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Length: 3.6 miles round-trip
Why we love it: It’s one of the easiest and closest hikes to Denver from which you can enjoy fabulous views of Rocky Mountain National Park
When to go: Late spring through early fall, once most of the snow has melted
Pre- or post-hike buzz: Start your day at Estes Park’s Kind Coffee for organic, fair-trade sherpa chai, plus a bacon, sausage, or veggie breakfast burrito
Restrooms: Port-o-lets at the trailhead
Dogs: Allowed on leash
Entry fee: $9
Larimer County’s Hermit Park Open Space has several worthwhile hikes—all of which are just an hour outside of Denver. Our favorite is the 3.6-mile round-trip Kruger Rock Trail, a route that, despite climbing 1,000 vertical feet in elevation, offers a mellow gradient conquerable by older children and adults.
Once a working cattle ranch, this land was purchased in the late 1960s by Hewlett Packard to use as a corporate retreat. Fortunately for hikers, Larimer County bought the 1,362-acre parcel in 2007 and opened this park to the public the following year.
It doesn’t take long to discover why this land was so desirable; in the first 0.4 miles from the trailhead, the route climbs gently through ponderosa pines, open grasslands, and a pretty grove of quaking aspen. It then passes some large granite blocks before reaching the only junction. After continuing straight to remain on the signed Kruger Rock Trail, the route soon reaches a low saddle with a dramatic view of the Colorado Front Range. This includes Hallett Peak, Mt. Wuh, and Colorado’s northernmost fourteener, Longs Peak, whose sheer, 1,000-foot-high, glacially carved face is called the Diamond.
From the saddle, the trail gets steeper as it zig-zags up Kruger Rock’s northeast ridge. The higher you climb, the better the views become, and all too soon you’ll reach the end of the hike at the base of the massive granite block for which the trail is named. This rock is split by a crack large enough for kids to crawl into and explore. There’s also a large, flat area ideal for spreading out a picnic and feasting on the panoramic views before retracing your steps to the car.
Getting there: From Denver, take I-25 north to its junction with SR 66. Continue on SR 66 to the town of Lyons. At the town’s last traffic light, where U.S. 36 and CO 7 split, turn right to continue following U.S. 36 toward Estes Park for an additional 16.4 miles. Just after you see a sign for Hermit Park Open Space, turn left under the park’s entrance arch and follow the road to the self-service fee station, which only accepts cards. After paying, continue driving up the steep but 2WD-friendly dirt road, staying left at the Y-junction with the Hermit’s Hollow Campground and then straight at the next junction 2.4 miles from the pavement (despite the sign indicating there are trails to the left). 0.1 miles past this sign, turn right into the Kruger Rock trailhead parking area.