Seasons mark change, a new chapter, a time of transition. There are few places that express the seasons as eloquently as Denver, Colorado and the fall marks a death of sorts, yet also a hope of what’s on the other side.
In Denver, the leaves start to change color around late September to mid-October. This is generally when the city experiences its first snowfall of the season. Although the joke in Colorado is if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes and it will change.
The fall of 2021 has been especially mild as we’ve processed another year that’s brought as much change as the leaves. It’s mid-November and we haven’t gotten much snow yet. The temperatures average around 50 degrees, but 60s are still in the forecast. It can be tempting to stay inside and bundle up knowing that a freezing wind could be just around the corner, but getting outside of the house while you still can helps you feel physically fit and mentally refreshed.
A fresh autumn hike can be as close as down the street. If you have the desire, of course you can drive the hour into the mountains to see the fall leaves and majestic beauty. But several neighborhoods from Green Mountain to Highlands Ranch have scenic hikes just behind a residential block.
It’s good to go on a hike in the morning to start your day. If you have time to go on a weekday, there will be less people. Although in Colorado, people are on the friendlier spectrum and will greet you with a smile, a nod of the head and a genuine “Hello.”
Altitude is real here, so don’t be hard on yourself for not being able to do as much physical activity as you could in other parts of the country. Drink water before you head out (even before you go to sleep the night before) and carry a water bottle with you. Dehydration can sneak up on you, especially in the colder seasons because you don’t notice the fluids leaving your body in the form of dripping sweat. It’s extra fun to bring your dog. There are even rubber dog bowls that you can easily throw in a backpack with an extra water bottle to fill it at a few stops along the way.
Sunscreen is also something to consider even though it’s not summer. Because of the higher elevation, you are closer to the sun. Especially if there is snow on the ground, the sun rays can bounce right off the seemingly innocent white pile of fluff and fry your skin. Sunglasses and a hat are also smart for similar reasons. Wear at least a hoodie and good socks to stay warm. Hiking boots are smart but not essential. If you think you need ankle support, then definitely invest in a pair. But if you feel confident in your agility, a pair of sneakers should be fine. Some people straight up go hiking in Vans.
I went on a hike mid-morning on a Friday on Griggs Trail, a five-minute drive from my house for a 40-minute trek. It was in the 40s and I felt great in a hoodie, sweatpants and sneakers. By mid-November everything’s dry and dead, but the desert shrubs among the honey-yellow grass against the backdrop of purple mountains and bright blue sky make for interesting scenery. Magpies flitted around and I was lucky enough to catch a flock of geese flying together toward their new destination. There’s a lookout point where you can see the city in the distance, the local high school below and the Rocky Mountains looming.
There are several different options from the fairly flat-terrained hike that I went on to the arduous climb of one of Colorado’s 14ers. The state is home to more than 50 mountains with an elevation of over 14,000 feet. This is part of what makes Colorado a destination for climbers and adventurers from around the world. The tallest hikes are best suited for early fall or late spring because snow and cold restrict your ascent to the top. But whether you take your family for a pleasant half-day nature hike or wake up before dawn with your ride or die companions, the rule is to respect the mountain.
That’s the beauty of connecting with nature. It reminds us how small we are in the grand scheme of things. With technology sucking us into an endless scroll of daily tragedies, celebrity gossip and catchy tunes we don’t even really want stuck in our head, it’s invigorating and reviving to clear your mind with a fresh mountain hike.