Rocky Mountain National Park is regularly within the top ten, if not top five most visited National Parks in the country. As such, it can feel difficult to get away from the crowds and off the beaten path. Visiting in the off seasons helps, but even in the height of summer there are plenty of ways to get out in the sticks, and we’ll be talking about them in this post!
Hiking can be a grrrrrrrrreat escape from the chaos. Rocky Mountain has some absolutely awesome hiking trails. Even in our country’s busiest National Parks, hiking will connect you will the solitude of nature every time.
I organized this guide into three sections: the best “mini” hikes, the best “short” hikes, and the best “long” hikes. In parenthesis next to the hike name, I include the mileage, elevation gain, and difficulty.
Mini hikes are all less than a mile long, and probably none will take more than an hour.
Most hikers can finish the short hikes in a few hours (or in some cases, much less). They’re all less than 6 miles long, with varying degrees of difficulty (e.g. elevation gain).
The long hikes are all over 6 miles long, and will take anywhere from a long afternoon/full day, to several days. The Park Ranger in me (and I’m willing to bet, every Park Ranger at Rocky Mountain National Park) would like to kindly screech at you to get a really good map (like this NatGeo trail map) if you are doing any hike longer than a few miles.
Without further ado, here are the top rated, most scenic, and dearly beloved hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park! Those in bold are the ones I’m most psyched to recommend. Enjoy!
Best Mini Hikes
- Bear Lake Loop (0.7 miles, 42 ft, easy): also called Bear Lake Nature Trail, this short, paved loop is wheelchair accessible and small kiddo friendly. The trail is often very crowded, so get here early for views of the beautiful mountain lake.
- Sprague Lake Loop (0.8 miles, 32 ft, easy): This is a scenic, short hike on the boardwalks surrounding Sprague Lake. It is wheelchair accessible. There are plenty of benches, and plenty of views of the surrounding mountains and Continental Divide!
- Lily Lake Loop (0.8 miles, 45 ft, easy): Much like the first two hikes on this list, Lily Lake is a well-worn, popular, wheelchair accessible, paved hike around a mountain lake. Kids will enjoy the boardwalks and opportunities to climb around on rocks just off the trail.
- Alpine Ridge Trail (0.6 miles, 147 ft, easy-to-moderate): Alpine Ridge is an out-and-back trail, not a loop, meaning you hike 0.3 miles in and 0.3 miles back out, for a total 0.6 miles. It requires more elevation gain than the other mini hikes, including stair climbing, up to awesome views of the mountains and Colorado river.
- Alberta Falls Trail (1.7 miles, 200 ft, easy): As you can probably tell from the name, Alberta Falls takes you to… drumroll please… a waterfall! If you’re a big waterfall fan, definitely check this one out. You could also make it into a longer hike by continuing on to the Loch, which I discuss below.
Best Short Hikes
- Emerald Lake Trail (3.5 miles, 708 ft, easy): This is one of the most popular hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, for good reason—it gives you views of just about everything you came here to see. That is, you’ll hike past several crystal clear alpine lakes and some of RMNP’s most famous peaks. If you’re going to do one hike in the park, many would recommend Emerald Lake!
- Ute Trail (5.6 miles, 1,912 ft, easy): Rocky in spots, but mostly well-worn and easy, Ute Trail is a fairly popular trail as it provides absolutely bonkers views (that’s kind of a theme here). However, most people seem to only go in a short way and turn around. If you go the full 2.3 miles (it’s an out-and-back trail) you’ll have plenty of peace and quiet.
- Lake Haiyaha Trail (3.9 miles, 846 ft, easy-to-moderate): This is an out-and-back-trail with gorgeous views of the mountains and the pristine Bear Lake, Dream Lake, and finally Lake Haiyaha. “Haiyaha” is a Native American word for “rocky”, which will make sense when you see the boulder-strewn shores of Lake Haiyaha.
- Gem Lake Trail (3.3 miles, 1,000 ft, moderate): Passing through a canyon before opening up to mountain views, Gem Lake Trail is interesting in that it also has great bird’s eye views of Estes Park. The climb to Gem Lake is steep, which is why this hike is rated “moderate”, but the small lake is really pretty and peaceful and so worth it!
- Deer Mountain Trail (6.2 miles, 1,210 ft, moderate-to-difficult): Deer Mountain is at a relatively low elevation compared to other longer hikes. On your way to the spectacular summit, you get views of a lot of open meadows. The meadows are close enough to see elk, which as you’ll discover, are everywhere! The Deer Mountain Trail is quite popular; arrive early to find parking.
- The Loch Lake Trail (5.6 miles, 1,040 ft, moderate): The Loch is one of the coolest lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park. Okay, they’re all super cool, but the Loch is really postcard-perfect. Plus, from the Loch you see a bunch of well-known, gorgeous peaks, and Taylor Glacier. You also pass some waterfalls on your way.
Best Long Hikes
- Mount Ida (9.6 miles, 2,400 ft, difficult): Several sources I consulted for this post cited the Mount Ida trail as the best trail in Rocky Mountain National Park. That’s saying something; opinions tend to vary wildly regarding “best” trails—not with Mount Ida. You’re likely to see elk and bighorn, as well as excellent views of the Continental Divide and the Never Summer Mountains.
- Chasm Lake Trail (8.5 miles, 2,500 ft, difficult): This is your standard, super pretty Rocky Mountain National Park trail… until you get towards Chasm Lake itself, when things get a tad hairy. The trail just gets a bit poorly marked and rocky. I don’t think Chasm Lake is one of the prettier lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park, necessarily, but the views surrounding it absolutely rock (was that a geology pun?!) (I think it was).
- Fern Lake Trail (7.5 miles, 1,400 ft, moderate-to-difficult): Honestly, this is such a lovely, classically Rocky Mountain National Park hike. The mountain views are great, though not the absolute best, but Fern Lake is picture-perfect. The elevation gain is respectable but not extremely difficult.
- Sky Pond Trail (9.0 miles, 1,800 ft, moderate-to-difficult): I listed this hike as “moderate-to-difficult”, but the elevation gain combined with the distance makes it lean more towards “difficult”. That said, it’s a very rewarding hike, mostly because I find Sky Pond absolutely fascinating to look at. The geology formations like The Sharkstooth combined with arguably the prettiest mountain lake, Lake of Glass, make this hike quite the content for best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.
- Mt. Chapin, Mt. Chiquita, & Ypsilon Mountain=CCY Route (8.3 miles, 3,100 ft, moderate-to-difficult): This is the ultimate hike for those who love to chase summits. The views, as with any hike revolving around peaks, are insane. All you need to know about this hike: you will be sore, but it will be worth it.
- Ouzel Falls Trail (5.5 miles, 870 ft, moderate): The Ouzel Falls Trail is a relatively lower-altitude long hike, which is a nice warm up if you’ve just arrived from a lower elevation state. You’ll see a few very pretty waterfalls and mountain creeks along the way. It’s a super pleasant, not-crazy-difficult long-ish hike. Does that make sense? Oh, also, bird watchers and wildflower lovers tend to love this one!
- Black Lake Trail (9.6 miles, 1,480 ft, difficult): This trail is all about them lakes, baby. Specifically, the trail is about Mills Lake, Jewel Lake, Black Lake, and if you choose to continue farther down some social trails, Blue Lake, Green Lake, and Frozen Lake. Yeah. It’s a lot of lakes. Most of them have stunning mountain backdrops making any nature photographer drool.
- The Keyhole and Longs Peak via Longs Peak Trail (13.1 miles, 3,800 ft, very difficult): This hike is hard, people. Portions of it are more of a true climb than a true hike, so bring gear accordingly. There are many rugged sections with falling, loose rock. Obviously, once you get to the top the views are absolutely spectacular. The hike’s also a fun opportunity to check out the park’s Boulder Field Backcountry Campground. As with any overnight hikes, get your permit from the Ranger Station!
Bonus: CDT section hike
- Continental Divide National Scenic Trail—Rocky Mountain National Park section (30 miles, 3,500 ft, difficult): Okay, it’s totally my dream to hike the Rocky Mountain National Park section of the CDT. I don’t think thru-hiking the PCT/AT/CDT is necessarily my style (the maddest of props to those who do it), but the idea of combining RMNP hiking with CDT hiking gets me all tingly inside. This part of the CDT is well-maintained and, as you’d expect, apparently has stupidly beautiful views the entire damn way.
You can’t go wrong hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park
I tend to end most of my National Park posts on this note… really, you’re in one of the most epic places on the planet. I believe with all my heart natures has something beautiful to offer at every turn.
Trying to choose the best hike in Rocky Mountain National Park is no different. Any hike you go on could become your best hike. The first step is getting on the trails!
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