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Easy hikes are plentiful in Denver area

DAN ELLIOTTthe associated press
AP file photoThe sun reflects off of the surface of Blue Lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area west of Boulder in this August 2004 file photo during a hike through the wilderness by Associated Press reporter Dan Elliott.
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DENVER – Visitors who want an easy ramble on a gentle path or a lungful of thin air on a high-country trail can find what they’re looking for on dozens of hikes within an hour or two of downtown Denver.There’s no shortage of advice, either, with guidebooks ranging from “Walkin’ The Dog Denver” to “Best Hikes with Children in Colorado.”Brenda Porter, education director for the Colorado Mountain Club, likes the Horseshoe Trail at Golden Gate Canyon State Park, about an hour’s drive from downtown.

“Great for families,” she said. “It follows a little stream, there’s lots of wildflowers, you kind of get that mountain feeling and you don’t have to fight I-70.”Interstate 70, the main route from Denver through the mountains, is sometimes congested with vacationers and trucks.Photographer John Fielder recommends Roxborough State Park, about 40 minutes southwest of Denver. Easy-to-moderate trails wind through towering red rock spires, scrub oak, cottonwoods and Ponderosa pine.

“It’s a place I enjoy retreating when I don’t have time to go further into the mountains,” said Fielder, whose books include “Colorado 1870-2000,” which matches his photos with ones taken more than a century earlier by William Henry Jackson.For hikers looking for more of a challenge, the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area offers rigorous but not formidable trails. Gary Neptune, owner of Neptune Mountaineering in nearby Boulder, recommends a hike to Blue Lake in the Indian Peaks.”You’d definitely get above timberline and you’re surrounded by these fairly spectacular peaks,” said Neptune, who has climbed to the summits of some of the world’s highest mountains, including Mount Everest. “You have a beautiful lake (and) a lot of these elements that make it rugged-feeling.”

About a two-hour drive north of Denver is Rocky Mountain National Park, with 359 miles of trails. You can follow a paved, wheelchair-accessible path around Bear Lake or take strenuous hikes up 12,000- to 14,000-foot peaks.A brief foray above treeline – about 11,000 feet in Colorado – can be exhilarating for nearly anyone, but extended stays require conditioning and preparation. Altitude sickness can range from unpleasant to dangerous, and lightning storms form over the peaks nearly every summer afternoon.Adventurers can entertain themselves indoors, too. Sandwiched among the shiny alloys and high-tech fabrics at Neptune Mountaineering are museum-like displays of old mountaineering gear, some used on historic climbs.And the tiny ranger’s cabin at the Longs Peak trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park has a 3-D map of the park’s 14,255-foot mountain.


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