Here are seven hikes you can do with your kids in northern Colorado
April 6, 2017
When I think of Dad, I think of the mountains.
I don't know what our relationship would be like if I hadn't started hiking with him when I was 13, but I don't have to worry about that. We have the mountains. We took many trips together, including some gnarly ones, and we once spent a week together climbing Mount Rainier in the winter.
This is why I take my kids hiking.
It's not the only reason. I love to go, still, obviously. You've probably read my Path of the Month column for years in this paper. But my main goal is for my kids to experience the outdoors the way I got to do it with my father for many years. That's why I live in Colorado now. I hope when my kids think of the mountains one day, they think of me.
When I'm picking a hike to do with my kids, I have some criteria:
» Does it have a cool destination? Kids do better when they know there's something cool to see at the end, such as a waterfall or an awesome lake or river. Bringing a small reward when you reach your goal, such as M&Ms, is a good idea too. I like M&Ms.
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» Is it short? Most kids don't want to hike for more than three hours.
» Is it close? Most kids also don't want to drive for more than two hours to a hike.
» Is there relatively easy terrain? I wouldn't take kids on steep, rocky or exposed hikes. That's for mature audiences only.
» Is it fun? Are there rocks to climb along the way? Is there a cave where they can eat lunch? What about a stream where they can splash around a bit? Fun things to do along the way will cut down on the whining.
Here are seven hikes that I think meet those requirements pretty well:
» The Keyhole at Devil's Backbone — This hike is less than three miles with a fairly gentle climb. I train for my ultramarathons out at Devil's, but this short hike is usually crowded with kids. Devil's has something for everyone. It is out in the open, however, so bring sunscreen and hats and don't leave in the afternoon on a hot summer day. It's a half-hour from Greeley in Loveland off U.S. 34 West.
» Mills Lake — One of my favorites in Rocky Mountain National Park. This one starts at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead and offers the stunning Alberta Falls about halfway through the hike, giving you a chance to quit early if the kids aren't having it. It's about five miles round-trip with only 700 feet elevation gain.
» Blue Lake — This hike is six miles total, but you get to cross a really cool creek, and it's in one of the most gorgeous areas in northern Colorado, the Brainard Lake Recreation Area in the Indian Peaks. If this one is too far, Lake Isabelle is about half the distance.
» Horsetooth Falls — This hike is two miles long, round-trip, and is located in the busy Horsetooth Mountain Open Space in Fort Collins. The falls run the strongest in late May through mid-June. It's a neat spot where the kids can splash around. Keep an eye out as to when they will peak. Also, you can do the falls from Soderberg, where there's more parking, if you don't mind walking closer to four miles round-trip up a steep start. Starting from Soderberg, however, allows you to do a loop hike, if you don't mind running back to your car.
» Josephine Jones Park — This trail is a mile-and-a-half from the top to the bottom and back, and it's in Greeley, with a nice pond and playground at the bottom. There's a good view at the top. I've also run out there probably 10,000 times. This is a good test to see how your kids hold up during a hike.
» Hanging Lake — This Glenwood Springs jewel is not close to Greeley, and it's really steep. But it's also one of the most beautiful spots I've ever seen, with a bonus destination to Spouting Rock. Your kids will get to see trout in the clear water. Just be sure to keep them out of it.
» Mount Bierstadt — If you want to attempt a 14er with your kids, this is a good one. It's six miles total, which isn't bad for a mountain, and you gain less than 3,000 feet, which is also easy for a mountain but long for a hike. It's also less than three hours from Greeley, and that's with some traffic. All the rules of a 14er still apply, meaning you have to start at sunrise to avoid the storms, and altitude sickness is a real possibility, and you'll have to be in decent shape even with all the breaks you'll need to take. But this is well within the range of most upper-level elementary school students and beyond.
Dan England has climbed more than 200 peaks, including all of the state's 54 14ers, and logged thousands of miles on Colorado's great trails. He is the Adventure and NextNC editor for the Tribune. He also occasionally guides hikes and snowshoes, mostly 14ers. He can be reached at email@example.com or 392-4418. Follow him on Twitter @ DanEngland.