Backpacking in Colorado: TOP 5 Multi-Day Trails

Ultralight Backpacking in Colorado: A thru-hiker traversing the arid plains of Colorado

In this post, we'll take a look at:

Backpacking in Colorado offers immense variety for outdoor enthusiasts, from the rugged peaks of the Rocky Mountains to the stark desert landscapes of the Colorado Plateau, including popular destinations like Rocky Mountain National Park.

And that’s what this guide is all about – backpacking in Colorado. We’ll provide tips to help you prepare for backpacking in this diverse state as well as showcase the TOP 5 multi-day trails in Colorado.

Interested? Let’s get started.

Key Tips for Backpacking in Colorado

  • What to expect: Be prepared for high altitudes that can lead to altitude sickness. Even in summer, anticipate cool temperatures at night and in the morning, so dress in layers. Be cautious of afternoon thunderstorms and use bug spray for mosquitoes and flies until early July.
  • Essential gear: Bring lightweight layers, including shorts, pants, shirts, fleece, and a rain jacket for unpredictable weather. Pack a hat, gloves, and water filtration tools like a filter or tablets for hydration from streams and lakes. Include a bear canister for storing food safely. Carry a well-stocked first aid kit and a reliable GPS device or a map and compass for navigating mountainous areas without cell service.
  • Wildlife: Be wary of black bears, more active in spring and summer; mountain lions, usually avoiding people but a potential risk for solo adventurers; various rattlesnake species, thriving in drier parts and most active above 60°F; moose, displaying aggressive territorial behaviors; and disease-carrying ticks in warmer months. While bighorn sheep, elk, mountain goats, and prairie dogs may be on trails, they typically don’t directly threaten hikers.
  • Wild camping: You can camp freely in many Colorado National Forests and Bureau of Land Management areas, but it’s usually not allowed in National Parks, State Parks, and some protected zones. Even in permitted areas, there might be rules about where to camp, following Leave No Trace guidelines, and restrictions on campfires, especially in dry conditions when bans may apply.
  • Best times to go are from mid-July through September when daytime highs are warm but not sweltering and dramatic thunderstorms are less prevalent. The crowds thin out a bit in June and October as well. Whenever you go, be prepared for afternoon thunderstorms by getting an early start and stay below tree line in the afternoon. Spring has access issues due to mud and snow at high elevations.

Top 5 Backpacking Trails in Colorado

Here are the premier multi-day trails in Colorado that provide the greatest rewards:

1. Colorado Trail : Segment 6

The majestic snow-capped peaks of the Rocky Mountains tower behind a foreground of vibrant green pine trees and golden aspens in this beautiful daytime image of Breckenridge, Colorado

Length: 31.3 mi / 50.3 km
Type: Point to point
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 4934 ft / 1504 m
Location: Pike National Forest
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 3800 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

This challenging 31.3-mile Colorado Trail stretch from Kenosha Pass to Goldhill Trailhead winds through scenic aspen groves, creeks, and mountain passes gaining over 4,900 feet. Highlighted by the tough Georgia Pass climb with rewarding vistas and rocky descents, the well-maintained path offers light-to-moderate traffic for potential solitude. Camping abounds near water sources ideal for backpackers to resupply. Generally accessible late spring to early fall with trailhead parking, it provides a diverse multi-day mountain experience with intermittent cell service.

2. Kenosha Pass to Lost Creek Wilderness

Dark storm clouds loom over a rugged mountain peak while bright fall foliage lines the highway, creating a moody landscape in this autumn image overlooking Kenosha Pass in Colorado

Michael Kirsh, CC BY-SA 2.0, via flickr

Length: 30.3 mi / 48.7 km
Type: Point to point
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 3385 ft / 1032 m
Location: Pike National Forest
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 3500 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

The popular 30-mile point-to-point Colorado Trail near Jefferson offers a challenging yet scenic route for hiking, backpacking, and snowshoeing through aspen forests with phenomenal mountain views. Despite crowds at the trailhead parking, solitude can be found on this well-maintained trail during quieter times, especially deeper into the Lost Creek Wilderness area with its camping spots. Fall hiking provides stunning aspen colors at their peak along this diverse, year-round trail boasting spectacular scenery from start to finish as it winds through groves and up to breathtaking overlooks.

3. Sunlight Peak, Windom Peak, Mount Eolus via Animas River Trail

This scenic image captures a hiker descending from the summit of Mt. Eolus, a 14,083-foot peak in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, with the nearby summits of Sunlight Peak and Windom Peak visible in the distance

Mouser Williams, CC BY-SA 2.0, via flickr

Length: 38.4 mi / 61.8 km
Type: Out and back
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 10 741 ft / 3274 m
Location: Weminuche Wilderness
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 5100 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

This grueling 38.4-mile out-and-back near Rico, Colorado demands very experienced hikers, gaining over 10,700 feet across 22 hours. Passing mountain meadows and aspen groves, it ascends towering peaks like Mount Aeolus, potentially requiring up to Class 4 technical climbing skills. The driest, most comfortable conditions are late June through September. Day hikers can shorten the 6.67-mile approach via the Durango & Silverton Railroad. Primitive camping is available in Chicago Basin with required bear precautions. Though crowded weekends, weekdays offer solitude on this strenuous alpine challenge.

4. The Collegiate Loop

This panoramic image taken from the summit of Mount Harvard captures the dramatic line of the Collegiate Peaks mountain range stretching across the horizon in Colorado's Sawatch Range

Length: 153.3 mi / 246.7 km
Type: Loop
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 33 556 ft / 10 228 m
Location: Collegiate Peaks Wilderness
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 20 600 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

This grueling 153.3-mile loop trail near Buena Vista offers experienced backpackers stunning alpine scenery over an average 79-hour trek. The eastern section provides acclimation before the breathtaking western alpine vistas, especially under snow. Camping along the route and visiting June through September allows optimal conditions with fewer crowds for solitude. Wildlife like moose, bears, and chipmunks inhabit the area. A resupply stop at scenic Monarch Pass enables breaking up this multi-day journey to fully experience Colorado’s grandeur.

5. Snowmass, Haystack and Capital Peak Loop

This scenic photo captures the breathtaking natural splendor of Colorado's Maroon Bells, with verdant evergreen trees framing the symmetrical snow-dusted peaks reflected in the calm waters of a mountain lake

Length: 40.3 mi / 64.9 km
Type: Loop
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 11 227 ft / 3422 m
Location: Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 5300 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

This strenuous 40.3-mile loop backpacking trail near Aspen promises solitude and breathtaking alpine scenery over a challenging 2-3 day trek. Winding along creeks and through aspen groves, it climbs over mountain passes with potential for bushwhacking. Early summer allows ideal snow-free yet uncrowded conditions, though creek crossings and lingering snowfields require preparation. Highlights include camping at alpine Lake Capitol and reaching a western jeep road access. The high elevations necessitate acclimatization for this true Colorado wilderness adventure.

Annual Weather Averages

Colorado’s weather can vary widely depending on the region and elevation, so it’s important to consider the specific location and time of year:

  • Spring: Snow melting at lower elevations opens some trails, but mud, wetness, and snow make for difficult hiking at higher elevations. Unpredictable weather.
  • Summer: Warmest temps and most accessible trails, but afternoon thunderstorms likely especially July-August. Busiest season with most hikers.
  • Fall: Cooler temps, fewer bugs, aspens changing color. Snow possible above treeline. Crowds decrease after Labor Day.
  • Winter: Very cold temps and deep snow necessitate technical gear like snowshoes. Avalanche risks on some trails. Best for expert backpackers seeking solitude.

Before making your gear selection, take a look at the weather statistics for Colorado (Colorado Springs):

High °F444754616980848175645244
Low °F202329364453585749382821
Rain/Snow (D*)12357610105321
Note: This table is approximate; weather can change with altitude.
D* – Days of rain or snow.

Alternative Backpacking Destinations

Not sure if Colorado is right for you?

Don’t forget to check out our backpacking guides for Kansas and Utah.


Can I have a campfire while backpacking in Colorado? 

While backpacking in Colorado, you can have campfires, but there are some important regulations. Fires are only permitted in established fire rings in designated campgrounds. Outside of campgrounds, fires are banned when the local fire danger is rated as high or extreme – you must check with local officials on fire restrictions. 

What are some safety tips for backpacking in Colorado?

Check the weather before and during your trip, especially in higher areas where conditions can change quickly. Bring waterproof layers, extra food, and supplies in case of delays. Use a map, compass, or GPS for navigation. Inform local rangers of your route and return date. Hike with at least one person for safety. Carry first aid and communication devices. Bear-proof scented items and store food properly at night in your sleeping bag or bear canister. Be cautious of lightning during afternoon thunderstorms—seek low, open areas away from water and tall objects if a storm is coming during your explorations of the great outdoors and natural surroundings.

How to deal with wildlife encounters while backpacking in Colorado?

Use bear-resistant food containers and never keep food in your tent to avoid black bears. If you encounter a bear, make noise and back away slowly. Cougars rarely attack, but stay close to kids and don’t run if one is nearby—make noise, appear big, and back away slowly. Watch for rattlesnakes, give them space, and be cautious where you place hands and feet. Moose, especially females with calves, can be aggressive, so keep a distance and retreat if they display aggressive behavior. Other animals like deer, elk, coyotes, and birds usually pose no threat, but maintain a safe distance and avoid feeding them.

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Leading the pack is our editor-in-chief, Alex Jardine – an ultralight evangelist who's hiked over 10,000 trail miles across the globe. He's basically a walking outdoor encyclopedia. This dude loves testing out the latest and greatest products, so you can trust his recommendations are always well-informed and reliable.

We treat all our suggestions like advice from close trail buddies. No fluff, just real insights from folks who live and breathe the outdoor life.

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