My kids and I hiked more than 70 trails over the past year, as I researched my new guidebook, Hiking with Kids Colorado (Falcon Guides). I’d like to say we enjoyed every moment of every hike, but the truth is there were plenty of times I wished I’d pitched a series on hiking alone with a six-pack of Raspberry Sours.
Just like yours, my kids have to be reminded that hiking is fun. Sometimes I remind them with doughnuts; other times it’s a visit to a playground or nature center. It doesn’t matter how you get your kids on the trail—just that you get them there in the first place.
Your kids are going to complain about hiking sometimes! I’m sorry I had to yell. If you jump ship at every gripe, you’re not going to do very much hiking. And here’s the beautiful thing: The more you hike with your kids, the easier it gets.
The routes below are straight from my book, and you can absolutely do these hikes with your kids. All you’ll need is water, snacks, SPF, and a sense of adventure.
Coyote Ridge Trail
Distance: 2.4-mile lollipop
Hiking time: one to two hours
Finding the trailhead: Coyote Ridge Trail departs from a large parking lot on the west side of Taft Hill Road, about three miles south of Harmony Road.
Don’t let its proximity to I-25 fool you. On a clear day, Coyote Ridge Natural Area is just plain pretty, and it’s rife with kid-friendly features: unusual topography, a cabin, and a special Hidden Clues Trail.
From the trailhead and welcome sign, it’s a straight shot into the natural area down a wide dirt and gravel path. The site’s sole trail, Coyote Ridge Trail, passes through a broad meadow and shrubland with a thriving prairie dog colony providing a habitat for burrowing owls—tiny, spindly-legged birds that nest in abandoned prairie dog tunnels.
After an easy start, Coyote Ridge Trail rises up a narrow ridge to an interpretive sign about wildlife. The trail flattens out before descending past a barricade. If your children need it, there’s an outhouse a mile into the route. (There’s a water pump too, but the water isn’t safe for drinking.)
Hike to the cabin (visible from the outhouse), and cross the deck to reach the opposite side of the building, where youth can test their observation skills on the Hidden Clues Trail, a 0.25-mile loop off the north side of the cabin.
Hike back across the cabin’s deck, turn left, and follow the trail back to the parking lot. This trail is fully exposed. Avoid hiking during the heat of the day; bring plenty of water and sunscreen.
Braille Trail Loop
Distance: 1.65-mile lollipop
Hiking time: one to two hours
Finding the trailhead: I-70 bisects Genesee Mountain Park. Take exit 253—bypassing the Genesee Park exit (254) if you’re coming from Denver—and drive north to Stapleton and Moss Rock roads. Turn right onto Stapleton Road. Follow it for about a half mile to a parking lot, on the left.
There’s a lot to love about Genesee Mountain Park, especially the Braille Trail, a short route that’s perfect for beginner hikers. But first, kick things off at the Bison Overlook (across from the trailhead). In 1914, when bison and elk neared extinction, Denver acquired herds at Yellowstone Park to introduce into the city’s very first mountain park. Descendants of that herd still live there today.
The hike begins near the outhouse, at Beaver Brook Trailhead. We’ll reach the Braille Trail via the historic Beaver Brook Trail, bordered by wild lupine and Queen Anne’s lace. Begin walking slightly downhill. In 0.25 mile the dirt path breaks from Stapleton Drive and dips into strands of ponderosa pine.
Make a sharp right at the intersection at 0.4 mile, and descend to a service road. After crossing the road, you’ll come to a Braille Trail sign and guideline. The Braille Trail is an accessible route designed for hikers with vision impairments. In addition to the waist-high guideline, the trail’s interpretive signs are written in Braille.
This incredible trail slopes downhill alongside a babbling creek. Be mindful of rocks and roots during the descent. After passing several barricades and following stairs to the creek bed, you’ll reach a cute wooden bridge and a fork. Go left at the fork to complete the Braille Trail Loop. Back at the beginning of the loop, turn right, cross the service road, and retrace your steps to the trailhead.
Pine View Trail
Distance: 2.5-mile loop
Hiking time: one and a half to three hours
Finding the trailhead: From Conifer, take US 285 south for 6.7 miles. At the Pine Junction County Store, turn left onto Pine Valley Road. Cell phone service is spotty. In six more miles, turn right onto Crystal Lake Road; follow the signs to Pine Valley Ranch Park. Park in the third lot at the end of the road; the trailhead is near the outhouse.
Anchored by Pine Lake, Pine Valley Ranch Park is an 883-acre treasure with miles of secluded trails shaded by thick strands of conifers growing along the north edge of Pike National Forest. All the park’s trails are easy to follow, but Pine View is especially fun for families looking for a low-mileage hike with a backcountry feel.
After snapping a photo of your kids on the bridge (just beyond the parking lot), follow the wheelchair-access sign to merge onto the Pine Lake Loop. Stroll alongside the stream until the paved sidewalk becomes a dirt path.
Turn left at the staircase to begin a steep ascent up Park View Trail. Watch young kids closely near the ledge. Switchbacks ease the final push toward the top then Park View Trail flattens out significantly.
The trail dips into Pike National Forest before ending at 1.1 miles. Bear right onto Strawberry Jack Trail to loop back to Pine Valley Ranch. It’s all downhill from here as the trail drops into a dense aspen grove.
Turn right onto Buck Gulch Trail. When you reach the junction at 2.15 miles, go either way around Pine Lake, a popular stop for anglers. If you have a pole, cast a line on one of the piers post-hike. A Colorado state fishing license is required for ages 16 and up. The beautiful stone pavilion overlooking the lake is an ideal place for a picnic.
Lookout Mountain Trail
Distance: 3.5 miles out and back
Hiking time: two to four hours
Finding the trailhead: From Golden, at the intersection of 6th Avenue and 19th Street, drive west on 19th Street, which becomes Lookout Mountain Road. Wind up the National Scenic Byway for three miles, until reaching a pullout parking area labeled “Windy Saddle.” Park alongside the road if the pullout is full.
Through a dense ponderosa pine forest, past Buffalo Bill Cody’s stone grave, and straight into a nature preserve, the hike up Lookout Mountain Trail strikes a balance between outdoor adventure, touristy fun, and naturalist-approved learning.
Two trails depart in opposite directions from Windy Saddle Park. The one you’re looking for is near the outhouse. Shaded by thick forest, the first segment of Lookout Mountain Trail can be extremely treacherous in early spring. Even with traction devices, novice hikers should not attempt this trail when there’s ice.
Look right for sweeping views of the park’s namesake saddle, and snap a photo before beginning a breezy ascent. Renowned among hang gliders, this park definitely lives up to its name, with strong drafts blowing from the Continental Divide.
The soft dirt trail becomes rocky. At .85 mile, take a detour to Buffalo Bill’s famous gravesite. The site’s fee-based museum is touristy, but the grave itself is free and lined with interpretive signs.
To get there, follow the Buffalo Bill Trail to a stone staircase leading to a large parking lot. On the opposite end is a two-story gift shop. Follow the signs to Buffalo Bill’s gravesite.
Back at the stone staircase, retrace your steps to the intersection of the Buffalo Bill and Lookout Mountain trails. Go left at the fork to push to the summit. When you reach Colorow Road, carefully cross the street, enter Lookout Mountain Nature Preserve, and walk across the parking lot to visit the nature center. Behind the nature center, a beautiful preserve features miles of hiker-only trails, open from 8 a.m. to dusk. Now all that’s left is an easy descent to the car.