The 3 best healing hiking trails near Denver, Colorado

The beauty of living in Colorado near mountains and hiking trails is the welcoming presence of nature at any time. It offers no judgment and soothes with its quiet, its cool dry breezes and sheltering trees. 

It’s a constant reminder that change and the seasons are always with us and that time moves slowly in the natural world.

We are not the consistently efficient vehicles of a technological world able to start and stop with the flick of a switch; nor will we be made whole again overnight.

When everything came crashing down in my life, I desperately needed something to hold onto – something that could bring me even an hour’s peace from the pain and chaos.

I found it each day hiking these trails near my home in Denver. No matter the time of day, when I felt and believed that I could break into a million pieces and that nothing would ever make sense again, I could head out and just begin walking—sometimes crying hysterically—most times with my hair a mess and my clothes pulled from the laundry bin.

I could feel myself healing during my constant hikes into this world and found 3 particular trails that were especially comforting and interesting.

If you are in need of this type of inspiration and renewal I recommend trying one or all of the following: 

The Cherry Hills Trail just south of Quincy Avenue in the southeast part of the city

The path opens on to fields with lakes and panoramic views of Mt. Evans and the foothills.

Go at dawn on a weekday for the soft light and bird songs and friendly fellow hikers out with their dogs.

There’s an elusive coyote that I encountered on some days who, I liked to believe, kept watch over me.

If you hike far enough along the winding turns you will find an old cottonwood tree that’s particularly inspirational. It’s been struck by lightning, carved into by some long-ago lovers and is impaled by rusty nails which I like to think once held a ladder to a secret hideaway. 

Some of its largest limbs have been cut away and its weathered bark reminds me of my grandmother’s skin in her nineties. Yet it stands huge and strong with its remaining branches reaching for the sky—a reminder that a long life takes its toll and still we can go on with what we have left.

(Go south on Colorado Blvd to Quincy. Turn left on Quincy and go about ½ mile to Dahlia St. where you will turn right and park in the parking lot at the end of the road.)

The trail along Bear Creek at Lair o’ the Bear Open Space between Morrison and Evergreen

I went here for the pervasive constant sound of rushing water. The easy dirt path that runs alongside the creek is great if you’re low on energy. 

Try it on a weekday in the early morning or just a few hours before dusk. You’ll share the trail with fishermen and quickly head into a canyon with steep rock walls rising across the river. 

Enjoy fording the small streams that cross the path and eventually you will round a bend and the site of a castle emerging through the trees is a startling surprise!  

The stone structure is built into the side of the canyon and impossible to see from Morrison Road just above it.

Surrounded by lush lawns, most times it sits in its mysterious silence. But sometimes you can find yourself witness to a summer wedding. 

I found such comfort in realizing the world went on with happiness even when my world had none and that someday it might be mine again. 

Return along the same route and stop for a time under the trees by the creek for some extended reflection—especially on an autumn day when the clouds roll in and the wind picks up.

(Take 470 to the Morrison Road exit and go west through Morrison past Idledale for a few miles until you see the large sign to the left.  Park anywhere in the large lot.)

Dowdy Draw Trail near Eldorado Canyon outside of Boulder  

The best time to go is near sunset on spring or fall evenings. 

I went for the sound of the birds and the wind and for the the wide-open expanse of the sky and Flatirons carpeted by huge fields of wildflowers in late spring. 

This trail, though easy for the most part, eventually rises steeply to the pine ridge above.  It’s in open grassland with no shade so don’t attempt it on a hot summer day.

I liked going in the evenings—not only for the sunset colors but also for the chance to hear a train far up on the side of the mountain echoing off the canyon wall.

It reminded me of the whistle I heard every night when I was young lying in my safe cozy bed. Just for a moment I could be there again.

This trail is the least-crowded and offers the most solitude, although you may find yourself in the company of a deer or two walking down for a drink from the small creek.

(Take Hwy 93 out Golden about 15 miles until you see the turn to the left to Eldorado Springs. Go about 2 more miles until you see the Dowdy Draw Trailhead parking lot to the left and the Mesa Trailhead parking to the right. Park in either lot. Note: There is a $5 fee for non-Boulder residents).

Donna Opper Bessinger

Donna Opper Bessinger is a former teacher, design writer, wife. She is currently working on her new project "New World Woman Journeys" which focuses on women reinventing their lives. Tours in the Colorado Rockies begin summer 2016. Donna can be reached at donnabessinger@yahoo.com.

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