Top 3 Beginner Backpacking Trips in Colorado's Front Range

By: Eric Schuette
April 6, 2015

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When people think of summer in Colorado, one of the experiences most likely to put a smile on your face is backpacking. Backpacking in the mountains of Colorado is one of those activities that everyone has to experience (yes, has to). Although you will have to carry a little extra weight: the experience of setting up a camp, watching the stars come out, and waking up to the sun just cresting the horizon is often an unforgettable one. It is also an activity that can be a little intimidating at first, especially in knowing some great places for beginners. Here are 3 destinations that are easy, fun, and beautiful!

1. Sandbeach Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Sandbeach Lake is a popular hiking and backpacking destination in the park. Sandbeach Lake can be reached via 4.4 mile trail starting at the Sandbeach Lake Trailhead in the Wild Basin section of Rocky Mountain National park. Wild Basin does not see the same number of crowds as the rest of the park, but that is only due to the length of hikes and not the beauty that lies ahead of you. In fact, many seasoned hikers would rate this area as having some of the grandest scenery in the Front Range. Mt. Meeker will be standing proudly above you, ancient bristlecone pines line the shore, one of the finer alpine beaches in the park, and the possibility of catching a native greenback cutthroat trout all contribute to the wonderful experience you are likely to have here. Sandbeach Lake has several backcountry campsites but one must get a permit. Permits can be purchased at the backcountry office located next to the Rocky Mountain National Park’s beaver meadows visitor center. Learn More.

Inside Tip: Sandbeach Lake is considered by many to be the finest autumn hike in the Wild Basin area.

2. Rogers Peak and Heart Lakes in the James Peak Wilderness

Rogers and Heart Lake are beautiful lakes that sit high in the James Peak Wilderness. Both lakes can be reached via a 4 mile trail from the East Portal Trailhead. The lakes sit at treeline and offer numerous opportunities to pitch a tent. The peaks surrounding the lakes offer an excellent backdrop to relax or for the more adventurous a short but steep trail climbs to the continental divide where you can reach several the summits of several mountains. There are no permits needed for camping in the area but restrictions do apply (one should look into wilderness camping prior to any trip) including gas only stoves, no campfires, and keeping your campsite back 100 feet from water sources. Learn More.

Inside Tip: The fishing in Heart Lake can be very good and often people make the trek for that reason alone.

3. Crystal Lakes Near Breckenridge

There are several popular and beautiful areas around Breckenridge that are popular for campers and backpackers. The Crystal Lakes are considered by many to be one of the highlights. Although one can reach the lower lake with a 4-wheel drive vehicle, most opt to walk the 2.5 miles from the Spruce Creek Trailhead. Most camping is done at the lower lake but with time the upper lake is another 1.9 miles and is a beautiful destination. This area can be busy during weekends but during the week (or early weekend risers) will find ample camping spots around the lake. Restrictions are few but it is always a good idea to check with the White River National Forest office to be safe. Learn More.

Inside Tip: The area around and above Crystal Lakes can be very good for viewing mountain goats and bighorn sheep. Smaller animals such as pikas, ptarmigan, and marmots are also plentiful.

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.