A guide to your perfect mountain outings this summer

By Valerie Gleaton

Welcome to the high country, where you’ll find calf-busting hikes and quiet mountain strolls, stunning summits and peaceful lakes, rock formations begging to be climbed, and beautiful bluffs ideal for picnics. With so many ways to play, it’s hard to know where to start.

Use this resource guide to plan your perfect mountain outings this summer.

In Boulder County

Brainard Lake Recreation Area is nestled in a glacier-carved valley in the Roosevelt National Forest, just past the Town of Ward. It’s a perfect place to take in the towering mountains of the Indian Peaks Wilderness to the west, but don’t look up for too long—this is also a prime viewing spot for wildlife, including moose. Families will love the easy loop around Long Lake, or, for those looking for a challenge, gain some elevation on Mount Audubon. Enjoy hiking, road cycling, mountain biking, fishing, non-motorized boating and camping. Expect snow on higher-elevation trails through early July.
Fees: Mid-June through mid-October, Brainard Lake is open to motorized vehicles for $11 for a three-day pass or $1 for those on foot or bicycle. You may purchase an American Land & Leisure season pass for $60 for passenger vehicles or $22 for hikers/bikers. Interagency Federal Lands Passes are accepted.
Info: Visit www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/arp/recarea or call 303-541-2500.

Only 5 miles south of Boulder on Colorado Highway 170, 1,442-acre Eldorado Canyon State Park is a world-renowned rock-climbing area, with over 500 routes on cliffs rising more than 850 feet above the canyon floor. For those who prefer to keep their feet on the ground, Eldorado offers fishing along South Boulder Creek and several hiking trails. The Rattlesnake Gulch Trail is a favorite, gaining 800 feet in elevation as it leads 1.4 miles to the few remaining bricks of the Crags Hotel. From the ruins, continue along the 1.2-mile Upper Loop (gaining another 325 feet in elevation) for views of the Continental Divide to the west. (Note: the Upper Loop is often closed between March and July to protect nesting golden eagles.) For a less-demanding trek, try the Fowler Trail (pick up a self-guided nature-walk brochure) or the Streamside Trail. Both are partially wheelchair accessible and offer views of the inner canyon and the rock climbers.
Fees: Throughout the year, the daily pass fee is $8 per vehicle. An annual pass valid at all state parks or recreation areas may be purchased for $70 ($60 for Colorado seniors) at the gate.
Info: Visit www.cpw.state.co.us/placestogo/parks/EldoradoCanyon, email eldorado.park@state.co.us or call 303-494-3943.

Rocky Mountain National Park is wilderness at its finest, as evidenced by its Federal Wilderness designation in 2009. Incredible views and frequent elk sightings are common from Trail Ridge Road, which reaches 12,183 feet in altitude as it crosses the Continental Divide. The park is home to Longs Peak, a favorite 14er and the highest point in Boulder County. The park has more than 355 miles of hiking trails, as well as backpacking, technical climbing and picnicking. Look for elk, moose, bighorn sheep, ptarmigans, marmots, pikas and other wildlife that live within park boundaries. Fishing is allowed year-round, and with more than 140 lakes, you shouldn’t have trouble finding a secluded fishing hole, subject to Colorado fishing regulations and specific park restrictions. Stop in Estes Park for a post-hike cocktail at the historic Stanley Hotel, the inspiration for Stephen King’s classic horror novel The Shining.
Fees: Entry fees to this 265,000-acre park are $20 for a one-day
vehicle pass and $30 for a seven-day pass. Or purchase a Rocky Mountain National Park Annual Pass for $60.
Info: Visit www.nps.gov/romo or call 970-586-1206.

photo by Gallinago_media

Beyond Boulder County

The Guanella Pass Scenic Byway is located a few minutes off I-70 just west of the historic mining town of Georgetown. The 23-mile paved and gravel byway goes past aspen groves, gorgeous waterfalls and wildlife on its way up the 11,700 pass. Be sure to bring your hiking boots to take advantage of the many trailheads along the way, including direct access to Mount Bierstadt, one of four 14ers (peaks over 14,000 feet) in the county.
Directions: From I-70: Take the Georgetown exit. Following the signs for Guanella Pass through the town. From Hwy 285: Drive through Grant and head north through Guanella Pass.
Info: Visit www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/arp/recarea or call 303-679-2422 ext. 2.

Ever touched a glacier? Now’s your chance! The drive to St. Mary’s Glacier takes you past the small town of Alice, historic buildings, barns, aspen groves and waterfalls. Once you arrive at the trailhead, park and hike approximately half a mile up (it’s an easy-to-moderate climb) to St. Mary’s Lake, then follow the winding path up another quarter mile to the snowfield. Watch for daredevils skiing and snowboarding down from the top. On your way back, stop at Silver Lake to fish or picnic.
Directions: Take Exit 238 from I-70, then follow the signs to Fall River Road and proceed toward St. Mary’s Glacier.
Fees: There is a $7 parking fee at the trailhead per vehicle.
Info: Call 303-567-4382.

The 28-mile Mount Evans Scenic and Historic Byway is the nation’s highest auto road. It’s also probably the easiest way to “bag a 14er,” since the road ends only 140 feet shy of Mount Evans’ summit. Full of twists, turns and overlooks, this high-mountain road offers spectacular sights, from gargantuan peaks to tiny alpine wildflowers. Along the way, you’ll likely encounter bighorn sheep, mountain goats, marmots, birds and more. Just remember to stay altitude-aware by taking it slow and giving your body time to acclimate. Stop at Echo Lake Park—Denver’s only subalpine park, at 10,600 feet—to fish or hike around the 24-acre lake formed by glacial moraine.
Directions: Take exit 240 from I-70 in Idaho Springs, then follow Highway 103 south until it meets Echo Lake. From there, take Highway 5 to the top of Mount Evans.
Fees: A standard amenity recreation fee is required at Mount Goliath Natural Area and the Summit of Mount Evans Interpretive Site. Both fees are available for purchase at the Mount Evans Welcome Station for $15 per vehicle for a three-day pass, or $25 for a season pass.
Info: Visit www.fs.usda.gov/detail/arp/about-forest or call 303-567-4382.

Golden Gate Canyon State Park offers 35 miles of dog-friendly hiking trails as well as mountain biking, horseback riding, backpacking and rock climbing. Hunting is permitted on the Jefferson County portion of the park (sign in and out at the Visitor Center) or fish from streams and ponds stocked with brook trout, cutthroat trout, brown trout, rainbow trout and arctic grayling. Pack a cooler to enjoy at one of the 125 scenic picnic spots with beautiful views of the plains and the Continental Divide. Open year-round.
Directions: Take highway 93 south to Golden Gate Canyon road. Turn right and follow Golden Gate Canyon road 13 miles to the Visitor Center.
Fees: Daily park passes are $7 per vehicle, or purchase an annual pass for $70.
Info: visit cpw.state.co.us/placestogo/parks/GoldenGateCanyon, email golden.gate.park@state.co.us or call 303-582- 3707.