These are just “jumping off points” to get you started. There are more trails around here than you can shake a stick at. Some are well known, and some are well guarded secrets. Maybe, just maybe, if you buy me some good Bourbon I’ll let slip a few of the less known spots.
Eldorado is my “go to” recommendation for a hike. This place is a spectacle. Driving in, you will pass Eldorado Springs, a swimming pool that has been in continuous operation since 1905. The pool is fed by an artesian spring; you will be swimming in the same drinking water they bottle and sell at the grocery store! The pool is surrounded by a small artist community. The state park itself has fees for walk-in and cars (check the Eldorado Park website for current pricing). The first thing you will see as you drive up Rattlesnake Gulch are mentally unstable individuals littering the sheer cliff faces that tower over the narrow mountain road. Believe me, people hanging 200 feet from a cliff is a site to behold.
My favorite trail in the park is the Rattlesnake Gulch Trail; it takes you 1.4 miles up the mountain to the ruins of an old hotel that burned down in 1913. The fireplace, pieces of the foundation, the grand fountain, and other remnants of the hotel still stand on the site. The trail continues .8 miles beyond the hotel ruins to a spot where you can take in views of the Continental Divide.
Check the park website for more trails and information about their terrific visitor center.
South Mesa Trail Head
This is a goto spot when visitors come to town. There is a decent parking lot, but it can fill up quickly at busy times of the day. The lot is near a really nice creek with picnic areas. We usually take the trails up to Shadow Canyon, but you can do easy (mostly flat) paths down in the Doudy Trail area and there is even a gravel path that will take you all the way to Chautauqua in Boulder.
This is a good “mostly flat” trail that starts where Highway 121 t’s into Highway 93 (the smaller “main road” along the foothills that joins Boulder and Denver). We often do this one with smaller kids or older parents. It’s long enough to be “worth it,” but not too strenuous. It’s a loop, and when you get to the back (closest to the mountains on the loop), you can take a trail down the hillside (more like a cliff) and all the way up to the Flatirons and Chautauqua. The hike starts out in a meadow (cow pasture), but after about half a mile it’s a nice, flat, shaded path through the forest.
NCAR (Nat’l Center for Atmospheric Research)
Not only is this a super cool building worth seeing both inside (great nature/weather exhibits for kids) and out (designed by I.M. Pei -my kid and I go there to pretend it’s the Avengers’ Fortress), but there is also a trail head at the back of the building. This is usually where I start when I am going to the to the top of Bear Mountain.
A bit more of a drive to the hike…