Julie United States 9 Comments

Rocky Mountain National Park is best seen from a hiking trail. Fortunately, there are hikes for all ages and ability levels. From short, easy strolls around lakes, to ridgeline trails with panoramic views, to challenging but epic climbs to the tallest mountain peaks, there truly is something here for everyone. Here are 15 of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

This list starts with the easiest trails and progresses to the longer, more challenging hikes. Each of these hikes is a day hike, so they can all be completed in one day. Note: All distances are round-trip.

While in Rocky Mountain National Park, please practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace: plan ahead, stay on the trails, pack out what you bring to the hiking trails, properly dispose of waste, leave areas as you found them, minimize campfire impacts, be considerate of other hikers, and do not approach or feed wildlife.

Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

1. Bear Lake

This is the shortest, most popular hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s a flat, beautiful easy walk in the park…literally.

The entire hike is less than a mile in length, making it great for all ages and ability levels. This trail is not paved (it’s a gravel trail for most of its length) but it is considered handicap accessible.

Bear Lake Hiking Stats

Distance: 0.6 miles round-trip
Length of Time: 30 minutes
Difficulty: Easy
Location: This hike starts at the Bear Lake Trailhead, located at the very end of Bear Lake Road. There is a large parking lot here but it can fill up by 9 am, so get here early, not only to get a parking spot, but to also avoid the large crowds on the trail.

Bear Lake | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Bear Lake Colorado | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Bear Lake | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Not only is this a scenic walk around a lake, but this also can be a learning experience. For about $1, you can purchase the interpretive guide at the trailhead, which takes you through 30 marked spots along the trail that teaches you about the Bear Lake area.

Note: Many hikes start at or near Bear Lake: Emerald Lake, Lake Haiyaha, Sky Pond, Black Lake, Fern Lake, Flattop Mountain, and Hallett Peak. If you have plans to hike one of these trails, adding on Bear Lake is quick, easy, and won’t take up much of your time.

2. Alberta Falls

Alberta Falls is one of the most popular waterfalls to visit in Rocky Mountain National Park. Like Bear Lake, it is an easy hike to get here.

From the Glacier Gorge parking lot, is a mostly uphill walk to get to Alberta Falls, but it is not too strenuous. Once at the waterfall, you can explore the short trails along Glacier Creek to find your favorite view of the waterfall.

Alberta Falls Hiking Stats

Distance: 1.7 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Length of Time: 1 to 1.5 hours
Location: Glacier Gorge parking lot on Bear Lake Road. To get a parking space here, plan on arriving no later than 6:30 am, but even earlier is better. If the parking lot is full, park in the large parking lot at the end of Bear Lake Road. From the Bear Lake Trailhead, follow signs to Alberta Falls. Parking in the lot at the end of Bear Lake Road adds roughly .4 miles to the hiking distance above.

Alberta Falls | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Alberta Falls | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

 

Sunrise RMNP | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

In the morning, this can be a beautiful place to watch the sunrise.

3. Alpine Ridge Trail

At just over a half of a mile, round trip, this hike sounds easy. And for Rocky Mountain National Park, it is. But even the most fit, acclimated hikers can feel winded and out-of-breath on this short hike.

Starting at the Alpine Visitor Center (the highest visitor center in the United States) you simply hike up a long staircase to a viewpoint.

Here’s the thing: this hike starts just under 12,000 feet of elevation. This hike feels tough, a combination of the high elevation with the long stair climb. If this is your first day at RMNP, and one of your first days in Colorado, be prepared to take a few breaks. If you are not acclimated to the higher elevation, it’s normal to get out of breath very easily.

From the viewpoint, you are standing at 12,005 feet. The views across the park are incredible. When we did this, we saw lots of elk, some of them males with enormous antlers.

This is an essential hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. So, climb those stairs, catch your breath if you need to, and enjoy the awesome view from the top. You’ll be glad you did.

Alpine Ridge Trail Hiking Stats

Distance: 0.6 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Length of Time: 30 minutes
Location: Alpine Visitor Center on Trail Ridge Road.

Elk in RMNP | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

View from the Alpine Ridge Trail | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

 

Alpine Ridge Trail

Looking back at the Alpine Visitor Center and Trail Ridge Road.

4. Gem Lake

This is one of the easier lake hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Gem Lake is a short but strenuous hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. Not only do you get to visit a pretty lake but you also get sweeping views of Estes Park with Longs Peak in the distance.

If you are looking for a short, family-friendly hike, and don’t mind a bit of a stair climb at times, this is a good hike to add to your to-do list.

Gem Lake Hiking Stats

Distance: 3.4 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Length of Time: 2 to 3 hours
Location: Lumpy Ridge Trailhead. This trailhead is located just north of Estes Park. To get here, you will take Devils Gulch Road to Lumpy Ridge Road.

Gem Lake | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Gem Lake | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

 

Tim Kara Tyler Estes Park

Along the trail, there are viewpoints over Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park.

5. Ute Trail to Tombstone Ridge

If you are looking for a short, easy hike with spectacular views of Rocky Mountain National Park, put this hike at the top of your list. This is our favorite short, easy hike in the park. For very little effort, the views you get are unbelievable.

The Ute Trail to Tombstone Ridge is a wonderful, short, easy hike to do in Rocky Mountain National Park. For the entire hike, you are walking along the alpine tundra, with unobstructed views of Longs Peak, Forest Canyon, and the Continental Divide.

Tombstone Ridge Hiking Stats

Distance: 4 miles
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Length of Time: 1.5 to 3 hours
Location: Ute Trailhead on Trail Ridge Road, 7 miles east of the Alpine Visitor Center

Tombstone Ridge Hike | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Tombstone Ridge | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

 

Ute Ridge Hike

Hike Ute Ridge | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Ute Trail to Tombstone Ridge | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

This is a great hike to do with kids. You don’t even have to hike the entire 4 miles. Simply turn around when you are ready, the spectacular views start as soon as your feet hit the trail. This is a wonderful hike to add onto your drive along Trail Ridge Road, and from the trailhead, it is just a 15-minute drive to the Alpine Visitor Center.

US National Parks List

6. Nymph, Dream & Emerald Lakes

The Emerald Lake hike is one of the most popular hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. On this hike, you get to see four very pretty alpine lakes (Bear Lake, Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, and Emerald Lake), over a relatively short distance.

This is a great hike for almost all ages and ability levels. The Emerald Lake hike is a family friendly hike and it also makes a great intro to hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park. With its short distance and manageable elevation gain, it is a great first hike in the park, as you acclimate to the higher elevation (if you haven’t already spent some time in the Rocky Mountains).

Dream & Emerald Lake Hiking Stats

Distance: 3.6 miles
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Length of Time: 2 to 3 hours
Location: Bear Lake Trailhead, at the end of Bear Lake Road

Emerald Lake | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Emerald Lake | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

 

Dream Lake

Dream Lake | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Of course, you don’t have to hike all of the way to Emerald Lake. Nymph and Dream Lakes are beautiful, so you will have a wonderful hike if you choose to turn around at Dream Lake.

You also have the option to add on a fifth lake, Lake Haiyaha, making this hike a total of 6.2 miles.

PRO TRAVEL TIP: For the hikes that start on Bear Lake Road (Bear Lake, Alberta Falls, Mills & Black Lake, Sky Pond, Fern Lake, Hallett Peak) consider either arriving very early in the day (by 7 am) or taking the free park shuttle.

7. Deer Mountain

The hike up Deer Mountain is one of the easier hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park that offers high mountain views.

To get to the peak, it’s an almost constant uphill walk through an evergreen forest. You will get occasional glimpses of Longs Peak early on during the hike, but for the most part, you will have to wait until you reach the summit for the best views.

From the summit of Deer Mountain, enjoy views over Moraine Valley and out to Longs Peak and the surrounding mountains.

Deer Mountain Hiking Stats

Distance: 6.2 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Length of Time: 3 to 4 hours
Location: The Deer Mountain Trailhead is located on Trail Ridge Road, 3 miles west of the Beaver Meadows entrance. If you are staying in Estes Park, it is a 20-minute drive to get here.

Deer Mountain View

View from Deer Mountain | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

This is a nice hike but honestly not one of our favorites. Yes, the views from the summit are beautiful, but this hike is a bit boring at times since it is a constant uphill climb through a forest. However, if you want to hike a lower-traffic trail that is just a short drive from Estes Park, this is a nice one to consider.

This is a great hike for newbie hikers who want to summit a mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park. It also makes a nice acclimatization hike if you just arrived in Colorado and want to warm up your legs and cardio system, before tackling hikes like Chasm Lake, Flattop Mountain, or Mt. Ida.

8. Twin Sisters

Located on the eastern edge of Rocky Mountain National Park, you get panoramic views of Longs Peak and Estes Park from the top of the Twin Sisters Peaks.

Twin Sisters Hiking Stats

Distance: 7.4 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Length of Time: 4 to 5 hours
Location: Eastern Rocky Mountain National Park, near Lily Lake

Twin Sisters Hike | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Twin Sisters | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

 

Twin Sisters View

Longs Peak from Twin Sisters | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Honestly, this is not the most exciting hike on the list. However, it’s a great warm-up hike for those who want to do Hallett Peak or Longs Peak and it’s a great hike for those who are looking for a less crowded trail that offers great views of the area.

For most of this hike you are entirely within a pine forest, so the views are rather lackluster for much of the hike. But once at the top, the view is very nice.

From what we noticed, most of the people on this trail were either locals (this is a popular trail running route) or those who had already checked off a bunch of hikes in RMNP.

9. Odessa Lake & Fern Lake

The hike to Odessa Lake and onward to Fern Lake is a relatively low-traffic trail in Rocky Mountain National Park. Its nearby neighbors of Bear Lake, Emerald Lake, and Dream Lake get a lot more visitors, so if you are looking for a relatively uncrowded trail with the chance to visit multiple alpine lakes, this is a nice hike to consider.

Odessa & Fern Lakes Hiking Stats

Distance: 7.5 to 10 miles, depending on the route you choose
Difficulty: Moderate
Length of Time: 4 to 7 hours
Location: Bear Lake Trailhead or Moraine Park

Fern Lake Hike | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Fern Lake

Fern Lake | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

This is a very pretty hike, but there are several other lake hikes that we would recommend first, before putting this hike on your list. Sky Pond is awesome, Chasm Lake is also great but it’s a little more challenging, and Emerald and Dream Lakes are also favorites of many park visitors.

There are three ways to hike to Fern Lake. You can either hike to Fern Lakes and Odessa Lake as a point-to-point hike, starting at Bear Lake and ending at Moraine Park (or vice versa). You can also hike to Fern Lake out-and-back from either Bear Lake or Moraine Park.

We hiked to Odessa Lake and Fern Lake as an out-and-back hike from Bear Lake. Get all of the details on how to do this hike in our post about Fern Lake.

10. Mills Lake & Black Lake

Black Lake and Mills Lake are often labeled as two of the prettiest lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

This hike starts at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead. First, you will pass lovely Alberta Falls. Past the waterfall, follow the signs to Mills Lake. At roughly three miles into the hike, you will reach Mills Lake. Those looking for a shorter, easier hike can turn around at this point.

Mills & Black Lakes Hiking Stats

Distance: 10 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Length of Time: 5 to 7 hours
Location: Glacier Gorge Trailhead on Bear Lake Road

Mills Lake

Mills Lake | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Continue for two more miles until you reach Black Lake. Along the way, you will hike through bogs and forests, past Ribbon Falls, and have a great view of Keyboard of the Winds. Black Lake looks similar to Chasm Lake, as both of these alpine lakes are surrounded by jagged mountain peaks.

11. Sky Pond

Sky Pond is one of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park for good reason. This hike has a little bit of everything…waterfalls, alpine lakes, high mountain views, and fun river and stream crossings.

To get to Sky Pond, you will rock scramble up a waterfall, which can be refreshing when the weather is warm and downright cold in chilly conditions.

But the whole reason to do this hike is for the view of Sky Pond, one of the most spectacular lakes in the park.

Sky Pond Hiking Stats

Distance: 9.5 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Length of Time: 4 to 6 hours
Location: Glacier Gorge Trailhead on Bear Lake Road.

Sky Pond Hike

Glass Lake | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

 

Sky Pond | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Sky Pond | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

There is never a boring moment on this trail. The ever changing views and trail conditions really keep this hike interesting. Yes, it is on the long side and it can be challenging, but you get a great pay-off at the end, with the jaw-dropping view of Sky Pond.

This was one of our favorite hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park and we highly recommend it.

12. Chasm Lake

Chasm Lake is one of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

For the first part of the hike, you will walk the same trail as the hikers on their way to Longs Peak, the highest point in the hike. For the final mile of this hike, you are treated to breathtaking views of Longs Peak, Columbine Falls, Peacock Pond, and finally Chasm Lake.

If you have been hiking in Glacier National Park, this hike looks very similar to the Grinnell Glacier hike. Views of Peacock Pond with the massive, rocky mountains that form the backdrop, waterfalls, and the chance to see wildlife, almost gave us a sense of déjà vu, like we were back in Glacier National Park again.

Chasm Lake Hiking Stats

Distance: 9 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Length of Time: 4 to 6 hours
Location: Longs Peak Trailhead, which is located at the end of Longs Peak Road on the east side of RMNP.

Hike Chasm Lake | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Chasm Lake

Chasm Lake | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

 

Kara Chasm Lake

13. Continental Divide Trail to Mt Ida

On the hike to Mt. Ida, you really feel like you are walking on top of the world. For much of the hike you are walking along the Continental Divide. During this time, you get to enjoy panoramic views of Rocky Mountain National Park.

It gets even better once you reach the summit of Mt. Ida. From here, at an elevation of 12,899 feet, the entire park stretches out before you.

Mt. Ida Hiking Stats

Distance: 9.8 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Length of Time: 4.5 to 6.5 hours
Location: Poudre Lake/Milner Pass on Trail Ridge Road, 4.5 miles south of the Alpine Visitor Center

Hike Mt Ida

Continental Divide Trail | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

 

Mt Ida Hike

Mt Ida View

This hike is much different than many other hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. You spend very little time below the tree line, so the views are incredible for most of the hike. Plus, this is a lesser known hike, so the trail gets a lower number of hikers than other hikes on this list.

But this is a tough hike. It starts at 10,800 feet and tops out at 12,899 on Mt. Ida, so you will really feel the altitude. Expect lots of wind and cold temperatures, even during the summer months.

This is one of our favorite hikes in RMNP and we highly recommend it if you want unforgettable high alpine views.

14. Flattop Mountain to Hallett Peak

This challenging hike starts at Bear Lake and rapidly gains elevation once you are on the Flattop Mountain Trail. It doesn’t take long until you get see amazing views of Longs Peak and Keyboard of the Winds.

As you ascend higher, the trees disappear, as you enter the subalpine region. Enjoy panoramic views of the park, as well as spectacular views from the overlooks of Dream Lake and Emerald Lake. Beyond the Emerald Lake overlook you will reach the summit of Flattop Mountain.

To continue to Hallett Peak, follow the rocky, somewhat faint trail. This part of the hike is tough as you are hiking over very rugged terrain. The trail ends at the summit of Hallett Peak. You are now standing at 12,718 feet, with 360° views, which makes this one of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Hallett Peak is a good warm-up hike for those who plan to summit Longs Peak.

Hallett Peak Hiking Stats

Distance: 10.4 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Length of Time: 6 to 8 hours
Location: Bear Lake Trailhead

15. Longs Peak

At 14,259 feet, the only fourteener on this list, the trek up Longs Peak is one of the most epic hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

During the 15+ miles of hiking, you will ascend more that 5,000 feet. On the Keyhole Route, the hike ends with some serious rock scrambling and lots of exposure. Over 60 people have died attempting to summit Longs Peak.

Longs Peak Hiking Stats

Distance: 15 miles
Difficulty: Extremely difficult
Length of Time: 10 to 15 hours
Location: Longs Peak Trailhead is located at the end of Longs Peak Road. To get here, take Highway 7 south from Estes Park.

Longs Peak

This is a tough fourteener and many people who attempt it never make it to the summit, turning around early because of storms or the difficult conditions.

If this sounds like a hike you would like to do, it will take some planning and patience. Spend several days in the park, hiking the other trails, to acclimate yourself to the higher elevation. Then, pick the day with the clearest weather forecast, get a very early start (many hikers begin at 3 or 4 am), and keep your fingers crossed that afternoon thunderstorms don’t come rumbling through the park.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park: On a Map

How to Use This Map: Click the icons on the map to get more information about each point of interest. Click the star next to the title of the map to add this map to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.

Our Recommendations

Our favorite hikes are Sky Pond (super fun hike to a beautiful alpine lake), Mt. Ida (we loved the panoramic views along most of the trail, not to mention the jaw-dropping views from Mt. Ida), Chasm Lake (another gorgeous lake hike), and Tombstone Ridge (it’s short, it’s easy, the views are amazing, and most people can handle this hike).

The classic hike for first-timers in Rocky Mountain National Park is a Bear Lake and Emerald Lake combo. However, if you only have the time for one hike, and the thought of a tough, 9-mile hike isn’t a deal breaker, we recommend Sky Pond.

If you have more than a few days in RMNP and need some “warm-up” hikes, good options are Emerald Lake, Deer Mountain, and Twin Sisters.

If you want a short, easy hike, we recommend Tombstone Ridge (this makes a great add-on to your scenic drive along Trail Ridge Road) or Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lakes.

If you want to leave the crowds behind, Twin Sisters, Mt. Ida, and Tombstone Ridge are the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park for your list.

If you have limited time, I recommend driving Trail Ridge Road and hiking Tombstone on day 1, Sky Pond on day 2, and then Chasm Lake or Hallet Peak or Mt. Ida on day 3.

For the ultimate hiking experience in Rocky Mountain National Park, put Long’s Peak on the top of your list.

Before you go, get updated trail conditions on the National Park Service website. If you plan to visit the park during the summer months, you will also need to reserve your timed permit in advance.

US National Parks Guide


What do you think are the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park? Let us know in the comment section below. Happy hiking!

More Information about RMNP & Colorado

ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK: For an overview of Rocky Mountain National Park and links to all of our RMNP articles, take a look at our Rocky Mountain National Park Travel Guide. To help you plan your trip, we also have articles about the best things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park and how to plan the perfect itinerary.

ESTES PARK: In our Guide to Estes Park, learn about where to stay, where to eat, and what to do.

NATIONAL PARKS IN COLORADO: In our guide to the National Parks in Colorado, learn about all 4 national parks: Rocky Mountain, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Great Sand Dunes, and Mesa Verde. Learn how to combine them all together into one epic road trip in our 10 Day Colorado Itinerary.

SCENIC DRIVES IN COLORADO: Pikes Peak, the Million Dollar Highway, and the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway is just a short list of the scenic drives you can do in Colorado. For the full list, read our article about the Best Scenic Drives in Colorado.

MORE GREAT HIKES IN THE NATIONAL PARKS: From hikes to the tallest peaks to beautiful coast trails, read our Guide to the Best Day Hikes in the US National Parks. If you prefer to keep your hikes short and sweet, read our guide to the Best Short Hikes in the National Parks.

TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY: For more information about the camera gear we carry, check out our Travel Photography Gear Guide.

 

If this is part of a bigger road trip through the USA, visit our United States Travel Guide for more inspiration and travel planning tips. Visit our Colorado Travel Guide for more things to do in Colorado.

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Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

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All rights reserved © Earth Trekkers. Republishing this article and/or any of its contents (text, photography, etc.), in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited.

Comments 9

  1. Avatar for Matt Costa
    Matt Costa

    Hi guys – I am a big fan and lived by your Sedona hikes. I have been in RMCP for four days now, and did skypond, emerald lake and Hiayaha, Ute to tombstone, and deer mountain. All great (especially sky pond). Today I hiked CCY – Chapin to Chiquita to Ypres – and summited on Chiquita. Have you hiked this?. I absolutely loved it.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      Hello Matt. No, we haven’t done that hike…haven’t even heard of it. We’ll have to put it on our to do list when we are back in the area. Cheers, Julie

  2. Avatar for Rachel
    Rachel

    This is exactly the information I needed about each hike! I have done several of them, and agree with everything you have written about them. So, I am confident I would agree with your information on the hikes I haven’t done! I love how you outlined which hikes to do, based on what you are looking for. I’ll send this to my buddies for review before our trip!

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
  3. Avatar for Ashley
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  4. Avatar for Tanya
    Tanya

    What a fantastic list of RMNP hikes! Have saved for later when we can go again. We live in Colorado Springs now and have visited the other 3 Colorado national parks very recently, but it’s time to get back to uncover more of Rocky Mountain NP! I know some of the trails will be closed due to the 2020 fires, but there are still a lot open.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      What a great place to live! Tyler starts college later this year and UC at Boulder is #1 on his list. So, we all could be making a lot of trips out to Colorado over the next few years, depending on Tyler’s decision. Happy hiking! Cheers, Julie

  5. Avatar for Noble Transfer
    Noble Transfer

    Hiking is one of my favorite and all-the-time go-to activities during my trip abroad. Through this post, I have come to know a lot more about these adventurous hiking trails in Rockey Mountain National Park. Thanks for sharing!!!

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