The 19 Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park for a Colorado Adventure

Boasting over three hundred miles of hiking trails, Rocky Mountain National Park is filled with beautiful hiking trails throughout the park, making it a hiker’s haven. There’s a little something for everyone here with trail options ranging from flat lakeside strolls to steep mountain climbs. Anyone from families traveling with young kids to the most enthusiastic peak collectors is sure to find the perfect trail.

When planning your Colorado itinerary, chances are you feel as overwhelmed as ever choosing the best trails in Rocky Mountain National Park. Luckily, you can do a whole lot of them, even on a short visit, especially if you opt to go after relatively short and sweet day hikes.

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From easy walks along meadows to chasing awe-inspiring alpine lakes, to trails that will have you conquering a true Colorado fourteener, these are just a few of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park to add to your Colorado bucket list.

Sky Pond, depicting one of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park
The hike to Sky Pond was our most recent adventure in Rocky Mountain National Park.
a map of the 19 best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park
This map marks the trailheads for all 19 of the best trails in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park for Families

We do most of our hiking around Boulder, but some of our favorite hikes in Colorado are in Rocky Mountain National Park, and since we’ve always had the kids with us for these hikes, family-friendly trails are at the top of our list. From wildflowers and wildlife to waterfalls and lakes, these are the most accessible trails in the park.

1. Bear Lake Nature Trail

kids on the frozen Bear Lake, one of the best winter hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park
One of our first visits to Rocky Mountain NP was to Bear Lake in the winter, exploring the frozen lake.

Bear Lake is one of, if not the, most popular hikes within the park. It’s an excellent trail year-round, but visitors can also explore across the frozen lake in the deep of winter. 

Commonly considered the most manageable hike in the Rocky Mountains, the views are no less impressive than the more challenging trails found around the park. The path is short (less than a mile long), but during the stroll, you’ll be treated to scenic views of nearby peaks and the breathtaking Bear Lake, a dreamy lake guaranteed to leave you in awe.

Note: Bear Lake is an accessible trail, meaning it’s stroller and wheelchair-friendly. Access this trail from the parking lot at the end of Bear Lake Road. 

  • Distance 0.5 miles
  • Flat, with only 50 ft elevation gain
  • Trail type: loop 
  • Hiking time: less than 30 minutes
  • Location: Bear Lake Trailhead

2. Alberta Falls

Alberta Falls, one of the best trails in Rocky Mountain National Park
This hike reaches one of the park’s waterfalls: Alberta Falls.

The hike to Alberta Falls is one of the more accessible waterfall trails in the park. This short and sweet trail is one of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park for families. Not only is the shorter distance and flat course good for younger kids, but they’ll love seeing the waterfall at the end.

  • Distance: 1.6 miles
  • A gentle 230 ft elevation gain
  • Type: out and back
  • Trailhead Glacier Gorge Junction
  • Time to hike: under an hour

3. Sprague Lake

A beautiful hike around a lake that is a bit less crowded than Bear Lake. If you’re lucky enough to be able to bring fishing gear with you, the kids will love to spend a little more time at the lake. This is another wheelchair-accessible trail, so the perfect spot for all skill levels to enjoy a day in the Rockies.

  • Distance: 0.8 miles
  • This flat trail changes only 35 feet in elevation
  • Type: loop 
  • Trailhead: Sprague Lake Trailhead
  • Hiking time: less than 30 minutes

4. Lily Lake

kids taking in the view of a mountain lake
Lily Lake Trail is accessible from outside the main entrances of Rocky Mountain National Park.

We like Lily Lake because of the ease of access. The trailhead is found off the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway, or Highway 7, near Estes Park, rather than through the main RMNP entrances. Taking the loop counter-clockwise starts with a rocky climb and ends with a flat walk along a boardwalk.

  • Distance: 0.8 miles
  • 30 ft elevation gain
  • Type: loop 
  • Trailhead: Lily Lake Trailhead
  • Hiking Time: less than 30 minutes

5. Upper Beaver Meadows

A gently sloped trail is an excellent option for new hikers and young children. In the springtime, wildflowers steal the show on this trail. Because this trail is not located along Bear Lake Road, where many of the most popular trails are found, you have a better chance at a less crowded hike here.

  • Distance: 1.5 miles
  • 140 ft elevation gain
  • Type: loop
  • Hiking time: about 30 min
  • Location: Upper Beaver Meadows Trailhead

6. The Pool (via Fern Lake Trail)

Find this trailhead at the end of Fern Lake Road, near Moraine Park Campground. This trail, which runs along the Big Thompson River, is another good wildflower viewing spot that stays out of the way of Bear Lake Road traffic. Note that there isn’t as much shade left on this trail due to the 2020 wildfires.

If you find yourself up for a little more, continue for another mile to reach Fern Falls.

  • Distance: 3.4 miles
  •  250 ft elevation gain
  • Type: out and back
  • Plan for about 1.5 hours on this trail

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7. Nymph Lake and Dream Lake (via Bear Lake)

The trail to Nymph and Dream Lakes is an excellent year-round hike that lands in one of the top spots on our list of best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Parks for families. There is a slight climb at the start to Dream Lake, but time spent taking in the views will give plenty of time to rest and refuel with some hiking snacks.

  • Reaching Nymph Lake is an easy trail (about 1.0 mile, taking roughly 40 minutes)
  • The trail to Dream Lake is a little bit more difficult, but still a relatively easy 2 mile hike in a little over an hour
  • 400 ft elevation gain
  • Type of trail: out and back
  • Time to hike these trails: plan for about 40 minutes to Nymph Lake, with another 20 minute hike to Dream Lake

The Best Trails in Rocky Mountain National Park for Moderate Hikes

If you’re up for a little more challenge, try any of these unforgettable trails to alpine lakes and rocky climbs through the park. Older kids with some experience hiking will do well on any of these trails.

8. Cub Lake

Another trail ranking as one of the best winter hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, the trail to Cub Lake is long, but it’s a slow climb. This trail’s popularity is in part due to the proximity to the park entrances and Moraine Park Campground.

This is also one used for horseback riding. While kids will love to see the beautiful animals along the way, always remember to always give the horses the right of way.

  • Hike distance: about 5-6 miles, depending on route back
  • 700 ft elevation gain
  • Type of trail: out and back or loop if returning on the path along Fern Lake Road
  • Location: Cub Lake Trailhead
  • Time: plan for about 3 hours

9. Gem Lake

a girl looking into the water at Gem Lake in Rocky Mountain NP
The kids watched for little fish in Gem Lake and climbed the surrounding rocks.

The hike to Gem Lake is a fun afternoon trail for a family hike and another found outside the official entrances to the national park. The moments of rocky terrain make it a little more fun hiking for the kids, and they’ll be more than happy to play around the lake for a while.

If you’re up for more, continue the trail to Balanced Rock (for a total of 7 miles, about 4 hours) along a more forested path that provides welcome shade in the summer months.

  • Distance: 3.2 miles
  • 990 ft elevation change
  • Type: out and back
  • Time: About 2 hours
  • Location: Lumpy Ridge Trailhead, taking a right at the intersection with Black Canyon Trail to stay on Lumpy Ridge Trail

10. Emerald Lake (via Bear Lake)

The Emerald Lake hike is one of the most popular trails in Rocky Mountain National Park for all the right reasons. Not only is it a relatively easy hike that is accessible to nearly everyone, the dreamy alpine scenery that accompanies hikers every step of the way makes it a true treat. What’s best? The hike will have you passing three picture-perfect alpine lakes (Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, Emerald Lake), giving you plenty of excuses to stop and catch your breath.

In addition to the three lakes along the trail, you can also opt to go the extra mile (literally) to see a fourth lake: Lake Hayiaha. This detour adds an extra mile to the feat (and another one on the way back), but it’s well worth the effort if you’re still keen to relish even more mountain goodness.

  • Emerald Lake is reached in just over 3 miles (plan for 1 hour 45 minutes of hiking time), over a 600 ft elevation gain
  • Add the spur to Lake Haiyaha to make it 7 miles
  • Location: Bear Lake Trailhead
  • Type: out and back
  • Emerald Lake is about 45 minutes past Dream Lake

11. Sky Pond (Via Bear Lake)

a family at the water's edge of Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park
Plan to spend plenty of time resting at Sky Pond. It’s not a leisurely hike, but older kids with some hiking experience can handle this one.

If the Emerald Lake Hike sounds a tad too easy for you, Sky Pond is an excellent alternative for those looking to put their legs to the test. This 8-miles hike is tucked among towering granite spires and isn’t for the faint of heart. The views of dramatic valleys, Sharkstooth and Taylor Peaks, and two dreamy alpine lakes (The Loch and Lake of Glass) make every step of the way an absolute delight.

It’s not an easy hike for sure, but frequent stops for lake and mountain views along the way makes it a fun, but full, day hike to the breathtaking alpine lakes. The scramble to Sky Pond was one of the kids’ favorite parts of the hike and tops their list for best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park for families who want a trail that is a little more challenging.

  • Distance: almost 10 miles
  • 1,750 ft elevation gain
  • Type: out and back
  • Trailhead: this trail can be picked up from the Glacier Gorge Junction Trailhead or the Bear Lake Trailhead
  • Plan for 5 hours to reach Sky Pond

12. Trails to Bierstadt Lake

kids walking a snow-covered trail in a forest in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado
The trail to Bierstadt Lake from the Bierstadt Lake trailhead is a series of switchbacks before reaching an open forest near the lake.

There are three ways to reach another one of Rocky Mountain National Park’s many lakes. Take the trail from Bear Lake, the longest and most challenging route. The out-and-back Bierstadt Lake Trail starts across the road from Glacier Basin Campground. We chose the third option, Bierstadt Lake Loop Trail, which begins with a climb up a trail of switchbacks. It wasn’t difficult, but we didn’t research ahead and expected an easy 1.5-mile hike to the lake instead of the climb.

  • Bear Lake to Bierstadt Lake: is the longest option at just over 4 miles if you include a loop around the lake, with 650 feet in elevation, taking a little over 2 hours (from Bear Lake Trailhead)
  • Bierstadt Lake Trail: 3 miles, out-and-back with 800 feet in elevation change; expect about 2 hours on this trail (use trailhead at RMNP Park & Ride, across from Glacier Basin Campground)
  • Bierstadt Lake Loop Trail: this balloon trail is one of the shorter options, also about 3 miles, with least change in elevation (625 feet); expect about 2 hours on this trail (from Bierstadt Lake Trailhead)
  • Type of trail: balloon or out and back 
  • The loop trail has switchbacks for the first part of the trail

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13. Ouzel Falls

a family in front of Ouzel Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park
A family photo in front of Ouzel Falls, one of the best winter hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

The trail to Ouzel Falls is another one on our list of the best trails in Rocky Mountain National Park, with a trailhead outside of the main park entrances. The Wild Basin Trailhead is found off Highway 7, south of Estes Park. The main parking lot is open seasonally, making the hike is a bit longer in the winter months when parking is further from the start of the trail. It’s also one of the best winter hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, a course we did as part of a snowshoeing event hosted by the Rocky Mountain Conservancy (programs are temporarily on pause due to COVID-19).

  • The trail to Ouzel Falls is just over 5 miles, but can be closer to 6 miles when the main parking area is closed in the winter
  • The 1,000 ft elevation gain is more tolerable than other trails due slow climb over to the distance to the falls
  • Type: out and back
  • Plan about 3 hours for this trail
  • Wild Basin Trailhead; in the winters the road closes before the parking area making this trail a bit longer than in the summer months

14. Bridal Veil Falls via Cow Creek Trail

Colorado may be known for its unparalleled natural beauty, but there are surprisingly few impressive waterfalls in the state.

An exception to the rule? Bridal Veil Falls is a beautiful 20-foot tall cascade considered a pretty unusual sight in Colorado. The hike itself is 6.1-miles long and takes roughly 3 hours to complete. The trail follows along the scenic Cow Creek, which brims with wildlife sighting opportunities (keep your eye out for elk and mule deer) as well as gorgeous aspens and meadows to keep you entertained along the way.

  • Distance: 6 miles
  • 1,000 ft elevation gain
  • Trail type: out and back
  • Allow 3 hours for this trail
  • Location: Cow Creek Trailhead, a short drive north of Estes Park

15. Mills Lake or The Loch

a girl sitting on a rock in Rocky Mountain NP with a view of The Loch from above
Views from above The Loch in Rocky Mountain NP.

This is a good hike to tack onto Alberta Falls if you’re looking for a little more challenge than an easy trail. From Glacier Gorge Junction, after passing Alberta Falls, reach two Rocky Mountain lakes in a Y-shaped trail. Once you reach the junction in the trail, roughly 4.5 miles from the trailhead, head, take a left to continue to Mills Lake, or stay straight for The Loch. On the path to Mills Lake, you’ll also catch Glacier Falls.

  • Mills Lake: 5.4 miles, 900 ft elevation gain, 2 hours 45 minutes
  • The Loch: closer to 6 miles, 1,000 ft elevation gain, about 3 hours to complete
  • Type: out and back
  • Trailhead: Glacier Gorge Junction

16. Deer Mountain

The trail to Deer Mountain reaches a summit at 10,000 feet, so if you’re not yet acclimated to the altitude, leave this trail for another day. This trail is heavily trafficked, making it one of the best winter hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park because of all the people packing down the snow. Still, spikes are a must for this trail in the colder months.

The first 2 miles are a slower climb, then the trail turns into a series of switchbacks for an easier climb to the peak.

  • Distance: 6 miles
  • 1,100 ft elevation gain
  • Type: out and back
  • Plan for about 3.5 hours for this hike
  • Location: Deer Mountain Trailhead, near the intersection of Falls River Road and Trail Ridge Road

Best Trails in Rocky Mountain National Park: Most Difficult Hikes

They might be some of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, but they’re not for the faint of heart. These hikes are a true challenge and haven’t been one we’ve been ready to take on yet.

17. Chasm Lake

If every hike on this list seems to mention at least one lake, that’s because Rocky Mountain is pretty much king when it comes to dreamy, picture-perfect alpine lakes. Another must-do on your hiking list, especially if you’re in the mood for a longer hike, is heading up to Chasm Lake.

Aside from the alluring lake you’ll get to see at the end of the trail, the entire hike brims with charm and will have you making multiple stops along the way to take the scenery in. Think dramatic vistas of Long’s Peak (one of the most iconic mountains in the park), a picturesque amphitheater of rock formations, and a delightful waterfall to give you a pretty good idea of what walking this 8-mile long trail is all about!

Visiting in the off-season? This is another one of the best winter hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. Just remember those spikes and snowshoes!

  • 8.5 miles, with 2,500 ft elevation gain
  • Trail type: out and back
  • Time: 5 hours 15 minutes
  • Location: start this trail at Longs Peak Trailhead

18. Estes Cone Loop

Adventurers can pick up this trail at Lily Lake, and one reserved for more experienced hikers. As you reach the Cone, the course can be challenging to find. Should you choose to take this one on, know that the biggest rewards come in the last mile, which offers unparallel views of the Rockies.

Want to reach the Cone but not looking for this level of difficulty? Pick up this trail near Longs Peak Campground, south of Lily Lake.

  • Distance: about 8 miles
  •  2,500 ft elevation gain
  • Trail type: out and back
  • Hiking time: 5 hours
  • Trailhead: hike to Estes Cone from the Lily Lake Trailhead

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19. The Keyhole and Longs Peak

a view of Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park
Longs Peak is one of the most challenging but still one of the best trails in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Keen for a true challenge? Being the highest point in Rocky Mountain National Park, Longs Peak may just be the most iconic mountain in the entire state. While several routes are available to conquering this sought-after Colorado 14er, some of which are easier than others. The Keyhole Route is the best route to follow if you’re keen to put your hiking skills to the test.

The Keyhole Route on Longs Peak is an extremely challenging trail, especially considering it has an elevation gain of a whopping 4,991 feet. As you start the ascent, you’ll be faced with humongous vertical rock faces, loose rocks, and several steep cliffs. Plus, scrambling is a must to reach the top, making it a challenge even for experienced hikers.

In essence, this is not a hike to be taken lightly. Prior experience is required, and wearing a helmet is a must. Moreover, don’t start the hike before checking that the weather conditions are right for summiting.

  • Hike distance: 16 miles
  • A steep 5,000 foot elevation gain
  • Type: out and back
  • This is a 10+ hour hike, so start early to ensure you return before the afternoon thunderstorms roll in
  • Trailhead: Longs Peak Trailhead

Tips for Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park

  • If you usually hike with your dog, plan to leave them home for these trails. Dogs are not allowed on any of the trails within the park.
  • Like many national parks, RMNP gets very busy in peak seasons (late May through early October). Timed entry reservations may be required to access the park’s hiking trails.
  • If you have additional time, add a drive along Trail Ridge Road or Falls River Road for some of the most unforgettable views in the park.
  • Keep a save distance from wildlife. You’ll likely come across deer, moose, and elk on your hike.
  • Many of the trails intersect and form a network of trails. This creates several options for reaching the best summits, waterfalls, and lakes in the park.
  • These trails provide fantastic views within the park, but if you want views of the rockies, try nearby Kruger Rock Trail.

What to Pack for a Day Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

No matter the time of year, always dress in layers. We’ve experienced chilly temps in early summer and have really felt the warmth of the sun on what we expected to be a cold day. Layers allow you to be comfortable no matter the weather. The elevations and sun also mean bringing plenty of water.

Summer Hikes in rocky Mountain NP

Summer months can get hotter than you would expect in the Colorado mountains. Sunscreen and a brimmed hat are essential for your day on the trails. Also, make sure to have extra water for the time you’ll be out hiking – you’ll likely go through more than you expect.

Winter’s Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

The snowy terrain in the winter still requires sun protection, but you’ll also want to add spikes and snowshoes to your packing list.

I hope this list of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park helped you build a perfect hiking itinerary for your visit. There are seemingly endless trails to last you an entire year of hiking here. These are some great bets to hit some of the best trails in Rocky Mountain National Park and see some of the most iconic sights in the park!

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