Colorado transit options for the outdoors

Getting to the Colorado trailheads without a car can be interesting.

Though there are many options, these options are not readily apparent if someone is not familiar with the mixture of private and public transition options available.  And a car rental is not always an option for people.

In an effort to assist people with their planning, figured I’d write-up this article.

I’m lazy, so I can just copy a URL going forward if someone asks me these type of questions. 🙂

Guessing most people get this reference…

In General

Since most people are coming from out-of-state who ask these questions, I wrote it from the perspective of someone flying into the Denver International Airport (DIA).

  • DIA has both private shuttle services that go into mountain areas and regularly schedule public buses via the Regional Transportation District (RTD).  The RTD buses and light rail will take you to the main terminal in Denver. From there, RTD options can be made to the outskirts of the Denver suburbs and Boulder. Other shuttle services or bus systems can take you to a nearby town or even to the trailhead itself.
  • The regional “Bustang” works with Colorado, national, and private companies to get you to Ft. Collins (access to the Rawahs with a local shuttle), the Grand Junction Area (Colorado National Monument, Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness) and the Durango, Telluride, and other areas near the San Juan Mountains. Among others.
  • Many tourist towns in Colorado have private shuttle services or taxis that will take you directly from the airport to the town. How to find these services? Da Google!
  • DIA has connecting flights to Grand Junction and Durango as well. There are smaller airports for Vail, Aspen and similar, but those flights are going to be even pricier.
  • Once in town, and if no other shuttle services are available, a hitch may need to be done. In the mountain areas, locals are often familiar with outdoors people. If you are clad in nylon, have hiking poles and a pack,  you can probably get a hitch to a frequently passed by mountain trailhead.
  • Uber or Lyft are increasingly viable options as well instead of a taxi.
  •  Aren’t comfortable with hitching or want transportation set up ahead of time?  Local outdoor stores or even a chamber of commerce may know of local rafting companies, bike tour companies, hostels or similar that may be willing to do a local shuttle in addition to their regular business. How to find these businesses or offices to contact them? Google, as always, is your friend.

Have more specific questions? Here are some options for some popular areas.  There is no way I can address every place in Colorado, but here some places to get you started. I did not list the specific steps, but the links within the sections will let you figure out the schedule. Obviously, look at your hiking maps to figure out the trail heads a bit more.

Use the above resources to figure out your route to places not listed below.

Indian Peaks Wilderness

A very popular wilderness area near Boulder, CO, this area features 13k+ foot peaks, walks along the Continental Divide and enough trails to keep a person busy for a Colorado vacation.


How to get there

Rocky Mountain National Park

One of the most popular parks in the country, this park features great backcountry trails, nice day hikes and even a way to get to a popular hostel near the western side of the park if you want to do a “Euro” style hike.

How to get there

Summit County

Hikes and backpacks galore among the areas that dot the I-70 ski corridor. Public transit will get you to Frisco, Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, Silverthorne/Dillon, and even Leadville.  You are in the heart of Colorado mountain country. Grab a map, figure out a hike and go.

How to get there

The 285 Corridor

Along State Highway 285, a plethora of options exist. The Lost Creek Wilderness is easily accessible. The Collegiate Peaks beckon. 14ers can be climbed.  And both the Continental Divide Trail and The Colorado Trail call.

Luckily there is a bus service that serves a good chunk of this corridor.

How to get there

  • Obviously plan your hike first using hiking maps and atlases. That is a large corridor that extends from the suburbs of Denver all the way to Gunnison, CO.
  • Once the hike is planned, take RTD from DIA to Union Station. And then walk to the Greyhound station
  • From the towns, hitch up or contact some possible local shuttle services to get to the trailhead.  In Salida, for example, local bike companies do shuttles to Monarch Pass right on the CT/CDT.

Crested Butte

One of the coolest mountain towns in Colorado.  Easy access to lots of excellent hiking, camping, backpacking and even mountain biking. With a good map, you will have all kinds of options for your Colorado vacation.

How to get there

  • Use the directions above to get to Gunnison
  • Easy hitching too

The Maroon Bells

“Ringing the Bells” is one of the most popular backpacking trips in Colorado. There is no public transit there, but private options do exist

How to get there

The San Juans

A perennial favorite for backpackers in Colorado, the San Juans are among the most remote feeling mountains in Colorado.  Best way to get there? Get yourself to Durango, CO.  A nice destination in its own right, Durango is a great “base camp before and after any hiking in Colorado.

Naturally, plan out your backpacking trip and then figure out which transit options work best for your planned hike.

How to get there

  • There are flights into Durango, but those flights must be booked in advance and/or somewhat pricey. Still, an option.
  • Or follow these hand steps found on Rome2Rio using RTD, Greyhound and Road Runner transit.  It is a 12 hr bus ride as a FYI
    • Note that the Road Runner Transit leg  from Grand Junction goes to such areas as Telluride and Ridgway where access is fairly easy to other parts of the San Juans.


These options should give anyone some excellent ideas to access Colorado without needing a car.

And, of course, don’t forget the post-trip noshing as well!

Still have specific questions? Please see this link. There are many free resources available for trip planning.


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5 years ago

Don’t forget trains! There is a light rail from the airport to Union Station and then Amtrak that stops in Granby, Glenwood Springs, and Grand Junction.

2 years ago

thanks for the great info!!!