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The Top 5 Hiking Trails in Northern Colorado: Fort Collins and Beyond

Updated: Dec 14, 2021


Hannah Unbound hiking one the top 5 hikes in Northern Colorado

Luckily, the Northern part of Colorado is still mostly vacant from tourists due to the more famous towns in the South part of the state that draw more visitors. Besides Rocky Mountain National Park no one really even comes up to Fort Collins or the beautiful Poudre Canyon that holds miles of beautiful hiking trails to discover.


As someone who has lived in Fort Collins for a few years now, I can finally say which Northern hikes have become my absolute favorites, for either their views or their challenge each hike holds a special place for me. Some are the best beginner hikes while others are the more difficult. I'll try to be as clear as possible when it comes to what category each fits in.


Let's get on with these epic Colorado hikes!


 

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Length: 8.2 miles

Elevation Gain: 1,174 feet

Cost: Free


Hewlett Gulch hiking trail in Northern Colorado

This is my favorite hike to take beginner hikers on. Since this is an out and back trail and relatively flat, it's easy to let the other hiker decide whenever they want to turn back. This trail only really gains elevation at the very end of the hike, so you can enjoy most of it with an easy walk enjoying the valley scenery.



Not to mention this hike has multiple fun river crossings, traversing over logs and rocks to cross each one. The only issue is that this trail can get busy. Since it's an easier walk, with great views, and only 30min from town the parking lot can be incredibly full by 11 even on weekdays.



 


 


Length: 10.4 miles

Elevation Gain: 1,332 feet

Cost: Free


Young Gulch trail leading to a mountain range in Northern Colorado


This is one of my ultimate favorite trails to take for the views and easiness of the trail. While I've never actually completed the whole 10.4 miles of it, the 8 miles I normally do are just amazing.


This hike follows a small creek the entire way, with multiple river crossings over bridges and logs, hiking on a flat trail through a mountain valley. This really makes for an engaging hike that isn't very difficult and will keep you cool under the shade on those hot summer days. Plus, in late summer there are wild raspberry patches all over to snack on while you hike.



The best part about this trail is that since it's a bit further out from the most popular trails (Grey Rock and Hewletts Gulch) it is a lot less busy. So feel free to push your start time to 9am instead of the typical 6 or 7am.



 



Length: 6.4 miles or 4.6 miles

Elevation Gain: 1,584 feet

Cost: $9



Horsetooth rock seen from the hiking trail in Fort Collins Colorado

This is a "choose your own adventure hike" about 10 minutes out of town from Fort Collins. This hike can be done in many different ways, one being an out and back to the top of Horsetooth mountain at 4.6 miles. Two, can be a loop to Horsetooth Falls and around the backside up to Horsetooth Mountain at 6.4 miles. The third way is a much shorter Horsetooth Falls hike which is 3 miles.



While this hike is a bit more challenging than the last two, it offers amazing views all the way through. With lush greens, a creek, and views of Horsetooth reservoir. The best way to do this one is as a sunset hike, that way when you reach the top of Horsetooth Mountain and lookout you can see all of the glory of the Colorado sunset and even a bit of Rocky Mountain National Park in the glow of the falling sun.


The con to this hike is that it is the closest to Fort Collins, so it's the busiest. That's usually why I enjoy this one at sunset to avoid the heat and the early crowds.



 


 



Length: 7.2 miles

Elevation Gain: 2,417 feet

Cost: Free


The grey rock of Grey Rock Trail in Northern Colorado

While Grey Rock Trail is one of the most popular hiking spots near Fort Collins, don't let that fool you into thinking it's easy. Not only is there a large amount of elevation gain that sends you on switchbacks and up a mountainside, but there is a confusing scramble at the end to get to the summit (I highly suggest bringing along a map or the AllTrails App to make sure you're still on the trail), and the whole trail is quite rocky so ankle support is highly suggested. Also, while you follow a stream for the first couple miles you quickly start to lose cover and water, making the last half the most difficult.



Along with this being a difficult hike, it is almost always busy, I honestly only do this hike on weekdays with a start at 6am or earlier, and even then I'm still the third car in the lot. So get there as early as possible if you want to avoid the heat and the crowds.


While I know I made this hike sound super unappealing, if you are able to get there early and be one of the only people at the summit, the views are amazing! You get a 360 of the surrounding Poudre Canyon and Rocky Mountain Range that is just unbeatable!


Sign on Grey Rock Trail showing different route options



Another thing to note is that this trail can be done as a loop (taking the meadows route) or an out and back. Personally, I enjoy the out and back option over the loop. The meadows portion doesn't necessarily add to the hike in my opinion, plus it adds elevation and mileage to the hike that is just unnecessary for an already difficult hike.





 


 



Length: 7.9 miles

Elevation Gain: 1,860 feet

Cost: $9


Michigan lake at the summit of American Lakes Trail in Northern Colorado

This hike is the farthest from all of the others being at around 2 hours away from the town of Fort Collins, but it absolutely worth the drive! If you're looking to get those epic beautiful Colorado mountain views without going to Rocky Mountain National Park, then this hike is your chance.


American Lakes is the best trail I've ever done in Northern Colorado, and starting at 10,000ft makes it one of the most difficult, even without the intense elevation gain of Grey Rock Trail. But this is also the hike with the most wildflowers and wildlife sightings being so far out into the mountains of Poudre Canyon.



My best advice is to go early to avoid any chance of lightning above the tree line and to bring along a map for the intense scramble to Snow Lake at the end. It also wouldn't hurt to bring some trekking poles as I've found them very helpful for this hike specifically. Also, if you're feeling extra adventurous this is a very popular hike for backpacking, so feel free to bring your tent and set up camp near the summit.


Even though this hike is further out, that doesn't mean it doesn't get busy. It is well known to be one of the most beautiful hikes around so please go early and on weekdays if possible because weekends are so crowded you may not even get a parking spot at 8am!



 

Hannah Unbound hiking one of the top 5 hiking trails in Northern Colorado

Those are my top 5 hikes near Fort Collins in Northern Colorado, with my favorite being American Lakes because it's the most beautiful and just the most epic hike of all of them. Even though they are still very fun and beautiful in their own ways. I feel like a lot of people forget about the North end of Colorado but there is still a lot of trails and nature to be explored up there.


If you have any questions on the hikes in this post or other options for hikes in Northern Colorado feel free to contact me through email or hit me up on Instagram!


Until Next Time,

Happy Trails!





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Hey there! My name is Hannah Smentkowski, I'm the photographer, writer, hiker, camper, and craft beer drinker of this blog!

 

Here, I share my travel, camping, and hiking tips to help anxious explorers get outdoors with confidence!

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