Top Trails and Ales in Colorado

A taste of the Centennial State’s best craft brews and backcountry hikes

Colorado is a beer lover’s mecca. The state boasts 284 craft breweries, or 7.3 breweries per 100,000 residents of legal drinking age, ranking third in the U.S., according to the Brewers Association’s most recent data. And its seemingly infinite backcountry is overflowing with numerous trails that begin just around the bend or down a dusty road from many of those breweries.

Below are some of Colorado’s best trails and ales. But because the list represents only a fraction of what’s out there, consider it a sampler pack, a flight, a mere taster tray that should inspire you to further explore our broader offerings. Venture throughout the state in search of great hikes. And bottoms up as you raise a glass of Colorado craft beer to toast the adventures just completed—and the ones yet to come.

Mountain Sun Pub and Brewery: Boulder

Picking a favorite Boulder brewery is like picking a favorite child or dog. You love them all equally. But there’s a lot to love about the always packed Mountain Sun Pub and Brewery, which has been serving up good beer, good food, and good vibes since 1993. This Pearl Street institution is one of the closest breweries to Boulder’s best hikes, and sipping a Colorado Kind Ale, FYIPA, or other tasty selection paired with a bison burger (Insider tip: on a pretzel bun!) is an apt reward for summiting a nearby peak.

[Mount Sanitas Loop] Just as breweries abound in Boulder, so do trails. One of the most popular is Mount Sanitas, a 3.2-mile loop steep enough to warrant a cold brew afterward but close enough to knock out after work. Interesting etymological note: The peak is named for the Boulder Sanitarium and therefore the correct pronunciation is SAN-eh-tas (emphasis on the first syllable), not san-EE-tis.

Dog tired on the Summit, Mount Sanitas, Boulder | Photo: Sandy Smit

Dog tired on the Summit, Mount Sanitas, Boulder | Photo: Sandy Smith

[Bear Peak] Closer to Mountain Sun’s sister pub, Southern Sun Pub and Brewery, the 5.7-mile-long hike to Bear Peak is one of the top-rated in all of Colorado. The 2,649 feet of elevation gain lead to sweeping views of Pikes Peak, Longs Peak, Lyons, and Fort Collins on a clear day. It’s a “must-do hike for Boulder locals and visitors alike,” according to Hiking Project editor Brian Smith.

Broken Compass Brewing: Breckenridge

After exploring the Summit County backcountry, set your coordinates for Broken Compass Brewing Co. and then get lost—the brewery’s tagline—in its wide array of brews. All the pours are worth a taste, but top choices include the award-winning Ginger Pale Ale (which took silver in the Herb and Spice Beer category at the 2016 Great American Beer Festival), the signature Coconut Porter, and the Chili Pepper Pale Ale. Breckenridge has many après hiking locales, but there’s no better place to get your bearings than Broken Compass.

[Mohawk Lakes] The out-and-back Mohawk Lakes Trail takes hikers past three lakes: Mayflower, Lower Mohawk, and Upper Mohawk, as well as the cabins and equipment of an old, deserted gold mine. Hiking Project staffer Tom Robson says Mohawk Lakes Trail is “a fairly easy hike providing awesome views from a high alpine lake.”

Mohawk Lakes | Photo: Sandy Smith

Mohawk Lakes | Photo: Sandy Smith

[Peaks Trail] Popular with mountain bikers and hikers, the eight-mile Peaks Trail connecting Frisco and Breckenridge is a perfect trek along the Tenmile Range before après festivities commence.

Rock Cut Brewing: Estes Park

After hiking in neighboring Rocky Mountain National Park, head to Estes Park’s Rock Cut Brewing Co., one of a few craft breweries in this gateway to many of Colorado’s top trails, to revel in and recap the day’s explorations. Ample outdoor seating provides good views of surrounding mountains and makes a picturesque setting for enjoying a Kind Coffee Cascadian Ale, which Rock Cut brews by adding Kind Coffee to its Black IPA.

Rock Cut Brewing, Estes Park | Photo: Sandy Smith

Rock Cut Brewing, Estes Park | Photo: Sandy Smith

[Sky Pond] Rated the third-best hike in Colorado, the hike to Sky Pond takes you along a canyon, through heavy woods, and eventually to Timberline Falls and two alpine lakes. Beware as it’s “a little longer than suggested on the app, but a phenomenal hike nonetheless,” says Hiking Project user Alex Hagen. But “the scramble is just challenging enough and the views are great.”

Telluride Brewing: Telluride

On the edge of this box canyon ski town, just off of Highway 145 and tucked away in a strip mall, Telluride Brewing Co. attracts the area’s hardiest adventurers after a day on the trails. Its Bridal Veil Rye Pale Ale is the perfect post-hike beer, while Tempter is one of the best IPAs in Colorado. Face Down Brown took home Bronze at the 2016 Great American Beer Festival in the American-Style Brown Ale category.

[Telluride Trail] Hike up and back down this trail that doubles as a blue ski run in winter, or take the gondola up and just hike down. Before your descent, however, stop for some panoramic photos of Telluride below and the jagged peaks in every direction.

Telluride Trail | Photo: Sandy Smith

Telluride Trail | Photo: Sandy Smith

[Bear Creek Falls] An essential falls destination in Telluride, the trail also leads to other hikes, including Ballard Mountain, La Junta Basin, Wasatch Trail #508 and Gold Hill, among others.

Very Nice Brewing: Nederland

“We are here to drink beer. We are here to kill war. We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that death will tremble to take us.” This Charles Bukowski quote adorns a wall behind the bar at Nederland’s Very Nice Brewing Co., which is indeed the ideal spot to drink beer and live well whether you hiked nearby Indian Peaks Wilderness, made turns at Eldora Mountain Resort or paid homage to Grandpa Bredo during Ned’s signature event, Frozen Dead Guy Days.

Very Nice Brewing | Photo: Sandy Smith

Very Nice Brewing | Photo: Sandy Smith

[High Lonesome Loop] A long hike (16.5 miles) with plenty of vertical (3,353 feet), High Lonesome Loop begins at the Hessie trailhead and is a “backcountry trail providing the best of high alpine hiking, with stunning views along the Divide,” says Hiking Project user Tiffanie Beal.

[Arapaho Glacier Trail] Access the popular Arapaho Glacier Trail by heading a few miles up the Peak to Peak Highway from Nederland and going west toward Rainbow Lakes Trailhead.

This article is part of our Trails and Ales column, where we highlight the best hikes by the best breweries near you.