25 Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park (By a Local)
I’m a Colorado local and avid hiker with insights into the best Rocky Mountain National Park hikes!
There are several Colorado national parks and monuments, but Rocky Mountain National Park is by far the most popular. This guide overviews iconic trails for every skill level and in every region of the park. I also share lesser-known routes that offer solitude and stellar views — trust me, they’re ones you won’t want to miss.
Table of Contents
- 25 Best Rocky Mountain National Park Hikes
- Bear Lake
- Emerald Lake
- Lake Haiyaha
- Flattop Mountain
- Alberta Falls
- Mills Lake, Black Lake, and Frozen Lake
- The Loch
- Sky Pond
- Bierstadt Lake
- Sprague Lake
- Cub Lake
- Odessa and Fern Lakes
- Gem Lake
- Deer Mountain
- Alluvial Fan
- Chasm Falls
- Tombstone Ridge
- Tundra Communities Trail
- Alpine Ridge Trail
- Mount Ida Trail
- Adams Falls Trail
- Chasm Lake
- The Keyhole and Longs Peak
- Twin Sisters Peak Trail
- Ouzel Falls
- FAQs About Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park
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25 Best Rocky Mountain National Park Hikes
👉 Heads Up: Rocky Mountain National Park charges a $30 daily fee for personal vehicles. But you can save big with an America the Beautiful Pass, granting unlimited annual access to all US national parks!
A popular family-friendly trail featuring an alpine lake and views of the Continental Divide.
🥾 Easy | 0.7 miles | Google Maps | 1 hr. 50 min. from Denver | Reservation: Park Access+
Bear Lake Trail is one of the most popular Rocky Mountain National Park hikes. It wraps around the edge of a sparkling alpine lake, set at 9,475 feet above sea level.
The 0.7-mile loop gains very little elevation, making it suitable for families who are hiking with kids. However, note that strollers and wheelchairs may find areas of the rooted, rocky surface difficult to navigate. Visitors will also find restroom facilities at the Bear Lake Trailhead.
This trail requires a Park Access+ reservation from May 26 to October 22, as it’s located along Bear Lake Road. Parking is very limited, especially in the peak summer season. Consider taking the free Bear Lake Route shuttle from Park & Ride, where you’ll find more ample parking. Shuttles run every 10-15 minutes from 6:30 am to 7:30 pm during this busy time frame.
Hike through aspen groves and pine forests to Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, and Emerald Lake—one more stunning than the last.
🥾 Moderate | 3.0 miles | Google Maps | 1 hr. 50 min. from Denver | Reservation: Park Access+
Those looking to experience this iconic Rocky Mountain National Park hike will begin at the Bear Lake parking lot, same as above. That said, shuttle transport should be considered and a Park Access+ reservation is required from May 26 to October 22.
You’ll be rewarded for your advanced planning, as this is one of the best hikes in the state of Colorado. Start by taking the Nymph Lake Trail past the first alpine lake, covered with blooming water lilies in the summer. Continue to Dream Lake, where you may spot cutthroat trout swimming in the crystal-clear water.
Hike through aspens, ponderosa pines, and past the flowing Tyndall Creek to reach the final destination: Emerald Lake. Hallett Peak and Flattop Mountain backdrop the stunning pool, which often attracts local wildlife like elk and mule deer.
👉 Pro Tip: Park Access+ reservations are required from 5 am to 6 pm. Go on an evening hike if you’re struggling to gain Bear Lake Road access last minute!
A lesser-known alpine lake that’s an exceptional extension of Emerald Lake Trail.
🥾 Moderate | 4 miles | Google Maps | 1 hr. 50 min. from Denver | Reservation: Park Access+
The most direct method to reach Lake Haiyaha is to take the moderate 4-mile trail. It begins from the same point as above, following Nymph Lake Trail to Dream Lake. From there, you’ll want to take the spur trail to your left, heading southwest to this less-crowded gem.
However, Lake Haiyaha is also a great one-mile extension of the Emerald Lake Trail. Visiting all four alpine lakes is 5 miles roundtrip, which takes an average of 2 hours and 30 minutes to complete. Shade is ample on this forested trail, but be sure to pack adequate water and perhaps a snack.
Again, a Park Access+ reservation is required from May 26 to October 22. Arrive early to snag parking, or plan to take the free shuttle from Park & Ride.
A challenging summit hike that ascends above the Bear Lake area and offers panoramic views.
🥾 Difficult | 8.5 miles | Google Maps | 1 hr. 50 min. from Denver | Reservation: Park Access+
The journey to Flattop Mountain is a gradual ascent, though it gains a total of 2,874 feet of elevation. It’s best suited for experienced hikers and those that have tolerance for the altitude given the 12,329-foot summit.
From the Bear Lake Trailhead, follow the eastern edge of Bear Lake, then take the junction to Bear Lake-Bierstadt Trail. Veer left at the first switchback, joining onto Flattop Mountain Trail. Keep to the left at the Fern Lake Trail junction, seen around the one-mile marker. Continue climbing to the peak, where panoramic views of Rocky Mountain National Park await.
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This scenic trail is suitable for families and features a glistening 30-foot waterfall.
🥾 Easy | 1.6 miles | Google Maps | 1 hr. 45 min. from Denver | Reservation: Park Access+
Alberta Falls Trail begins at the Glacier Gorge Junction parking lot, set just a mile east of the Bear Lake lot. Shuttles stop here along the Bear Lake Route from May 26 to October 22. Park Access+ reservations are required during this same time period.
Reach this popular Rocky Mountain National Park attraction by taking the Glacier Gorge Trail. It gradually gains 226 feet of elevation across 0.8 miles, which is suitable for most hikers, including families. The creekside trail leads to a 30-foot waterfall, flanked by large boulders that are perfect for a picnic.
Mills Lake, Black Lake, and Frozen Lake
A wilderness trek featuring alpine lakes, waterfalls, and even a backcountry campsite.
🥾 Difficult | 11.5 miles | Google Maps | 1 hr. 50 min. from Denver | Reservation: Park Access+
Curious about what lies ahead of Alberta Falls? Follow Glacier Gorge Trail deep into the Rocky Mountains to discover solitude and stunning natural beauty.
After Alberta Falls, come across Glacier Falls at the 2.3-mile marker, followed by Mills Lake another quarter-mile ahead. The smaller, connected Jewel Lake is just south, followed by a lovely backcountry campsite.
Pass Ribbon Falls and come across Black Lake 4.6 miles in. You’ll find a trail junction at the 5-mile marker and will want to keep it right. The picturesque Frozen Lake is less than a mile further, set at 11,619 feet above sea level.
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Extend your Alberta Falls hike with a visit to this serene alpine lake.
🥾 Moderate | 5.4 miles | Google Maps | 1 hr. 45 min. from Denver | Reservation: Park Access+
The Loch is another hiking trail that starts at Glacier Gorge Junction and intersects with Alberta Falls. You’ll pass the falls, followed by the Glacier Knobs rock formations. Choose the middle route at the second trail junction, found at the 2-mile marker. For reference, the right trail leads to Lake Haiyaha, while the left path leads to Mills Lake.
The last 0.7-mile stretch of this trail is steep, gaining 408 feet in elevation. But you’ll be rewarded with views of one of the prettiest alpine lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Explore what’s past The Loch and find yourself breathless—by both the views and the difficult ascent.
🥾 Difficult | 8.6 miles | Google Maps | 1 hr. 45 min. from Denver | Reservation: Park Access+
Views of The Loch will amaze you, but further ahead lies a site that may be even more breathtaking: Sky Pond. This challenging trek starts the same as the above, then wraps around the north shore of The Loch.
From there, you’ll follow a path along Icy Brook. Break away from the water at the Embryo Lake trail junction, heading deeper into the ponderosa pine forest. Timberline Falls and Lake of Glass are found around the 4-mile marker, as is a 300-foot ascent. But that final push gives way to stunning views of Sky Pond, backdropped by dramatic peaks including The Sharkstooth.
👉 Don’t Miss: Estes Park is the nearest town to Rocky Mountain National Park. Complete your itinerary with my guides on things to do and where to stay in Estes Park!
Follow a series of switchbacks past lodgepole pines to reach this picturesque alpine lake.
🥾 Moderate | 2.9 miles | Google Maps | 1 hr. 40 min. from Denver | Reservation: Park Access+
Bierstadt Lake is found along Bear Lake Road, meaning a Park Access+ reservation is required from May 26 to October 22. Exit at the Bierstadt Lake Trailhead stop if taking the Bear Lake shuttle route.
This moderate hike has nearly all of its 620-foot elevation gain in the first mile. It then opens to a plateau, allowing hikers to walk the perimeter of Bierstadt Lake. Enjoy views of the Continental Divide and keep an eye out for wildlife in this upper-montane ecosystem.
This scenic hike suits strollers and wheelchairs, and features an accessible backcountry campsite.
🥾 Easy | 0.8 miles | Google Maps | 1 hr. 40 min. from Denver | Reservation: Park Access+
Sprague Lake Loop is one of the most popular Rocky Mountain National Park hiking trails. Largely, this is due to its picturesque views and accessibility. Though gravel, the path is suitable for families with strollers, as well as wheelchairs. There’s also an accessible backcountry campsite here, reserved for those with disabilities.
Benches are found along the flat, easy loop. Admire the mountain scenery and watch fishers cast lines into the serene waters. Or visit in winter, as this is one of the best snowshoeing routes in the park.
A stellar alpine lake hike that suits most hikers, as well as those new to backpacking.
🥾 Moderate | 5.2 miles | Google Maps | 1 hr. 30 min. from Denver | Reservation: Park Access+
Cub Lake Trail is found on Fern Lake Road, just west of the Moraine Park Campground. A Park Access+ reservation is required from May 26 – October 22. Those that opt for the free shuttle service should head to Park & Ride, then take the Moraine Park Route. It runs every 60 minutes from 7:00 am to 7:30 pm during peak season.
The first mile of this moderate trail is relatively flat, though the last mile has a 300-foot elevation gain. Still, this day hike is suitable for most hikers and especially ideal for beginner backpackers. Find Cub Creek Campsite off a spur trail at the 2.2-mile marker, just before you reach the small but scenic Cub Lake. It’s often covered with lily pads in the summertime.
🛑 Warning: Moose are often spotted on this trail! These creatures can be aggressive—keep your distance. Rocky Mountain National Park suggests staying a minimum of 120 feet or three bus lengths away. See these wildlife viewing tips for more information.
Odessa and Fern Lakes
Hike or backpack to two gorgeous alpine lakes, which are a great extension of Cub Lake Trail.
🥾 Difficult | 9.6 miles | Google Maps | 1 hr. 40 min. from Denver | Reservation: Park Access+
Begin this challenging trek at Fern Lake Trailhead, set just a mile west of Cub Lake Trailhead. You can also make Odessa Lake and Fern Lake an extension of the above hike by continuing along what becomes The Pool-Cub Lake Trail.
Either way, both routes pass The Pool. Here, you’ll cross a turbulent section of the Big Thompson River via a log bridge. Old Forest Inn Backcountry Campsite is found in this area, too, great for those interested in backpacking.
From here, the trail becomes more steep, gaining a total of nearly 2,000 feet in elevation. Hikers will come across Fern Lake around the 3.6-mile marker, followed by Odessa Lake at the end of the 4.8-mile route. Both these alpine lakes are surrounded by mountain peaks and are truly a sight to behold.
See interesting rock formations and an alpine lake on this hike that does not require a Park Access+ reservation.
🥾 Moderate | 3.2 miles | Google Maps | 1 hr. 20 min. from Denver | Reservation: Park Access
Can’t get a Park Access+ reservation? No problem! Gem Lake requires the standard Park Access reservation during peak season, but it’s less difficult to acquire. Plus, it’s only necessary if you arrive between 9 am and 2 pm from May 26 to October 22.
This hike begins at the Lumpy Ridge Trailhead which is just a 5-minute drive from downtown Estes Park. Roadside parking is plentiful and restroom facilities are at the trailhead, as well as near the lake.
The route is very straightforward. Simply follow Gem Lake Trail, keeping right at the junction. Enjoy expansive views of the park and the town of Estes Park below. Paul Bunyan’s Boot, pictured above, is one of several unique rock formations on this trail—including those that surround Gem Lake.
A summit hike that often features wildlife and guarantees panoramic scenery.
🥾 Moderate | 6 miles | Google Maps | 1 hr. 30 min. from Denver | Reservation: Park Access
Deer Mountain Trail is another hike that bypasses Bear Lake Road. Find the trailhead on the north side of Rocky Mountain National Park, just before the east terminal of Trail Ridge Road.
Though rated as moderate, some may find this hike to be borderline difficult. It gains nearly 1,400 feet of elevation in three miles of several switchbacks. The summit tops 10,000 feet above sea level and offers 360-degree views.
An easily-accessible waterfall hike through a unique, fan-shaped geological area.
🥾 Easy | 0.7 miles | Google Maps | 1 hr. 30 min. from Denver | Reservation: Park Access
This family-friendly hike is easily accessible, found just 3 miles northeast of the Deer Mountain Trailhead. From there, turn onto Old Fall River Road. Note that it experiences seasonal closures—and don’t drive past the Endovalley Picnic Area. From there, it becomes a one-way route.
But parking lots are evident at both the Alluvial Fan East and West Trailheads. Take either out and back, admiring views of this unique geological feature. The Alluvial Fan Trail is a paved path with little elevation gain, suitable for families with strollers and wheelchairs.
A pet-friendly hike on the scenic Old Fall River Road, leading to an impressive waterfall.
🥾 Moderate | 4.7 miles | Google Maps | 1 hr. 30 min. from Denver | Reservation: Park Access
Chasm Falls can be viewed by driving Old Fall River Road, a dirt road best suited for AWD and 4WD vehicles. However, it’s only open seasonally, generally from July through early October. It’s also a one-way route, meaning you must drive the full 9 miles to the Alpine Ridge Visitor Center.
Alternatively, you can hike to this popular waterfall. The roadway is wide, granting space for both you and oncoming traffic. One of its best perks is that, unlike nearly all Rocky Mountain National Park hikes, this one allows leashed pets when in roadway use! Though note that pets cannot walk on spur trails, including the last 0.1-mile stretch to Chasm Falls.
Stretch your legs on this hike along the famous Trail Ridge Road, offering views of jagged peaks and alpine tundra.
🥾 Moderate | 3.8 miles | Google Maps | 2 hrs. 10 min. from Denver | Reservation: Park Access
Tombstone Ridge is one of several trails along Trail Ridge Road, one of the best things to do in the state of Colorado. Drive along the highest continuous-paved road in North America to reach the Ute Trail parking lot.
Elevation gain is minimal at 459 feet, but some may find the altitude challenging. Tombstone Ridge’s high point tops at 11,658 feet above sea level. Witness expansive views of the tundra from here. You may even see herds of elk and bighorn sheep.
👉 Heads Up: Trail Ridge Road is generally open from late May to early October. That said, trails along this route are only accessible seasonally.
Tundra Communities Trail
Another scenic hike along Trail Ridge Road with a unique geological marker and interesting rock formations.
🥾 Easy | 1.1 miles | Google Maps | 2 hrs. 15 min. from Denver | Reservation: Park Access
The Tundra Communities Trailhead is just a 5-minute drive further west from Ute Trail (Tombstone Ridge). Its easy 1.1-mile path grants a closer look at the tundra environment. Local marmots blend into the landscape, as seen above. But high-pitched whistles will alert you if one is nearby! You may also spot pikas, ptarmigans, and other wildlife.
Mushroom Rocks is a unique feature on this trail. Scramble up the boulders at the end of the route to find the geological marker. It outlines the elevation of surrounding peaks, which you can see from this incredible viewpoint.
Alpine Ridge Trail
Climb stone stairsteps to tundra scenery, and enjoy amenities like the Alpine Visitor Center.
🥾 Easy | 0.6 miles | Google Maps | 2 hrs. 15 min. from Denver | Reservation: Park Access
Alpine Ridge Trail is a short, scenic experience that starts adjacent to the Alpine Visitor Center. Be sure to pop in—it’s the highest-elevation visitor center in the entire US national parks system! Restrooms, a cafe, and a large parking lot are also available.
This trail can be accessed from either Trail Ridge Road or Old Fall River Road. It’s suitable for the whole family, with wide, stone steps that gain just 134 feet in elevation. Sweeping views include mountain peaks, summer wildflowers, and sometimes, large groups of elk.
Mount Ida Trail
Take in aerial views of alpine lakes at the summit of this 12,881-foot peak.
🥾 Difficult | 9.4 miles | Google Maps | 2 hrs. 25 min. from Denver | Reservation: Park Access
From the Alpine Visitor Center, continue along Trail Ridge Road another 10 minutes west. Park just passed Poudre Lake to reach the western Ute Trail entry. Restroom facilities are also available at this trailhead.
Take Ute Trail up just a few switchbacks, then veer right onto Mount Ida Trail. Stay on this path, which turns into Mt. Ida Summit Route around the 3.5-mile marker. You’ll encounter a junction 3.9 miles in, but both routes lead to the peak. Several alpine lakes can be seen from above, a breathtaking sight that’s well worth the effort.
Adams Falls Trail
This family-friendly Grand Lake hike leads to spectacular views of a 55-foot waterfall.
🥾 Easy | 0.8 miles | Google Maps | 2 hrs. 10 min. from Denver | Reservation: Park Access
Adams Falls is a stunning 55-foot cascade that’s easily accessible and suitable for all skill levels. Start at the East Inlet Trailhead, where visitors will find restrooms and ample parking. The well-marked lollipop loop is relatively flat and less than a mile long, perfect for a quick excursion.
This site is on the far west side of Rocky Mountain National Park and rather than Estes Park, Grand Lake is the closest town. It’s one of the top small towns in Colorado and home to one of the state’s best lakes. Plenty of other outdoor recreation is nearby, like paddleboarding, fishing, and boating.
Admire the park’s iconic 14,000-foot peak up close on this beautiful alpine lake trek.
🥾 Difficult | 8 miles | Google Maps | 1 hr. 25 min. from Denver | Reservation: Park Access
Chasm Lake starts from the Longs Peak Trailhead, found near the south end of Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s a strenuous trail, gaining 2,552 feet of elevation across four miles.
It’s one of the best day hikes near Denver but could be turned into an overnight experience with several nearby campgrounds. Two restroom facilities are also found along the route.
You’ll pass three junctions on the trail and will want to stay to the right in all instances. The path is well-marked, though some scrambling may be required as you come close to Chasm Lake. Once there, marvel at the pristine alpine lake backdropped by Longs Peak, Mount Meeker, and Mount Lady Washington.
The Keyhole and Longs Peak
Summit one of the most difficult 14ers in Colorado via this thrilling Class 3 route.
🥾 Expert | 13.3 miles | Google Maps | 1 hr. 25 min. from Denver | Reservation: Park Access
Longs Peak is celebrated as one of the best 14er hikes in Colorado. Though, reaching this summit is an especially difficult feat. I’d recommend having prior experience hiking 14,000-foot mountains before attempting this Class 3 ascent. It requires considerable route finding, significant scrambling, and comfortability with high exposure.
Experts will be humbled by this challenging experience, but thrilled by a successful climb. Note that the Keyhole Route is the most common approach and an early start is necessary to avoid afternoon storms. Consider camping the night before at Longs Peak Campground, Goblins Forest, or Battle Mountain Group Site.
📚 Related Reading: Camping Essentials (22 Things You Might Forget to Bring)
Twin Sisters Peak Trail
This summit route on the southeast end of the park takes you to the top of the Continental Divide.
🥾 Difficult | 7.4 miles | Google Maps | 1 hr. 25 min. from Denver | Reservation: Park Access
Interested in a summit hike but find Longs Peak to be a bit daunting? Consider Twin Sisters Peak. Its trailhead is less than 10 minutes north of the Longs Peak Trailhead.
From here, hikers will ascend several switchbacks and encounter some scrambling near the summit. Expect some exposure above the treeline, but be rewarded with panoramic scenery at the top of the Continental Divide. Admire stunning views of surrounding mountains and Longs Peak to the southwest from 11,410 feet above sea level.
Pass several North St. Vrain Creek waterfalls on this trail, as well as backcountry campsites.
🥾 Moderate | 5.3 miles | Google Maps | 1 hr. 25 min. from Denver | Reservation: Park Access
The Wild Basin Trailhead leads to Ouzel Falls. It’s set on the far south end of Rocky Mountain National Park, with Allenspark being the closest town. Restrooms are available, as is limited parking—arrive early to snag a spot.
Hike along North St. Vrain Creek for much of this trail. You’ll come across Lower and Upper Copeland Falls and Calypso Cascades before reaching the 40-foot Ouzel Falls. Pine Ridge backcountry campsite lies at the 1.4-mile marker. Take the Thunder Lake Trail for other nearby campgrounds, including Tahosa and Aspen Knoll.
FAQs About Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park
What is the most popular hike in Rocky Mountain National Park?
The most popular hike in Rocky Mountain National Park is Emerald Lake, according to AllTrails data [source]. Emerald Lake has 13,722 AllTrails reviews as of this article’s original publication date. Sky Pond is the second-most popular with 10,643 reviews.
What is the most difficult hike in Rocky Mountain National Park?
The most difficult hike in Rocky Mountain National Park is Longs Peak. This Class 3 climb is one of the most challenging of all the Colorado 14ers.
What is the easiest hike in Rocky Mountain National Park?
The easiest hike in Rocky Mountain National Park is Sprague Lake. Its gravel path is 0.8 miles in length and gains just 36 feet of elevation. It’s ideal for all skill levels, as well as strollers and wheelchairs.
Bear Lake, Alluvial Fan, and Adams Falls are also very easy trails that are each less than a mile in length.
Thanks for reading my guide to the best Rocky Mountain National Park hikes. Happy trails!
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