Hiking in Rocky Mountains National Park is a great way to enjoy the park’s pristine peaks and lakes. If you’re interested in hiking in the mountains, there are a number of popular routes to choose from.
With over 350 miles of trails, there is something for everyone. From easy, scenic walks to strenuous multi-day backpacking trips, there is no shortage of adventure to be had in the Rockies.
So, if you are interested in going on a hike to the Rocky Mountains National Park, we have listed the top 16 spots that you must visit.
Why is the Rocky Mountains National Park Popular?
The Rocky Mountains formed 300 million years ago and were once covered with glaciers. They are composed of sedimentary rock. During the Quaternary period, they were exposed, cut, and uplifted. Native Americans lived in the park until the mid-1860s, when settlers began moving in.
The Rocky Mountains National Park is located in Colorado, about 75 miles northwest of Denver. The park spans over 400 square miles and includes parts of both the Front Range of the Rockies and the Southern Rocky Mountains.
Moreover, the park is home to sixty peaks above 12,000 feet, the park is home to some of the tallest mountains in North America. The tallest peak is Longs Peak, at 14,259 feet. It is also home to many lakes. This is the sole reason why Rocky Mountains National Park is a hiking paradise for outdoor enthusiasts of all levels.
Best Time to Visit Rocky Mountains National Park
The best time to visit the park depends on what you are looking for. Summer is the busiest season, but it also offers the most opportunities for activities like hiking in the mountains, camping, and fishing.
Spring and fall are quieter, but the weather can be more unpredictable. Winter is the least crowded time to visit, as many trails and roads are closed due to snow.
However, no matter what time of year you visit, be sure to take some time to enjoy the incredible scenery. The Rocky Mountains are truly a sight to behold!
Things to Do in Rocky Mountains National Park
While most visitors to Rocky Mountains National Park come in the summer months, the park has a great deal to offer in the winter as well. With such steep terrain, there are many opportunities to enjoy snowboarding and backcountry skiing. It is also a popular destination for equestrians and other outdoor enthusiasts.
The park has many activities for visitors, including guided tours. Depending on the season, these tours can be tailored to suit the needs of different groups of people.
For example, a day tour can cover all three ecosystems within the national park, ending at Grand Lake. Another tour is hiking in the mountains, which explores the area’s geological formations.
Top 16 Best Hiking Spots in the Rocky Mountains National Park
Here are the top 16 Best Hiking Spots in the Rocky mountains that you should definitely visit this year:
Ute Trail to Tombstone Ridge
Distance: 4 miles
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Length of Time: 1.5 to 3 hours
A short and easy hike on Tombstone Ridge provides spectacular views of Mount Long, Mummy’s Mountain, and the surrounding mountains. The area is also a great place to see wildlife. You can enjoy the sweeping views while hiking through the Rocky Mountains National Park’s alpine tundra.
The Ute trail to Tombstone Ridge begins from a small parking area near the Alpine Visitor Center. Basically, the trail begins with a relatively flat ascent, followed by two short climbs.
If you love hiking, Rocky Mountain National Park has plenty of trails above the treeline. Several of the best ones are short and have minimal elevation. But, the best part of the Ute trail is that it is both historical and accessible, which hikers would love.
Hikers can enjoy panoramic views of the park by taking the Ute Trail to Tombstone Ridge. The lower trail starts from the upper beaver meadows. Moreover, the upper trail is shorter, covering 1.1 miles and 300 feet of gain. Hikers will find great views of the forest canyon and rocky mounds on this ridge. The trail ends at the Beaver Meadows Trailhead, near the eastern edge of the park.
Distance: 4.1 miles
Length of Time: 2 to 3 hours
The trailhead at Bear Lake is located at the end of the park’s Bear Lake Trailhead. The station is open for free tourist information, but the hike begins and ends at the trailhead. From the parking lot, it is a 0.5-mile walk to the lake.
Along the way, you will see Hallett Peak, Longs Peak, and metamorphic boulders. The most interesting fact is that the ecosystem around the lake is home to a variety of wildlife.
If you’re looking forward to hiking in the mountains, you can start at the trailhead for the Deer Mountain trail. The three-mile hike offers spectacular views of the park’s mountain range.
Distance: 1.7 miles
Length of Time: 1 to 1.5 hours
If you’re looking for a short, moderately-strength hike in the Rockies, consider hiking Alberta Falls. The Alberta Falls trail winds through aspen groves and pine forests before ending at the spectacular waterfall.
Take time to stop and admire the sweeping gorge from the trail. The trail winds among boulders, offering beautiful views of the surrounding area. Aspen trees line the creek and trail, creating a golden canopy.
One of the most popular hikes in the Rockies is Alberta Falls, a 30-foot waterfall located in the Glacier Gorge. The trail follows Glacier Creek, a creek fed by year-round snowmelt. This water then feeds Bear Lake, the largest and most popular lake in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Hikers can start at the Glacier Gorge trailhead and follow the trail along Glacier Creek, paralleling the waterfall. The trail intersects two other trails along the way.
Alpine Ridge Trail
Distance: 0.6 miles
Length of Time: 30 minutes
One of the lesser-known trails in the Rocky Mountain National Park is the Alpine Ridge Trail. It begins on the far side of the parking lot and has a short, steep climb.
There are no trail markers along this route, but you’ll find plenty of information about it in the park’s newspaper. Otherwise, you’ll just have to use your own intuition. Once you’re up to the elevation, it’s a beautiful, scenic walk.
The Alpine Visitor Center has restrooms and an exhibit about the alpine tundra ecosystem. There’s also a gift shop run by the Rocky Mountain Conservancy.
The Alpine Visitor Center is open from Memorial Day to mid-October and is accessible via the Old Fall River Road, which is nine miles long and open to one-way uphill vehicle traffic. The best decision to reach the trailhead is to start early and arrive before midday on a weekday.
Distance: 3.6 miles
Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult
Length of Time: 2 to 3 hours
While hiking in the Rocky Mountains National Park, you should make a point of visiting Gem Lake. The gem-like lake is surrounded by layered cliffs and lacks an outlet stream.
Basically, water from the snowmelt and rainfalls clings to the rocky walls of the basin. When hiking this lake, make sure to plan your trip according to the seasons. You can check the trail conditions online before leaving.
The trail to Gem Lake starts from the Lumpy Ridge Trailhead. It is part of the Twin Owls Loop, which climbs 2475 feet and includes Gem Lake. Hiking in the mountains is described as 3.6 miles round trip. This hike starts with an easy hike but will quickly become a challenging climb.
There are a few steep sections and a long staircase made of giant rock steps. So, be prepared for a lot of walking.
Nymph, Dream & Emerald Lakes
Distance: 3.6 miles
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Length of Time: 2 to 3 hours
If you’re looking for easy hiking in the Rocky Mountains, Nymph Dream and Emerald Lakes are two great options. While these trails tend to be more crowded than others, they offer spectacular views and 3.6-mile round-trip hikes.
For your convenience, we’ve included a map and driving directions for the trailhead, so you can plan your trip and arrive ready to hike. The trailhead for Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lakes is located at the end of the scenic Bear Lake Road.
If you’ve ever wanted to see an incredible natural lake, the Emerald Lake in Rocky Mountains National Park is a great place to do so. Although popular in summer, it’s not so crowded in winter. It’s best to visit the lake in late May or early June when there are many wildflowers in bloom. Also, try to arrive early enough to avoid the threat of an afternoon thunderstorm.
You can reach this area of the park by taking US-36 West into Rocky Mountain National Park. Continue for 0.2 miles to turn left onto Bear Lake Road, which is ten miles from the Bear Lake parking lot, and you’ll find this well-maintained trail.
Distance: 6.2 miles
Length of Time: 3 to 4 hours
The pristine natural beauty of Colorado’s Deer Mountain will inspire hikers and nature lovers alike. This park spans the Continental Divide, encompassing the alpine tundra, mountains, and protected forests.
Popular hiking trails to reach the mountain include Old Fall River Road and Trail Ridge Road. Other routes include the Keyhole Route, which crosses steep, vertical rock faces and leads to Longs Peak. From the summit, hikers can take in the sweeping views of the peaks and pristine lake.
The trail to the top of Deer Mountain is moderately difficult but provides panoramic views of the park and the surrounding area. It starts at the Deer Ridge Junction and ends at Deer Mountain summit, which is a 6.2 miles round trip.
The hike requires a reasonable level of fitness and is not overly strenuous. Alternatively, taking a car up the mountain will not be a problem. However, parking is limited, so you need to arrive early.
Distance: 7.4 miles
Length of Time: 4 to 5 hours
The Twin Sisters, also known as the Seven Sisters, are two peaks that rise to over 11,000 feet. From certain angles, the Twin Sisters might not be visible; they appear as a series of high points. It is only after you’ve curled around the mountain’s northern slope and taken a few switchbacks up to the saddle that you’ll be able to see them.
Hiking the Twin Sisters provides outstanding views of the park. You start at a trailhead at 9,000 ft elevation. After a short distance, you will begin to ascend the trail through the lodgepole pine forest.
Eventually, you’ll leave the Rocky Mountain National Park and enter the Roosevelt National Forest. Now, you’ll likely see elk lingering in the woods during the day. Moreover, you will also see the peaks of Longs Peak.
Odessa Lake & Fern Lake
Distance: 7.5 to 10 miles, depending on the route you choose
Length of Time: 4 to 7 hours
When hiking in the Rocky Mountains National Park, you should consider visiting Odessa Lake and Fern Lake. You’ll be rewarded with beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and a trip down the rugged Fern Lake Trail.
If you’re planning to camp, you’ll also want to check out Fern Falls, a popular fishing spot that’s a short walk from the trailhead. The Fern Lake Nature Trail in Rocky Mountains National Park is an easy hike that offers panoramic views of the park’s surrounding mountains. The trail begins by ascending gently through a burn scar and passes campsites before ascending a set of switchbacks.
The first switchback offers a stunning view of 60-foot-high Fern Falls. Then, follow the trail to the lake. From here, you can retrace your steps. If you want to hike to the famous Odessa Lake, you can also make a round trip to Fern Falls. The scenery here is spectacular, and you can even catch the sunrise over the lake.
A shuttle will drop you off at the trailhead, making your hike easy and pleasant. After you’ve reached the beautiful lake, you can walk back to the trailhead.
Mills Lake & Black Lake
Distance: 10 miles
Length of Time: 5 to 7 hours
If you’ve been to the Rocky Mountains and have longed to see some waterfalls, Mills Lake & Black Lake Hiking in the Rocky Mountains National Park may be the perfect hike for you.
Located 2.4 miles from Mills Lake, this hike will take you through the woods before taking you to Black Lake. You can enjoy the stunning views while hiking through heavily forested slopes and rocky ridges, and you can even stop for a picnic!
From the Bear Lake trailhead, you can follow the Glacier Gorge Trail 2.8 miles up the mountain to Mills Lake. You should plan to begin hiking early as the parking lot is quite popular.
After Mills Lake, you can continue along the trail past Jewel Lake to Black Lake, a glacial pond below granite cliffs. It is a great hike for families and those who are looking forward to creating a memorable hiking experience.
Lily Lake Loop
Distance: 0.8 miles
Length of Time: 1 to 2 hours
If you’re in the mood for a gentle hike, the Lily Lake Loop hike is just the ticket. The 3/4-mile trail winds around the lake, offering stunning views of Estes Cone, Longs Peak, and Mt. Meeker.
The hike is particularly popular during the fall season due to the large aspen groves that line the trail. Afterward, head to Lily Mountain for a spot of fishing. You’ll start your hike near the Lily Lake Loop trailhead, which is located just past Highway 7. This loop trail leads to the beautiful lake.
During springtime, wildflowers bloom in abundance along the trail, making this an excellent spot to see wildlife. The lake is also home to waterfowl, making it a great place to view wildlife. Moreover, you’ll definitely want to keep your eyes open for wildlife.
Sprague Lake Loop
Distance: 0.5 miles
Length of Time: 1 to 2 hours
Sprague Lake Nature Trail is a great place to take a hike in the Rocky Mountains National Park. It’s a flat, easy-to-follow trail that’s less than a mile long and has low elevation gain.
However, the trail can be icy and snowy, so it’s best to wear proper traction footwear. The trail is also a great place to watch sunrise and sunset.
Sprague Lake is a beautiful, relatively easy hiking trail that takes you past a calm lake. It’s a popular spot for families with young children, with the lake offering a peaceful and diverse setting.
Despite its short length, the Sprague Lake Loop in Rocky Mountain is well worth a hike. The easy, level trail is a popular stop off Bear Lake Road. The trail also passes by the Sprague Lake Trailhead, so be sure to plan ahead for the weather before you head out.
Distance: 12.6 miles
Length of Time: 10 to 11 hours
If you’re interested in hiking in Colorado, you’ve probably heard about the scenic Copeland Falls. This waterfall is located in Rocky Mountain National Park, and it offers hikers a beautiful, easy experience.
You can drive up to this location and enjoy a picnic or simply relax on the park road before you begin your hike. This is an excellent way to make the most of the park before your hike.
You can start your hike from the Wild Basin Trailhead and continue on to Upper and Lower Copeland Falls. Both falls are located along a side trail that begins with a babbling creek.
After completing the waterfall hike, you can return to the parking area. Afterward, you can take another trail to see even more waterfalls. The trail is easy to follow and has a sign pointing you in the right direction.
Distance: 0.9 miles
Length of Time: 1 to 2 hours
Hiking through Adams Fall in the Rocky Mountains National Park is a great way to get a taste of Colorado’s wilderness. The 0.9-mile round-trip trail starts at the East Inlet Trailhead. The East Inlet Trail is a good example of the National Park Service’s naturalistic design.
From here, you can explore the nearby valley, which has plenty of wildflowers and moose sightings. You can find Adams Falls in the park’s Grand Lake area.
A waterfall that drops 15 feet into a pool below is easy to spot. The surrounding lush vegetation and unique rock formations make it a popular photo location.
Adams Falls is one of 31 named waterfalls in the park. If you’re planning on hiking through the area, you should bring your camera. Also, make sure to bring along water and a change of clothes.
Distance: 9.0 miles
Length of Time: 4 to 5 hours
If you are looking for an amazing hike, consider checking out Sky Pond while hiking in the Rocky Mountains National Park. It is a beautiful and challenging hike that offers world-class scenery.
It is located near Alberta Falls, Loch Vale, and Glass Lake. In addition to being beautiful, this hike is a great way to get exercise while admiring the scenery. The hike to Sky Pond begins at the Glacier Gorge trailhead.
The trail then follows a rocky moraine to a pristine lake. Once you reach the pond, you’ll be rewarded with incredible views of Taylor Peak and Glacier Gorge.
However, this hike requires some time and attention to the trail. It is not an easy hike, so plan to take your time and follow the signs.
Distance: 9 miles
Length of Time: 4 to 6 hours
A day hiking around the beautiful Chasm Lake in the Rocky Mountains National Park is a wonderful way to take in the scenery. The Chasm Lake Trail starts at the Longs Peak Ranger Station and then diverges onto a short spur trail.
After a short but challenging climb, you will be rewarded with spectacular views of the lake, waterfalls, and marmots. You can even go swimming here!
The hike around Chasm Lake is a good option for beginners who are looking for a quick getaway from the more challenging Longs Peak trail. This intermediate-level trail gradually climbs to the lake.
There’s no entrance gate, and the trail doesn’t require a parking pass. Chasm Lake is not an easy hike to get to, so take caution when choosing this hike.
Checklist for hiking in the Rocky Mountains National Park
Hiking in the mountains can be a great way to get some exercise and fresh air.
- Before you head out, be sure to check the weather conditions and forecast. It’s important to be prepared for whatever mother nature may throw your way.
- Hiking in the mountains can be dangerous, so always hike with a partner or group. Let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to return.
- Stay on established trails, and don’t shortcut switchbacks. This will keep you safe.
- Be aware of your surroundings at all times, especially when hiking near wildlife. Never approach or feed animals, no matter how friendly they may seem.
- Hiking in the mountains can be a strenuous activity, so be sure to pace your walk and take breaks when needed.
- Always bring plenty of water and snacks with you, as well as a first-aid kit in case of emergency.
Whether you are looking for a quick afternoon hike or a challenging multi-day backpack, Rocky Mountain National Park has plenty of great hiking trails. Most hikes start out near Bear Lake. This short hike takes you on a loop trail and is very scenic.
Also, you will pass Nymph Lake and Dream Lake on the way. The trail features beautiful babbling brooks, small waterfalls, and gorgeous foliage. After all, the choice is yours.
So, plan a day out with your friends or family and enjoy a great hiking experience on the trails of the Rocky Mountain National Park. Do maintain precaution and follow the safety protocols during hiking.
Last but not least, have fun and enjoy the beautiful scenery!