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  • Writer's pictureVien R. Guenther

Hiking in Arapaho National Forest, Colorado, U.S.A

Updated: Jul 30, 2023

One area in Colorado that you can hike in without driving far is Arapaho National Forest. In this forest are six officially designated wilderness areas - Byers Peak Wilderness, Indian Peaks Wilderness, James Peak Wilderness, Mount Evans Wilderness, Never Summer Wilderness and Vasquez Peak Wilderness. The area provides outdoor adventures all year-round. Whatever your preference is, there is plenty for outdoor enthusiasts to pursue such as hunting and camping, off-roading, winter sports and of course, hiking.


Arapaho National Forest was established on July 1, 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt. It consists of 723,744 acres largely encompassing Grand and Clear Creek Counties. It actually extends over into neighboring counties so some trails cross county lines. Arapaho National Forest includes the high Rockies and river valleys, parts of the Colorado River and the South Platte River. It straddles the Continental Divide as well.

James Peak (l) and Parry Peak (r) Arapaho National Forest

- HIKING -

There are many trails that we hike in Arapaho National Forest. We only do day hikes and each of these trails varies from moderate to hard. Some might find the trails easy but not for others so it depends on your hiking capabilities and acclimatization. Some of the trails here start at high elevation so you have to consider if you are a "flatlander", or not used to thin air. Acclimating yourself first will prevent you from getting sick and will give you a much better hiking experience. Here are some of the best trails to hike.


BUTLER GULCH TRAIL – 6 miles round trip

This trail, located in Clear Creek County, is popular for winter sports – snowshoers, back country skiers and cross country skiers – but in summer this is one of our favorite trails for wildflowers. Besides that, the view itself is worth hiking here.

TO GET HERE

From Denver to the trail is a little over an hour drive via I-70 W. Take Exit 232 (US-40 W) through Empire. Turn left to Jones Pass/Henderson Mine (County Road 202) then follow the road for 2.6 miles, the trailhead is on the left.

Waterfalls along the trail

The trail follows an old mining road. You will be in the shadow of the trees most of the way and there are some steep trail segments and soggy crossings but once you reach above tree line the view opens up. But before that, about 1.5 miles from the beginning of the trail, you will pass a cascading waterfall.


Above tree line is where you will find meadows full of wildflowers, right alongside the steepest part of the trail. We spend more of our time here than anywhere else on the trail I think. How could you not? Butler Gulch is home to over 100 species of wildflowers. A paradise for wildflower lovers.

Indian Paintbrush

Below the ridge of the Continental Divide are some rusted remnants (old machinery) of an old mine. This area is the abandoned Jean Mine which once produced lead. It's now part of the landscape and quite interesting to hang out there for a few minutes looking at the machinery. Hermann sure loves to sit on this old rusted vehicle every time we come up here.

Some remnants of the Jean Mine
Let's go for a ride!

The trail does not end at the mine - it continues up to the ridge where you can see an even more spectacular view. They call this whole trail "lollipop loop trail" because of the shape looking down from above. If you want to hike the Butler Gulch/Lollipop Loop Trail you have to start early so you won't get caught in an afternoon thunderstorm, which is very common in Colorado.

 

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