Colorado’s Western Slope has very few people and lots and lots of trails. This winter, Oboz Footwear asked me to write an article about hiking on the Centennial State’s west side for their Trail Tales blog.
I’m sharing a rewrite with you today.
What do you know about Colorado’s Western Slope?
And while these destinations are fantastic, the larger Western Slope is a backcountry wonderland of alpine peaks, red rock canyons and lowland river valleys.
Start at the Top
The Western Slope begins at the Continental Divide, a chain of high-altitude peaks and valleys that divides North American east from west. Along this spine you’ll find the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), a 3,100-mile route linking Mexico to Canada, with 650 miles of trail in Colorado.
A combination of dedicated trail and backcountry roads, 200 miles of the CDT overlap the Colorado Trail, a 500-mile trail from Denver to Durango.
Walk it all, or a portion. Backpack or day hike.
Exit the Interstate
You don’t really get a good feeling for a place driving through at 85 mph, so it always makes me sad when people tell me they’ve visited the Western Slope while driving to Las Vegas. Yeah, right.
If you’re willing to slow your pace and exit the Interstate, here are some nearby trails well worth your while.
Hanging Lake trail in Glenwood Canyon is short and steep and overly popular in summer. Come during winter wearing sturdy boots and enjoy a quiet, frosty hike alongside Dead Horse Creek.
When the weather is hot, Rifle Falls State Park offers waterfalls, swimmable pools and two short trails. The Bobcat Trail leads to the Rifle Falls State Fish Hatchery, while the Coyote Trail accesses the base of a manmade triple waterfall and limestone caves complete with bats. Bring a flashlight.
Nearby Rifle Mountain Park has longer, backcountry trails.
Miles of hiking and horseback riding trail cross this BLM preserve, leading to the Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness. Our favorite trail is the D3 trail, a 6.4-mile loop that rises steadily from scrubland to red canyons and pinyon-juniper forest, before looping back near an old stockman’s camp.
If you have a full-day, visit Rattlesnake Canyon, a beautiful, surprisingly remote locale with a cluster of seven dramatic sandstone arches. The 15.5 mile roundtrip trail starts at Pollack Bench, just west of Devil’s Canyon.
Rich In Heritage
Colorado’s Western Slope is blessed with National Parks and Monuments. Explore the region’s spectacular canyons at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and Colorado National Monument. Or, visit ancient homelands at Mesa Verde National Park, Chimney Rock National Monument, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument and Hovenweep National Monument.
Hovenweep is our favorite. The Square Tower Group trail winds amongst archaeological sites dating from AD 1230-1275. There are also trails to outlying sites. Stay overnight in the campground (backpacking is prohibited) and gaze at an infinity of stars.
Land of Giants
Travel further back in time at Dinosaur National Monument in the northwest corner of Colorado.
You’ll find 1,500 bones encased in rock in the Quarry Exhibit Hall, but the real fun is outdoors. Take the three-mile round-trip Fossil Discovery Trail through three distinct formations with three different types of fossils (clam, fish scales and dinosaurs).
The backcountry at Dinosaur National Monument is open to those with off-trail hiking skills and Leave-No-Trace ethics. Aim for the trails near the Green and Yampa rivers.
Full of Fourteeners
Colorado’s 14’ers are the state’s crown jewels.
While clusters of these high alpine peaks are found in most mountain ranges, our favorites for fun at altitude are a relatively easy trio in the San Juan mountains near Lake City. Start with 14,048 Handies Peak, a 5.75 mile Class 1 walk up that builds confidence. Then, on another day, try either Sunshine or Redcloud, both Class 2.
- Costa Rica Rainforest Hiking: An Experience in Sight, Sound and Touch, July 21, 2014.
- Spring Escapes: Tropical Hiking on Maui, Snow-Filled Family Time at Alta, February 26, 2014.
- Keep Family Hiking Fun, April 29, 2013.
- Climb High and Touch the Sky: Hiking Courthouse Mountain, September 15, 2011.
- Getting Outside: Family Hiking on The Colorado National Monument, June 23, 2011.
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