How to Hike the High Line Canal Trail
Snaking through Denver and its surrounding suburbs, the High Line Canal and its Trail capture the beauty, the energy, and the expanse of Denver’s Front Range. For 71 miles, this Trail moves walkers, hikers, bikers, rollers and strollers through urban, rural, agricultural and suburban views along its soft and hard surfaces. You’ll see plains, mountains, creeks, lakes, deer, possum, prairie dogs, elk, coyotes, foxes, hawks, birds, asparagus, plums, apples, choke cherries, pines, elms and hundreds of cottonwoods. And maybe even a bear!
Right now is a great time to enjoy the High Line Canal Trail. The entire trail is over six feet wide, you can keep your social distance, and there’s plenty of length to spread everyone out across 71 miles. In addition, it’s a great trail for new hikers learning to hike and newcomers adjusting to Denver’s altitude.
Hike the High Line Canal Trail
But how do you hike all 71 miles of this mostly flat trail when there’s no camping allowed, restrooms are sparse, parking is odd, and signage can be challenging?
I recommend walking the trail from the northern end at Green Valley Ranch to its southern end at Waterton Canyon. You’ll have the front range in your view almost the entire time.
*A word about the term “segment.” The Guide uses the term segment when breaking the High Line Canal Trail into 27 sections. That terminology is continued here. Within the recommended options to hike the Trail, you’ll see segment used again. Each recommended option combines the smaller segments from the Guide.
- You can do it in 27 segments of about 2-4 miles a piece (Short and Sweet Option)
- You can do it in 14 segments of about 5-8 miles a piece. (Medium and Enjoyable Option)
- You can do it in 8 segments of 8-10 miles a piece. (Long and Thorough Option)
See below for links to the trailheads and segments.
When Should You Hike the High Line?
You can walk the Trail year round. The Trail runs through 11 jurisdictions and all are excellent at clearing and maintaining the Trail in all weather. Because of the different jurisdictions, you will find different levels of resources throughout, which the High Line Canal Conservancy is trying to rectify.
You can walk the High Line Canal Trail in either direction. I prefer to walk it from the northern end near the airport to the southern end in Waterton Canyon. By walking it in a southerly fashion, you’ll almost always have Front Range views in front of you. The trail gets shadier and more picturesque the closer you get to Waterton Canyon. But no matter which direction you walk it, you’re in for a treat and an understanding of Denver history that you can’t get anywhere else.
I wear these shoes and I get them from REI, where you can return shoes for up to a year.
Some folks like to walk the High Line Canal Trail from its southern end in Waterton to its northern end near the airport because they want to walk in the direction in which the Canal flows. Either way you walk it though, it’s an intimate experience that allows you to enjoy Denver and its environs from a pedestrian point of view.
One step at a time.
What You Need to Hike the High Line Canal Trail
You’ll need a few things to have a comfortable hike on the High Line Canal Trail.
- Book and Map: The Guide and Map from the High Line Canal Conservancy. The book costs about $25, and the map is free.
- Shoes: To walk the High Line Canal Trail, you just need a good pair of walking shoes or sandals. Boots aren’t necessary, unless the weather requires them. Sandals such as Keen would be fine, although I do encourage a closed-toe sandal like these closed-toe Chacos to bar against pebbles and goat heads. In the winter, you’ll want to wear a closed-toe hiker, and you might want to wear ice cleats, but this is a rare requirement. In the winter, the High Line is also a great place to snow shoe or cross country ski if enough snow has fallen.
I get my shoes at REI because of their fabulous return policy.
- Water: For water, carry at least two liters. Water is hard to find along the trail. I prefer a bladder, but bottles are absolutely efficient.
- Hat: On your head, make sure you’ve got a good hat for either sun or warmth. My favorite hat, the Wallaroo, is made right here in Boulder, and I get to support a local Colorado company.
- Pack: In your pack, add snacks. You might optionally want to throw in a pair of gloves, sunscreen, the ten essentials, and maybe even a pair of binoculars. Watch this video of what’s in my urban hiking pack.
Read These Books Before You Hike the High Line Canal Trail
Prior to walking the Canal or during your 71-mile trek, there are a few books that will enhance your experience.
- The Thunder Tree by Robert Michael Pyle
- The Best Urban Hikes: Denver by Chris Englert
- Ditch in Time by Patricia Limerick
- The High Line Canal Conservancy‘s Trail Guide. This Guide breaks the Trail into smaller 2-3 mile segments.
Links to the Trailheads and Segments
To see the details for each segment, including trailhead, trailend, parking info and highlights, take a look at the info at High Line Canal Trail Trailheads and Segments You’ll be able to find everything you need. Additionally, there are a few posts and videos you might enjoy to get yourself ready for this trek.
- High Line Canal Trail Segments in 14 Segments. Note that Segments 13 and 14, the most northern segments, are the hardest segments to follow, and you’ll need a guide or a great map to complete them. You can hire me to take your through these segments by sending me an email.
- Mile-by-Mile Descriptions of the High Line Canal Trail
- Hiking the High Line Canal Trail–the Northern Half
- Hiking the High Line Canal Trail–the Southern Half
- The High Line Canal Youtube Channel (be sure to subscribe!)
The High Line Canal Trail is an urban treasure that many cities wished they had. If you haven’t walked it, or if you’ve only walked the portion in your back yard, make a plan to hike all of it or at least more of it. Soon, it will be almost 130 years old. Will you get on it today?
As you’re walking the trail, be sure to post your pictures so I can see them. Use the hashtag #denverbyfoot and #71miles. I’d love to see your story of how you enjoyed the High Line Canal Trail!
Complete All 71 Miles
Hiking the High Line is a special event that few Denverites have ever done. Over the last few years, I’ve kept track of all the “High Liners” who’ve completed all 71 miles with me. It’s fewer than 200 people. Those who walk it under the High Line Canal Conservancy and Walk2Connect partnership have received a celebrated “71” token from the Conservancy. Check with Walk2Connect to find out the next time the 71-mile adventure will begin.
Hiking the High Line Canal Trail and Supporting Denver By Foot
If you’ve enjoyed this info about the High Line Canal Trail and how to hike it, maybe you’ll enjoy some other walks curated by Denver By Foot. Get the 52 Hikes 52 Weeks Denver Calendar, which recommends a hike a week, subscribe to the YouTube Channel to hear about weekly hiking suggestions in Denver, and buy access to the Denver By Foot Challenge. The Challenge is 30 activities in Denver to do by foot where you’ll uncover treasures throughout Denver. It’s a great thing to do with friends and family, or even along during our lock down.
What did you like about this walk? Post it on Facebook and tag your posts with #denverbyfoot so I can find them.
See you on the trail!