Colorado: Home of the Rocky Mountain National Park and literally ALL the things for the outdoorsy type. My family decided to plan a week long trip there last year and a week was nowhere near long enough. The endless amount of hiking trails, and scenic spots make it almost overwhelming to try to decide on which trails to hike each day. Here is a hiking guide to some of the best ones that my family did, and some of the ones we wish we did!
Divide and Conquer
One of the challenges of traveling with a large group was trying to decide on hikes when we had a WIDE variety of ability levels. Within our group we had athletes, rock climbers, newbies, bad knees, fear of heights and just pure lack of lungs just to name a new. But we all had a love of nature in common. Our group naturally fell into groups based on ability and we planned accordingly. We made it a point though to do a few easy/level hikes all together as a family before the more athletic group split off and that worked great for us!
Easy and Level Hikes
Bear Lake (0.8 Mile Loop, 45ft Elevation Gain)
First and foremost in my hiking guide: Bear Lake Trailhead parking area is one of the most popular destinations so the lot fills up quick but there are shuttles available. Very level and short hike, but beautiful nonetheless. Plenty of benches and scenic look out points. Hard packed surface makes this trail very accessible for all levels.
Sprague Lake (0.9 Mile Loop, 10ft Elevation Gain)
Another popular and easy trail around a beautiful lake. Park at Sprague Lake Trailhead, also available by shuttle. Virtually flat, hard packed surface and theoretically wheelchair accessible. My family members who did this hike were lucky enough to see a Moose coming out of the lake while they were there!
Alluvial Fan Trail (0.7 Out and Back, 203ft Elevation Gain)
Not necessarily a “hike” but involves a bit of an offroad trek out to a beautiful waterfall area. Enough of an incline that it may be tough for people with injuries or mobility problems. Worth the hike for all levels due to the scenic views of this area. Trail was under construction while we were there but didn’t inhibit us at all.
Upper Beaver Meadows Loop (1.1 Mile Loop, 115ft Elevation Gain)
Park at Upper Beaver Meadows Trailhead. There was ample parking, very uncrowded trail. Beautiful meadow hike, surrounded by mountains. The books said this is a great spot for seeing wildlife but we were not lucky during our hike.
Lily Lake Loop (0.8 Mile Loop, 10 ft Elevation Gain)
While technically in Rocky Mountain NP, it’s accessible from the other side of Estes Park, at the Lily Lake Parking Area. Another very accessible and scenic lake loop, great for the whole family. We had beautiful reflections in the water while we were there and if you walk off trail a bit, you get to see one of the most beautiful views of the National Park in my opinion.
Ute Trail (4.0 Miles Out and Back, 405 ft Elevation Gain)
Opportunity to experience the tundraw without a ton of climbing. Pick the trail up from Ute Crossing Trailhead and begin the hike above the treeline. It’s relatively flat but exposed to the elements that can be unpredictable. Be aware that this hike is well over 10,000 ft so breathing may be difficult despite the “ease” of this trail.
Moderate with Hills
Alberta Falls (1.7 Mile Out and Back, 200 ft Elevation Gain)
You can reach Alberta Falls from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead, but most likely will have to take the shuttle due to the lack of spots. I added this one to the “moderate” section because despite it being listed as an “easy” trail, it is definitely not the most accessible hike. It’s short but has several sections of stairs to get up to the falls area.
Nymph, Dream and Emerald Lake (3.5 Mile Out and Back, 650 ft Elevation Gain)
By far the most popular hike in Rocky Mountain Park, you will need to get there early to get a chance at parking at the Bear Lake Parking Lot and also to beat the crowds up to the lake views. This hike passes by Nymph lake and Dream Lake on the way up to Emerald.
Gem Lake (3.5 miles Out and Back, 1000 ft Elevation Gain)
The steepest of the hikes so far but worth it for the view at the top. Pick it up from Lumpy Ridge Trailhead and then take the trail to the right that will lead you through a narrow canyon. The final portion is rather steep but has large stairs to make it safer. The lake is formed by snowmelt and rain so it’s unique from other lakes in the park.
Fern Falls Trail (5.2 Mile Out and Back, 700 ft Elevation Gain)
Park at Fern Fall trailhead in the Moraine Park area for a whole slew of new trail options. We only did a portion of this one when we went but it was a completely different scenery than other trails thus far. You’ll pass many rock formations and fire areas along the way and then will come upon “THe Pool” turbulent water area and have the option to continue on from there. We were seconds too late from seeing a big black bear on this trail so keep that in mind if that makes you nervous!
Ouzel Falls (5.4 Miles Out and Back, 870 ft Elevation Gain)
Rated moderate for it’s length. This was one of the ones we debated but never made it too since it’s location was on the other side of the park. Pick up the trail at Wild Basin Trailhead which you can reach by going through the other side of Estes Park. The trail takes you past several different waterfalls though so depending on the time of year, the sights are spectacular. Ouzel Falls itself is a 40 foot waterfall. If you wish to continue on, you can hike to Bluebird Lake, Ouzel Lake and Thunder Lake from this point.
Deer Mountain (6.2 Miles Out and Back, 1210 ft Elevation Gain)
Fan favorite of my family who did this one twice! Arrive early and pick up the trailhead at Deer Ridge Junction. Enjoy the wide open path through the first mile or so and keep an eye out for plenty of wildlife. The trail is a steady climb then gains right at the end to the top but with panoramic 360degree views, seems like it’s a great hike for moderate to experienced hikers!
Extreme, or Day Long Hikes
Mount Ida Trail (9.6 Miles Out and Back, 2465 ft Elevation Gain)
Long and difficult due to the general elevation and potential for severe storms. The tundra is a bit unpredictable so you have the potential to get caught in a storm with no shelter. If you luck out though it’s known as one of the most rewarding trails. It follos the Continental Divide and looks over amazing views of the Rocky’s. The final summit of Mt. Ida is 12,889 ft.
Estes Cone (6.5 Miles Out and Back, 1790 ft Elevation Gain)
You can pick this trail up from the Longs Peak Trailhead or add a bit more distance and walk from the Lily Lake Parking lot. My family didn’t LOVE this one but the views from the top looked insane! The trail becomes progressively steeper as it goes on and then the last 800 feet are just pure scramble. It tops out at 11,000 ft so breathing is tough and the hike is physically and mentally challenging.
Sky Pond (9.0 Miles Out and Back, 1780 ft Elevation Gain)
One of the most talked about trails in Rocky Mountain National Park due to it’s unreal views of the alpine lake at the top. You’ll have to park (or shuttle in) at Glacier Gorge Trailhead, the same parking lot as Alberta Falls. This is one of the most popular spots so plan accordingly. This trail passes by waterfalls, lakes, mountains, views, everything you can dream of. But it is not for the faint of heart. With steep climps, long distances and complicated scrambles, it requires an extra amount of caution to get to the top. But well worth it from what I’ve heard.
Twin Sisters Peak (7.0 Miles out and Back, 2475 ft Elevation Gain)
Park at the Twin Sisters Trailhead near Lily Lake to get to this trail. A lot of people use this to “acclimate” before the big big hikes but what I’m reading says it’s worth it in itself. It can get steep at times and a little hard to travel but great views at the top from one or both peaks.
Longs Peak – Keyhole Route (12.4 Miles, 3,825 ft Elevation Gain)
Now this one is not one for the average hiking guide, but worth mentioning nonetheless. The tallest mountain in all of Rocky Mountain National Park and one of the 53 Colorado Fourteeners. This one is one that you need to be very experienced and well trained before even contemplating it. Between the extreme elevation gains, difficult terrain, and unpredictable weather near dangerous cliffs, it’s nothing to mess around with.
So as you can see, Rocky Mountain National Park is filled with opportunities for people of all ages and abilities. From short, flat loops, to extreme mountains, you’ll never run out of options for what your looking for. In an area so scenic and so diverse, it’s no wonder that people flock from all over to experience this nature.
Thanks to https://www.territorysupply.com/rocky-mountain-national-park-hikes and https://www.glamgranolatravel.com/best-hikes-rocky-mountain-national-park/ for some intel on the hikes that we did not personally do! Giving credit where credit is due!
Have you been to Rocky Mountain National Park and experienced some of these trails? Tell me which were your favorite in the comments below. And until next time…