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Colorado is one of the most picturesque states in America, with towering mountains, numerous lakes, and abundant wildlife.
And one of the best ways to explore everything this state has to offer is by getting outdoors all year long.
Nature lovers have ample opportunity to explore the thousands of miles of scenic outdoor space, making Colorado a mecca for adventure seekers.
While there are many enjoyable fall hiking locations where you can spend a day or more immersing yourself in nature, there are also plenty of short hikes around the state to enjoy.
So grab your hiking boots and see what you can discover as you hit the trail for the best short hikes in Colorado.
1. Gem Lake Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park
The Gem Lake Trail is an excellent option for beginners to experienced hikers, thanks to its low elevation and relatively level path.
Boasting a southern exposure, this beloved trail is perfect for hiking year-round, making it a favorite among locals and tourists alike.
To access the trail, enter along the Lumpy Ridge Trailhead and continue along the 3.4 roundtrip pathway.
As you go, you will experience stunning views of the Continental Divide, Longs Peak, and Estes Park before arriving at your destination.
As the name suggests, Gem Lake is a hidden gem nestled among towering granite domes and it’s one of the best short hikes in the Rocky Mountains.
No inlet or outlet river feeds the lake as it relies completely on rainfall and snowmelt to fill it, ensuring it stays relatively shallow year-round.
Gem Lake is actually one of many alpine lakes located in Rocky Mountain National Park, so there are plenty of great hikes to enjoy.
If you’re looking for a rewarding hike that will only take a few hours, you won’t want to miss this hidden gem!
Distance: 3.4 miles roundtrip
2. Perkins Central Garden Trail, Garden of the Gods
Another one of the best hikes in Colorado is located at Garden of the Gods. Due to its massive red rock formations and seemingly endless views, Garden of the Gods is one of the most breathtaking parks in Colorado.
The Perkins Central Garden Trail starts at the main parking lot and takes you around some of the park’s most distinctive formations. You can expect to see Three Graces, Cathedral Spires, and the South Gateway Rock along your hike.
Considered an easy trail, it’s ideal for beginners or those looking to spend a relaxing time meandering through nature as this garden trail is completely paved.
During your hike, you will ascend a modest 172 ft along 1.1 miles along a paved path, making it an accessible option and ideal for families.
The trail is located near Manitou Springs, which is home to delicious restaurants and quaint shops, so be sure to check it out once you’re done!
Check out this awe-inspiring hike for an easy trail that delivers unforgettable scenery.
Distance: 1.1 miles
3. Rim Rock Nature Trail, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is known for its impressive mountain views as well as miles of trails. And the Rim Rock Nature Trail doesn’t disappoint.
Moderately strenuous, the one-mile path leads you from the South Rim Campground to the South Rim Visitor Center.
Be sure to stop in here to check out the unique items they offer, and maybe grab a t-shirt to remember your trip!
As you hike along the canyon rim, you’ll enjoy panoramic views of the West Elk Mountains and catch a glimpse or two of the Gunnison River down below.
Along the way, you can sit and relax while you take in the scenery at Tomichi Point, which offers seating around the trail’s halfway point.
The path is relatively level, but keep an eye out for the occasional jutting rock, which can be a tripping hazard.
Pets are allowed on the trail during the fall, spring, and winter months. But they are restricted in summertime due to possible dangers from aggressive deer who may attack to protect their fawn.
Distance: 1 mile
4. Serpent’s Trail, Colorado National Monument
The Serpent’s Trail is located within the gorgeous Colorado National Monument and has earned its name thanks to the 16 switchbacks along its 3.5-mile roundtrip path.
This historic trail is fondly nicknamed the “crookedest road in the world” and is the remnant of a main road that was used until it was decommissioned in 1950.
Many hikers enjoy walking the trail in the late afternoon since the east-to-west direction through the Wingate Sandstone offers stunning sunset views.
While the hike only takes around an hour, the trail is steep and is best left to intermediate or experienced hikers.
That said, since it is a former road, the path is relatively level and doesn’t involve climbing over rocks or navigating crevasses.
Hikers can enjoy beautiful views of the Colorado National Monument, which includes snow-spotted mountains and bright blue skies.
Be on the lookout for hawks, eagles, snakes, and rabbits, as the area is full of wildlife. After your first visit, you’re sure to want to visit this unique hiking destination again and again.
Distance: 3.5 miles roundtrip
Difficulty: Intermediate to Advanced
5. Boulder Falls, Boulder
Boulder Falls is one of the fastest and easiest hikes on this list, but the payout is incredible. The trail is a short 0.10 miles along a 3 to 6-foot wide path, complete with a guardrail for added safety.
This short hike has an elevation along the trail of only 63 feet, making it easy for families with small children.
At the end of your hike, you are greeted by Boulder Falls, a large waterfall that offers the ideal backdrop for picnicking.
Boulder Falls was once known as the “Yosemite of Boulder Canyon” and was a popular destination spot before the roadway was washed out in 1894, and the expansion of the railroad diverted traffic from the site.
There is no official trailhead but there is parking across the street, making it easy to access this scenic trail.
Dogs are allowed off-leash as long as they stay within voice command distance of their owners, but during certain times, they may be restricted due to bear sightings.
The trail is open year-round, but it may be harder to access during winter months, depending on the amount of snowfall.
If you’re looking for a quick hike in Colorado that allows you to experience the beauty of nature, be sure to check out this easy hiking trail.
Distance: 0.10 miles
6. Emerald Lake Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park
If you’re looking for an immersive outdoor adventure, you’ll want to head over to the Emerald Lake Trail. Ideal for intermediate to experienced hikers, this 4.1-mile roundtrip trail offers breathtaking mountain views.
Be sure to bring along your fishing pole and see what you can catch in the gorgeous Emerald Lake and Dream Lake.
The trail is open year-round and is a favorite destination for snowshoeing during winter, as the 744 ft elevation offers an exciting challenge.
Pets aren’t allowed, but you’re sure to see ample wildlife as you explore the outdoors on this scenic hiking trail.
But be careful as this alpine lake is very cold during most of the year due to the water being snow runoff from the mountains nearby.
Distance: 4.1 miles roundtrip
7. Canyon View Nature Trail, Castlewood Canyon
Located near the ever-growing town of Castle Rock, Canyon View Nature Trail is a favorite for hikers, bird watchers, and those looking to spend time in nature.
The 1.5-mile paved path winds lazily through some of Colorado’s most beautiful open spaces and is a popular trail during all seasons.
The trail is paved, making it an accessible option for those requiring assistance and those with small children.
Along the way, you can enjoy gazing at colorful wildflowers, interesting geological formations, and incredible views of the canyon.
For those who would like a more immersive experience, guided audio nature tours of Castlewood Canyon State Park are also available through Colorado State Park.
So be sure to check out this relaxing location for your next stroll through nature.
Distance: 1.5 miles
8. Red Rock Canyon Path Loop, Red Rock Canyon Open Space
One of our favorite short hikes in Colorado has to include the easy hiking trails within Red Rock Canyon Open Space.
And Red Rock Canyon Path Loop which is a go-to location for hikers and climbers, thanks to the many beautiful trails and interesting rock formations.
There are five hiking trails to choose from, ranging from 1 mile to 3.3 miles. Along these trails, you can experience historic quarries from the 1800s, looming plateaus, and stunning views of Garden of the Gods and Pike’s Peak.
The majority of the trails are easy to maneuver, some that are wheelchair accessible too, and are great for families and pets, making this a great location for year-round fun.
Enjoy an easy day hike thanks to many of the Red Rock Canyon trails at this unique hiking destination in Colorado Springs.
Distance: Between 1 and 3.3 miles
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
9. High Dune on First Ridge, Great Sand Dunes National Park
Our list of the best short hikes in Colorado isn’t complete without mentioning the Great Sand Dunes. If you want to feel like you’ve traveled to the Sahara Desert without leaving Colorado, Hugh Dune on First Ridge is for you!
Located within the Great Sand Dunes National Park, a 30-mile dune field, it offers a unique hiking experience you won’t soon forget.
High Dune on First Ridge isn’t the highest elevation in the park, but you wouldn’t know that by looking at it.
From the top, you are treated to views of the entire dune field, an impressive view that stretches as far as the eye can see.
To reach the summit, hikers walk along an unspecified trail that zigzags through the ridge and crosses the Medano Creek bed.
Most of the year this creek bed is dry, but for a few weeks in early May through June, there is a shallow amount of water flowing.
While there are no actual trails within the dune field, it is a popular destination for adventure seekers and experienced hikers.
If you’re looking for an exotic adventure, you won’t want to miss this sandy hiking spot for a one-of-a-kind experience.
Distance: 2.5 miles roundtrip
10. St. Mary’s Glacier, Arapaho National Forest
It’s no secret that St. Mary’s Glacier is a popular spot for hiking, fishing, and cross-country skiing.
In the winter it’s perfect for snowshoeing and ice skating, and in the summer this beautiful lake offers incredible scenery and wildlife viewing.
Hikers enjoy coming to this picturesque location to explore and take in the lovely views. A great spot for beginner and intermediate hikers as well as those with the most experience, all enjoy strolling along the 1.6-mile route.
Dogs on leash are welcome, so be sure to bring your furry friend along for the adventure. For a scenic day in nature, check out this all-purpose hiking trail.
Distance: 1.6 miles
Difficulty: Moderate to Intermediate
11. Seven Bridges Trail, Colorado Springs
For one of the best easy hikes in Colorado Springs, check out the Seven Bridges Trail. Seven Bridges offers beautiful views of downtown Colorado Springs while maintaining its natural charm.
This is a great hike for intermediate-level hikers as this 3-mile round trip trail is just outside Manitou Springs, which is a local favorite.
While partially paved friendly for little kids, don’t be surprised to encounter wildlife along your journey.
For a great way to spend the outdoors, head on over to this scenic trail.
Distance: 3 miles roundtrip
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
12. Fountain Valley Loop Trail, Roxborough State Park
Much like visiting Garden of the Gods or Red Rock Canyon Open Space, Roxborough State Park is quite a sight to see.
With unique red rock formations jutting out the ground amongst large grassy fields and shrubs, this Colorado State Park has a lot to offer.
Once the snow has melted away, the lush valleys and rolling hills showcase beautiful wildflowers and wildlife throughout the warmer months.
And Fountain Valley Loop Trail is an easy loop covering 2.3 miles (one-way) with an elevation gain of only 325 feet.
It’s a picturesque hike for everyone from little kids to dogs and adults alike. There is also ample space at the parking area so you can plan a fun day out hiking for the whole family.
Not only that, but this State Park is located just one hour from downtown Denver near the town of Littleton.
Distance: 4.6 miles roundtrip
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
From summer weekends to winter holidays, there are always great hikes and outdoor destinations to explore in Colorado.
From easier hikes to challenging ones, there’s something on this list for everyone.
And we hope this compilation of the best short hikes in Colorado, as recommended from a Colorado couple, helps you enjoy an epic experience outdoors.
With so much beauty to uncover, you’ll want to explore them again and again!