Escape the Crowds: 9 Gorgeous and Inexpensive Family-Friendly Hikes in Colorado

Ready to hike Colorado with the kids? 

Finding family-friendly locations can be tough due to the terrain and elevation, but I’ve found 9 family-friendly hikes for kids ages five and up. I’ve been to all of these during my years of visiting the state with my family. In total, we spent around eight months in Colorado, visiting and sometimes revisiting the trails I’m recommending to you. 

I hope you enjoy these trails as much as we have. You’ll notice that we enjoy less-frequented free hikes. They make the places more personal and let us feel less rushed.  

Table of Contents

Quick Tips for Hiking in Colorado

This section is a quick guide to trekking throughout Colorado. It is especially helpful for those who have never hiked in the area. 

What to Wear on Hikes

Dress in layers. The weather can change very quickly in Colorado. You don’t want to be in shorts when the temperature drops 20 degrees or it starts hailing

Carry water for everyone in your hiking group. Being hydrated is critical in a high elevation and dryer climate. 

Sun protection is also important. Some trails are wonderfully shady, but others are completely exposed, and most are a combination of shady and sunny. 

View of valleys, hills, and mountains from Spruce Mountain in Colorado.
Hiking in Colorado involves elevation, open spaces, and shady paths. Photo taken from Spruce Mountain.

Wildlife in Colorado

Colorado has a variety of wildlife. Some are cute squirrels, mule deer, and prairie dogs, but others are large predators such as bears and cougars

Please research wildlife before hitting the trails. The Colorado tourism website has simple wildlife safety tips.  

Elevation Matters in Colorado

If you are not used to high elevation, you might struggle more than usual while hiking in Colorado, especially children.

You might experience:

  • Breathlessness
  • Dizziness
  • Tiredness
  • Dehydration
  • Headaches

None of the hikes I recommend are at very high altitudes. Still, if you are visiting from places like Florida or Delaware, you will be more affected by the elevation in Colorado.

You can read more about hiking at high elevations here

A view into the jagged, brown and red Royal Gorge in Cañon City, Colorado, with the Arkansas River snaking it's way through the gorge floor.
Royal Gorge in Cañon City, Colorado, as viewed from an elevation of 7,000 feet.

Dune Hike

Load up the kids, sun protection, water, and sleds (don’t worry, if you don’t have them, you can rent them) and head out to the surreal Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Nestled in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, you’ll find the Great Sand Dunes in Mosca, Colorado. The largest nearby town is Alamosa, 30 minutes to the southwest. 

The dunes are about:

  • 3 hours southwest of Colorado Springs
  • 4 hours southwest of Denver
  • Twenty-five minutes from Zapata Falls

There are a lot of trails in and around the national park, but we recommend exploring the dunes themselves. 

Park in the Great Sand Dunes parking lot off Medano Creek Road. 

Kids playing in Medano Creek at the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve with the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the background.
Medano Creek with the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the background. The dunes are in front of the kids.

From the lot, follow the signs to the trailhead. You’ll cross Medano Creek (sometimes dry) and come to the closest dune. Walk along the dunes and have fun. Head back to the parking lot when done.

Although we did consider this a family-friendly activity, it is worth noting that this is trekking along soft sand, and the dunes are very tall. So you might only make it up one dune and be done for the day. The elevation change from Medano Creek can be more than 700 feet.

Not only can you hike along the dunes, but you can also sled down them!! 

Warning –

If the forecast calls for thunderstorms in the area, stay out of the dunes. You are entirely exposed, and the dunes are deceptively far from shelter.

Note – there is an entrance fee, but if you go after hours, you can get in for free!

A father and son exploring the massive dunes at the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve on a sunny day.
Those dunes are massive. Look at my husband and son!

Zapata Falls Trail

Zapata Falls is a hidden gem in the Colorado wilderness. The falls are tucked away near the Great Sand Dunes, making this place a fantastic escape! 

Zapata Falls, located in Mosca, Colorado, is just 30 minutes southwest of the alpine valley town of Alamosa. 

The falls are about: 

  • 3 hours southwest of Colorado Springs
  • 4 hours southwest of Denver
  • Twenty-five minutes from the Great Sand Dune

Zapata Falls trail is less than 1 mile long. It is a rocky and easy out-and-back path with an elevation change of around 215 feet. As you get closer to the falls, you must hike into South Zapata Creek and a cave

Trekking through the creek is a kid’s favorite – splashing through cold water and climbing rocks. The rocks can be slippery and rough, so ensure everyone is ready for this level of adventure. 

The actual waterfall drops 30 feet and is impressive. The anticipation keeps building as you climb further into the creek. The falls get louder and louder, but it still takes some trekking to see them. 

A group of hikers, including children, making their way through the rocky South Zapata Creek while hiking to Zapata Falls in Mosca, Colorado on a cool July day.
Lots of rocks + lots of cold water = a refreshing and exciting trek to Zapata Falls.

Silver Cascade Falls Trail

Tucked in the beautiful Cheyenne Canyon in Colorado Springs, Silver Cascade Falls Trail is a not-to-be-missed path along Helen Hunt Falls. The area is full of fragrant Ponderosa pines that add a special sensory element to a gorgeous hike. 

Beautiful, historic Old Colorado City and OCC Brewing are just 20 minutes away. 

The Silver Cascade Falls Trail starts at the base of Helen Hunt Falls. The falls are easy to get to. You drive right up to a parking lot and walk 0.1 miles to them. Because seeing them is super easy and free, it can get really busy, so plan your visit accordingly.

Beyond Helen Hunt Falls, the route is only 1 mile out and back, but it has an elevation gain of nearly 300 feet, so take your time. Our kids loved it, though. 

The trail is beautiful and lined with Ponderosa pines (fragrant pines scented with cinnamon, vanilla, sugar, and butterscotch). The kids (and my hubby and I) enjoyed sniffing them.

Spruce Mountain Trail

Spruce Mountain Trail may have “mountain” in its name, but it’s a limestone butte versus a towering peak. The trail provides picturesque landscapes, open spaces, and nearby mountain views without the intense mountain-climbing vibes. 

Spruce Mountain is in Larkspur, Colorado, west of Interstate 25.

It is about:

  • 50 minutes south of Denver
  • 45 minutes north of Colorado Springs

The trailhead is by the gravel parking lot. The trail is relatively easy, with a gravel surface and elevation gain of 672 ft. We found ourselves slipping a little bit, but nothing terrible. Most of the trail is shady, so the temperature is lovely, even on a hot day. 

It’s a 5.5-mile loop, but we didn’t finish it, and you don’t have to either. We walked to one of the overlooks for an unobstructed view of the Greenland Open Space. After that, we looped back to the parking lot. 

There’s also a shortcut. If you prefer a 2.5-mile loop with an elevation gain of 380 ft., consider the Eagle Pass, Oak Shortcut, and Spruce Mountain Trail Short Loop

Keep an eye out for animals and animal scat. 

For a step-by-step trail guide, click here

Father, Robert Meinhofer, explores one of the many rocky outcrops along the Spruce Mountain Trail in Larkspur, Colorado with his two kids.
Hey family, say cheese! There are plenty of cool outcrops like this on Spruce Mountain.

Greenland Trail

Greenland Trail is noteworthy for its open-space charm. Hikers wander through meadows and pastures. It’s a natural escape where you can see for miles in every direction.

The trail is in Greenland Open Space, west of I-25 in Larkspur.

It is about:

  • 50 minutes south of Denver
  • 45 minutes north of Colorado Springs

Greenland Trailhead at Palmer Lake

We took the south Greenland Trailhead at Palmer Lake, where County Line Road and W. Palmer Divide Road meet. The trailhead is in a small parking lot. 

It’s an easy, flat dirt path through beautiful meadows and pasture land dotted with cows. Railroad tracks run nearly parallel to the trail. The kids will love it when trains pass by. Since it’s an open space, you can see for miles and miles in every direction. 

The trail is more than 8 miles long, with a few connecting trails. We only hiked 3 miles roundtrip and then returned to the parking lot. 

Greenland Trail has zero shade and a 587-foot elevation change, so plan your day accordingly. 

Spectacular view of the Greenland Trail and surrounding lands and mountains with Jessica Meinhofer, owner of Walk and Paddle, hiking with her children.
Do you see me hiking with the kids? We are those tiny figures along the trail!

Perkins Central Garden Trail

Perkins Central Garden Trail in the Garden of the Gods offers an immersive experience. The trail is like a front-row seat to the breathtaking beauty of the Garden of the Gods.

Garden of the Gods is a National Natural Landmark at the eastern base of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado Springs. It is just off I-25 and 70 minutes south of Denver.

There are 21 miles of trails here, many short and easy.

We took the Perkins Central Garden Trail, a 1.1-mile paved loop path with an elevation change of less than 100 feet. The trailhead is at the Main Parking Lot (P2) off Juniper Way Loop. 

Walking along this path is a great way to see many rock formations at the Garden of the Gods. Nothing obstructs your view of Kissing Camels or South Gateway Rock

You will likely see rock climbers and maybe even a deer. We saw both during our visits. You will not be disappointed, and neither will the kids. 

Details for other trails are available here at the Garden of the Gods website

A little girl walks along Perkins Central Garden Trail in the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, Colorado at sunset.
My youngest walking along the paved path of the Perkins Central Trail in the Garden of the Gods.

Bear Creek Nature Trail

Bear Creek Nature Trail is part of the Bear Creek Nature Center property in the foothills of western Colorado Springs, surrounded by stunning views of the Rocky Mountains.

The trail area is in the foothills of western Colorado Springs, just off I-25 and about 70 minutes south of Denver.

There are a lot of trails in the Bear Creek area, but I’m only sharing the ones we explored. Depending on the season, you can see bobcats, mule deer, various plants, and wildflowers

The trailhead for the 1-mile loop Bear Creek Natural Trail is in the nature center parking lot.

The footpath goes through well-shaded and exposed areas past the lovely Bear Creek with an elevation change of 131 feet. During your trek, enjoy views of the Rocky Mountains.  

Robert Meinhofer and his children pose for a photo while exploring Bear Creek Nature Trail in Colorado Springs.
Robert and the kids are ready to go on a hike! Look how lush the vegetation is behind them!

Coyote Gulch Trail and Creekbottom Loop

Coyote Gulch Trail and Creekbottom Loop are also part of the Bear Creek Nature Center in western Colorado Springs. Like Bear Creek Nature Trail, they offer wonderful views of the Rocky Mountains. 

Because the trail is inside a protected area, you have a lot of opportunities to see various wildlife and plant species. 

You can get details on what’s common in the area by visiting the Bear Creek Nature Center. Inside, you and the kids can explore hands-on nature exhibits and talk to local experts who work there. 

The trailhead is conveniently located in the nature center parking lot. This 1.3-mile loop meanders along Bear Creek, winding through shady areas with abundant birdlife and vegetation. The trail has an elevation gain of 177 feet.

Gorgeous views of the surrounding mountainous areas from the Coyote Gulch Trail & Creekbottom Loop at Bear Creek Nature Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Gorgeous views from the Coyote Gulch Trail & Creekbottom Loop.

First Creek Trail

The area around First Creek Trail in the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge was once a chemical weapons manufacturing site. Now, Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge is “one of the largest urban refuges in the country,” according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

It is a remarkable success story in environmental restoration.

The refuge is: 

  • 30 minutes east of downtown Denver
  • 20 minutes west of the Denver Airport 

There are 20 miles of trails in the Rocky Mountain Arsenal. You can research them at AllTrails or the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge site

The trailhead for our favorite, First Creek Trail, is in a dirt lot on the corner of E. 56th Ave. and Buckley Road. 

Walk along Buckley Road from the trailhead until you see the First Creek Trail sign. Buckley Road is not the most scenic route, but you can see the mountains in the distance. You can also see and hear vehicles and airplanes. Once you get to the gravel trail itself, the views change. 

The path is flat (elevation gain of 78 feet) and follows First Creek. It’s a pretty exposed trail, with many opportunities to see deer and wildflowers. There are bison as well. Although it’s 4 miles roundtrip, you can choose when to stop. 

View of First Creek and surrounding vegetation and trees along First Creek Trail in the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Commerce City, Colorado.
The one and only First Creek at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge.

Ready to Hike?

I hope these hiking trails bring your family joy and a lifetime of memories. 

Collage of the Garden of the Gods, Greenland Open Space, and the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in Colorado.
Don’t Forget to Pin Me!

8 thoughts on “Escape the Crowds: 9 Gorgeous and Inexpensive Family-Friendly Hikes in Colorado”

  1. I love Colorado, there is such great hiking trails – especially around the Denver area. Pinning this for my next visit, thanks for sharing!

  2. Who knew there was a Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado?!?! Not me! Now it is on my MUST-DO list. Awesome photo and great tips about visiting there.

    • Hey San Miguel Barbie! Yeah, we didn’t know until we saw it for ourselves. It is pretty mind blowing to saw those huge dunes from a distance and then the anticipation as they grow bigger and bigger before your eyes. Thanks for reading and commenting!


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