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177-Mile ‘Denver Orbital Trail’ Offers City-Accessible Thru-Hike

Michael Tormey mapped out a route that circumnavigates Denver using existing trails — he's calling it the 'Denver Orbital Trail' and he hopes it will make thru- and section hiking more accessible.
denver city mountains(Photo/R0uge)
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Thru-hikes, section hikes, FKTs, and other trail-centric mile-stacking objectives are all the rage right now. The Appalachian, Continental Divide, Pacific Crest, and similar trails are seeing greater use than ever by hikers trying to complete them — all in one go or in sections. The Appalachian Trail alone sees 3,000 attempted thru-hikers every year. In 2023, 1,201 successfully completed it.

But thru- or section hiking any one of those long-distance trails takes a long time and a hefty investment — both time and expenses present a barrier that prevents many people who might be interested from even trying it.

But it doesn’t have to be that way, as Michael Tormey, 26, proved when he mapped and set out on his own section hike: The “Denver Orbital Trail” (DOT).

“Denver is really blessed with a high-quality trail network that is fully integrated into the metro region itself. So you don’t have to drive into the mountains. You don’t have to brave I-70 traffic,” Tormey told GearJunkie. “We have these really incredible trails, parks, open spaces, and greenways just waiting for you to discover right here in the metro region.”

Denver orbital Trail thru or section hike
(Photo/Michael Tormey)

The Denver Orbital Trail is 177 miles long. Tormey divided it into 28 sections, each designed to be approachable and accessible sections that almost anyone could complete as a day hike. It weaves across the foothills, past Red Rocks, skirts Highland’s Ranch, and even forges through Commerce City.

The idea, as he described it, is to make thru- and section hiking more accessible. Conceptually, you could hike a section of the DOT every day to complete a thru-hike in 28 days (or less). Or you could section hike it at your leisure, ticking off Tormey’s trail segments over months or even years.

“This is an epic adventure — an epic opportunity — to discover everything that this metro region has to offer,” Tormey said. “Every segment is different and has something to love.”

Denver Orbital Trail: 28 Segments, 177 Miles


Tormey moved to Colorado last year from the U.K. While he sometimes talks like a spokesperson for the City of Denver or Colorado State Parks, he’s adamant that he’s new to the city and the DOT is not associated with any official initiative. It’s his own passion project, and he’s on a mission to share it with others.

“While I was in the U.K., I picked up this incredible culture of walking, especially urban walking on public footpaths, and stringing together really interesting walking routes,” Tormey said. He describes himself as an “avid walker,” having completed several long-distance trails, including Hadrian’s Wall in England.

When he moved to Denver, he realized the city and its satellite municipalities had a vast and well-maintained network of trails and paths. He started familiarizing himself with the map and realized that you could put together a full circumnavigation of Denver.

Denver orbital Trail thru or section hike
(Photo/Michael Tormey)

“I started thinking about all these different trail efforts,” he said, referencing orbital trails that exist around London, Manchester, and York. “I was really quite impressed with Denver’s existing trail network, and it started becoming clear to me that this was something that could exist … So, I mapped it, and then I set myself a goal of walking all of it.”

From July to mid-October 2023, Tormey worked his way around the city. As a newcomer to Denver, he said it was a great way to explore an unfamiliar place. Usually, he would do more than one section at a time when he ventured out. The trails are so walkable it wasn’t hard to string a few sections together.

Unsurprisingly, Tormey currently holds the Fastest Known Time (FKT) for the DOT: “A little over three months,” he said with pride.

Planning Your DOT: An Accessible Thru- or Section Hike

Denver orbital Trail thru or section hike
(Photo/Michael Tormey)

Tormey has the route and all the sections mapped with AllTrails on the Denver Orbital Trail website. He also included a printable PDF and a lot of information on transportation options. Most of the trailheads are accessible via public transportation like RTD, he noted.

On the DOT website, Tormey has descriptions for the different sections. He’s grouped them into four blocks: Downtown Golden to Douglas County Open Space, Highlands Point to Sand Creek Trail, Highland Canal to Big Dry Creek, and Standley Lake to Downtown Golden. The DOT navigates numerous municipalities and even crosses county lines as it circles the city.

Because the DOT segments can all be completed easily within a day, you don’t need backpacking or overnight gear. Though the website notes that you should carry water, snacks, layers, and sunscreen.

Based on elevation gain and distance, more than three-quarters of the segments are rated easy and moderate on the hiking difficulty scale used by the National Park Service.

Can You Camp Along the DOT?

Denver orbital Trail thru or section hike
(Photo/Michael Tormey)

There are some camping areas not far from the trails the DOT uses — especially closer to Golden and Morrison. Hikers should be careful camping outside of designated sites, though. Not only is it dangerous in some parts of Denver, but it is also illegal within the city proper, as well as in many of the municipalities that the DOT traverses. You could get fined or ticketed.

The beauty of the DOT is its accessibility, Tormey said. The trail segments are so short, so close to the city, and reachable via public transportation, this is a thru- or section hike you could do and still sleep in your bed every night.

Orbit the City: Hike the DOT

Michael Tormey on the Denver Orbital Trail

The trails the DOT follows are all owned, maintained, and overseen by various organizations (public and private). They are entirely responsible for the trail conditions. This was a point Tormey was sure to emphasize.

“I want to express a huge amount of gratitude and also, push responsibility in a way onto the existing trail owners, in the sense that I’m just a guy who drew a line on a map,” he said. “I don’t own any trails. It’s on them, the trail condition and things like that.”

He wanted to give credit where credit was due — and also where it protected him from liability.

That said, the organizations, municipalities, and counties that maintain these trails do a generally good job of it. Tormey said most of the trails are dry, clear, and walkable year-round.

To download a printable PDF of the trail or check out Tormey’s AllTails map, visit the Denver Orbital Trail website.

And if you live in an area with extensive trail networks, it might be possible to do something similar in your city. So, pull up a map and see for yourself. You could establish an Orbital Trail of your own — just as Tormey has done in Denver.

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