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 and Forest Canyon.
If you are looking for an easy hike with spectacular views of Rocky Mountain Park, put this hike at the top of your list. For very little effort, the views you get are unbelievable.
This is a great hike to do with kids. The amazing views start as soon as your feet hit the trail. You don’t even have to hike the entire 4 miles…simply turn around when you are ready.
This is a great 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.
Distance: 4 miles out-and-back
Total Elevation Gain: 520 feet
Starting Elevation: 11,455 feet
Length of Time: 2 to 3 hours
When to go: This hike can be done from the end of May through October, when Trail Ridge Road is open.
The Ute Trail is a historic trail. The Ute and Arapaho Indians walked this same ridge when traveling between their summer and winter hunting grounds. The name “Trail Ridge” comes from the footpaths they left behind.
Elevation profile of the hike
Hiking the Ute Trail to Tombstone Ridge
Getting to the Trailhead
The trail starts on Trail Ridge Road (Highway 34), 1 mile east of the Forest Canyon Overlook. There is a very small parking lot at the trailhead that can hold about eight cars. Within walking distance of the trailhead are several other turnouts that can hold approximately 10 more cars.
We arrived at 6:30 am in early July and we were the first ones on the trail. If you arrive past 8 am, keep your fingers crossed that you will get a parking space. Fortunately, this is a short hike, so turnover at the parking lots will be high all day.
Hiking to Tombstone Ridge
This is a mostly flat hike (for Colorado 😉). There will be two short sections where you will hike uphill, but they are short and nothing too strenuous.
The trail starts on the south side of Trail Ridge Road. There is a trail marker at the trailhead, so it’s easy to find. The entire trail is easy to follow so there is no need for maps or GPS.
The first climb starts right at the start of the hike. If you can handle this brief uphill, no worries for the rest of the hike.
Once on top of the first hill, the views really open up. In front of you is Longs Peak, the highest point in Rocky Mountain National Park. For roughly one mile, you will hike across the wide, flat tundra.
Once you hike to the top of the second hill, the views get even better.
The trail dips down to Tombstone Ridge. Once you get to the rocky outcropping on the left, the trail steeply descends down to Ute Meadow, Moraine Park, and Beaver Meadows. At this point, you hiked 2 miles, the turn-around point for this hike. You can continue, but since you will be heading down into a forest, you will lose the views and have a hefty climb to get back to your car.
One of the great things about this hike are the views you get in both directions. To get back to your car, retrace your steps. Now, you are looking towards Trail Ridge Road. Once again, the views are spectacular. It’s an overall downhill walk back to the parking lot, with two short climbs along the way.
Here are photos on the return to the parking lot.
Tips to Have the Best Experience
For your best chance at getting a parking spot, arrive at the trailhead by 7:30 am. This parking lot is tiny, with room for only 8 cars, with additional parking (and additional walking) along Trail Ridge Road.
Since you are walking above the tree line, this hike can be very windy. It can also be very cool, even during the summer months, because of the high altitude. Wear warm clothing and pack a few extra layers. The temperature in Estes Park can be much warmer than along Trail Ridge Road near the Alpine Visitor Center.
Keep a lookout for thunderstorms. This trail is completely exposed and not the place to be during a thunderstorm. In the summer months, storms typically occur during the early afternoon.
Leave No Trace. When you are in the park, practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace. This includes packing out what you bring into the park, be considerate of other hikers, stay on the trail, and do not remove anything from the park.
What to Bring on the Hike
Hiking shoes or a good pair of walking shoes. As long as there is not snow on the ground, a good pair of walking shoes or running shoes are sufficient. The trail is rocky and uneven but hiking shoes are not necessary for this hike.
Sunscreen, hat, and sunglasses. For the entire hike you will be above the trees, in direct sunlight.
Camera. Even a smartphone will do. For great photos of the trail and the mountains, use the panorama feature of your smartphone.
Warm clothing. On a windy day, consider wearing a rain jacket or windbreaker. And wear several layers of clothing, even in the summer. A hat and gloves might even be necessary on cold days.
If you are new to hiking or are curious about what you should bring on a hike, check out our Hiking Gear Guide. Find out what we carry in our day packs and what we wear on the trails.
If you have any questions about hiking the Ute Trail to Tombstone Ridge, let us know in the comment section below. Happy hiking!!
More Information for Your Trip to RMNP:
- Best of RMNP: Top 10 Things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park
- Itinerary: Rocky Mountain NP Itinerary: Suggestions for 1 Day to 1 Week
- Best Hikes: 15 Great Hikes in RMNP
- Sky Pond: Sky Pond: One of the Best Hikes in RMNP
- Emerald & Dream Lakes: How to Hike Nymph, Dream & Emerald Lake
- Chasm Lake: How to Hike to Chasm Lake
- Deer Mountain: How to Hike to Deer Mountain
- Gem Lake: How to Hike to Gem Lake
- Mount Ida: Hiking the Continental Divide Trail to Mount Ida
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.
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