White River National Forest
Some of Colorado's most spectacular hikes lie within the White River National Forest. The trails offer panoramic views, year-round snowfields, flowering meadows and alpine forest.
With so many trails, it's hard to choose. Luckily, the White River National Forest offers some easy choices—some must-dos that will allow you to get to know the forest better before you head out off the beaten track. Let's start with some of the best day hikes.
Pitkin Creek is a good, popular day hike out of Vail. Once you get your legs stretched, try the Two Elk National Recreation Trail, a wonderful climb to expansive views of the Gore Range.
If you're in Aspen, we recommend the Grizzly Lake Trail, which offers a good beginner hike or to chance to get acclimated to the high altitude. It's just a good moderate day hike through forests, meadows, and rocky crags to a high mountain lake with views of the surrounding peaks. Midway Creek Trail is one of the less used trails in the Aspen areafor no good reason.
Fancy Pass Trail is a great trail in the Holy Cross District. Be on the look out for abandoned tools and wagons.
Cathedral Lake is a rigorous hike to alpine Cathedral Lake with access to rugged Electric Pass. The trail was named by a ranger in the 1920s who was knocked to the ground several times by static electricity at the pass.
The hike over Avalanche Pass on the Capitol Creek Trail is highly utilized. Be careful that you don't mess it up, and don't expect isolated camping.
The hike from Maroon Lake to Crater Lake is an easy day hike, great for families.
Want something that's not so easy? The Missouri Lake Trail in the Holy Cross Wilderness ventures through forest and meadow, past a lake and over a strenuous pass that's often covered with snow well into August.
Trappers Lake is renowned as the birthplace of wilderness. The Carhart Trail circles the lake. In the Flat Tops Wilderness, the Cliff Lake and Spring Cave Trail offers the unusual destination of one of the largest caves in Colorado.
A couple of days out in the wilderness is a cure for the worst ills of the modern world—stress, misplaced priorities and buzzing eyes and ears from cohabitation with too many machines.
No discussion of backpacking in White River National Forest would be complete without mentioning the Maroon-Snowmass Trail. This trail crosses over Buckskin Pass to Crater Lake, with heart-thumping views of the Maroon Bells, alpine lakes and meadows all along the way.
West Maroon Pass crosses through vast fields of wildflowers, primeval forests, and mind-blowing alpine country before ending up at Crested Butte, where you can get a beer and a ride back to Aspen.
The Chinese Wall Trail is one of the best ways to explore the Flat Tops Wilderness in the Blanco Ranger District. Unlike Montana's Chinese Wall along the Continental Divide Trail, this trail follows the top of an escarpment. But really, the gentle terrain of the Flat Tops is crisscrossed by many trails, making mix and match loop hikes a snap. If you want solitude, the trails in the eastern part of the wilderness can be practically deserted. Stay away from the Marvine Trail; use here has been heavy and the area has become very impacted.
Most people can't spend time hiking in Colorado without at some point hankering to summit a "Fourteener." Snowmass Mountain is our recommendation for a good first ascent to above 14,000 feet. Do yourself a favor and get acclimated first.
Here are some handy lists of hikes, organized by geographic region:
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication