Trails and Ales: Denver
Denver: The Mile High City. Home to the Broncos, 300 days of sunshine, and legendary views of the whitecapped Rocky Mountain range. Boasting over 4,000 acres of city parks, a top-rated restaurant scene, and a melting pot of culture sprawling across the high plains, there’s something for everyone. Take a scenic drive on I-70 past roaming buffalo, mountain goats, and snorkel-equipped 4Runners to access the legendary skiing and hiking people can’t get enough of. Always remember to pack smart on your visit to the Colorful State, as you may be greeted by sunny 80°F days, 10°F blizzards, or golf ball-sized hail storms. (Pro-tip: Dramamine is never a bad addition to your packing list—blame it all on the altitude)
Pair picturesque views of scaling mountains with a pint of fresh hops, and you have a true Coloradan experience. In addition to the city’s abundant recreational options, Denver is one of the first major cities on the map to house over 70 craft breweries. With big names like Coors, Odell, and New Belgium in the area, the competition is fierce to produce the highest quality beer. From big brewery royalty to truly local microbreweries, your only problem will be choosing where to start.
(For the record, our readers recommended Casey Brewing & Blending as their favorite brewery in Colorado in our roundup of the best brewery in every state.)
Distance from Denver: 1-hour bus ride from Union Station to Boulder Station, 30-minute drive
Hike: 3.2 mile (out and back), moderate
Beer: The Post Brewing Co.
Chautauqua Park overlooking Boulder is a local spot for weekend hikers, outdoor workout groups, and out-of-town visitors. It’s a hop, skip, and jump away from Denver-proper, making it one of the most popular places to explore outside the city. In the park, you’ll spot climbers ascending the First Flatiron, an outdoor wedding shoot, or some folks napping in a hammock among the ponderosa pine trees.
To commence your hike, you’ll want to begin at the Chautauqua Ranger Station, just off of Baseline Road. From the station, a drainage route will diverge into a plethora of trails, including the favored Royal Arch Trail. While not as dramatic as the visuals in Arches National Park, it’s still pretty impressive. On this route, you’ll saunter past the Flatirons and up to one of the best views of the Front Range. Begin your hike by following the drainage path from the station up to Bluebell Road Trail. Stroll through the high grass meadows and hit the Bluebell Shelter. Here you’ll enter Bluebell Canyon and begin to face a few uphill battles (literally). From the canyon, find your way across the boulder field and follow the trailhead markers through the switchbacks to the Royal Arch and back to the start.
With 1,400 feet of elevation gain, this is a helluva hike. Reward yourself with a cold one from The Post Brewing, located on 13th Street just a few blocks from the trailhead parking lot. Awarded with a bronze medal at the 2018 Great American Beer Festival is the brewery’s Howdy Western Pilsner and the must-try Townie Hoppy American Ale (an English-style IPA). It’s also worth mentioning that The Post Brewing Co. has some exceptional fried chicken. Other breweries to check out in the area include Oskar Blues Brewing as well as Avery Brewing Co.
Photo: Go Hike Colorado
Chavez and Beaver Brook Trail Loop
Distance from Denver: 30-minute drive
Hike: 3.9 miles (loop), moderate
Beer: Coors Brewing Co.
In Genesee Park on the border of Golden lies a diamond in the rough: Chavez and Beaver Brook Trail. Still considered a semi-hidden gem to the Golden residents, the Hiking Project has recently popularized the shaded creekside loop. With various stream crossings, it is a wise decision to trek during the summer and early fall season. It’s a site praised for showcasing an abundance of vegetation from wildflowers to berries in the limelight of snow-covered peaks. Maybe if you’re lucky you will even catch sight of a deer or two. The 3.9-mile loop begins on Stapleton Mountain Trail (Braille Trail) and leads you to a stream crossing where you will be met with a two-way fork. Take the left to promenade Chavez Trail. On this path, you’ll descend into a beautiful canyon and find yourself back at the car.
Feeling energized after the hike? Take the afternoon to visit and tour Coors Brewing Company. Headquartered in Golden, Coors invites guests to stroll through the world’s largest single-site brewery. Tour hours and dates are subject to seasonality so plan accordingly and reference their website before visiting. While this clearly isn’t quite a local brewery anymore, it is a mecca of beer that should be given its due. If you are seeking more of a sitdown taproom experience, head to New Terrain Brewing Co. An exploratory craft brewery, the guys over at New Terrain know a thing or two about making a high-quality brew. Not to mention, they produce some eccentric flavors from Rubus Delicious raspberry sour to savory seasonal like Punky Masala. Pair with one of the parked food trucks and you’ll for sure be coming back for more.
Photo: Jon Weiskircher
Devil’s Head Fire Lookout
Distance from Denver: 1-hour drive
Hike: 2.5 miles (out and back), moderate
Beer: 105 West Brewing Co.
Devil’s Head Fire Lookout, situated close by Sedalia, features the only fire lookout in the state, putting it on the National Register of Historic Places. If you are visiting with family or kids, this is a great day hike to explore not only the historical significance of this site but also the incredible panoramic views of the nearby Pikes Peak. Only 60 minutes away from downtown Denver, it’s one of the closest spots to access the best views of the mountains.
At the trailhead, you’ll begin by meandering through a patch of tall aspen trees and eventually into a large meadow. The hike itself is easy to moderate with 900 feet of elevation. In Colorado terms, that’s child’s play (being from sea level, we must admit we are usually gasping for air regardless). Upon reaching the meadow you will see a lookout tower in the distance. Climb the 143 steps, you’ll reach the top of the fire tower where you may be greeted by Bill Ellis or his wife, who have been serving as the operators of the fire tower for over 25 years.
Later, drive a few miles south to Castle Rock for an afternoon ale and some carb-loaded grub. A variety of breweries to choose from, our favorite in the area is 105 West Brewing Co. Relatively unknown by Denverites due to a saturation of craft breweries in the Front Range, the brewers at 105 West can whip out some hopped beers that are sure to stand up against those idolized in the city. Refresh yourself with a Blood Orange Gose or experiment with the Nutella-inspired Deez Nuts. After a long day in the sun and heat, nothing is more refreshing than a Colorado microbrew and a plate of food truck gastronomy.
Photo: Kimon Berlin
Distance from Denver: 1.5-hour drive
Hike: 8.5 miles (out and back), difficult
Beer: Rock Cut Brewing Co.
If you want to get after it, Chasm Lake is an admirable ascent. Resting in a high alpine cirque of Rocky Mountain National Park, adjacent to a family of lakes and pools, lies this quintessential Colorado lake. To access this area it is recommended to have a guide book or map in hand as the many diverting trails of the park can get a bit confusing. Sights of Colorado’s state flower, the Columbine, alongside stretches of krummholz, a type of twisted wood will come into view. Don’t work too hard in the beginning, this is a longer hike and you will want to pace yourself. At the 2.2 mile marker, the terrain will change from forested spruce cover to exposed subalpine country. You will then continue to follow the trail until arriving at Chasm Lake. At an elevation of 11,540 feet with jetting fourteener peaks, including the infamous Longs Peak seemingly so close, it’s time to take the camera out.
Following a gratifying yet exhausting trip to Chasm Lake, head over to the town of Estes Park. It’s famous for the Stanley Hotel (Kubrick’s inspiration for the hotel in “The Shining”) and beautiful views of eclipsing rocky mountains. There are quite a few breweries to check out, but we recommend Rock Cut Brewing. Once you’ve caught your breath and are situated, a must-try is the Galactic Portal, a New England-style IPA.
Photo: Doss Imaging
Distance from Denver: 45-minute drive
Hike: 5.5 miles (out and back), difficult
Beer: Smokin’ Yards
Mount Evans is the most accessible of Colorado's fourteeners and a good place to try out your first high-elevation hike. The trailhead for the West Ridge route starts right at the parking lot of the park—it’s that accessible. Remember to take breaks and pack some snacks so that when you make it to the top, you’ll have a feeling of utter appreciation for the nature surrounding you rather than a pounding headache from the elevation. Experience unworldly views of topographic mountains as far as you can see. Oh, and don’t forget to bring your hand-crafted cardboard sign and celebratory beer to take a picture with at the top.
Feel that? If on your way down from the peak you begin to feel lightheaded and off-balance, it's a sign of altitude sickness. You will want to find some electrolytes and Dramamine—an easy add to the backpack. Before heading back to Denver, make a pit stop in Idaho Springs. This quaint little mining town is home to some of the best barbecue in the Front Range. A spot well tracked by skiers, riders, and hikers after a long day’s workout on the mountain, is the cult favorite, Smokin' Yards. Exhibiting a mouthwatering menu—alongside some damn good pickles and boiled peanuts, it should not be overlooked. Make it in time for some burnt ends paired with a draft beer and you may just have to make it a routine. Take a slow drive back to Denver and get ready for an early night’s sleep.
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