Three Challenging Hikes

An avid, out-of-state backpaker asked for some moderate-to-strenuous but challenging Colorado hikes that he might try on a week’s visit to Colorado. Specifically, he asked for hikes around 10-12 miles long in early June. I responded with the following recommendations. Can anyone think of other day hikes that might fit this hiker’s criteria?

[My Response:] You picked an interesting year to come out and hike in early June. Colorado mountains, while plains areas are experiencing drought, they have accumulated 150-200% of normal snowfall this winter. That means in early June, a lot of snow will still remain on the higher peaks and trails. Call the forest service for up to date weather information as you arrival time draws near.

U.S. Forest Service
Rocky Mountain Region
740 Simms St
Golden, CO 80401

Since you’re a backpacker you probably already carry a compass, maps, high energy food, water, first aid kit, fire materials, sunscreen, rain gear and warm layers of clothing. Also, lightning is the number one threat in Colorado springtime hiking so watch the sky, know when to get cover and when to get away from lightning rods, and eject all metal while squatting low until threats pass if it gets imminently threatening.

Altitude itself can be an issue as well. Drink extra water and realize that on steep ascents your hiking speed may be slowed to 1 mph (but going down makes up for it at 4+ mph).

If you were coming later in the season, I’d suggest hiking a fourteener like Mt. Bierstadt which is considerably shorter but more strenuous than other suggested hikes. But the snow will be too much of an obstacle for that in early June without snowshoes and perhaps other equipment.

You don’t say how many days you are wanting to hike, but I’ll give you some options for day hikes relatively close to Denver. Since you’re looking for day hikes closer to Denver, there are a variety of close hikes of that distance where snow is minimal.

Deer at Hall Ranch
Deer greeting at Hall Ranch.

1. Hall Ranch to Button Rock: One hike with a variety of terrain that I would suggest is in Hall Ranch Open space in Boulder County. It starts out in low desert terrain and ascends into alpine meadows. We have never failed to see herds of deer whenever we go to Hall Ranch.

A challenging hike would be to take the Night Hawk trail 4.7 miles to where it joins the Button Rock Preserve trail and take the extra 2 miles to the Button Rock Reservoir for a round trip of 13.4 miles. You can always decide you’ve had enough at the 4.7 mile mark and cut the trip to a 9.4 mile hike. Toward the 4 mile mark you’ll see views of Longs Peak in the distance and it should still be snow-capped by June 7th.

To get to Hall Ranch from Denver, take 6th Ave. West to Golden and follow CO 93 through Boulder to US 36 to Lyons to Hwy 7. (Left lane out of Lyons). Be careful driving through Lyons. The local town council prefer to derive revenue via their local constabulary rather than by the interchange of goods and services.

My Dad used to drive delivery trucks through Lyons and warned me years ago and sure enough, every time we drive through Lyons some poor soul is pulled over getting a ticket. I’ve seen guide books direct people to Hall Ranch the long way up Boulder Canyon to Hwy 7 and down from the west to avoid Lyons. Anyway, just be wary driving through town if you choose to go through Lyons.

2. Gem Lake to Bridal Veil Falls: If you’re feeling a bit more ambitious and want a moderate/strenuous hike a little farther away and higher up with

Gem Lake
Gem Lake reflects the beauty that gives it its name.

spectacular views and a chance to see wildlife, a great 12.8 mile hike is to park at the Lumpy Ridge Trailhead (el. 7750 see attached map) and take the Gem Lake trail to Cow Creek and follow it to Bridal Veil Falls. You can follow the Gem Lake trail which is well used and well marked to Gem Lake (a pretty mountain pond at 1.8 miles).

After snapping some photos, you can continue onward 1.1 miles to a fork. Here you can take inventory of how you’re feeling and if the morning ambition has waned, you take the left fork for a mile, you’ll end up at balanced rock and can head back to your car having seen some good sites and walked a grand total of 7.8 miles.

If you’re feeling good that day, take the right fork for 1.7 miles until it intersects with Cow Creek. Follow the signs and the creek for 0.8 miles to another fork, again take the right fork and go one more mile to Bridal Veil Falls (el. 8900). You’ll have to pick your way through some rock in spots where the trail grows questionable and faint but just keep an eye out for cairns and wear and it should be no problem.

After you enjoy the falls, follow the same trek back to the car for a round trip of 12.8 miles. This hike gives you a taste of Rocky Mountain National Park without having to drive into the park and pay. If you know that you’re going to do a lot of hiking in RMNP, it pays to buy the annual pass ($40 in 2011). There are numerous connecting trails of greater distance in this same area.

From Denver take I-25 north to CO 34. Stay on CO 34 all the way to the Estes Park reservoir and look for MacGregor Avenue which passes by the world famous Stanley Hotel (where The Shining was filmed) and winds past some nice estates. Look for Lumpy Ridge Trail head signs and turn right on Devils Gulch Rd (CR 43) for nearly a mile. Turn left on Lumpy Ridge Rd. (more signs point the way). Follow this into the Lumpy Ridge trailhead parking lot. Get there early because the parking lot fills up (especially on weekends). The drive time will take you about an hour and ½.

Dorothy Lake near Arapaho Pass

Dorothy Lake near Arapaho Pass

3.Arapaho Pass & Dorothy Lake: If we experience enough snowmelt, Arapaho Pass is a great trail. Take out insurance on the rental car and if possible, get a 4wd vehicle for this one. Passenger vehicles and sedans can make the trip but in Spring, you never know what some of the runoff is going to do to the roads. You must travel 5 miles on gravel roads west of Eldora, which normally are relatively wide and pothole-free.

Start at the Fourth of July Trailhead at an elevation of around 8,500 and end at Lake Dorothy at 12,061. Lake Dorothy, a glacial lake carved out of barren rock above timberline at the base of Mt. Neva. The trail climbs the north side of the creek drainage making several switchbacks along the way.

It gets above the thick trees pretty fast so that hikers can view the peaks fairly readily. In summer, you’ll see abundant wildflowers here. The trail will be soggy in early June and this June it may even have some snow to negotiate.

When you get to Arapaho Pass you’ll see great vistas to the west. It’s worth the extra distance and elevation to visit Lake Dorothy to the southwest. The round trip is only about 7.5 miles, but because of the elevation, fighting through some possible snow and avoiding Spring runoff, it will wear you down.

Take U.S. 36 to Boulder from Denver. In Boulder, get to Broadway and turn west on Arapahoe (CO 119) and follow Boulder Canyon to Nederland. From Nederland turn west on County Road 130, following signs for Eldora Ski Resort. Go through the town of Eldora. Continue westward as the pavement ends. Go right at the fork in the road. Drive four miles to the Fourth of July Trailhead.

There are many more trails even closer to Denver proper where you could do 8-12 miles easily. I picked these for their unique scenery and wildlife viewing opportunities. I’ve seen deer and elk every time I go to the Estes Park area where Gem Lake is. Tons of deer wander Hall Ranch. You may see marmots and pica along the trail to Arapaho Pass.

Hope this helps. Enjoy Colorado!

3 thoughts on “Three Challenging Hikes

  1. Stephen_adam1015


    I would like to send you an email regarding these day hikes.  My brother in law and myself are going to be in that area in 3 weeks and desperatly need some help planning.  Do you have a general inbox where you take questions?



  2. Stephen_adam1015


    I would like to send you an email regarding these day hikes.  My brother in law and myself are going to be in that area in 3 weeks and desperatly need some help planning.  Do you have a general inbox where you take questions?




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