I’ve spent about five months exploring around Colorado, with a little over three of them living in the Denver area during a travel nurse assignment in 2020. During this time me and my boyfriend explored and hiked so much.. maybe a little more than he would have liked to. 😉 But from all of that exploring- I’ve compiled a list of the best day hikes near Denver! Plus- I’ve highlighted which ones make for the best sunrise hikes near Denver!
For real though- I fell in love with Colorado even harder than I did when we visited for a week back in 2017. It is a hiker’s paradise. The Rocky mountains just take my breath away and the sunrises & sunsets on summits truly can’t be beat.
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Planning your trip? Use my favorite resources!
Accommodation – Booking.com to find the best deals on hotels.
Flights – Skyscanner to look for the best prices and deals on flights.
Rental cars – DiscoverCars to shop around at multiple car rental agencies.
Travel insurance – Safety Wing; keep your trips insured to protect yourself while traveling.
Tours/experiences – Viator and Get Your Guide!
Hiking Essentials & Tips
Hiking anywhere requires you to consume more water than usual, but hiking in Colorado where you may be hiking at elevations greater than 10,000 feet means you REALLY need to stay hydrated!
Some recommend 1L of water for every 1,000 feet of elevation gain. I think this is a relative number honestly. I say if you think you’re taking enough water with you, throw in another bottle! If I’m hiking a 14er I generally don’t bring anything less than 3L per person. For harder hikes I also recommend Liquid IV to get in some sugar, minerals, and electrolytes.
Especially for longer or more intense hikes you will want to bring some food. Food we love to bring on hikes: trail mix, nuts, protein bars, PB&Js, rice cakes, beef jerky, & fruit.
Watch for Altitude Sickness
Serious! If you have a headache that doesn’t go away, nausea/vomiting, trouble walking straight, and/or confusion get down to a lower elevation immediately and get medical attention!
How to prevent it: Acclimate slowly (AKA don’t try to summit a 14er the day you touch down in Denver!) & hydrate hydrate hydrate! You can also try a prescription medication called Diamox that can help you to acclimate.
Leave no trace
Leave these trails better than you found them. Do not leave your dog poop bags or any other trash on the trails. Do not try to take an easy way through, always stay on the trails. All of this will slowly erode the ground around the trail, making it wider & can kill wildflowers, plants, and animal species. And leave things just as you found them- do not move rocks or vegetation around.
Check current trail conditions & reviews
I use alltrails.com each time before I go for a hike to see if people have mentioned things such as parking, the trail being closed, current conditions, extra gear such as microspikes being necessary, etc. It’s always a good idea to be informed before embarking on a hike!
Gear & Packing List
- Daypack– I’ve had my Osprey pack for literally years and love it for day hikes!
- Hiking boots– These Columbia Newton Ridge Waterproof boots are at a great price point have lasted me dozens of hikes the last year as well as backpacking trips.
- Headlamp– An absolute must if you plan on doing a sunset or sunrise hike near Denver. You will be starting or ending your hike in the dark so you have to wear a headlamp for a light source. This one is a great budget option, waterproof, and is rechargable.
- Lightweight, moisture wicking clothes for hitting the hiking trails.
- Layers for chilly mornings and evenings- I love my Eddie Bauer puffy jacket because it is lightweight, packs well, and keeps me warm.
- Water, snacks, and electrolyte tabs to keep yourself hydrated & healthy on hikes.
- Portable charger– To keep your phone charged on longer day hikes.
Things to Keep in Mind when Planning a Sunrise or Sunset Hike
How early to get up for a sunrise hike?
When planning a sunrise hike, I try to make sure I have adequate enough time to drive and hike to the viewpoint before the sun is up. Always check sunrise times before you go! This time changes daily.
For example- If I am a one hour drive from the trail, the sun rises at 6AM, and the hike to the summit is 2 miles long, moderate difficulty I will plan to leave the house by 3:30AM.
Breakdown: 3:30AM-4:30AM = driving. 4:30AM-5:30AM= hiking. There’s still an extra 30 minutes, but I’d rather not rush. This gives me more time in case the drive takes longer than expected, parking is difficult, or the trail is harder than I thought. And I have adequate time to set up my tripod and enjoy blue hour!
Safety tips when hiking before sunrise or after sunset
- Always bring a headlamp to see where you’re going in the dark.
- Be mindful of wildlife such as deer, bears, and mountain lions that can be more active during these times of the day.
- Dress in warm layers as these are the coldest parts of the day.
- Research about the trail- even more than you would during the daylight hours. Keep in mind any reviews or maps that indicate a turn off a main trail, easy parts to lose the trail, etc.
Best Easy Day Hikes Near Denver
Sugarloaf Mountain (Great for sunrise or sunset!)
1.5 miles roundtrip & 440 feet elevation gain.
Both times I’ve done this trail, there has been maybe one or two other groups on the trail and we’ve had the top to ourselves!
This is a great sunrise or sunset jaunt because it is so short and quick. You have amazing views of the front range after what seems like a little walk uphill! Do this hike for sunrise and enjoy a hot cup of coffee at the top like I did!
How to get there
This trail is near Boulder, so you will pass the Flatirons on the way here; maybe the dopest looking mountains around! The trailhead is 1 hr from Denver, going on 36 West.
Saint Mary’s Glacier
1.6 miles roundtrip & 400 feet elevation gain.
If you only walk up to the lake here and not any further uphill this is a rather leisurely hike. We saw families of all ages here, although the trail is a bit rocky so I wouldn’t say it is for ‘everyone’ necessarily.
The trail itself is just in the trees and not too scenic, but the lake at the end of the hike at the foot of the glacier is very pretty, and you have some mountain views. If you choose to walk around the lake and up the hill or glacier a bit, you will obviously gain more elevation and mileage.
How to get there
This hike is located near the town of St. Mary’s, one hour from Denver taking I-70 West.
There is a fee to park here, 5$ exact cash only that you will put in an envelope. If you choose not to, there may be a ticket on your car when you come back from the hike!
Best Moderate Day Hikes Near Denver
Chief Mountain (Great for sunrise!)
3.1 miles roundtrip & 960 feet elevation gain.
This hike is just one hour from Denver near Idaho Springs and provides fantastic 360 mountain views for a bit of effort. I have done this hike twice, and have to say sunset was the best. This would also make for a great sunrise hike near Denver!
When we did this at sunset in late March the golden hour was STUNNING with snow blanketing the peaks, and we were the only ones at the top. Note that if you do this hike in the winter, you will need snowshoes or microspikes and definitely dress in warm layers.
How to get there
You will come across from Denver via I-70 and get on Squaw Pass Road.
There is no parking lot for this hike, you will just see a line of cars parked on the side of the road just past where you will see the Echo Mountain skiing area. On the opposite side of the road from where you would have parked you will see signs for the trail.
Squaw Mountain (Great for sunrise!)
The Squaw Mountain trailhead is just 15 mins away from Chief Mountain (mentioned above) on the same road- you probably passed it on the way up!
We did this hike for sunrise on a different day, but if you have limited time in the area and are able to, it would be awesome to knock out two moderate hikes in one day! This is definitely one of the best sunrise hikes near Denver.
I don’t believe there is a trail that connects them, but Squaw Mountain is 4 miles roundtrip with 850 feet of elevation gain.
This hike is unique in that it features a fire lookout. You can even stay up in the lookout, there are two twin beds and would make for a very unique stay.
When we were here back in April of 2020 it was closed due to COVID, but is totally something I would come back and stay in.
On the up side, we were able to go up and stand at the lookout because no one was staying there.
Lily Mountain (Great for sunrise!)
The hike is about an hour and a half from Denver, just outside of Estes Park. This one is a bit of a leg burner!
4 miles roundtrip & 1300 feet elevation gain.
This hike is definitely more challenging than the previous hikes mentioned, but doable if you are in pretty good shape. There’s also just a bit of a scramble near the top, but nothing crazy.
The best part of this hike is the great view you get of Long’s Peak in nearby Rocky Mountain National Park.
How to get there
This hike is near Estes Park, 1 1/2 hrs away from Denver taking 36 West. The parking here is pretty slim on the side of the road- so I would get here early!
Best Hard Day Hikes Near Denver
Mount Sniktau (Great for sunset!)
4 miles roundtrip & 1600 feet elevation gain.
This hike is a ’13er’ (mountain with a summit over 13,000 feet). Watch for any signs of altitude sickness on this one, I got a headache after being in Denver for two months already, nothing serious, I just had to take some Motrin.
We did this hike for sunset, and because of the time of year- May- with snow capping the peaks and the time of day, it is still one of my favorite hikes I’ve done in Colorado.
I can still imagine the feeling I had when looking all around me seeing the sky red, purple, and orange just dancing off the mountain peaks. I couldn’t stop taking pictures and smiling! Years later, this hike is still one of my favorite memories and one of the best sunset hikes near Denver.
There are a couple of ‘false summits’ on this one, and it’s pretty hard on the legs and lungs for sure- but don’t be discouraged!
How to get there
This hike starts at Loveland Pass and is a little over an hour away from Denver taking I-70 West.
Mount Flora (Great for sunset!)
6 miles roundtrip & 1800 feet of elevation gain.
Another hike we did at sunset.. surprised? This is another ’13er’, and features fantastic mountain and lake views!
The trail is a little demanding and again has some false summits that are sometimes discouraging, but the top is worth it!
How to get there
This hike begins at Berthoud Pass, via I-70 West & 40 West, 1 hr and 15 mins away from Denver. There is a pretty large parking lot at the Pass.
Honorable Mentions: Best Day Hikes Near Denver
These hikes are still great hikes but maybe didn’t provide the dramatic mountain views like the others! But I would still recommend each one.
This hike is a little challenging at 6 miles roundtrip & 1600 feet of elevation gain. The whole hike is in trees until it opens up the mountain views- and yes it was very windy! This hike is located in Golden Gate Canyon State Park, a little under an hour from Denver. Be sure to have 9$ in exact cash to enter the park.
Mount Galbraith (Great for sunrise!)
If you’re around Golden, CO- only about 30 mins from Denver- and are interested in a nice hike, Mount Galbraith is a great choice! Early morning light was great for us, the hills were so.. golden! 😉 This hike is 4 miles roundtrip with 930 feet elevation gain. Get there early as there isn’t much parking.
This hike is in Colorado Springs, in North Cheyenne Canon Park about an hour and a half from Denver. It is 4 miles roundtrip & 1300 feet of elevation gain. The top of the peak is very pretty with great mountain views in front of you!
This hike in Boulder is great for training for hard hikes, such as 14ers, since you can do it early in the season. While the top was epic, I thought it was just so much effort to put in to get there since most of the hike is in the woods with not many views. However, you do start in the meadows looking up to the Flatirons so that was nice! This hike is a little over 8 miles roundtrip & 2800 feet of elevation gain.
Where to Stay in Denver
- Budget: Best Western Denver Southwest, a highly rated chain hotel offering free breakfast daily and free parking. Off Broadway B&B is a cute budget stay in a quaint house in Denver.
- Mid Range: Queen Anne Bed and Breakfast is a great mid range option that features a hot tube with city views, free parking, and breakfast in included.
- Luxury: The Kimpton Monaco is a highly rated luxury option that has an Italian restuarant on site as well.
- Unique stays: The Curtis hotel is a pop culture themed hotel that almost looks like a museum inside!
Wrap up: Best Day Hikes Near Denver & Sunrise Hikes near Denver
I lived in Denver for 3 1/2 months in 2020 during a travel nurse assignment and did well over a dozen hikes within an hours’ drive. In this article I mentioned 11 of my favorite day hikes near Denver, and those that would make sunrise or sunset hikes were highlighted.
My favorite memories in Colorado were the ones I was on a summit during sunrise or sunset. Doing a hike during these times gives you a greater chance of having some solitude while having even better views. Watching the sky change colors and reflect on snow capped mountains is truly beauty beyond words.
And that concludes my favorite day hikes near Denver including sunset and sunrise hikes near Denver! Now strap on those hiking boots and hit the trails!