If you’re looking for a nature-filled scenic adventure, there’s no place quite like Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. These picturesque mountains offer some of the best opportunities for hikers to immerse themselves in the wilderness. While there are certainly plenty of trails that provide several days worth of backpacking and camping for intrepid hikers, there are shorter trails for those looking for a weekend getaway or a day hike. Here are some of the best day hiking trails to be found.
Ice Lake & Island Lake
Beginning across the road from South Mineral Campground in the San Juan National Forest, this trail consists of an eight-mile loop with moderately difficult hiking terrain. With a gain of 3,000 feet elevation, you’ll find waterfalls and gorgeous mountain lakes. Upon starting from the trailhead, the trail passes back and forth across Clear Creek a few times, and at around .9 miles in, you’ll find the first waterfall. Keep left at the fork in the trail just beyond the aspen grove at 2.2 miles to get to Ice Lake. As you continue, the path opens up on a meadow as the first step of the double basin. The meadow is surrounded by vertical cliffs and a cascading waterfall to the right. The hike becomes steeper at this point as you head to Ice Lake on the second step of the double basin. The lake is a great place to rest and take in the natural beauty all around you. You can even walk around the lake before continuing the loop to Island Lake. The distance from Ice Lake to Island Lake is a little over a mile in length and adds approximately 200 feet of elevation before continuing around the basin and back to the main trail.
On the heavily traveled Bear Lake Road in Rocky Mountains National Park, you’ll find the Glacier Gorge Trailhead, which is the beginning of the hike to Sky Pond. It is advised that you arrive early to avoid the crowds or take the local Rocky Mountain shuttle. The first landmark you’ll come to on the trail is Alberta Falls. This 30-foot waterfall plunges through a small gorge into Glacier Creek. Up to this point, you will likely have quite a bit of company on the trail; however, the crowds thin out as you continue past Mills Junction proceeding straight ahead to Loch Vale Trail. Beyond the junction, the trail becomes rather steep, climbing through the gorge over a couple of smaller switchbacks. Once you hit the third switchback, you’ll have a great view of a waterfall thundering down the gorge with the valley and Icy Brook to your left. At about 2.8 miles, you’ll come to The Loch. Loch Vale is the largest of lakes in the area. Beyond Loch Vale, the trail becomes rougher as you continue to the Lake of Glass and Sky Pond, particularly around Timberline Falls. Once you get beyond the falls, you’ll be surrounded by sheer cliff walls on three sides, and the Lake of Glass and Sky Pond will be before you.
Missouri Lakes Basin
The Missouri Lakes trail is a mere seven miles in length, round trip, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a great deal to offer. The hike doesn’t start particularly picturesque, but at about a mile in, you’ll begin to pass back and forth across Missouri Creek. Here you’ll find several small waterfalls and stunning cliffs. The trail here offers a thick forest of conifers and eventually opens up on meadows leading to the basin just below the timberline. The trail meanders for 1.2 miles through the basin, passing five smaller lakes before arriving at the final steep ascent to Missouri Pass for a spectacular view of the basin. From Missouri Pass, you can head back the way you came or continue on a bit further to Fancy Pass Trail and make a loop back to the trailhead.
So if you’re looking for a day hiking adventure, Colorado is the place to beat. Just make sure you’re adequately equipped for the terrain before you head out.