10 Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park Overview

Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the quintessential national parks that you just have to check off your bucket list at some point in your life. Whether traveling there for a day or a week, the mountains have something to offer for everyone. Snow covers most of the trails until mid-summer and afternoon storms come out of nowhere so it is necessary to arrive well prepared for which trails you would like to accomplish. Listed below are the 10 best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park that you must do but there are 350+ miles of trails here waiting to be explored.

StateColorado
Nearest Metro AreaDenver, CO
Area Size265,807 acres
EstablishedJanuary 26, 1915
Hiking Trails355 miles

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Trailhead Traveler’s Recommended Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Emerald Lake Trail
Emerald Lake
Emerald Lake, Photo by Tim Lumley

Picturesque trail nestled among surrounding peaks including Flattop Mountain, you will pass Nymph Lake and Dream Lake before arriving at the majestic Emerald Lake. All 3 of these pristine mountain lakes culminate the true beauty of the park – be sure to bring your camera! This is an extremely popular area and one of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, so parking tends to fill up quickly. The trailhead is next to the parking lot near Bear Lake.

  • 3.6 miles out and back
  • 600′ elevation gain
  • Moderate
Longs Peak (Keyhole Route)
Longs Peak
Longs Peak, Photo by Bruce Dall

I hesitate to put this trail on the list as it can be considered more of a mountain climb than a hike. Summiting Longs Peak, the highest mountain in RMNP (14,259′) is no easy task. It is advised to take off around 3-4 in the morning to avoid the ever changing afternoon weather that can strike any time all year long. Stepping through the large rock overhang known as the ‘Keyhole’ is a major accomplishment before tackling the steeper, rockier final mile of the climb. You cannot beat the views at the top and should be very proud of yourself if you can complete this ‘hike’. The trailhead is at the end of Longs Peak Road near the Ranger Station.

  • 14.2 miles out and back
  • 5000′ elevation gain
  • Strenuous
Mt. Ida Trail
Mt Ida & Forest Canyon
Mt Ida & Forest Canyon, Photo by Hugh Millward

Another summit hike that would best be started early in the morning to avoid afternoon storms as you near the summit. The trail is very exposed to the elements and will require some scrambling as you get to the top but the panoramic views at the end make this one of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. The trailhead begins at Poudre Lake Trailhead off Trail Ridge Road.

  • 9.5 miles out and back
  • 2300′ elevation gain
  • Strenuous
Sky Pond Trail
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Sky Pond, Photo by Mark DeVries

Tough hike in the Bear Lake/Glacier Gorge area, this trail should not be passed up. There are several highlights on your way to Sky Pond including Alberta Falls and the Loch. The trail becomes much steeper after the Loch if you need to turn back at that point. To reach Lake of Glass and Sky Pond you have to scramble up the side of Timberline Falls! The trailhead is located at the Glacier Gorge Junction Trailhead off Bear Lake Road.

  • 8.8 miles out and back
  • 1700′ elevation gain
  • Strenuous
Bear Lake to Fern Lake Trailhead
Rocky Mountains and Bear Lake
Rocky Mountains and Bear Lake, Photo by G. Lamar

Take full advantage of the free RNMP shuttle service to hike this trail without having to double back on your efforts. Start from Bear Lake as the elevation gain is much easier. Along the way you will pass a waterfall, 4 mountain lakes, and more majestic mountain scenery than you could ever imagine. The trailhead is next to the parking lot at the end of Bear Lake Road.

  • 8.5 miles one-way
  • 1100′ elevation gain
  • Strenuous
Ute Trail
Mountains and clouds
Mountains and clouds, Photo by a.dombrowski

Good trail to get expansive views above the tree line without having to climb thousands of feet to do so. Once on top of the ridge, you can leisurely stroll while taking in the awe of the surrounding mountains. The trail descends dramatically about 2 miles in making it a good spot to head back the way you came. The trailhead is difficult to find but there is a small parking area 9.9 miles west of Deer Ridge Junction on Trail Ridge Road that you can stop at.

  • 3.9 miles out and back
  • 600′ elevation gain
  • Moderate
Ouzel Falls Trail
Ouzel Falls
Ouzel Falls, Photo by Adam

This trail is best in the summer when the ice and snow is melted powering the falls and cascading water. Along the way to Ouzel Falls you will also pass Copeland Falls (side trail) and Calypso Cascades. Hikers also have the option to travel further to Ouzel Lake and Bluebird Lake after the Falls. The trailhead (Wild Basin Trail) is in the southeast end of the park at the parking area at the end of County Hwy 115.

  • 5.4 miles out and back
  • 950′ elevation gain
  • Moderate
Chasm Lake Trail
Chasm Lake and Longs Peak
Chasm Lake and Longs Peak, Photo by Bruce Dall

Starting from the same trailhead as Longs Peak (above), this trail offers many of the same experiences as the summit climb without as much of the difficulty. Once you get to the lake, you will be able to see beautiful views of the majestic 2400′ rock face, ‘Diamond’. This is a must-do hike if you can’t make it up to Longs Peak. The trailhead is next to the Longs Peak Ranger Station.

  • 8.4 miles out and back
  • 2400′ elevation gain
  • Strenuous
Gem Lake Trail
Gem Lake, Photo by josh hassebrock

Take Lumpy Ridge Trail up a steep incline to beautiful views of Estes Park and a majestic lake that earns its name. If it weren’t for the relatively short distance, this could be considered a strenuous hike as your legs will be burning on your way up. The trailhead is off of Devils Gulch Road.

  • 3.2 miles out and back
  • 1000′ elevation gain
  • Moderate
Cub Lake Trail 
cub lake
Cub Lake, Photo by Christian Collins

Hike from Moraine Park to a beautiful mountain lake. You will start to gain some elevation as you approach the lake but nothing too strenuous. This is one of the more popular hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park so expect to run into plenty of other hikers. The trailhead is at a parking area off of Fern Lake Road.

  • 4.6 miles out and back
  • 550′ elevation gain
  • Moderate

Featured Image: cloudy morning at bear lake, Photo by Christian Collins

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2 Responses

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