One of the things that we enjoy about living in Colorado is our access to a wide variety of trails to go hiking. Especially during the summer when the wildflowers are blooming and getting into the mountains can be a great escape from the heat of the Front Range. We will often see tourist from out of the state on the trails and often they are not prepared for hiking in the altitude on what can be sometimes some rough terrain. People in Colorado will often refer to those people who come from states that don’t have mountains and are closer to sea level as “flatlanders”. Here are some tips for anyone who plans to go hiking in the Rocky Mountains.
- Stay hydrated – Colorado actually has a very dry climate and when you combine that with the altitude, it is very easy to get dehydrated. We normally recommend to people visiting the state that they do a combination of water and sports drinks so that they can stay hydrated and replace electrolytes. At a minimum, you should have a water bottle with you when you are hiking, but if you are going to hike for more than an hour, you should probably consider investing in a CamelBak that has a large water pouch so that you know you’ll have enough water.
- Know your limitations – Get information on the trail that you are going to hike before you go. You can get information from local stores that sell hiking equipment or use an app like All Trails to get information. Trail ratings are usually Easy, Moderate, or Hard, but be aware that if you are doing a trail with any kind of elevation gain, even a moderate trail can be quite difficult. There are some trails where you have scramble over boulders or walk next to steep cliffs, so inexperienced hikers can get injured or worse if they push themselves beyond their limits. And it is important to understand that sometimes going down is more difficult that going up, so keep that in mind while you are hiking.
- Wear and carry sunscreen as well as bug spray – Even at the base of the mountains, you are usually at 6,000 feet (1,800 meters) and then the elevation increases as you hike. That means that you are closer to the sun, which means that even on an overcast day, there is the risk of getting sunburn. Also, there are ticks in the forests and a lot of trails go near streams, waterfalls, or end at lakes and reservoirs, which means that there can be mosquitos. Colorado doesn’t have a lot of bugs, but you should be prepared.
- Carry a first-aid kit, compass, and small flashlight – Mishaps can happen and you want to have at least some wipes and Band-Aids in case someone gets some scrapes and bruises. There have been plenty of times where the trails are not as well marked as one might expect and it is possible to lose your way off of the trail if you are not careful. Many people rely on their smart phones for a flashlight and compass, but if something happens to your phone it is better to have the real thing. Also, you are likely not to have cell service in the mountains, so a compass app won’t be able to find your location. If you are going on a shorter hike, the flashlight and compass are not necessarily needed, but you should always have the first-aid kit.
- Wear appropriate footwear – You don’t have to buy hiking boots or shoes, but you need to at least wear shoes with soles that grip. Almost any trail is going to have loose stones and gravel that can be slippery to walk on and you will likely be walking on larger rocks and tree stumps. Nothing will ruin your hike quicker than slipping and falling on the trail. It is also important to wear shoes that are comfortable and have been broken in so that you don’t end up with blisters. We don’t recommend open toed shoes of any kind for hiking, even if they have good gripping soles. Snakes, prickly bushes, and other obstacles could easily get to your feet.
- Pay attention to the weather – Storms can come quickly in the mountains and often you won’t see the clouds building due to the peaks that are surrounding you. Colorado gets more lightening strikes than most other states and your proximity to the clouds that produce them makes them even more dangerous. It doesn’t have to be raining for lightening to occur, so always be alert to any changing weather conditions. Even when the forecast doesn’t indicate storms, the weather in Colorado can be unpredictable and forecasts are often wrong.
- Be alert for wildlife – Seeing animals when you are hiking can be a wonderful experience, but only if you see them before they see you. There are bears, elk, moose, deer, wild turkeys, and many other animals in the mountains of Colorado. When you are in bear country, it is wise to make noise while you are hiking or hike on trails that are hiked by a greater number of hikers. However, just because other people are on the trail ahead of you, don’t assume that means that you won’t see wildlife, their routes often take them across the trails and it could just be that they get there between groups of hikers.
- Take breaks and look around – First of all, you are likely to get winded easily, so it is important not to over exert yourself. Secondly, the views from most trails are wonderful, whether seeing valleys, other mountain peaks, or just the beauty of an Aspen grove, there is much to see. You can often find yourself staring down at your feet, trying not to trip on the rocks that are on the trail, and missing the wonderful sights that are all around you. You went on a hike to get into nature, be sure not to miss seeing it.
Hiking is one of the most pleasurable experiences where you truly get to enjoy nature at its finest. With a little precaution, you can ensure that your hiking experience will be one that you will treasure forever. With so many trails in Colorado to choose from, pick the one that is right for you and take advantage of seeing some of the beauty that this wonderful state has to offer.