Five Albums For Five Colorado Hikes

Colorado, we love your mountains. We love your forests. We love your sand dunes. We love your waterfalls. And we love your rivers. But after a while on a long hike, we need music.

Some of my fondest memories of listening to music in the past two years have come on a Colorado trail, plugging away uphill or gliding down.

Here are some particularly good hikes paired with the album that kept me moving. I hope they do the same for you.

Horsetooth Rock, Fort Collins

I’ve hiked this one dozens of times. I can get to to the top of the rock in about an hour, so I need an album that’s an hour or longer so I can rest and enjoy the view for a few songs.

On Horsetooth, you have to take into consideration the terrain, because it’s a bit deceiving. The hike starts off pretty easy but the final mile and half are a real good climb with the scramble to the top.

Horsetooth Rock in Fort Collins

So what works the best?

Feels, by Animal Collective. The Deluxe Edition with the bonus tracks gets you the hour you need.

Feels sets the pace right off the bat with “Did You See The Words”. You really can’t lose it after that. And just when you need that final kick, the gorgeous “Loch Raven” and the wild “The Purple Bottle” come on for the final leg.

Flatirons, Boulder

For me Flatirons connotes heart break, and not because of the fracturing of the earth that formed the place.

I took a date there once and then promptly never saw her again.

So yeah, this is kind of a corny pick, but the only other time I hiked Flatirons after that I jammed to The Long Goodbye, by LCD Soundsystem. It’s the release of their “last show” from Madison Square Garden.

My rationale for the choice aside, trust me when I say that a best of LCD show provides just the energy you need to get up and back when you are doing the Flatirons.


Mt. Ida, Rocky Mountain National Park

Mt. Ida, in Rocky Mountain National Park

This is by far one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve ever done on Earth, period. So you need something absolutely epic to play, especially when you get up above the treeline, exposed to snow, cold, wind, Arctic Tundra, and most perilously, thunder and lightning. If you take this hike and go a few miles there’s nowhere to hide when those Rocky Mountain storms blast in.

As for epic, to me there’s nothing more epic than Hendrix. I recommend South Saturn Delta, fitting for the seemingly endless planetary terrain you think you are on when you hike Ida. The album has some unreleased gems, and closes with … what else.. “Midnight Lightning”.

Runner up: Explosions In The Sky, any album will do.

Coyote Ridge, Fort Collins

Coyote Ridge is my neighborhood hike and I pretty much listen to the same album every time – Craig Finn’s We All Want The Same Things. This has the perfect tempo for the straight shot into the foothills, and then up a few ridges in time with the album’s rockers. I’m typically up to the top by “Tangletown”, sometimes right at the trumpet fill when Finn sings: “Tries to hang around some finer things/Tries to hang around some finer things.” Kind of perfect.

Pawnee Buttes, Pawnee National Grasslands

If you’ve ever been out to the Grasslands you know it’s way out there. And you need an album just for the ride. Personally, I need some Springsteen to drive out. So I cruise in with Nebraska, which works because that’s where you almost are when you park. As for the hike itself, it’s a pretty flat one, a little desolate, and surprisingly sacred.

I have to admit, I’m fond of native regions. They’re like memorials. So I reach for the emotional music when I’m out here. And as if you ever needed another reason to revisit Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago, here’s your reason. While rounding to the Buttes, Justin Vernon’s breakup lyrics are even rawer in the windswept landscapes.

Particularly haunting is listening to “The Wolves (Act I and II)” at twilight out here. Since doing that, I can’t honestly listen to it anywhere else.

No matter what you listen to, hope the music moves you. Happy hiking.