Taking a hike with little ones may seem more like a headache than fun. However, out in nature kids are free to run, climb, explore and use their outside voices. Research shows that the benefits from spending time outdoors are numerous, from reducing stress to building confidence for hikers of all ages. Hiking also gives families a chance to bond and enjoy a hobby together.
“Outdoor activities bring families closer together; the wonder of youthful discovery expressed on curious faces makes parenting a joy,” says Tony Parker, author of Best Front Range Hikes for Kids and a Colorado native who has passed his love of hiking on to three children and three grandchildren. “Spending quality time with kids is at a premium in our busy world.”
Building lifelong active adults starts with building active kids. Here are some tips and easy hike suggestions to get your family out the door to enjoy some of the thousands of miles of trails our great state has to offer.
Creekside Loop and Trail at Lair o’ the Bear Park
Trailhead: 22600 State Hwy. 74, Idledale
With plenty of dirt, a calming creek and interesting bugs, Lair o” the Bear offers all the things that kids love. Add on picnic tables for lunch and flat trail options, and Lair o’ the Bear is a great place for a first time or beginner hike. There are a few options for easy family hikes around the Creekside Loop and Trail, totaling 0.5 miles. Add on the Caster Cutoff Trail and the Brittlefern Trail and you have a full mile hike. For longer beginner hikes, the mostly shady Bear Creek Trail follows the creek for 1.5 miles, making it a fun place to cast a line or watch others fishing. The shorter trails are hiker only. Dogs are allowed on leash. There are bathrooms and parking but no access to water.
Hidden Fawn Loop at Alderfer Three Sisters Park
Trailhead: 30299 Buffalo Park Rd., Evergreen
This 0.5-mile trail is especially beginner friendly because it is relatively flat. But, that doesn’t mean it lacks beauty. Wildflowers, pines and rock formations all for the climbing line the trail. Turn around when you hit the Dedisse Trail or continue on this trail for 0.2 miles to take the Sisters Trail for a more challenging trek back to the parking lot. There are toilets and picnic tables, but there is no access to fresh water. Trail access is available from the East Parking Lot. Dogs are allowed on leash. The trail system is also popular with mountain bikes and horses.
Audubon Discovery Loop at Chatfield State Park
Trailhead: Pick up the trail near the Audubon Center at Chatfield
Parker recommends this gentle 3.1-mile (round-trip) hike. Markers along the Audubon Nature Trail give details to explorers about the vegetation and topography. The kiddos will likely see waterfowl and beavers. Bathrooms are available. There is an $8 entrance fee for the park. Dogs are only allowed in the designated off-leash area at the park.
Lower Cataract Lake Trail
Trailhead: At the end of Cataract Creek Road (CR 1725) near Heeney, Colorado
Relatively flat and 2 miles long, Cataract Falls can be seen at various points on this trail. Columbine are the most abundant wildflower on the trail and bloom in late June to early July. Later in the season, purple larkspur bloom along the trail and if you go in the fall, aspens are a golden blaze. You can also pack some worms and a pole to do a little fishing while eating your lunch at the picnic tables around the lake. There is a $5 use fee. Dogs must be on a leash.
Willow Creek Trail at Roxborough State Park
Trailhead: Roxborough State Park Visitor Center
This gentle 1.4 mile loop trail delights bird and wildflower lovers. The best time to take the kids to view the wildflowers, from paintbrushes to lilies, is early May through June. Be on alert as poison ivy is abundant at the beginning of the trail. Bathroom and water access is available at the Visitor Center. A $7 day use pass is required for entrance into the park. Dogs aren’t allowed at Roxborough.
Mitchell Lake Trail in the Indian Peaks Wilderness
Trailhead: Mitchell Lake Trail No. 192
A 2-mile round-trip loop, Parker enjoys hiking this trail with his kids for the views. Colorado native wildflowers and the peaks of Mount Audubon, Paiute Peak and Mount Toll can be seen from the trail. From mid June through October, there is a fee of $10 per car (good for three days) or $1 per bike or hiker. Dogs are allowed on leash. There are vault toilets, and the only water available is stream or lake water that must be treated for drinking.
Fall Leaf Viewing
Caribou Ranch DeLonde Trail
Trailhead: On CO 126; 0.9 miles from the sign for Caribou Ranch Open Space. Near Nederland.
A 2.4 mile total out and back, the DeLonde Trail offers some of the best views of fall color in Colorado with an easy hike and very little elevation change. To extend the hike, continue for another 1.8 miles around the Blue Bird Loop that circles the DeLonde Homestead. Leave your pooch at home as fur friends aren’t allowed at Caribou Ranch. There are vault toilets at the trailhead and picnic tables. There is no access to water. Be aware that Caribou Ranch is closed April 1 through June 30 to protect birds and elk.
Cheesman Ranch Loop at Mueller State Park
Trailhead: Mueller State Park in Divide, Colorado
Blazing aspens and the chance to hear the bugle of an elk make this a go-to 5.24 mile hike in September and October, as recommended by Parker. Old cabins, ranch buildings and views of Pikes Peak can be seen from the trail. The wildflowers are also in abundance in the summer months. There is a $7 entrance fee into the park. Dogs are not allowed on the trails but hikers share the trails with horses and mountain bikes. Restrooms and water are available at the Visitor Center. Note: the trail is typically closed the month of June for elk calving.
No matter how short the hike, stuff these essentials in a comfortable daypack:
- Sunscreen and bug spray
- Moist towelettes
- Diapers or change of underwear for kids
- Water (more than you think you need)
- First aid kit