[Infographic] Your Northern Colorado Hiking Toolkit
Why to hike, what to bring, and where to go
Whether you’re a hardcore hiker with summit ambition to spare, a casual mountainside meanderer looking for new treks, or an outdoor enthusiast seeking scenic trails for the whole family, Northern Colorado has miles upon miles of trails to suite any speed or style. And with the long days and blue skies of summer, there’s no better time to get out there than right now.
In the spirit of outdoor exploration, we’ve put together a toolkit for hiking Northern Colorado – complete with the many health benefits of hiking, items you should always have on the trail, and some of our favorite spots in our mountainous NoCo backyard (fit for all ages, interests, and abilities). Take a look, and then take a hike!
For us, the better question is, “Why NOT go hiking?” But for those of you who might be wondering, here’s the answer. Beside the fact that hiking is awesome, it also comes with huge health benefits. These include but are not limited to:
Improved cardio-respiratory health
Hiking is fantastic cardiovascular exercise. By keeping your heart rate elevated for extended periods of time, you help your body become more efficient at circulating blood and oxygen to your muscles. Plus, you train your muscles to use that oxygen more efficiently and keep you going strong. And the more often you hike, the more endurance you’ll develop to maintain an elevated heart rate so you can continue reaching new heights.
Depending on the intensity of your hike and your unique physical makeup, you can burn up to 500 calories per hour! That makes hiking an extremely effective and healthy (not to mention fun) way of shedding pounds or maintaining a healthy weight.
Exercising regularly helps your bones better tolerate impacts and become stronger as a result. And the extra dose of Vitamin D from being outside certainly doesn’t hurt bone health either. In fact, this Tufts University study found that women who walk roughly one mile every day have better overall bone density than those who walk less.
Coming up against consistent changes in the terrain helps engage all the muscles in your lower body and improve overall balance – helping build stronger, healthier muscles throughout your entire body.
Hiking helps trigger the release of your body’s natural endorphins, which act as natural pain relievers and improve sleep. Plus, hiking has been shown to fight depression, balance the mood, and even increase self-esteem. AFM’s Landon Rasmussen, PA can attest to the psychological impacts of hitting the trails. “The most important things for me with hiking are the mental health benefits like stress reduction, the sense of accomplishment, and time for meditation,” he says. “And it’s also a great reason to leave the electronic devices behind and be out of cellphone range.”
More brain power
Who knew that an epic hike could boost your brain power? It’s true. Scientific studies have linked hiking outdoors with improved cognitive function – enabling up to 50 percent improvement in creative reasoning.
Lower blood pressure
Hiking is a great exercise for reducing high blood pressure and improving cholesterol, which can both contribute to increased risk of heart disease. In fact, research indicates that heart attack victims who exercise regularly reduce their risk of a fatal heart attack by 20 to 25 percent.
Let’s get down to what you should pack when you hit the trail.
Item number one: LOTS of water. Since hiking can be hard work, and the Colorado sun can be intense, you need to bring plenty of water to keep your body hydrated. For lengthier hikes or multi-day trips, it’s a good idea to bring a purifier tool to be sure you have adequate water throughout your entire outing.
To stay energized on shorter treks or day hikes, be sure to bring a variety of healthy snacks. Our favorite hiking fuel includes items like trail mix, fresh fruits, nuts, seeds, nutrition bars, dried or freeze-dried fruits and veggies, sandwiches, and jerky. For multi-day excursions, think the same foods above and add in extra sustenance that’s easy to carry. Whole grain pasta, brown rice, healthy soup mixes, vitamin-rich drink mixes, freeze-dried or dehydrated foods, and even vacuum sealed meal pouches are all great options.
Whether you’re going a few miles or summitting a fourteener, our must-have hiking items include a pack or backpack (for all the goodies we talked about before), a hydration pack or water bottle (stay hydrated, our friends), a rain jacket (since Colorado weather is not exactly predictable), bug spray and sunscreen, sunglasses, and a map or compass. For longer treks far from home, it’s always a good idea to bring matches or a fire starter, a headlamp or flashlight, first aid items, a trash bag (to keep the trail clean), a knife or multi-use tool, and some sort of shelter from the elements (like a tent, tarp, or blanket).
And if you’re looking for a comprehensive hiking/camping checklist with every item you can imagine, get tips and support from our local pals over at Jax.
Take a look at the list below to explore our favorite hiking spots and why we love them. There’s something for everyone, from climbing pros and avid hikers to kids, pups, and solitude seekers.
Challenging hikes in Northern Colorado
Longs Peak Trail (15.7 miles) – the fourteener you can tackle closest to Fort Collins
Greyrock Trail (7.1 miles) – stunning mountain views just 30 minutes from CSU
Flattop Mountain Trail (8.2 miles) – a high-altitude climb with awesome lake views
Camp Lake Trail (16.1 miles) – fantastic wilderness experience
Mt. Bierstadt Trail (6.9 miles) – not in our immediate NoCo area, but a great way to check two 14ers off the bucket list just an hour west of Denver
Moderate hikes in Northern Colorado
Arthur’s Rock (2.8 miles) – views of Horsetooth Rock and Fort Collins
Foothills Trail (3.9 miles) – a convenient, scenic hike right outside our doorstep
Horsetooth Rock (5.7 miles) – close to FoCo, waterfall, and great views
Blue Sky Trail (15.6 miles) – a great option for trail running about 30 minutes from CSU
Mount McConnel Trail (4.1 miles) – a solid (and fairly quiet) trek just a mile from CSU
Loch Lake Trail (5.4 miles) – your reward is a peaceful mountain valley and crisp blue water
Rawah Trail (25 miles) – varied terrain, wildlife, and plenty of space to explore
Kid-friendly hikes in Northern Colorado
Gem Lake Trail (3.1 miles) – plenty of boulders to climb and a great picnic spot at the lake
Devil’s Backbone (4.3 miles) – fun, easy trail close to Loveland with views of the foothills
Fossil Creek Trail (5 miles) – perfect for leisurely strolls with the kids, plus wildflowers
Pinewood Lake Trail (5.3 miles) – fun interpretive signs for kids about the area and wildlife
Emmaline Lake Trail (13 miles) – a good challenge for your more ambitious little hikers
Coyote Ridge Natural Area (4.1 miles) – convenient, easy climb with lots of wildlife
Dog-friendly hikes in Northern Colorado
In addition to some trails we’ve already mentioned (Arthur’s Rock Trail, Blue Sky Trail, Fossil Creek Trail, Horsetooth Rock Trail, Devil’s Backbone, and Emmaline Lake Trail), here are a few other hiking locations to enjoy with your furry friends:
River Ponds Trail Loop (2 miles) – a serene walk near ponds and the Poudre River
Arapaho Bend Natural Area (3.7 miles) – just minutes off I-25 yet surrounded by nature
Hewlett Gulch Trail (7.5 miles) – let your pups cool off in the mountain stream crossings
Lesser-known hikes in Northern Colorado
Mummy Pass (14.3 miles) – all types of scenery in CSU’s Pingree Park Campus
B-17 Plane Crash (5.6 miles) – see real wreckage of a 1944 B-17 aircraft
Red Mountain Open Space – scenic trails with little traffic, just 45 minutes from FoCo
At AFM, we’re huge fans of any activity that can do so much to improve physical health. And when it comes to hiking, we love that we get to check that “healthy living” box while also breaking away from everyday stressors and technologies and soaking in the natural beauty that our NoCo community has to offer. AFM physician Dr. Amber Steves says it best: “Whether it’s a short hike or backpacking for a week, being out and away from the busy demands of life is a perfect ‘reboot.’” So, what are you waiting for? Get out there, get hiking, and get revitalized! The Northern Colorado trails are calling.