As the grass grows greener and the sun burns hotter, all I can think about is getting out on the trails, but I don’t always have time for a 6 mile hike. These 12 trails range from easy strolls to more strenuous climbs, but they have one thing in common: They are all under 5 miles. Enjoy panoramic views of the Front Range, the glorious geological wonders of a canyon, pristine alpine lakes and meadows, and of course, local wildlife. For big payoffs without the mileage, try these 12 hikes near Denver that will not disappoint.
1. Bierstadt Lake Loop
For amazing views of the Rockies and a lovely little loop around a serene lake, try the Bierstadt Lake Loop near Estes Park. For a more strenuous hike, start at the Bierdstadt Trailhead, traverse the moraine, and reach the lake after just 1.4 miles with 566' of elevation gain. For a more moderate hike, start at the Bear Lake Trailhead, which will lead you to the lake in 1.6 miles and an elevation gain of only 255'. And be on the lookout for elk, deer, moose, and waterfowl along the way!
2. Rattlesnake Gulch Trail at Eldorado
This lollipop loop will take you up the sides of the breathtaking Eldorado Canyon and ultimately to sweeping panoramic views of the Continental Divide. Start at the Fowler Trail then connect to the Rattlesnake Gulch Loop for a moderate 4 mile roundtrip hike and enjoy the magical canyon, cascading waterfalls, cliff-top vistas, and an expansive view of the peaks and plains of the Divide.
3. Cub Lake Trail
This unusual little lake nestled in the Rocky Mountain National Park is known for its abundance of yellow pond lilies that grow on most of its surface. This 4.6 mile trail will take you through stunning wetland meadows, evergreen forests, and unique boulders and rock formations. It's a truly inspiring and diverse landscape that you've just got to see!
4. Arthur's Rock Trail
For phenomenal panoramic vistas of Lory State Park near Fort Collins, hike the short 1.7 miles through meadows and forests to the top of Arthur's Rock for expansive views. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Pikes Peak! And one of the best parts about this hike is that the peaceful atmosphere creates the perfect space for active wildlife, so keep your eyes peeled!
5. Mayflower Gulch
Between Copper and Leadville lies one of Summit County's most easily accessible backcountry treasures. This year-round hike is a short, gentle 1.8 mile climb that passes through pine forests and stunning alpine meadows and culminates at a cirque at the base of Mount Fletcher near 12,000 feet. Be sure to explore the ruins of the old Boston Mine camp from the 1900's and take plenty of pictures of the glorious wildflowers!
6. Emerald Lake
One of Rocky Mountain National Parks most accessible hikes is the 3.6 mile out and back trail to Emerald Lake. You'll pass a small waterfall, as well as Dream Lake and Nymph Lake, before reaching the pristine Emerald Lake at just 1.8 miles. Have a picnic, marvel at Hallet Peak, and be on the lookout for a black bear who's been known to hang around these parts!
7. Forgotten Valley
If you're looking for an easy but interesting hike, check out the Forgotten Valley in Golden Gate State Park between Golden and Boulder. It's an out and back trail that's just 3 miles roundtrip and ends at an old historic homestead with a small lake tucked away at the bottom of the valley. Your lovely Saturday stroll will not soon be forgotten.
8. Meyer Ranch Open Space
Just 30 minutes from Denver lies this lovely little treasure filled with many trails and wide open spaces. Enjoy wildflowers and overlooks (and possibly deer and elk) on one of their many loop trails. (Lodgepole Loop is easy and 2.4 miles; the Sunny Aspen Trail Loop is more moderate and is 3 miles; and the Old Ski Run Trail is a moderate 4.8 mile trail).
9. Monarch Lake Loop
For an easy hike with friends or family that will afford you stunning views of a diverse landscape, check out the Monarch Lake Loop in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. Walk through forests and over creeks and along the wetland marsh and lakeshore, where moose and elk are known to roam. Get an early morning start for a better chance at viewing wildlife, take a picnic, and possibly enjoy kayakers and canoers gliding around the lake.
10. West Ridge Trail at Loveland Pass
At Loveland Pass at 11,990', you can enjoy incredible vista views off the Continental Divide, but you can get an even better experience by hiking the 2.9 mile roundtrip West Ridge Trail. (You can expect to encounter a crowd, but most people only hike the first quarter of a mile, so don't let the masses deter you!)
11. Sniktau Mountain Trail
Another fabulous hike near Loveland Pass in the Arapahoe National Forest is this 2.8 mile roundtrip hike to the summit of Mt. Sniktau at 13,240'. The trail starts above tree line and ends with breathtaking views of Grizzly Peak, Grays, Torreys, the Gore Range, and beyond! (You can also see the ski runs of Loveland, A Basin , Keystone, and Breck.)
12. Mt. Sanitas
This popular hike near Boulder has a few trail options ranging from a simple stroll through the valley to a trail that leads you up to the tip top of the mountain. The 3.1 mile Loop Trail will give your quads a run for their money but will also give you fantastic Front Range views. (For more leisurely options, try the Sanitas Valley Trail or the Dakota Ridge Trail).
Did we miss any fabulous hikes under 5 miles near Denver that you love? Let us know in the comments.