Day-Hiker: Catching Air in Colorado

Jean MacLeod
6 min readSep 20, 2018


My ride at Denver International met me at the curb outside of Southwest Airlines, heaved my backpack in the trunk and took off from Arrivals at race-track speed.

“We have plans,” the driver explained. The driver was Molly, my 26 year-old daughter and day-hiking companion for the next week. We would be joined periodically by her boyfriend Danny Hankins and sometimes by Abbey the dog.

Molly with Abbey

Colorado is a hiker’s wonderland. There are trails literally everywhere — through subdivisions, around parks, on top of bluffs, and up mountains. Big mountains. The plan was to try a few baby-steps of everything Colorado had to offer, and live to tell Facebook…

HIGH LINE CANAL TRAIL (South Suburban/Denver)

We started local; the High Line Trail is a peaceful, well-used regional path a short walk from Molly and Danny’s house in Littleton.

Danny, Molly, Abbey on the Home-stretch

It seems that everyone walks/treks in Colorado — young, old, or on a leash — the state is like a giant park filled with Hike Your Own Hike types.

GARDEN OF THE GODS (Colorado Springs)

Garden of the Gods was a spectacular introduction to day-hiking around Denver. We chose the Palmer Trail (with a little Scotsman Trail thrown in) and other than not being able to breathe, I loved every stunning minute.

Molly and Danny stopped for me frequently and I drank lots of water, but honestly THEY HAVE NO AIR in their state and I just had to deal.

One of the highlights of my CO stay was meeting Danny’s parents at their lovely home in Larkspur. We were post-Garden of the Gods grubby and covered in red dust, but Tom and Kathy were incredibly gracious and very charming…oh, and THAT LIMEADE…

Kathy, Molly, Danny, Tom

Kathy is a wonderful cook; I captured this side-dish before my phone died. Fresh watermelon, feta cheese, cilantro, sweet onion and black olives: wonderfully refreshing!

HANGING LAKE (Glenwood Canyon)

The next morning Danny drove us three [scary] hours through the heavy mountain traffic to Glenwood Springs in order to hike Hanging Lake. I had totally conquered Garden of the Gods and was pretty smug about tackling a little 1.2 mile hike up a hill.


Well Dear Baby Jesus. Hanging Lake was not on top of a hill — it was on top of a mountain and THERE IS A VERY BIG DIFFERENCE. The trail at Garden of the Gods was an easy, mostly smooth mix of crunched-up red stone and dirt. The Hanging Lake trail consisted of big, jagged, uneven VERTICAL rocks. Rocks raised straight up from Hell. Rocks that grabbed my feet and sucked the oxygen right out of my lungs.

Tip: Although there were all types of walkers and gear on Hanging Lake Trail (one woman in a dress incredibly, and likely unfortunately, wore slip-on wedge sandals), I could NOT have done this 1,000 foot elevation-gain safely without my Keen hiking shoes. Also, my knees would have KILLED for a walking stick on the descent. Really, I was ready to pay big money.

Danny and Molly encouraging me down the trail

My heavy-duty ‘training’ for my Colorado hiking adventure (I walked the dog every day) was actually adequate, muscle-wise, for everything we did. I had difficulty with Colorado’s altitude when walking on an incline, and I’m not sure what might have made that part easier.

At least the immense, gorgeous views and the natural Shangri-La pool and waterfall at the top of Hanging Lake made the climb worthwhile…

Molly and Danny view “geologic wonder”… or maybe Jurassic Park

Plus, I feel like I earned some sort of merit badge for not falling off the Rockies.

View from the trail

Molly, Danny and I all agreed that this hike taxed a person’s lungs going up and legs going down. It takes most “fit” people about 3 hours to do the 2.4 mile round-trip trail — which should have been my tip-off when I overheard a trail regular mention that as his best time.

Or maybe I should have believed the SIGN?

No problem!


Our reward for Hanging Lake was a one-night stay at the historical and slightly haunted Hotel Colorado.

Image via Hotel Colorado

Supposedly it was where the hotel staff sewed Teddy Roosevelt his first, iconic Teddy Bear, and where he enjoyed the mineral water from the spring across the street.

Image of President Roosevelt; pic hanging in Hotel Colorado

We visited the Hot Springs (TIP: tickets are heavily discounted in the evening) and it was the best muscle therapy EVER. I felt like I was taking the sulfur cure at a spa in 1910; the pool was steaming hot and I knew I’d sleep great.

Except I didn’t. Our room was two doors down from Room 325, where apparitions had been sighted and ghostly activity measured.

In front of Room 325

What woke me up at 2:45 AM? Probably the late evening pizza and garlic knots we enjoyed to live music on the hotel’s front lawn, but YOU NEVER KNOW…


On Monday, Molly and I opted for an easy hike after our vertical climb at Hanging Lake, and decided to take on the near-by Bluffs.

The Bluffs look like someone planted big, gentle rolling hills in the middle of a busy subdivision; they offer a wonderful workout and an unbeatable view — once you stagger to the top. “Easy” hike being relative and all…

YES. Thank you.

WASH PARK (Denver)

My last day in Colorado was spent on the urban flatlands of serene Wash Park. Smack in the middle of a hipster/historical (expensive) neighborhood, Wash Park and its mini-lake is a big draw for runners, walkers, bikers, nannies, dogs and paddle-boaters.

It was very nice, but I sort of missed gasping my way to the summit of something.

SO, Molly and Danny — next trip…Pikes Peak???

Pikes Peak is the gigantic shadowy mountain between the trees (as viewed from Garden of the Gods)



Colorado restaurants I loved in Denver/Littleton area:

Farm House at Breckenridge Brewery

SNOOZE an A.M. Eatery

Pho Real


Sierra Trading Post (I shopped at Greenwood Village Store — great deals)

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema (film clips selected to complement movie prior to show; food and drinks served at the table at your seat — MANY local brews to choose from!)

— Jean MacLeod