First Day Hikes: Ring in the New Year with one of our favorite hikes around Colorado

December 30, 2021
Barr Lake State ParkBarr Lake State ParkHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Hikers out on the trail at Barr Lake State Park.

The crunch of boots on packed earth, the piercing air and the sense of calm that comes when the new year is only a few hours old — for many Coloradans, the only proper way to start off another trip around the sun is with a saunter down a favorite trail. 

And while this New Year’s Day is going to be a cold — and possibly even snowy — one for a lot of the state, that is unlikely to deter many from this tradition.

A number of state parks are getting in on the idea, offering First Day Hikes and events around Colorado. You can find a list of activities here; while hikes are free, you must have a valid park pass. Or if you want to choose a route of your own, here are some recommendations we have gathered from CPR readers and staff.


Horsetooth Rock Trail – Fort Collins, CO

The trail, which is located in Horsetooth Mountain Open Space, is 2.1 miles long one way, so you’re looking at just shy of 5 miles round trip, though you can connect with other trails if that’s not enough for you. It’s a steep climb that provides views of Horsetooth Reservoir, Fort Collins, Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forest. — Veronica Penney, data reporter, CPR News

Staunton Ranch Trail – Pine, CO

Staunton State Park features a number of dirt trails that will take you through forests and fields, with views of the mountains in the distance. The Staunton Ranch Trail is 3.25 miles long — which makes it just over 6 miles round trip — though it can be connected with other trails in the park for a longer loop. You may well be sharing the trail with a high volume of mountain bikers and some horses, so keep that in mind, especially if you’re with a larger group or an easily spooked dog. The park charges a fee per vehicle, or per person if entering the park without a vehicle. — Elena Vetter, administrative producer, CPR News

Tallman Ranch Trail – Jefferson County, CO

This 2.9 mile trail in Golden Gate Canyon State Park is a fairly easy hike and good chance to see wildlife. Hikers should be aware that the park charges a fee per vehicle for entry, or per person if entering without a vehicle. -– Brittany Werges, director of partnerships, promotions and events

Mount Sanitas – Boulder, CO

For a quick and steep opening to the year, with sweeping views of Boulder and the Front Range, the Mount Sanitas trail is your best bet. Note that this trail contains stairs. — Jon Zucco, broadcast/IT engineer

South Table Mountain – Golden, CO

There are numerous trails to choose from, ranging from 1.6 miles to 8.9 miles. The low elevation gain makes these trails a good option for those who want an easy winter hike. — Megan Verlee, public affairs editor, CPR News

Serpents Trail – Grand Junction, CO

Serpent’s Trail is a wide, family-friendly crowd-pleaser located just inside Colorado National Monument, a few miles from Grand Junction. What was once the Monument’s first-ever road built for cars has become one if its best known and most used trails, with wondrous views of the valley below. At about 3.5 miles roundtrip, it is moderately difficult but doesn’t take too long (less than two hours for many hikers), giving visitors both a taste of the area’s beauty and a sense of accomplishment without devouring an entire day. — Stina Sieg, Western Slope reporter, CPR News

Westminster Hills Off-Leash Dog Park – Westminster, CO

A series of wide and flat trails crisscross this park, meaning you can hike as long or as short as you would like. Dogs are allowed to run off-leash here, so expect plenty of friendly visits from excitable canines. And, if your best four-legged friend enjoys running at full speed against a backdrop of expansive mountain views, this is the place to be. — Sarah Bures, audience editor, CPR News

Tenderfoot Trail, Glenwood Springs, CO

This trail connects to the Sunlight Mountain Ski Resort and is an excellent option if you want to snowshoe or cross-country ski. Relatively flat, the trail is easy for those who are experienced, but can be a good challenge if you're new to either outdoor activity. Nathan Heffel, Colorado Matters host

Welch Ditch Loop – Golden, CO

The newly opened segment of the Peaks to Plains trail just west of Golden is a half-mile-long trail that can be made longer by taking one of the many connecting trails. Featuring a suspension bridge that crosses Clear Creek, the trail also goes through a wooden flume that was once used to bring snow and water down to the Front Range. This hike was recommended by not one, but two people, for this list. — Ryan Warner, Colorado Matters host, and George Rasmussen, Highlands Ranch, CO

The Rainbow Trail – Westcliff, CO

The Rainbow Trail in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains is a whopping 100-miles long, but can be hiked for as long as you want — simply turn around when you’re done. There are several trailheads that connect to the trail. We recommend using snowshoes or spikes. — Deb Adams, Westcliff, CO

Dikes Trail 1389, Cuchara, CO

Nestled in the San Isabel National Forest, this trail clocks in at around 3.25 miles long one way (6.5 miles roundtrip), and follows the Dakota Sandstone Wall. The trail is moderately steep, which translates to scenic views.  — Sara Lancaster, Limon, CO

Wedding Canyon Trail – Fruita, CO

One of the more difficult hikes on this list, the Wedding Canyon Trail is about 2.1 miles one way, which makes it just over 4 miles roundtrip. The trail can be turned into a loop if you connect to the Monument Canyon Trail. It is especially beautiful with a fresh blanket of snow. — Sarah McCall, Grand Junction, CO

Castlewood Canyon State Park – Franktown, CO

There are several trails that range in length from 1 to 4 miles at Castlewood Canyon State Park; connect them to make longer hikes. The park features a couple of historical points of interest, including the Castlewood Canyon Dam, which burst in 1933. — Liz Bade, Parker, CO

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