Where to Run in Colorado: Iconic Loop Routes

In the past I’ve talked about some of my favorite trails to run in Colorado + the Pacific Northwest…but there are more! More trails that have stolen my heart + hugged my soul. Colorado has thousands of miles of trails + sometimes these trails create a nice circular loop. These are all well known trails, but they aren’t always run in loops. Sometimes people do sections as out + backs, sometimes people use them as routes for multi-day backpacking trips + sometimes people simply gaze up at the mountains’ beauty from the popular trailheads.

But they create loops — loops that are fantastic for running around!

Buffalo Mountain Circumnavigation.

We’ll start with the more sensible loops, routes that will get you some mileage for your next trail marathon. Then we’ll talk about more aggressive loops so you’re stash of trail knowledge has you prepared to train for your first ultra distance race!

Short Loop Runs in Colorado

Centennial Cone

This trail is close to the Front Range + Denver, making it very popular on the weekends. To help combat this, the weekend days alternate with hikers + bikers, so be sure to check the calendar. In the fall a portion of the loop is closed for wildlife. You’ll find more information online, but if you arrive at the trailhead during this time, just make it into a nice out-and-back loop.

There are a few things of note about the Centennial Cone loop. First, go early! It’ll help ensure you get a parking spot + it’ll get you off the exposed trails before the heat of the day. There are two trailheads — Mayhem Gulch, along Highway 6 + the north lot, along Golden Gate Rd. If you park at the upper/north lot you’ll  get to skip a steep out-and-back to/from the Mayhem Gulch trailhead.

Once you’re on the trail…have fun! It’s a runnable trail with some steep ups + downs that will get you some beautiful views of the surrounding foothills + canyons.

Location: Golden, Colorado

Distance: ~13 miles

Route Info: Centennial Cone Trail

Buffalo Mountain Circumnavigation

To create this loop route you’ll need to link a few different trails together, but they will easily create a complete circle around Buffalo Mountain. Along the way you’ll see Willow Creek Falls, Lily Pad Lake + more.

The best place to start is at the Lily Pad/Buffalo Mountain Trailhead at the stop of the Wildernest neighborhood. From there you can choose to head to Lily Pad Lake or Willow Creek Falls. Your choice will determine whether you’re going clockwise or counter clockwise.

Trail Sisters photo stop at the Buffalo Mtn. Circ. high point!

With most loops you’re fully committed from beginning to end — no easy drop outs if things go awry. This circumnavigation is similar; however you do have the choice to drop down to Frisco from Lily Pad Lake.

For bonus points you can head up Buffalo Mountain to tag the summit, if you’re feeling saucy!

Location: Silverthorne, Colorado

Distance: ~13 miles

Route Info: Buffalo Mountain Trail + Lily Pad Trail + Gore Range Trail [partial]

Long Loop Runs in Colorado

Four Pass Loop, Aspen, Colorado

If you’ve ever put “Colorado” into a Google search you probably came up with at least a few photos of these amazing pyramid shaped mountains reflecting in a still lake. Those mountains are the Maroon Bells + the Four Pass Loop trail will take you around them, one pass at a time.

Four Pass Loop.

One important thing to keep in mind when taking on the Four Pass Loop is weather. You will spend a large portion of your time on the trail at or above treeline. In Colorado storms roll in quickly + you will not want to be above treeline when lightning strikes. It is very possible to get stuck far from the trailhead should a storm appear when you’re one or more passes into the loop. Check the weather + start extra super, duper early if needed!

On that same note, this is an extremely popular trailhead for hikers, tourists + more. If you want a parking spot, arrive early!

Location: Aspen, Colorado

Distance: ~26 miles

Route Info: Four Pass Loop

Pawnee-Buchanan Loop

This is another trail close to the Front Range + Denver. You’ll need to drive a bit to get to the Brainaird Lake Recreational Area + the Long Lake Trailhead. As with all loops you’ll have the choice of left or right — Buchanan Pass or Pawnee Pass. Both are bound to be spectacular.

You’ll be running through the Indian Peaks Wilderness, easily one of the most beautiful places in Colorado. Bring your camera, and be sure to time in some photo breaks — the trail is very rocky + technically so you’ll need time to just pause + take it all in.

Pawnee Buchanan Loop.

Similar to the Buffalo Mountain Circumnavigation you’ll also have a chance to tag Pawnee Peak along the way, if you’re jones’ing for a bit more mountain time.

Location: Ward, Colorado

Distance: ~25 miles

Route Info: Pawnee-Buchanan Trail

Of course, these are not all of the loops available to you in the great state of Colorado…but they’ll get you started. My only request is that you do some research before hitting the trail. Know where you are going, prepare for the trail conditions + weather forecast, be respectful to the trails + pack out everything you take in with you.

Do you have a favorite trail loop in Colorado? Share it in the comments!

Now get out there + enjoy some of my favorite mountain trails!

For more Where to Run articles, click here!


Heidi Berghammer

Heidi Berghammer is a trail runner, world traveler, mountain climber, and all around adventure enthusiast. As a trail runner she has covered thousands of miles in the Colorado Rockies and beyond training for and running races from the half marathon distance to the one hundred mile ultra. Heidi is so stoked about finding adventure on trails that she has made it her career as the owner of Adventure Feet First, a travel company that focuses on getting people outside to explore the world as they travel. Over the past years Heidi has spent months living abroad, volunteering around the world, living out of a van/car/truck, and finding new ways to explore on foot, by bike or with a backpack. She has learned the ins and outs of self propelled exploration the hard way, so she’s here to help us learn from her mistakes and to help us become more informed on how to make your own mistakes…safely.

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