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Tips for Hiking in Colorado


The first time I went hiking in Colorado was over thirteen years ago. Now I've lived here for more than five years. My long backpacking trips are mostly behind me now, but I still get out there to hike regularly. Here are some tips for hiking in Colorado, based on my experience. Following those you'll find some links to true stories from my adventures around the state.


If you are hiking during summer at lower elevations, like the desert areas to the east of the Rockies, you can get away with almost anything for clothes. I prefer jeans because of all the prickly pear cactus and cholla. When heat is an issue, it is good to have a light cotton t-shirt, which can be dunked in any water you find for extra cooling.

Many hikers like the protection of hiking boots when in the high desert areas. They might save your ankles from prickly plants, and maybe even stop a rattlesnake bite. But I walk carefully, and have only seen one rattler in the five years I've lived here. I wear running shoes everywhere I go. I used thin nylon dress socks with them, and I can go all day without a blister as a result. I also like scrambling around on the rocks and cliffs a bit, which is not as easy with hiking boots.

Now, if you are headed into the mountains, or going out in early spring or late autumn, you have to be prepared for almost any kind of weather. I have been snowed on many times in July and August when hiking above timberline. I've seen calm air turn into hurricane-force winds. Thunderstorms are also a regular afternoon event in the summer at high altitude.

So, if you are going more than a mile from the car, you need rain gear and a warm top layer (sweater or jacket), even if it is warm when you start. A light hat and a dry pair of socks are good things to have as well.

Other Considerations

It is always wise to have more than enough water with you, although this is more important when hiking at lower elevations where natural sources can be few and far between. I prefer to carry two plastic pop bottles rather than the heavier canteens or bladders. I also bring water purification tablets with me, even on a day hike.

In fact, I usually bring my survival/first aid kit along even when I'm out for just an hour or two. It weighs just a few ounces, and takes little space in a day pack. In this way I am prepared in case something happens and I have to spend a night out there.

One thing that can be a life saver if you twist an ankle or have a bad fall, is a cell phone. In many places you will not get a signal, but if you are hiking with a friend or two, someone can take the phone to the top of the nearest hill for better reception. Leave the phone off unless you need it, to conserve battery power.

Hiking in Colorado - Locations and Stories

Here are some other pages about hiking in Colorado. They have my own stories from various times and places.

Gear Testing and Getting Lost - I meant to climb Mount Aetna in the Sawatch Range, but somehow ended up on top of Mount Lost (seriously).

Winter Hiking in the Colorado Mountains - We were on Silver Heels Mountain on the last day of winter--in grassy meadows, wearing running shoes.

Scrambling - Those are my feet in the photo, hanging out over the summit of Mount Bushnell in the northern Sangre de Christo Mountains.

The Mountain Goat and I - He licked my hand, as you'll see in the photo. This page is about a hike to the top of Mount Shavano in the Sawatch Range.

Lightweight Hiking Story - Four feet of snow stopped me from reaching the summit of Crestone Peak, but I camped at about 11,500 feet near the South Colony Lakes.

Colorado Hiking: - It rained for seven days straight as I backpacked in the Weminuche Wilderness Area of the San Juan Mountains--a great test for my tarp and other light gear.

The Long Distance Day Hike - My experience in the Sangre de Christo Mountains, on a long day hike.


The Ultralight Backpacking Site | Hiking in Colorado