7 Must-Do Colorado Hiking Trails

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Headed to Colorado soon? We just returned from a two-week-long trip in the van to the western side of Colorado. We explored the Southwest corner in Durango, made our way up the Million Dollar Highway to Ouray, and back over to Telluride.

We finished the trip in Moab, Utah, but we’ll have to share some of our favorite hikes in that area another time!

best southwest colorado hiking trails

If you’re looking for a place to escape from the chaos of the world right now or just want a break from the heat (like we do in Arizona!), then Colorado is the perfect place to get lost and find yourself out amongst the mountains and not the crowds.

In this guide, I’ll talk a little bit about our favorite hikes we love in the area and a few others that are still on our bucket list. But first, as always, I want to cover exactly what you’ll need when traveling to this area for outdoor adventures.

What to Pack for a Trip to the Colorado Outdoors

Packing for Colorado adventures can inevitably mean you need a lot of gear.

Whether you’re a hiker, climber, paddler, or fisherwoman, there are plenty of opportunities to combine all your favorite outdoor hobbies into one trip. For us, Colorado is one of the meccas for outdoor adventures, so we may carry more gear with us than most as we can’t get enough of the outdoors.

Whether you need specific gear or just want to enjoy your time in Colorado as much as possible, here’s our list of must-haves when packing for a trip to CO.

Our Colorado Packing List

Adventure Specific Gear: We love being outside, which means we’ll do just about anything to get ourselves out there, which also means we have a TON of adventure specific gear. From hiking poles to climbing harnesses and ropes, we carry a lot of gear with us.

Whatever your adventure is, be sure you don’t forget your gear at home to avoid spending your fun money on what you already own!

Platypus Hydration Pack: If you don’t have a Platypus hydration pack, I highly suggest that you get one for your adventures.

Instead of carrying around a handful of water bottles, you can drop your hydration pack in a backpack and have several liters of water to get you anywhere.

Backpack: The easiest way to carry all of your essentials for the outdoors is to get yourself a nice backpack.

There are tons of them out there, and almost everyone owns a backpack of some kind, but getting a backpack that is weather-resistant and durable is extra important when you’re hiking in the backcountry or finding yourself near the river.

Swimsuit or Swim Trunks: No matter what time of year, you’ll be drawn to Colorado’s rivers and waterfalls.

Having a swimsuit handy will not only be beneficial for the Southwestern Colorado summers but also keep you from buying one when you find yourself near one of Colorado’s hot springs if you travel further north.

Rain Jacket: If you know anything about Colorado in the summer, let it be this: the weather can be temperamental.

It can easily be a sunshiny, bluebird day and instantly turn to rain and lightning. Carrying a rain jacket or parka with you is especially important when you’re hiking or adventuring at a higher elevation, so be sure to grab one before you head out on the trail.

These are the essentials we pack with us every time we venture into Colorado territory, but there are other things we pack, too.

I always travel with my dog, Rory, and usually, we have a friend or two tag along with us. With that said, I like reminding everyone before they take off to do any kind of adventure to always pack more than you think you’ll need in terms of snacks and water. I pack almost three times as much as I need every time we hike, paddle, or wander outside because the dog needs almost as much sustenance as I do!

Now that you know the essentials, it’s time to dive into the fun part. Let’s take a look at Colorado hiking trails we love!

7 Colorado Hikes We Love

These seven hikes are hikes we’ve had on our list for a while. We did hit some of them on our trip, but a few of these hikes are still on our to-do list, so if you hit any of these trails on your trip to Colorado, let us know what you think!

View of Silverton Colorado
A view of Silverton, Colorado

Potato Lake via Spud Lake Trail

Potato Lake via Spud Lake trail is a nice little jaunt to acclimate yourself to hiking at Colorado elevation. It’s an easy 3.1-mile loop that is not only family-friendly but dog friendly, too. Located near Silverton, Colorado it’s a great way to spend a morning or afternoon surrounded by forest and lake.

You can find more info on AllTrails here.

Silver Mountain

Right outside of Animas and Durango, you’ll find the trail to Silver Mountain.

On this trail, you may stumble upon a few furry friends like the marmot (and possibly bears) as you hike 9 miles out and back. This trail is rated as difficult, with more than 4,000 feet in elevation gain as you make your way up the trail, but you can expect great river and mountain valley views as you find yourself nearing the summit.

Dogs are able to hike this trail with you, just be sure you bring a leash!

San Juan National Forest
San Juan National Forest

Vermilion Peak Trail

Looking for a mountain lake that’s as blue and clear as day? Check out Vermilion Peak Trail near Ophir.

This hike is long, at 11.4 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 7,500+ feet, but the mountain lakes you’ll see will make the trek worthwhile. If you appreciate bird watching and wildflowers, this is also a great hike to put on your list during the summer months when even the highest of peaks are blooming wildflowers.

Little Molas and Molas Lakes

Can you tell we love the water?

The Little Molas and Molas Lakes trail is a shorter hike near Silverton. At 6 miles out and back and less than 800 feet in elevation gain, you can stroll at an easy pace and spend the entire day soaking in the surrounding views of mountain and lake.

This trail is great for summer hikes, but don’t mark it off your list during the winter either. Grab a pair of snowshoes and hit the snowy trail for a winter adventure!

Mount Sneffels Wilderness
Mount Sneffels Wilderness

Blue Lakes Trail

Out in Mount Sneffels Wilderness, you’ll find Blue Lakes Trail.

This 8 miler offers 2,500+ feet in elevation gain as you hike up and then back down into a glacial basin. If you want wildflowers, you can find them here in the meadows or pick one out of the three lakes and spend the day soaking up the sun.

The lowest lake offers several campsites along the shore, too, if you decide you want to spend the night and wake up to the view. Don’t forget to look for the waterfall!

Ice Lakes Trail

Ice Lakes Trail is on our list still as we got to the trailhead and saw just how busy this trail was.

Located in the San Juan National Forest, this trail is a little over 8 miles with nearly 3,000 feet of elevation gain. There is more than one lake on this trail, so be sure to keep trekking after you’ve seen the first one to get the best bang for your buck.

Throughout this hike, you’ll get views of wildflowers and snow, even in the summertime! When I say this area was the prettiest we’d seen while we were in Colorado would be an understatement, so I suggest getting to the trailhead early and making your way up the trail before anyone else to get the best views around!

Ice lake San Juan National Forest
Ice lake in San Juan National Forest

Highland Lakes Trail

For all the through-hike lovers out there, the Highland Lakes Trail is a portion of the CDT, or Continental Divide Trail.

At nearly 19 miles long, this hike isn’t for the weak-hearted, but it sure does provide views that you won’t find in the front country. From waterfalls to lakes and streams, you’ll see all that Colorado has to offer on foot instead of by car on the Million Dollar Highway.

Camping is allowed here, so be sure to pack a sleeping bag at the very least as you might want to take a catnap or spend the night to see the sunrise on this trail.

Continental Divide Trail in Southwest Colorado
Continental Divide Trail in Southwest Colorado

Hit the Trail!

The trails are waiting for you in Colorado.

During the two weeks we spent in the mountains, we were able to relax and refresh after a few long months of being stuck at home in Arizona. Colorado is truly a place where you can see and do it all when you’re outdoors and we highly recommend taking the time to stop and hike as you travel throughout the state. You won’t be disappointed!

You can find more information and pictures of these trails on AllTrails.com or the app.

Best Southwest Colorado Hiking

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