Covering over 400 square miles, Rocky Mountain National Park exudes adventure and beauty in every single direction – it is impossible to turn your head a fraction of an angle without encountering stunning landscapes, incredible wildlife, and the quiet beauty that comes with the majesty of nature.
With over 300 miles of trails, it can be difficult to determine which hikes are the best – there is so much to see. From easy trail walks around meadows, lakes, and forests—to challenging climbs for thrill seekers—Rocky Mountain National Park has something for everyone.
Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or just starting out, there are a variety of trails to explore in this immense national park. From incredible mountaintop views to quiet lake walks, here are 15 must-see (and must-do) hikes at Rocky Mountain National Park.
1. Bear Lake Loop
This easy, 1-mile loop trail is perfect for families and those who want to take in the beauty of the park without a strenuous hike. As the name suggests, the trail circles around Bear Lake, offering stunning views of the lake and surrounding mountains.
To access the trail, start by heading to the end of Bear Lake Road, which is situated around 9 miles from Highway 36 – visitors can also make the most of a free shuttle bus when the park is particularly busy, which is usually during the summer months.
The recommendation is that visitors take in the trail in a counterclockwise direction, as this fits in with the local guides, copies of which can be found at the entrance to the trail, and will allow you to take in the best views of the lake.
This hike begins at the Bear Lake Ranger Station, and circles through a wide range of trees, including aspen, pine, and fir. The aspen is of particular interest; it occurred as a result of a fire in 1900 and is now a stunning sight to behold.
Hallett Peak is another key spot on the route and can be seen from the beginning of the route, with Half Mountain creating another must-see site halfway around.
Overall, this is a perfect hike for those who want to take in the beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park without having to make a strenuous effort.
2. Emerald Lake Trail
At around 1.8 miles, is another trail accessible from the Bear Lake Trailhead at the end of Bear Lake Road, curving off to the left at the entrance, and is another very popular option – especially if you stop at Bear Lake first to take in the stunning scenes.
Once you have encountered the wonders of Bear Lake, the trail climbs slowly up towards Nymph Lake, offering small, tantalizing glimpses of Longs Peak, peeking through the trees, and offering an idea of the beauty that awaits the end of your hike.
After around half a mile of hiking, you will find yourself at the south end of Nymph Lake and can take a moment here to catch your breath, enjoy the water lilies, and take in the wonders of nature that surround you in every direction.
Just a short way up the trail will show you the full glory of Hallett Peak, standing guard over the wider landscape – the perfect place to grab some stunning shots for keen photographers.
Continue around the lake and climb the steep hill to gain wonderful views of Hallett Peak, and lose yourself in the heady scent of delicious wildflowers that grow in abundance during the summer months.
A mile or so up the path will bring you to another fork – continue onwards to explore Lake Haiyaha, or turn right to encounter Emerald Lake.
Once you reach Dream Lake, you will be forced to stop by the sheer beauty of Flattop Mountain and Hallett Peak – if you have brought a picnic lunch, this is the perfect place to stop and take a few minutes to simply enjoy the view.
Once you are ready to continue, make your way around the northern end of Dream Lake, and climb the stone steps in front of you, entering a mysterious pine forest as you go.
Gaze to your left for a glimpse of Tyndall Gorge, and look out in front of you for a glimpse of the majesty of Flattop Mountain. After climbing a total of 10,110 feet, you will finally stumble upon Emerald Lake – a true marvel nestled in the Rocky Mountain National Park.
This offers some of the most stunning sights in the park and is a great place to take a break before heading back down the trail – spend some time just soaking up the natural wonder that is all around you.
3. Sky Pond
This 8-mile round-trip trail takes you to the stunning Sky Pond, located at the base of Taylor Peak and Powell Peak. This is a great trail for those looking for a bit of a challenge, as it involves some steep climbs and scrambles.
The trail begins at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead and takes you past Alberta Falls, Loch Vale, and Timberline Falls before reaching Sky Pond. Along the way, you will be treated to stunning views of Longs Peak and the surrounding mountains.
Once you reach Sky Pond, take some time to explore the area and take in the breathtaking views.
Starting at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead, you will walk for around a quarter of a mile, crossing Chaos Creek, and then reach the split that offers a path to Bear Lake, and one to Sky Pond – for the latter, turn left here.
The trail will then take you past the famous Alberta Falls, complete with an incredible 30-foot waterfall – spend a few moments here really taking in the awe-inspiring beauty and power of nature.
Once you are ready, continue on through the beautiful landscape, turning right at the next junction to continue on the trail up to Sky Pond – this is a great way to explore and learn more about the various rehabilitation projects and efforts that are going on by conservation experts.
Along the way, you’ll pass two waterfalls and have incredible views of the surrounding mountains – this is the perfect choice for those looking for a challenging hike with plenty of rewards.
Head for the Loch Vale trail and then proceed up the steep slope on the other side of this junction. Enjoy the views beneath you, and take in the view of Icy Brook cascading down on your left – there are a number of spaces and chances here to stop and take in the stunning view.
Around 2.8 miles in, you will reach Loch Vale, a breathtaking subalpine lake that boasts a reputation as one of the most famous watersheds on the planet, with experts taking a keen interest in the wind, precipitation, and chemical monitoring, to learn more about natural processes versus the impact of humans.
High above the lake, take in the sights of Taylor Peak and Taylor Glacier – a great photo op for artistic travelers – and turn to the southwest to take in the amazing Sharkstooth, so named thanks to its distinctive shape.
Heading to the north will see Powell Peak start to make itself visible, and you will soon be on the final climb up to another split.
Turning right will take you to Andres Glacier and the only campsite in this area, Andrews Creek Backcountry Campsite while turning left will take you to Sky Pond.
Keep moving to enjoy the sight of Timberline Falls above you, and climb the next 200 feet – this is a time when you will need to conserve your breath as this is a steep climb!
The effort is worth it, though; you will arrive at the base of Timberline Falls after around 4 miles – watch out for the majestic waterfall below you, and gaze out for a birds-eye view of the Loch.
The next section is a slight scramble, but getting to the top means you are nearly at your destination – after another few miles you will finally find yourself at Sky Pond, a stunning alpine lake surrounded by sheer cliffs and the towering peaks of Hallett Peak and Flattop Mountain.
Take some time to enjoy the view, take some photos, and then make your way back down the same route you came up.
4. Alberta Falls
This 1.7-mile roundtrip trail takes you to Alberta Falls, one of the most popular destinations in the park. The falls are located in Glacier Gorge and offer stunning views of the surrounding mountains.
The trail begins at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead and takes you through a beautiful forest of pine trees where the trail converges with the Glacier Creek trail. This then splits off, and hikers on the hunt for the Alberta Falls trail should head off to the left.
Along the way, you will pass several small streams and have the opportunity to spot some wildlife, as well as wander through stunning aspen groves and mixed pine forests – this trail looks particularly amazing in the fall month, just as the trees are starting to turn.
Once you reach Alberta Falls, take some time to admire the 30-foot waterfall – widely regarded as one of the best in the Rocky Mountain National Park, and the perfect spot to enjoy a delicious picnic lunch before heading back down the trail.
If you are keen on more adventure, continue heading up to the Loch or Mills Lake, both of which can be found upwards of Alberta Falls.
These offer the chance to enjoy even more incredible scenery and should be more than easy to navigate for moderate to experienced hikers searching for a little more of a challenge.
5. Chasm Lake
This 8-mile round trip trail takes you to Chasm Lake, located at the base of Longs Peak – the perfect spot for a day of exploration, and the highest point in the Rocky Mountains National Park.
The busy nature of this hike means that you will need to allow yourself plenty of time, with many hikers starting their journey at between 3 am and 5 am to allow them to reach the summit in plenty of time.
At 14,259, this is the tallest peak in the park and gains its name from Major Stephen H Long, an explorer who led an expedition team that ended up being the first to climb Pikes Peak.
The first team to ascend Long Peak itself included William Byers, founder of Rocky Mountain News, and John Wesley Powell, and the team ascended in 1868.
Begin at the Longs Peak Ranger Station, and begin a steep climb through a stunning forest of pine trees, fir trees, and spruce trees – take a moment to stop and inhale here, as the scent is heavenly!
After around half a mile, you will encounter the Eugenia Mine Train junction, and around a mile after this the trail that will take you to the Goblins Forest Backcountry Campground if you follow this path.
Continue walking to leave the forest and make your way into the subalpine zone, taking in the unique view of trees with unique, irregular growth patterns as the landscape shifts from forest to tundra, and keep an eye out for Mount Lady Washington, Mount Meeker, and Longs Peak.
After a few miles will take you to the trail to another campsite, the Battle Mountain Backcountry Campsite, and continuing beyond this takes you to Mills Moraine – this is where the terrain can get a little tricky and rugged.
Continue to climb – you will now be at around 11,540 feet – and you will reach the junction for the Chasm Lake trail. With the imposing presence of Mount Lady Washington on the west, the only way is up.
Continue to move southwest, skirting a deep, dramatic gorge, and soak up the sight of Columbine Falls and Peacock Pool as you go.
A short walk later will lead to another climb and some simple scrambling, and you will be rewarded for your efforts with an incredible view: Chasm Lake.
Once you reach Chasm Lake, take some time to admire the stunning views of Longs Peak and the surrounding mountains. This is a great spot for a picnic lunch before heading back down the trail.
If you are on the hunt for something with a little more adventure, you can continue heading up to the Keyhole or Mills Lake, both of which can be found upwards of Chasm Lake.
These offer the chance to enjoy even more incredible scenery and should be on the list of any experienced hiker.
6. Flattop Mountain
This is one of the most popular hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park and for good reason. This 4.4-mile roundtrip trail takes you to the summit of Flattop Mountain, which stands at 12,324 feet.
The trailhead can be found at Bear Lake Trailhead, and from here you will ascend a steep climb through a stunning forest of pine trees and aspen groves.
Around a mile up the trail you will encounter a junction – a right turn takes you to the Mill Creek Basin and Bierstadt Lake while staying left will keep you heading toward Flattop Mountain.
This path will take up the eastern side of the mountain, where after around two miles, you will be rewarded for your climb at the Dream Lake Overlook – grab an amazing view of Longs Peak here, and catch your breath in preparation for the next section.
At around 11,000 feet you will exit the tree line, and start to enjoy the first of many panoramic, breathtaking views over the majority of the Glacier Basin area, including Sprague Lake and Bierstadt Lake. Around three miles on you will encounter the Emerald Lake
Overlook – around 1200 feet above the lake itself – and can enjoy more stunning views before continuing to climb. The landscape changes to that of the open tundra, and barren, rocky terrain will be all around you.
Just below the summit, stop and enjoy amazing views over Tyndall Glacier and Hallett Peak, and then embark on the last 200 feet of climbing to reach the summit of Flattop Mountain, and be rewarded with stunning views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
This is a great hike for those looking for a challenge, as well as those who just want to enjoy some incredible scenery. This is a hike that can be tricky, so make sure you are well-prepared and have the right equipment.
7. Boulder Brook Hike
This is a great hike for those looking for a more relaxed experience in Rocky Mountain National Park and is perfect for fans of more hidden waterfalls that are dotted across the landscape.
This 4.6-mile roundtrip trail takes you through the stunning forests of the park and offers some incredible views of lesser-known waterfalls – perfect for a soothing, relaxed hike rather than the hardcore mountain climbs above.
The Boulder Brook hike starts at the Wild Basin Trailhead and takes you through a variety of different landscapes. After around two miles, you will come across Copeland Falls – a stunning waterfall that cascades down from the mountainside.
This is a great spot to take some photos and admire the beauty of nature before continuing on your journey.
Key spots along the route include Calypso Cascades – a series of small waterfalls that make for a great spot to take a break and enjoy the scenery, as well as Ouzel Falls – another stunning waterfall that is well worth the effort.
This is a great hike for those looking for something a bit more relaxed than some of the more strenuous hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park and is perfect for those who want to enjoy some of the more hidden waterfalls in the park.
8. Alpine Ridge Hike
This is a great hike for those looking to experience some of the more remote areas of Rocky Mountain National Park.
This 7-mile round-trip trail takes you through some stunning alpine terrain, and offers incredible views of the surrounding mountains and valleys, boasting a reputation as one of the highest hikes in North America.
The Alpine Ridge hike starts at the Bear Lake Trailhead, and from here you will ascend a steep climb up to the ridge line. Along the way, you will be rewarded with stunning views of the surrounding mountains and valleys, as well as some great opportunities to spot wildlife.
Once you reach the ridge line, you will be able to enjoy some incredible views of the Never Summer Mountains, as well as Longs Peak and Mount Meeker. This is a great spot to take a break and admire the beauty of nature before continuing on your journey.
The trail then descends down to the Glacier Gorge Trailhead, and from here you can enjoy some more stunning views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
This is a great hike for those looking for a challenge, as well as those who just want to enjoy some incredible scenery.
9. Mills Lake Hike
Another popular option is the Mills Lake Hike, which is a great choice for those looking to experience some incredible scenery in some of the most beautiful areas of Rocky Mountain National Park.
This 5.4-mile roundtrip trail takes you through some stunning alpine terrain and offers incredible views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. The Mills Lake hike starts at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead, and from here you will ascend a steep climb up to the lake.
Along the way, you will be rewarded with stunning views of the surrounding mountains and valleys, as well as some great opportunities to spot wildlife.
Mills Lake itself is a stunning alpine lake and is a great spot to take a break and admire the beauty of nature before continuing on your journey to a higher peak, or simply stopping to take in the view right in front of you.
The trail then descends to the Glacier Gorge Trailhead, and from here you can enjoy some more stunning views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
This is a great hike for those looking for something a bit more challenging, as well as those who just want to enjoy some incredible scenery.
10. Sprague Lake
Sprague Lake is a great option for those looking for something a bit more relaxed than some of the more strenuous hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.
This easy loop trail takes you around the lake and offers incredible views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.
The Sprague Lake hike starts at the Bear Lake Trailhead, and from here you will ascend a gentle climb up to the lake – elevations are kept to a minimum on this trail, making it a perfect choice for anyone who is looking for a family hike, or something a little easier on the legs.
Along the way, you will be rewarded with stunning views of the surrounding mountains and valleys, as well as some great opportunities to spot wildlife.
Sprague Lake itself is a stunning alpine lake, and is a great spot to take a break and admire the beauty of nature before continuing on your journey, and is packed with picnic tables, benches, and places to stop and enjoy an al fresco lunch while taking in and making the most of the incredible views stretching out in every direction.
11. Gem Lake
Gem Lake is a popular hike in Rocky Mountain National Park and is located just off of Bear Lake Road. As one of the easiest hikes in the park, this is an ideal choice for those looking for a leisurely stroll.
The trail is around a 3.4-mile round trip, with an elevation gain of just over 500 ft (152 m).
Along the way, hikers will be treated to stunning views of the surrounding mountains and valleys, as well as the opportunity to spot some wildlife, and the main focus is on the stunning Gem Lake itself – a truly beautiful sight that offers the perfect spot to sit, relax and feel at one with nature.
What Is The Rocky Mountain National Park?
Rocky Mountain National Park is a United States national park located approximately 76 mi (122 km) northwest of Denver International Airport in north-central Colorado, within the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. The park is situated between the towns of Estes Park to the east and Grand Lake to the west. The eastern and western slopes of the Continental Divide run right across the center, with areas in the park averaging over 12,000 ft (3,658 m) in elevation. The park contains 76 mountains over 10,000 ft (3,048 m), including Longs Peak at 14,259 ft (4346 m).
Choosing The Right Hiking Trail: What To Consider?
When choosing a hiking trail in Rocky Mountain National Park, there are a number of elements that will play a key part in your decision, and some of the most important considerations include:
The difficulty of the trail will play a major role in your decision, as some trails are more challenging than others. Be sure to consider your own fitness level and experience when choosing a trail.
The length of the trail is also an important factor to consider, as some trails may be too long or too short for your needs.
The elevation of the trail is also an important factor to consider, as some trails may be too steep or too flat for your needs.
The scenery of the trail is also an important factor to consider, as some trails offer more stunning views than others.
The wildlife of the trail is also an important factor to consider, as some trails offer more opportunities to spot wildlife than others.
The amenities of the trail are also an important factor to consider, as some trails offer more picnic tables, benches, and other amenities than others.
The weather of the trail is also an important factor to consider, as some trails may be too hot or too cold for your needs.
Time Of Year
The time of year is also an important factor to consider, as some trails may be more enjoyable during certain times of the year than others.
The crowds of the trail are also an important factor to consider, as some trails may be more crowded than others.
The safety of the trail is also an important factor to consider, as some trails may be more dangerous than others.
Choosing the right hiking trail in Rocky Mountain National Park can be a daunting task, but with careful consideration of the elements listed above, you can find the perfect trail for your needs.
Whether you’re looking for an easy stroll or a challenging hike, there is something for everyone in this beautiful national park.
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