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Colorado: Streaming With Beauty

Updated on March 20, 2011

There are many ways to experience the great outdoors in Colorado, but if you really want to explore the state's natural wonders, you have to get up close and personal. Here are 10 hikes designed to help you get in touch with the land:

1. Mount Goliath/M. Walter Pesman Alpine Garden Loop - A cornucopia of wildflowers renewed each spring, and trees as old as civilization itself, make this hike a favorite with naturalists.

Trail length: 3.0 miles round-trip
Location: Mount Evans
Elevation: 11,540 to 12,151 feet

This short but steep loop sends you scrambling up and back across the southern slopes of Mount Goliath, a sunny mountainside sprayed with an amazing variety of dazzling wildflowers. The trail leads you within hugging distance of ancient bristlecone pines, and across fragile alpine tundra. The shorter (and much easier) 0.5-mile Alpine Garden Loop Trail is accessed from the upper parking area. The M. Walter Pesman Trail is maintained by professionals and volunteers from the Denver Botanic Gardens, the Garden Club of Denver and the U.S. Forest Service. Free guided hikes are led by wildflower experts from the Denver Botanic Gardens. Prime viewing begins in mid-June and lasts through July.

2. Silver Dollar Lake - Getting there is half the fun.

Trail length: 3.0 miles round-trip
Location: Guanella Pass, Arapaho National Forest
Elevation: 11,200 to 11,950 feet

A meandering, rocky trail flanked with patches of wildflowers climbs steadily from the parking area, crossing a small creek several times and skirting around the south side of Naylor Lake (private). Hiking boots will help you wade the numerous rivulets of snowmelt along the way, including a couple of snow banks that are slow to melt. The lake is deep, blue and nestled at the base of a rocky peak where Rocky Mountain sheep often scramble on the shady ledges to settle in for a daytime nap. Ptarmigan, whistle pigs and voles will keep you company on your climb to the basin. A faint trail marks the way to the upper, smaller Murray Lake. A wonderful picnic spot against the sweeping panorama of the Continental Divide awaits.

3. Gibson Lake - Only two miles of rough road and another 2.5 miles of moderate hiking stand between you and this beautiful tundra lake perched in a high meadow that is littered with the curious remnants of a small mining camp.

Trail length: 4.8 miles round-trip
Location: Park County, Pike National Forest
Elevation: 10,316 to 11,850 feet

The trail heads west from the trailhead. After crossing a small creek, follow the north bank of the water, hiking northwest. Bear to the left at the fork about 1.75 miles in. You will hit the timberline after about two miles of climbing over rock rubble. This trek is like working out on a stair stepper at the gym. Wildflowers peek from the sides of the trail and the scent of pine is heavy in the air. There are three major stream crossings, willow and oak brush almost choke off the trail, and elk and deer tracks are plentiful. Trudge onward and upward southwest across the tundra. Up ahead, you'll be rewarded with the sight of a sparkling waterfall plunging down from the top of the Continental Divide with Gibson Lake shimmering below. Old mining equipment still litters the shoreline below Whale Peak and you can sense the ghostly presence of the miners who labored here in the late 19th century. Pika squeak from beneath the boulder field in front of you and odds are high that the gray jay (also known as camp robber) will soon join you for a picnic.

Continued In Colorado: Streaming With Beauty - Part 2

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