Rocky Mountain National Park boasts more than three hundred miles of hiking trails. Whether you’re a family traveling with young kids or an enthusiastic peak collector, there is a little something for your whole group here, from flat lakeside strolls to steep mountain climbs. Everyone enjoys at least one of the hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park!
Choosing which trails to hike in Rocky Mountain National Park can be as overwhelming as ever if you’re currently planning a visit. With a short visit, you can experience quite a few of them, especially if you choose trails that are short and sweet.
A few of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park include walks along meadows in search of awe-inspiring alpine lakes to trails that challenge you to summit a Colorado fourteener.
Are These Hikes In Rocky Mountain National Park Safe?
These hikes are all safe if you use common sense. Don’t do anything risky or stupid! If you have to ask yourself whether something is dangerous or not, it probably is. Always bring a buddy with you.
You should also be aware of the elevation. Beware that the air is thinner at higher altitudes (and some of these hikes have insane altitudes), so take it easy and breathe deeply if you aren’t acclimated yet.
The Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park
Here are the top hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park right now!
15. Emerald Lake
It is for all the right reasons that the Emerald Lake trail is one of Rocky Mountain National Park’s most popular hikes. There’s something magical about this hike that is both accessible to most hikers and accompanied by gorgeous alpine scenery the entire way.
My favorite part? While hiking, you’ll pass three picture-perfect alpine lakes (Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, Emerald Lake), giving you plenty of opportunities to take a break.
In addition to the three main lakes, you can also choose to go the extra mile (literally) to see Lake Hayiaha. It adds an extra mile to the trek (and another one on the way back), but if you’re still hungry for more mountain delights, it’ll be well worth it.
14. Bridal Veil Falls
There aren’t many waterfalls in Colorado even though the state is known for its natural beauty.
Are there exceptions to the rule? In Colorado, Bridal Veil Falls offers an unusual sight with its 20-foot cascade.
This 6.1-mile hike takes around 3 hours to complete. A moderately difficult trail, it follows Cow Creek and offers plenty of wildlife sighting opportunities (watch out for elk and mule deer) as well as beautiful aspens and meadows to keep you entertained along the way.
This is one of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park if you really want to experience all the elements in nature!
13. Sky Pond
The Sky Pond Hike is a great alternative for those who want to put their legs to the test if the Emerald Lake Hike is too easy for you.
With views of dramatic valleys, Sharkstooth and Taylor Peaks, and two dreamy alpine lakes, this 8-mile hike isn’t for the faint-hearted, but the views every step of the way are just stunning.
12. Long’s Peak via the Keyhole Route
Interested in a true challenge? Longs Peak, the mountain at the top of Rocky Mountain National Park, might just be the most iconic mountain in the entire state.
If you want to put your hiking skills to the test, the Keyhole Route is the best route to take. However, there are several routes that can help you conquer this popular Colorado 14er (some easier than others).
On Longs Peak, there is a trail called the Keyhole Route that is a 14.5 mile (out and back) hike rated as extremely difficult due to its 4,991 foot elevation gain. While climbing, you will encounter steep cliffs, vertical rock faces, and loose rocks. The summit is also reachable only by scrambling, which makes it challenging for hikers of all levels.
You should not take this hike lightly. Previous hiking experience is a must, as is wearing a helmet. Make sure that the weather conditions are suitable for summiting before starting the hike.
11. Bear Lake
While this easy hike is known as being the most manageable in Rocky Mountain, it doesn’t take anything away from the breathtaking views.
Despite the short nature of the trail (less than a mile long), you will get to enjoy views of nearby peaks as well as Bear Lake, a stunning body of water sure to leave you breathless.
Brear Lake trail is a stroller- and wheelchair-accessible trail, making it one of the most family-friendly hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.
10. Chasm Lake
Rocky Mountain seems to be king when it comes to picture-perfect, dreamy alpine lakes, which is why every hike on this list involves a lake. Chasm Lake is another hike that should be on your hiking list, especially if you’re in the mood for a long hike.
Along with the alluring lake at the end of the hike, the entire hike is filled with charm, and you’ll stop several times to enjoy the scenery along the way. A 7.7-mile trail that takes you by vistas of Long’s Peak, an amphitheater of rock formations, and a delightful waterfall can give you a pretty good idea of what to expect!
9. Sprague Lake
One of the most popular short hikes in the park is to Sprague Lake, located off Bear Lake Road. Around this lake there is a handicap-accessible hiking trail.
Looping around the lake, this trail is 0.5 miles long. Hiking this trail is possible at all hours of the day, and there is always something new to see. Your party will enjoy the flat trail at Sprague Lake – it’s good for all athletic abilities!
Picnic tables and benches are nearby where you can enjoy the view while enjoying a picnic lunch. It’s a great place to watch the sunset as the colors in the sky light up behind the mountains. The park’s Eastern area is suitable for a half-day visit.
8. Loch Lake
As you climb gradually through a spruce forest, you will come to Alberta Falls. The falls are not easy to see from the trail – climb the rocks straight ahead to get a better view.
After you ascend past the falls, you’ll begin to notice two things. For one thing, the number of people on the trail will drop by 85%. Secondly, the forest will begin to gradually change and get a lot thicker. Before reaching the Loch, you’ll have to traverse a few switchbacks.
In my experience, the side of the lake that you’ll find yourself first on is constantly windy, so you may want to move to the other side of the lake and take a few moments to enjoy the views before returning. While this is one of the more difficult hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, the views are insanely gorgeous.
7. Nymph Lake
From the Bear Lake Trailhead, Nymph Lake is an easy hike. It takes a little more than a mile to walk to and from Nymph Lake. Water lilies are frequently seen in the lake, making it a really gorgeous natural area. Whenever we go to another lake in the park, we often stop here first.
There is no better place to kick back, relax, and enjoy the views of the mountains than Nymph Lake. Despite the busy nature of the trail, there will be areas where you can sit and take in the view of this beautiful lake.
When hiking to Dream Lake, you will first come across Nymph Lake. I definitely recommend that you stop for a few moments to enjoy its beauty!
6. Dream Lake
From the Bear Lake Trailhead, Dream Lake is an easy hike. It is the most photographed lake in the park.
The trail is about 2 miles roundtrip. It’s a short trek with a 426-foot elevation gain that’s great for beginners.
The hike passes Nymph Lake, which I highly recommend taking a glance at (it’s beautiful). After you arrive at Dream Lake, walk around the lake, sit on the perfect rock, and enjoy a snack.
Trails leading to Dream Lake can also be crowded, so try to avoid hiking during peak hours of the day. Hiking to Emerald Lake or Lake Haiyaha is also an option if you want to hike more than a couple of miles once you’ve arrived.
This is definitely an ideal route if you have only one day to hike Rocky Mountain National Park!
5. Irene Lake
Near Grand Lake, on the west side of the park, is the Irene Lake Trail. With an elevation gain of 85 feet, this trail is a 0.8-mile loop.
The parking area near the trailhead has restrooms and picnic tables.
In summer, there are beautiful wildflowers everywhere – they provide a colorful backdrop to the lake. If you are interested in bird watching, be sure to bring your binoculars. Plus, it’s not uncommon to see moose on this side of the park.
From the parking area, look across Trail Ridge Road to see Sheep Rock. It is often here that you can see Bighorn Sheep, which are frequent visitors to the park.
4. Black Lake
The trail to Black Lake crosses Loch Lake/Sky Pond and then turns left just before the Loch just before the Black Lake.
Two other lakes will be seen on your way – Mills and Black Lake – the latter being 2.8 miles beyond the turnoff. Black Lake is particularly beautiful.
Having said that, if you only have time for one hike, I would recommend Sky Pond. But don’t get me wrong: Black Lake is a beautiful place for hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park! However, it’s a bit shorter/easier so not everyone will feel “done” after hiking to Black Lake.
The waterfall scramble on the way to Sky Pond may scare you, so this is the next best thing.
3. Alpine Ridge Trail
Near the Alpine Visitor Center on Trail Ridge Road is the 0.7-mile out-and-back Alpine Ridge Trail.
As this trail reaches a height of more than 12,000 feet, I do not recommend this short hike until you have acclimatized to the elevation. It’s definitely one of the more difficult hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.
While ascending the stairs near the Alpine Visitor Center, you should take in the view. It’s really stunning for the athletically-inclined.
You must remain on the trail at all times because the surrounding tundra is not a place for wanderers. Trust me on this! The climb is dangerous enough as-is due to the elevation.
The more steps you take as you ascend, the more likely you are to get winded – the elevation gain is 147 feet! Take it as slow as needed.
Winter hats and coats are recommended, as it is going to be cold at the top. But your climb will be a talking point for years to come because of the 360-degree view from the top!
2. Lily Lake
In the east of the park, Lily Lake is a 0.8-mile loop trail. Enjoy the views as you stroll – they’re incredible!
Accessible to wheelchairs, the trail offers incredible views over the lake and bird watching opportunities. In some places, there is a boardwalk in addition to the dirt and gravel trail surface.
For a bit more of a challenge, you can take the Lily Ridge Trail. The view of the mountains will be even better if you hike a little further.
After a long hike or other outdoor activity, Lily Lake is the perfect place to relax and unwind. Wildflowers and birds can be seen in abundance at Lily Lake in the park.
Picnic tables and nearby toilets are also available. Visit the lake at sunset when it is stunning and the crowds have dispersed.
1. Mount Ida
As you descend into the valley on the west side of the park, you will find this hike along Highway 34 on the south shore of Poudre Lake.
Since this trail is only accessible during the late spring and summer, it will only be accessible from the east side of the park. In November and May, it will be snowy if you enter from Grand Lake.
While the mileage might not seem that bad, the elevation is almost certainly going to make it seem ten times harder because you will be climbing upwards of 10,500 feet. By the end, you’ll get to 13,000 feet, which is extremely high.
If you’re coming from somewhere near sea level, do not attempt this hike the first day! Make sure you’re acclimated to the elevation.
The benefit of hiking at that elevation is that you’ll be above the treeline most of the time, which allows you to experience breathtaking views of the surrounding mountain peaks.
When you do this hike in the summer, as you’ll be above the treeline, be sure to finish by noon to avoid lightning storms that happen almost every day during the peak summer season.
What You Should Know Before Visiting Rocky Mountain National Park:
Buy The Right Pass: You will have to pay at least $20 for entry a day, and $30 for entry that is good for seven days. If you plan to visit multiple National Parks in the next year, consider investing in an America the Beautiful Pass, which costs $80 and includes 3 visits to National Parks, National Forests, or National Recreation Areas.
Watch Out For The Altitude: The altitude in Grand Teton is insane – it’s above 8,200 feet most of the time, meaning if you go hiking you’ll get to above 10,000 feet. Stay hydrated and take it easy on your first day.
It Gets Sunny: It feels like the heat is stronger in the mountains. Maybe being that much higher makes a difference? Remember to use sunscreen or bring a hat.
Pack The Right Gear: Before you go hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park, make sure that you have the right gear. For example, it will be a good idea to bring a map if you plan on going off-trail. Also, don’t forget your sunscreen and bug spray. You will also want to bring a day pack or backpack with enough water, a rain poncho or jacket, a first-aid kit, and snacks so you can go at your own pace. We always bring a few beers along but that’s a personal choice!
Plan For The Weather: Be sure to check the weather before you go on a hike. If it’s going to be sunny, make sure that you have sunscreen and/or a wide-brimmed hat with you! You will also want to bring an extra layer in case the weather changes suddenly, which is pretty common on these hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Be Aware Of The Wildlife: Sometimes, you might find some wildlife hanging out by the trail. Don’t freak out! You should always keep your distance though, so use your best judgment when it comes to this. If an animal does approach you, calmly back up and move off the trail until it moves away from you.
Know When To Go: Most of these trails in RMNP are closed from December 1st – July 31st, so keep that in mind when planning your trip.
Parking Is Tough: In the fall, most lots are completely full by 7am. Yikes. From each of the trailheads, at least 4-5 highly trafficked hiking trails depart. Luckily, you can park at the Bear Lake Road park and ride, and a complimentary shuttle will whisk you to the trailheads. It’s even possible to ride the hiker shuttle to the Estes Park Visitor Center without having to worry about parking in the park.
East Versus West Sides: Alpine Ridge Road, which closes for the winter, connects the less-visited east and west sides. There is no better place to drive through Rocky Mountain National Park than above the treeline into the alpine tundra, where you can see the surrounding Rocky Mountains from above. This drive will lead you to the west side, or you can access it via Grand Lake. You can see wildlife, including moose, if you hike the Green Mountain Trail to Big Meadow.
Best Time To Go: There is no BAD time to hike in Rocky Mountain National Park, but if you want fewer people on the trails, I recommend coming during the week or during winter/spring.
With over 300 miles of trails winding through dense forests and open ridges to alpine tundra, Rocky Mountain National Park has trails for all levels.
This list of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park should help you create your own hiking itinerary. Despite the fact that there are nearly enough trails to dedicate an entire year to hiking here, these are some great ones to get you started!