Denver has endless options for hiking, but if you want a quick, heart-thumping workout, find it at one of the many sets of stairs around town.
While Red Rocks may be the tried-and-true incline closest to Denver proper, there are several other options if you’re interested in venturing a bit farther outside city limits, which can come in handy when the amphitheater has events.
In no particular order, we present the best stairs in and around The Mile High City.
Red Rocks Amphitheater
I have to start with the holy grail of music venues that doubles as an epicenter of outdoor workouts for locals and visitors alike. Always loaded with people working on their fitness, Red Rocks is a haven for active outdoor folks looking for a see-and-be-seen spot to get their sweat on. You get everything from older ladies with ankle weights to sand-bag-squatting muscle heads. The people watching doesn’t get better than Red Rocks on a mid-morning weekend.
A lot of runners trek across all 69 rows of the amphitheater, back and forth, making their way from the stage to the top, which totals 2.7 miles. There are also miles of hiking trails throughout Red Rocks Park, connecting to nearby Matthews/Winter Park and Dinosaur Ridge.
If you’re coming for the stairs, here’s what you need to know:
- Location: Morrison, CO (15 minutes southwest of downtown Denver)
- Level: Easy-difficult (choose your own adventure)
- Total steps: 315
- Steps from the stage to the top of the plaza: 145
- Steps from the east parking lot on Trading Post Road to the stage: 194
- Elevation gain: 145 feet (from stage to top of the plaza)
- Parking: Park at the bottom on Trading Post Road and work your way up. Otherwise, drive up to one of the several parking lots that connect to the amphitheater with their own sets of stairs. There’s also two large lots at the top of the plaza. If you’re just here to take in the vistas, park there and it’s a short walk to the amphitheater.
- Hours: Check the website for hours, as they do close the amphitheater and surrounding stairs for events. On non-event days, the amphitheater opens one hour before sunrise and closes one hour after sunset. On event days, it opens one hour before sunrise and typically closes at 2pm. Hours for car entry also changes throughout the year, though cars are typically allowed to enter the park until 7:30pm.
- Fee: Free entry and free parking on non-event days.
Mother Cabrini Shrine
Not far from Red Rocks, the 22′ Sacred Heart of Jesus statue can be seen driving west on I-70. A “stairway to prayer” leads you up to the landmark, built in 1954, while giving you a nice little workout along the way. There is also a chapel, meditation walk, rosary garden, and overlook.
- Location: Golden, CO (25 minutes west of downtown Denver)
- Level: Easy/moderate
- Steps: 373
- Hours: Open 7:00am-4:30pm, 7 days a week, weather permitting
- Fee: Free
Rueter-Hess Incline Challenge
This is Denver’s newest incline, opening for visitors on Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 2020 in the midst of the pandemic, giving Denverites a new outdoor stair challenge. These newly-installed wooden steps offer a consistent incline (unlike others) at 10″ x 10″ and 6′ long.
- Location: Parker, CO (30 minutes south of downtown Denver)
- Level: Easy
- Steps: 132
- Elevation gain: 232 feet
- Getting down: Return down the stairs or, especially if it’s crowded, opt for the gravel trail running along the east side of the hill that leads back to the parking lot.
- Full loop distance: Just over a mile
- Parking: Follow the road west, past the Rueter-Hess Water Purification Facility, to a designated parking lot with 28 spots.
- Hours: Sunrise to sunset 7 days a week
- Fee: Free
The Challenge Hill at Philip S. Miller Park
Affectionately known as the “mini Manitou Incline,” The Challenge Hill is part of a larger park and sports complex. There’s a playground, miles of hiking trails, picnic areas, and a zipline course. Relax at the top of the incline (there’s a bench to catch your breath) with views of Longs Peak and Devil’s Head.
- Location: Castle Rock, CO (35 minutes south of downtown Denver)
- Level: Moderate
- Steps: 200
- Elevation gain: 178 feet over .1 miles
- Getting down: These stairs can get crowded, so opt for the short, .5-mile trail back to the base with views of Pikes Peak in the distance.
- Full loop distance: .6 miles (with additional connected trails to make a longer hike)
- Hours: Sunrise to sunset 7 days a week
- Fee: Free
Okay, this one’s a bit further away but it is THE INCLINE OF ALL INCLINES. It was originally a cable car track that now attracts tourists from all over the country and is a regular workout for the most hardcore stair climbers throughout the Denver metro area. Even Olympic athletes have done this incline.
The record is set by Joseph Gray, who finished the incline in 17:45. Allie McLaughlin holds the female record at 20:07. I love doing stairs, though I’m not fast by any means, and it took me 65 minutes to summit, after taking lots of breaks along the way to catch my breath.
Views from the top are incredible, stretching over Colorado Springs and the eastern plains. It is one of the best inclines in the country and will get that heart rate soaring.
- Location: Colorado Springs, CO (1 hour, 20 minutes south of Denver)
- Level: Difficult
- Steps: 2,768 (marked with gold plates throughout the climb)
- Elevation gain: 2,000 feet over 0.9 miles. It is steep! The average grade is 45%, getting as steep at 68% in some parts.
- Time: Plan for 3+ hours. The climb itself can take 60-90 minutes, plus the hike down.
- Getting down: Hike the 4 miles down Barr Trail. They highly discourage hiking down the stairs for everyone’s safety.
- Full loop distance: 5 miles
- Bailout point: If you’ve bitten off more than you can chew or just have a change of heart, you can leave the incline via the Northern Incline Return Trail. There are two bailout points. The first, at railroad tie #395, leads you 0.15 miles before connecting to the Ute Pass, and it’s another 0.2 miles down to the trailhead. The second is at #1300, which marks the half-way point up the incline. The connected trail (Ute Pass Regional Trail) is 1-mile long, before connecting to the Ute Pass for another 0.5 miles to the trailhead.
- False summit/final bailout point: About 300 steps shy of the actual summit, the incline intersects with the Barr Trail. This is another bailout point, about 3/4 of the way to the top.
- Reservations: Reservations are required. They are free, allowing up to 45 reservations per 30-minute time slot.
- Hours: Reservations are available 6:00am-6:00pm April-October and 6:00am-2:30pm November-March.
- Fee: Free (option to pay for parking)
- Parking: Plan to arrive early to park and get to the trailhead during your designated time slot. The Manitou Springs Shuttle is free and suggested to avoid congestion on Ruxton Avenue. There is free parking for the shuttle at 10 Old Man’s Trail at the Hiawatha Gardens building. The shuttle runs every 10 minutes on the weekends and every 20 minutes during the week. There is also a reservation-only lot, which you can reserve in advance via Facebook and pay upon arrival. This may seem sketchy, but I’ve used it, and it was seamless and the closest option to the trailhead.
- Notes: Bring lots of water, and take breaks as you need them.
Broadmoor Seven Falls
While we’re talking about Colorado Springs, it’s worth mentioning this epic spot. The Broadmoor Seven Falls incline follows a—you guessed it—seven-tiered cascading waterfall. Almost as notable as the hike itself is the drive up to the trailhead, which is one of the most beautiful spots in all of Colorado.
- Location: Colorado Springs, CO (1 hour, 10 minutes minutes from downtown Denver)
- Level: Moderate
- Steps: 224
- Elevation gain: 178 feet over 0.1 miles
- Getting down: Two trails will lead you back down to the trailhead, or you can take the stairs for the most direct route.
- Full loop distance: 0.6 miles