Colorado is literally crisscrossed with hiking trails and dotted with mountains begging to be climbed. Rocky Mountain National Park's trails are especially beautiful, but they can be crowded. The highly respected Colorado Mountain School, 341 Moraine Ave., Estes Park, CO 80517 (tel. 800/836-4008 or 303/447-2804; www.totalclimbing.com), leads climbs up Longs Peak in the national park and provides advice on mountaineering in other parts of the state.
The 500-mile Colorado Trail, which winds from Denver to Durango, crosses seven national forests and six designated wilderness areas, and is open to hikers, bikers, and equestrians. Scenery and terrain are varied, from grassy plains to snowcapped mountains. Although those in excellent physical condition can hike the entire trail in 6 to 8 weeks, most hikers make shorter excursions, and many enjoy day hikes. Most of the trail is above 10,000 feet elevation (the highest point is at 13,334 ft.), and hikes of more than a day or two will inevitably include some steep climbs. However, most of the trail has grades of no more than 10%. You'll find the easiest sections of the trail in the first 90 miles from Denver, but other sections, such as one 20-mile stretch near Salida, are also easy to moderate. In the Breckenridge and Winter Park areas, the trail is fairly rugged, and most sections below U.S. 50 are mountainous and at least somewhat strenuous. South of U.S. 50, where the trail winds through the San Juan Mountains, is serenely peaceful, but there are also fewer services, and if you're injured, it could be a long wait for help.
If it's serenity you seek, consider climbing one of the fourteeners -- peaks over 14,000 feet -- just off the Colorado Trail. Among the easiest is the climb to the summit of 14,420-foot Mount Harvard, the state's third-highest peak. The trail branches off the Colorado Trail about 8 miles north of Buena Vista.
Those planning multiday hikes on the Colorado Trail should carry maps or the official guidebook, which includes maps and details of the entire trail -- elevation changes, trail conditions, vehicle access points, closest services, and general descriptions. Contact the Colorado Trail Foundation, 710 10th St., #210, Golden, CO 80401 (tel. 303/384-3729; www.coloradotrail.org).
Although the Colorado Trail may be the state's most famous hike, there are plenty of other opportunities. The hike to Long Lake in the Routt National Forest outside Steamboat Springs is a moderately difficult 12-mile round-trip hike that leads through a forest and past several waterfalls to a peaceful alpine lake. Another pleasant hike in the Denver area is the easy 9-mile walk around Barr Lake, 18 miles northeast of the city, which offers excellent viewing of wildlife and birds. For the best city hike, try the Boulder Creek Path, a 16-mile trail leading from downtown Boulder into the nearby mountains, offering wildlife- and bird-watching and good views of the mountains and city. Those in Colorado Springs can hike among the beautiful red sandstone formations in the Garden of the Gods, or head west 30 miles to Mueller State Park, with 75 miles of trails through magnificent mountain scenery. From Aspen or Crested Butte -- or from Aspen to Crested Butte -- the trails in the Maroon Bells Wilderness Area are great for day hikes and week-long backpacking trips alike.
The Continental Divide Trail Alliance (CDTA), P.O. Box 628, Pine, CO 80470 (tel. 888/909-2382 or 303/838-3760; www.cdtrail.org), is building a trail -- using volunteers -- along the mountains of the Great Divide from Canada to Mexico, and that means it shoots right through the middle of Colorado. Each year, the CDTA publishes a schedule for the next summer, complete with volunteer needs, project descriptions, and difficulty ratings. This is an opportunity to experience some incredible backcountry, and to help create something your grandchildren will enjoy as well.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.