Rocky Mountain Weekender:: Happy trails to you

Ah, summer in Colorado. Unlike some places, this is a state where you can beat the heat. When the Front Range’s mercury rises above one’s personal comfort level, all you need to do is head up. I grew up in Monument, about 2,000 feet above Denver, and there’s still no better place to head for dinner on a hot night. When it’s pushing 100 degrees Fahrenheit in Denver, it’s usually a mellow 80 at Mom and Dad’s.

And there’s no better way to enjoy the high country than hitting the trails. Following are five of my favorite backpacking and hiking trips I’ve taken in the state.

1. Four Pass Loop, Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area: I backpacked this route a few years ago and can’t recommend it enough. Located in the picture-perfect chunk of the Rockies between Crested Butte and Aspen, the Four Pass Loop is named for (surprise) its four passes (West Maroon, Frigid Air, Trail Rider, and Buckskin). In all, it’s about 10,000 feet of elevation gain over 28 miles, and typically requires three days if you cover two passes in the most grueling of said days. The workout pays off, however, in the form of the views of red rock, green leaves, and blue sky, and the crystalline alpine lakes are full of trout. You can even sneak into civilization for a night in the form of Crested Butte (or Aspen, if you started in Crested Butte). That’s the easy way out, sure, but you still have to go back in if you want to get back to your car.

2. Colorado Trail/Ben Tyler Trail, Lost Creek Wilderness Area: Just 50 miles southwest of Denver, the Lost Creek Wilderness Area is a gem of a camping and hiking spot, with a developed campground, primitive camping galore, a nice assortment of ponds and streams to fish, and a terrific confluence of hiking trails, including the Denver-to-Durango Colorado Trail and the shorter Ben Tyler Trail. For car camping and great hiking, it’s hard to do better any closer to Denver.

3. High Dune, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve: You can’t backpack it, no, but the sense of accomplishment that comes with the top of the highest point in the Great Sand Dunes is still superlative. That might be because you lose six inches or so to the sand every step up, so the 1,000-foot gain seems more like 1,500. But bring your saucer sled or dogeared snowboard-there are always gravity fiends hers in the summer in search of a downhill fix.

4. Colfax Avenue, Denver: Okay, this one involves a sidewalk, not a trail: I hiked one of the country’s longest urban streets-perhaps the longest-for my book, Ramble Colorado, in 2007, and it remains one of my favorite backpacking trips I’ve taken. I stayed in cheap motels instead of pitching a tent, ate at Casa Bonita instead of boiling up a freeze-dried dinner, and got back to my car on a bus instead of having to hoof it back. Three days, 30-plus miles, and

5. Weminuche Wilderness Area: By far the state’s largest wilderness area-it’s more than twice the size of the second largest, the Flat Tops-the Weminuche is a true hiking and backpacking destination. It’s popular because of its three fourteeners, its access from the Durango-Silverton Railroad (riders can get off at a trailhead), and its in-your-face beauty. I’ve done some day hiking here from Big Meadows Reservoiur to the Continental Divide, but I’m chomping at the bit for my backpacking trip here next month.

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