderness, a myriad of rolling mountains forests, and Tarryall Reservoir, another gem for another day. Allow yourself at least a couple days to discover this magical place.
Situated close to Fairplay, you’ll begin from Goose Creek Trail, which winds through aspen groves and colorful meadows. Looking west affords splendid views of the Collegiate Peaks and Mosquito Range. Since it’s a loop you have a choice of going direction. One highlight is the Goose Creek drainage, which has granite spires and huge boulders. The total length is 34 miles, although you have the option of shaving off 10 miles or so with the McCurdy Park cutoff. Free dispersed camping is prevalent.
Devil’s Thumb to King Lake Loop
Denverites will enjoy this relatively easy-to-reach hike in Nederland. At only 16 miles many folks day trek this one too. The option is yours if you’ll spend the night, although once you see the views of the Indian Peaks Wilderness you’ll likely want to stick around for another day.
Begin your day at the Hessie Trail, which due to its Front Range proximity, does fill up quickly. The town of Nederland accommodates with a free shuttle to the trailhead. Remember to make the last bus home before it departs, if going this route. The first main point of interest, at over 5 miles up, is Devil’s Thumb Lake. If you do the whole loop, you’ll continue on Lonesome Trail to King Lake, then Devil’s Thumb Pass, completing the journey in 11 miles.As you can probably guess, the list of Colorado’s top multi-day hiking trails could go on a longer time than we got. For a unique time, and probably better digs than you tent, consider hiking to the 10th Mountain backcountry hut system. These rental cabins are located throughout the national forest around Leadville, ranging in size and amenities, most fairly bare bones.
Do you have a favorite multi-day hiking trails in Colorado that you care to share? Please do in our comments. Thanks for reading!