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updated 6/22/2005 2:18:17 PM ET 2005-06-22T18:18:17

Visitors who want an easy ramble on a gentle path or a lungful of thin air on a high-country trail can find what they're looking for on dozens of hikes within an hour or two of downtown Denver.

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There's no shortage of advice, either, with guidebooks ranging from "Walkin' The Dog Denver" to "Best Hikes with Children in Colorado."

Brenda Porter, education director for the Colorado Mountain Club, likes the Horseshoe Trail at Golden Gate Canyon State Park, about an hour's drive from downtown.

"Great for families," she said. "It follows a little stream, there's lots of wildflowers, you kind of get that mountain feeling and you don't have to fight I-70."

Interstate 70, the main route from Denver through the mountains, is sometimes congested with vacationers and trucks.

Photographer John Fielder recommends Roxborough State Park, about 40 minutes southwest of Denver. Easy-to-moderate trails wind through towering red rock spires, scrub oak, cottonwoods and Ponderosa pine.

"It's a place I enjoy retreating when I don't have time to go further into the mountains," said Fielder, whose books include "Colorado 1870-2000," which matches his photos with ones taken more than a century earlier by William Henry Jackson.

For hikers looking for more of a challenge, the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area offers rigorous but not formidable trails. Gary Neptune, owner of Neptune Mountaineering in nearby Boulder, recommends a hike to Blue Lake in the Indian Peaks.

"You'd definitely get above timberline and you're surrounded by these fairly spectacular peaks," said Neptune, who has climbed to the summits of some of the world's highest mountains, including Mount Everest. "You have a beautiful lake (and) a lot of these elements that make it rugged-feeling."

About a two-hour drive north of Denver is Rocky Mountain National Park, with 359 miles of trails. You can follow a paved, wheelchair-accessible path around Bear Lake or take strenuous hikes up 12,000- to 14,000-foot peaks.

A brief foray above treeline - about 11,000 feet in Colorado - can be exhilarating for nearly anyone, but extended stays require conditioning and preparation. Altitude sickness can range from unpleasant to dangerous, and lightning storms form over the peaks nearly every summer afternoon.

Adventurers can entertain themselves indoors, too. Sandwiched among the shiny alloys and high-tech fabrics at Neptune Mountaineering are museum-like displays of old mountaineering gear, some used on historic climbs.

Several Denver-area stores and gyms have climbing walls. And the tiny ranger's cabin at the Longs Peak trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park has a 3-D map of the park's 14,255-foot mountain and a sobering display of clothing rent by a lightning bolt.

If you go:

TRAILS AND PARKS:
* Colorado state parks: www.parks.state.co.us/ or call (303) 866-3437 for a parks guide. From the Web site, click on "Trail Finder" for details on Roxborough State Park or the Horseshoe Trail at Golden Gate Canyon State Park.

* Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forest, which includes Blue Lake in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area: www.fs.fed.us/r2/arnf/ or (970) 295-6600.

* Colorado Mountain Club: www.cmc.org/ or (303) 279-3080. Click on "events" and "education" for a list of activities; some are open to nonmembers.

* Rocky Mountain National Park: www.nps.gov/romo or (970) 586-1333.

BOOKS:
"Hiking Rocky Mountain National Park" (Falcon, $14.95), by Kent and Donna Dannen, is a popular guide for the park and the nearby Indian Peaks Wilderness Area.

"Hiking Colorado's Front Range" (Falcon, $15.95), by Bob D'Antonio, covers a broader swath of the popular eastern rampart of the Rockies.

Specialized books include "Walkin' The Dog Denver" (Falcon, $10.95) by M.A. Savage; and "Best Hikes with Children in Colorado" (Mountaineers Books, $14.95) by M.A. Keilty. Guides to viewing wildflowers and books about other parks and areas are also available from Amazon, REI and other sources.

MAPS: Downloadable maps are available at Colorado state park Web sites. The U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service have official maps of the Indian Peaks and Rocky Mountain National Park. Detailed, easy-to-read and waterproof trail maps based on U.S. Geological Service topographic maps are available in most outdoors shops.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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