Every year I make a pilgrimage to the stunningly beautiful Herman Gulch Trail in Colorado. I’ve hiked this trail nearly a dozen times and I just keep coming back. Located just 45 minutes from the city, it’s one of the best hikes near Denver and can’t be missed.
As one of Colorado’s most iconic hikes, the Herman Gulch hike is suitable for hiking year-round. It is an excellent option for a quick hike in the alpine at any time. Here’s everything you need to know before you strap on your boots and hit the Herman Gulch Trail.
Hiking the Herman Gulch Trail in Colorado
If you’re up for a little bit of a challenge and want big-time mountain views, then you’ll love the Herman Gulch hike in Colorado. This trail offers moderate mountain hiking with some of the most beautiful views. In this guide to hiking the Herman Gulch Trail we’ll cover:
- Trail facts including the length, difficulty, and approximate time it takes to hike
- How to get to the trailhead
- The best time of year to hike Herman Gulch
- Nearby trails and activities
- Hiking Herman Gulch in Winter
- Quick tips for hiking in Colorado
How to Get to the Herman Gulch Trailhead
One of the best things about the Herman Gulch Trail is how accessible the trailhead is. To get to the Herman Gulch Trailhead, head up I-70 towards the Eisenhower Tunnel. If you’re coming from the east, you’ll exit just before the turnoff to Loveland Pass (right after if you’re coming from the west).
Get off at Exit 218, a tiny, non-descript exit. If you’re coming from the east, make your first hard right into the trailhead. The road is a little bumpy, but any vehicle should be able to make it to the parking lot, several hundred yards away.
Pro Tip: In winter the parking lot is icy and not maintained. You may want to park on the road. You can also click here for an interactive map.
Parking At Herman Gulch Trail
After getting off at exit 218 you’ll find the trailhead on Watrous Way. Feel free to use the restrooms here before hitting Herman Gulch Trail.
Like with most trails that are situated near the highway, traffic can be heavy on roads in the area. So, always make sure that anything valuable is safely stowed away and can not be seen from outside your vehicle.
Then, grab your gear and access the Herman Gulch Trail near the middle of the parking lot, a little left of the restroom.
Local Tip: During wildflower season, this lot will fill to capacity by around 10 am on weekends, so plan for an early arrival.
Herman Gulch Trail Facts
Miles: 6.3 round trip
Elevation Gain: 1,755 feet. Most is gained in the first mile.
Dog-Friendly?: Yes. This is one of the most dog-friendly hikes in Colorado
What to Expect on Your Herman Gulch Hike
The Herman Gulch trailhead has two trails, one for Herman Gulch and the other for Watrous Gulch. Take the trail on the left to reach Herman Gulch.
The hardest part of the hike is right at the start, where you’ll make your way up steep switchbacks for around a mile or so, gaining most of the elevation gain.
The trail levels out and the trees open up for some fantastic views, but the beauty has just begun. Keep hiking as you cross a stream and make your way gently upwards towards Herman Lake.
Herman Gulch and the Continental Divide Trail
As you climb the trail, you’ll see dramatic mountains up ahead. This is the Citadel, one of the most exciting 13ers (13,000-foot peaks) near Denver. Its dramatic ridgeline winds its way north towards Pettingell Peak, which sits behind Herman Lake.
The Continental Divide Trail meets the Herman Gulch Trail and travels with it before turning sharply right (north) about a half mile before Herman Lake. The Continental Divide Trail or the CDT stretches over 2,600 miles from Mexico to Canada.
Enjoy hiking part of this historic thru-hike as you make your way towards Herman Lake. At Herman Lake, you’ll find plenty of beautiful alpine lake scenery. This is the ideal spot for a rest and a snake as you soak up the epic mountain views.
Make your way back the way you came, enjoying the beautiful mountain scenery.
Herman Gulch Trail to Herman Lake
As you leave the parking lot, the hike will start off steep but eventually levels out as you reach higher elevations and the valley gets wider.
Bear left at an intersection and make your way through various meadows, trees, and eventually Herman Creek.
Eventually, you’ll hit open alpine terrain that features several cairns that will take you to Herman Lake.
You’ll then make the final push to the lake, which can be pretty intense thanks to the butt busting incline. Once here though, you’ll see Pettingell Peak and the lake can be blanketed with snow through mid-June.
Local Tip: And while it may be tempting to wander off the trail, stay on the designated path since the environment here can be quite fragile.
Other Things to Do in Herman Gulch
For the more adventurous hiker, the Herman Gulch Trail is also home to several other amazing objectives. Here’s a look at a few awesome things to do along the Herman Gulch Trail:
- Climb the Citadel via Snoopy’s Backside Couloir
- Hike the Class 3 twin peaks of the Citadel
- Continue along the ridge and climb the Class 3 through 5 ridgelines to Pettingell Peak (ropes required).
- Fish at Herman Lake
- Summit the Class 2 Pettingel Peak via Herman Lake
- Hike up the less crowded Waterous Gulch (take your first right along the Herman Gulch Trail).
- Backcountry ski or snowboard the amazing terrain.
When is the Best Time to Hike Herman Gulch?
One of my favorite things about Herman Gulch is it avoids avalanche terrain, making it an ideal hike year-round. However, most people hike Herman Gulch for the beautiful display of wildflowers or fall colors, making June through September an ideal time to head out for a hike.
Mid to late June is the ideal time to visit Herman Gulch if you plan on climbing the Citadel via Snoopy’s Backside Couloir. For those looking to enjoy the wildflowers, July is an excellent time to hike Herman Gulch, but it’s also the busiest.
Herman Gulch makes a suitable fall hike, but you won’t see any aspens. Instead, you’ll be treated to the brilliant yellows and reds of the changing willows and alpine grasses.
Hiking Herman Gulch in Winter
Herman Gulch is an awesome Colorado winter hike. In fact, the trail is popular with backcountry skiers and riders. If you’re new to snowshoeing, it’s also a great way to get outside in the winter. Take note that the start of the Herman Gulch can get a bit icy, so be prepared with microspikes and snowshoes.
Places to Eat Nearby
What better way to celebrate after your hike than to hit up a delicious local eatery? The mountain town of Idaho Springs is just down I-70 and has an array of awesome eateries and watering holes. Be sure to check out:
- Smokin’ Yards. Some of the best BBQ in Colorado
- Tommyknocker Brewery. Serving up bar food with delicious locally-crafted beer.
- Westbound and Down Brewing Company. Delicious food and craft beer.
- Clear Creek Cidery. Burgers and craft ciders.
Other Activities Near Herman Gulch
Herman Gulch is located near a hotbed of other mountain activities in Colorado. Plan a fun-filled adventure by checking out these nearby attractions:
- Two of Colorado’s most scenic drives, Mt Evan’s Scenic Byway and Loveland Pass
- Hit up one of Colorado’s best hot springs at Indian Hot Springs
- Go on a zipline tour
- Raft in Clear Creek (May through late July)
- rock climb in Clear Creek
Tips for Hiking in Colorado
When it comes to hiking in Colorado, it’s important to be prepared. Mountain hiking is dangerous and every year people get into trouble by not taking their hike seriously.
First and foremost, check the weather. Thunderstorms plague the Colorado mountains in the summer and create dangerous conditions for hikers. Check the weather up until the morning you leave and plan to be below the trees several hours before any anticipated storms.
Pack plenty of layers and extra water. Conditions change quickly in the mountains, so you want to be prepared for any type of weather. Take your time hiking in the high country, you’ll want to make sure you acclimatize properly before hitting the trail.
Lastly, start early! This isn’t just to beat the afternoon thunderstorms, but also the crowds. Herman Gulch and Herman Lake are some of the most popular hiking destinations in the state. The Herman Gulch Trailhead parking lot fills up down the on-ramp in the summer. Arrive for the rising sun for an extra few hours of solitude.
Overall, there are a million reasons to love hiking the Herman Gulch Trail. So put this hiking trail on your Colorado bucket list.