Waterton Canyon (credit: CBS)Waterton Canyon (credit: CBS)

Colorado bids winter and ski season a fond farewell and welcomes the warm and adventurous fun of summer hiking. The Denver area offers a variety of trails all within an hour’s drive of downtown. Now is the time to grab the CamelBak and hiking boots and take off work early. Ditch the gardening plans, pack up the car with the kids and the picnic baskets and explore the weekend away from the air-conditioned family room. The newly bloomed flowers and thick green grass and trees are just begging to be explored.

Castlewood Canyon
2989 Colorado 83
Franktown, CO 80116
(303) 688-5242

For those who prefer the early morning hike before the temperatures spike, there is a hiking spot just outside of Franktown off Highway 83 called Castlewood Canyon State Park. The mountains are not the only place to find meadows, unusual rock formations, streams and ruins of days past; this park happens to be a hidden treasure out east. There are about seven miles filled with a wide variety of trails with difficulties ranging from easy to somewhat difficult.  Near the breathtaking waterfall sit the remains the historical Castlewood Dam which was built back in 1890. Along the hike, visitors may find amazing wildlife including beavers, chipmunks, bighorn sheep, river otters, bald eagles and falcons.

Waterton Canyon
12250 S. Platte River Road
Littleton, CO 80125
(303) 791-7275

Mountain magic and metro close, the beauty and fun of Waterton Canyon is just a 45-minute drive from Denver. With its easy elevation climb and wide and well-graded path, this trail is the ideal family hiking and biking spot for the entire family. The start of the trail has multiple sheltered and unsheltered picnic tables with which to spend an entire day. For the highly ambitious hikers, Waterton Canyon connects to the famous Colorado Trail system which continues all the way to Durango, as well as the Roxborough State Park trail system. Bird-watching enthusiasts will have more than 40 species of birds to search and photograph as well as the common sight of big horn sheep and mule deer.

Carpenter Peak Trail
4571 Roxborough Drive
Littleton, CO 80125
(303) 973-3959

Just a 25-mile drive south of Denver sits the stunning red rock beauty of Roxborough State Park. Well known for its stark red rocks, six diverse nature trails, wildlife and foliage labeled for learning, this park is the perfect way to spend a day. For those looking for more than a nature walk, the Carpenter Peak Trail is not only a decent hiking challenge, it happens to mix in incredible aspens and pines as hikers gain 1,000 feet in elevation. Although the hike can easily be done in tennis shoes, hiking boots are recommended because of the minor rock scrambling at the peak. At the end of this 6.4-mile hike, the reward is a panoramic view of downtown Denver and the entire Roxborough area. Because of the lower elevation, this three-hour journey should be done outside the high heat of the day and a water bottle is a must.

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Deer Creek Canyon Park        
13200 Deer Creek Canyon Road
Littleton, CO 80127
(720) 865-0900

Deer Creek Canyon Park offers both nature walks and challenging trails for every taste. Like other trails close to Denver, the lower elevation brings in the heat and plenty of drinking water is a must. Take the Meadowlark Trail on the left side to get the heart started early. Within minutes, this path takes its hiker up a consistent steep trek with plenty of switchbacks and rocks. Not only is the sense of accomplishment worth the steep climb, the panoramic views of Denver and Littleton will make it all worthwhile. The families who bring their little ones will have some nice flat walking with some beautiful meadows filled with flowers and grasses.

Flatirons Vista Trailhead
66 S. Cherryvale Road
Boulder, CO 80303
(303) 441-3440

Flatirons Vista Trailhead offers either a leisurely hike through fields of green grass, meadow flowers and scattered ponderosa pine trees or a tough workout. With the stark mountains in the distance and the colorful wildflowers in the foreground, this trail is a 3.3-mile loop headed out westward and upward. Hikers can enjoy the beauty of the Flatirons without the crowds and the busy Boulder streets. The climb to the top is gradual and a bit unforgiving for those who are not used to long hikes. Plenty of water, snacks and breaks to take in the scenery will make this trek well worth the visit.

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Colleen Bement is a freelance writer covering all things Denver. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.