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!

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?

You break it into 14 segments, averaging 5 miles a piece and ranging from 4-8. That’s what I did. And I have now lead over 400 people up and down the High Line Canal Trail in this way, one 5-mile(ish) segment at a time.

14 Segments Make Hiking the Trail Easier

I’ve done all the hard work for you by breaking the Trail into 14 segments. At about 5 miles a piece, each segment has a map and parking locations. You can either buddy up with someone and put cars at both ends, Lyft or Uber yourself to one of the ends, or walk the segment round-trip if you’re wanting to do a bit more distance.

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.

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

To walk the High Line Canal Trail, you just need a good pair of walking shoes or sandals. Boots aren’t necessary. Sandals such as Keen would be fine, although I do encourage a closed-toe sandal to bar against pebbles and goat heads like my closed-toe Chacos. In the winter, 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 if enough snow has fallen.

For water, carry at least two liters. Water is hard to find along the Trail. I prefer a bladder, but bottles are absolutely efficient. Be sure to throw in a snack or two.

On your head, make sure you’ve got a good hat for either sun or warmth. You will often find me in my Wallaroo hat. I love that Wallaroos are made right here in Boulder, and I get to support a local Colorado company.

In your pack, 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 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 (Coming Fall 2019)

Also, follow along on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest for images and updates about the Trail.

Complete All 71 Miles

Hiking the High Line is a special event that few Denverites have ever done. Over the last three years, we’ve kept track of all the “High Liners” who’ve completed all 71 miles. 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. Walk2Connect leads the walk twice a year.

Links to the 14 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. 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.

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!

See you on the trail