Hiking gems in western Colorado that took our breath away and have brought us back every year. Starting with the best little mountain towns in Colorado, Ouray, Ridgway, and Telluride. In our option, the best hiking in Colorado surrounds these towns. We come in early fall when the air is excellent, the skies blue, and the crowds few.
However, the western slope is a variety of unique landscapes, from cacti to petroglyphs, to vistas, to areas far beyond the high mountain passes. When the passes are still covered in snow in spring, the high deserts of Colorado are calling… with sunshine and warmth.
Ouray Perimeter Trail, I’d call this more of an adventure than a hike with so many natural sites along the trail. Bridges, aspen fields, unusual rocks, cliff drops, waterfalls, mining tunnels, and views! It’s approx. 5-6 miles of not knowing what to expect on the next corner.
A super FUN hike! Full of mystery and curiosity. Highly recommend!
Good hiking shoes, water, and all the backpack essentials needed on this trail, even with its proximity to town. It’s primitive in spots, and some parts of the path took a bit of skill. It encircles the town of Ouray on the mountainsides in rugged terrain.
Elevations range from 7661 ft – 8413 ft
Located in the town of Ouray – start at the Visitor Center
Blue Lakes Trail
There is nothing like a hike in the rugged beauty of the San Juan Mountains in Colorado. Hiking Blue Lakes Trail was above and beyond our expectations. If you are looking for a trail that won’t disappoint? This is it! We loved this trail and highly recommend it!
Hike past Blue Lake higher to the second lake, and feel like you are in Colorado heaven among the rugged peaks of Mt. Sneffels and Dallas Peak.
This is easily a day hike, but backpacking here is popular too. Check out Mt.Sneffels Wilderness as restrictions apply. Come early to beat the crowds and afternoon thunderstorms in summer or snow, depending on mother nature.
Trail # 201
6.3 miles (first lake) – 11 miles out and backt
Start elevation: At the trailhead, 9350 ft.
Elevation: Upper Lake, 11,720 ft.
Elevation: Blue Lakes Pass: roughly 13,000 ft.
Closest Towns: Ridgway, CO
From the town of Ridgway, CO, head west on Hwy 62 for 4.8 miles and take a left on CR-7/ FR851. (marked Dallas Creek Road). Follow CR-7 for 2 miles to the intersection with CR-7A. Stay to the right on CR-7. Total 9 miles to the trailhead from Hwy 62. (Note: rough road but doable for a 2WD in summer).
Bridal Veil Basin to Blue Lake
Bridal Veil Basin to Blue Lake will leave you stunned with its scenic beauty. The famous 365′ Bridal Veil Falls, the tallest free-falling waterfall in Colorado, is the first highlight of many more to come as you hike deeper and higher into the Bridal Veil Basin and reach Blue Lake.
Blue Lake sits in turquoise and blues, crystal clear as the sun sends sparkles across the water. Nestled in a striking glacial cirque, it’s stunning.
Highly recommend Bridal Veil Basin as a day hike! One of the most tantalizing trails in Telluride that we’ve hiked. Rated hard it’s certainly doable for a moderate hiker.
The trail starts above Bridal Falls Trail
Start Elevation: 10,400′ End 12,220″
8.7 miles out & back
At the end of town in Telluride, CO, Ample parking.
Bear Creek Falls Trail
Bear Creek Falls Trail is one of Telluride’s most popular hikes, with an impressive, very scenic waterfall at the end. I loved this hike!
What a sight to behold! It’s beautiful at 80 feet high. It surprised us how stunning it was with the gorgeous bold colors in the rocks. I can see why this is so popular in summer, with water pools and mist at the bottom — lots of room for everyone.
Not a strenuous hike to the Falls, but a hike that anyone will enjoy, avid or beginner. If you are new to Colorado or visiting, it would also be an excellent trail for acclimating to the altitude or spending a day with the kids. A great beginner snowshoe trail in the winter.
5 miles out and back
Elevation gain: 1,100 ft
Open to leashed dogs, mountain bikes, horses
No restrooms at the trailhead
Located in the town of Telluride
Bear Creek Preserve
At the end of Pine Street in downtown Telluride. No parking at the Trailhead. Limited parking on the streets nearby, but they have a 3-hour limit with a fee. We found free parking at the Carhenge Lot on the southwest corner of town off West Pacific Ave.
Wasatche Trail to Nellie Mine
Wasatch Trail is a loop of 14 miles across Telluride’s high peaks and is known as one of Colorado’s most spectacular hikes. We hiked to Nellie Mine and not the entire loop for our day hike and found ourselves lost in wonder at the surrounding terrain and views.
The Wasatch Trailhead is at the two-mile mark on Bear Creek Falls Trail. From here, it becomes a lung-busting trail immediately up switchbacks in and out of a forest of aspens and pines along this rugged rocky canyon until reaching historic Nellie Mine.
On your way up to Wasatch Trail or on your way down take a detour of only 1/2 mile and see Bear Creek Falls!
To Nellie Mine – 9 miles out and back
Popular wildflower hike in summer
If you want to continue on the loop, it’s another hour or so to the summit. We stopped at Nellie Mine and went back the way we came. (Approx. 9 miles out and back)
PLEASE check at the Telluride Visitor Center at 236 W. Colorado Ave. for accurate directions before deciding on the entire loop. It’s a full 8-10 hour day hike. Lots of trail options too!
Going to Telluride? or the San Juans? Popular Books!
Hope Lake Trail
Hope Lake Trail is one of the most sought-after trails near Telluride, CO, and we out why. Loved it!
High peaks hover above us as we hike through lush green forests, crossing creeks, views all around, and a beautiful alpine lake high above the treeline in a basin lined with 13ers – an authentic Colorado experience. One of my favorites.
5.3 miles out and back
Start Elevation: 10,750 ft.
Lake Elevation: 11,880 ft.
Open to hiking, horseback
Closest town: Telluride, CO
Dispersed camping along FR #627
Just before reaching the town of Telluride – turn right on State Hwy 145, and go approx.10 miles. Take a left at the road sign for Trout Lake (FR #626 / North Trout Lake Road). Travel FR #626 for about a mile and turn left onto FR #627. Here the road becomes rougher, and a high-clearance vehicle is recommended. Go 2.5 miles to the Trailhead. NOTE: We found the road easy and a smaller car could make it if careful. However, checking online for other hiking reports close to your time to go would be beneficial. (alltrails.com is a good one). Weather is always a factor in road conditions!
LAKE CITY, CO
Crystal Lake Trail
Crystal Lake Trail sits just beneath the eastern side of Crystal Peak (12,933f ft) and presents a stunning ending to a spectacular hike. Minutes from Lake City, CO, you find yourself amid intense forests of aspens and meadows with sweeping views of Lake City far below. Then onto dense pines along ridges with stunning views of the highest peaks and rewarded with a sweet alpine lake.
NOTE: If you have time and energy, you can climb one more mile and another 1,170 ft in elevation to the summit of Crystal Peak.
A wildflower extravaganza. Bring a Wildflower Field Guide with you!
8.2 miles out & back
Trail # 235
Elevation gain: 2,960 ft
Highest elevation: 11,760 ft
Open to horses & hiking
From Lake City, go north on Hwy 149 for 1/4 mile. Turn left on Balsam Rd. and travel 1/2 mile. Trailhead for Crystal and Larson Lakes is well-marked on your left.
Cataract Gulch and Lake Trail
Cataract Gulch Trail is packed with cascading waterfalls, dense forests, and abundant wildflowers. Located in the backcountry yet accessible by car, it’s the perfect hike for day hiking enthusiasts. Reaching Cataract Lake, located on the Continental Divide high above the tree line, is the perfect ending.
Cataract Gulch – 4.5 miles out & back
Cataract Lake – 8.6 miles out & back
Nearest Town: Lake City, CO
From Lake City, take Highway 149 south for approx. 2 miles. Turn right onto CR 30 (towards Lake San Cristobal). You are driving now alongside the Lake to a junction. Veer right away from the Lake. At the next fork in the road, turn left on CR 35 toward Sherman Town Site and drive about 1.4 miles. The trailhead is well-marked on your left.
SOUTHWEST CORNER – CORTEZ, CO
Sand Canyon Trail
Sand Canyon Trail, located in the Canyon of the Ancients National Monument, is remarkable and scenic. You can find Ancient Puebloan ruins deep in the Canyon walls. Desert landscape, numerous canyons, and views. I loved this hike. We started at the South End Trailhead just outside of Cortez, CO.
Marked spur paths to explore off the main trail lead to various ruins, some larger than others: several had significant, impressive ruins to observe.
Sand Canyon & Rock Creek Trailhead
12.4 miles out and back
Open to Hiking, Mtn Biking, and Horseback
Canyon of the Ancients Visitor Center, Dolores, CO
NOTABLE: Summer temps are high, and it is minimal shade, so a hat, sunscreen, lots of water, and good shoes are essential.
Two trailheads provide access to the canyon. The upper trailhead can be found near the Sand Canyon Pueblo off of N Road. The lower trailhead, where our hike began, is off of G Road, about 12 miles west of the town of Cortez.
Hiking Gear in our Backpacks on Every Trail
We spent a few days in Durango, CO, and enjoyed our day on the Durango/Silverton Narrow Gauge and our half-day hike up to Gudy’s Rest. Durango is a spot to go back and explore the many other trail options. It’s on our list!
Colorado Trail to Gudy’s Rest
Colorado Trail to Gudy’s Rest is a beautiful woodland hike not far from downtown Durango, CO. Lovely laid-back hike with a bench awaiting you at the top filled with sweeping views of the valley below. > READ MORE
Durango/Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad
Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad voted the #1 train in 2021 and 2022 in the US. Running for 114 years riding the rails is truly a wild west adventure. A one-of-a-kind experience! >READ MORE!
Black Canyon of the Gunnison
Sensational hiking trails, dramatic canyons, and neverending spectacular views will keep you exploring the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park for hours.
We geared our day hiking within the Park as a tourist experience. However, you can obtain a Wilderness Trails Permit for more adventurous hiking.
Binoculars, a must-have! Sightings of Peregrine Falcon are common within the Park. They nest on Canyon ledges and prey on other birds.
Address: South Rim Visitor Center, 9800 Highway 347, Montrose, CO 81401
Black Canyon South Rim: 15 miles from Montrose, CO, and 63 miles from Gunnison, CO
Black Canyon North Rim: 11 miles south of Crawford, CO, the road is closed in winter
No public transportation within the Park
No restaurants within the Park
Picnic tables throughout the Park
Off the beaten path doesn’t even explain the unsurpassed beauty and solitude of Dominguez Canyon Wilderness. The farther you hike, the more impressive the views & scenery become. Stunning red canyon walls littered with Piñon & Jupiter surrounded you. About 3.75 miles into Dominguez Canyon, come to a large boulder full of petroglyphs.
It’s vast, it’s primitive, and it’s truly a step back in time. One of the most scenic hiking adventures you’ve had your boots on.
Bridgepoint Trail – Big Dominguez Canyon – 7-14 miles out and back
2 miles from Trailhead to access Dominguez Canyon Wilderness
Approximate 2 miles from access to petroglyphs
No fresh drinking water
Family, dog & horseback friendly
Horse trailer parking
Minimal cell service
From Grand Junction: About 20 miles south on Hwy 50, toward Delta. Turn right on Bridgepoint Road (dirt road) and drive approximately 3 miles to the Bridgeport Trailhead. (the road dead-ends at the Trailhead).
From Montrose: About 60 miles north on Hwy 50, going through the town of Delta towards Grand Junction. Turn left on Bridgepoint Road.
Pollock Bench Loop
Pollock Bench Trail in the McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area near Grand Junction and Fruita, CO, is a pleasant surprise as you hike into its wilder areas. Sensational scenic views of Flume Canyon, Devils Canyon, and the beautiful canyon walls of Pollock Canyon.
A beautiful half-day hike with unparalleled views and; refreshing temperatures in spring and fall. (hot in summer) Lower altitude and a gentle trail make this hike perfect for beginners.
From Grand Junction, take I-70 west to Fruita (exit 19). Turn left and travel 1.5 miles to Kingsview Road and turn right. Stay on the main road and travel 2.5 miles to the trailhead.
Crags Crest Trail
Crags Crest Trail on the Grand Mesa, designated a National Recreation Trail near Grand Junction, CO, is like no other hike you will find in Colorado. Rocky paths, serene forests, and 360º views of western Colorado’s valleys, lakes, and high peaks are incredible. One hike you won’t forget!
Just driving up and exploring the Grand Mesa, the largest flattop mountain in the world, is enough but add this hike, and you will see the best it has to offer.
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