Colorado’s mountains are famous the world over. While much of the state is defined by the Rockies, there’s one area so impressive that it’s deemed worthy of a national park. Here are the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.Less
This is undoubtedly one of the most popular trails in Rocky Mountain National Park. Many people who set foot on no other trail still hike this one, or at least attempt it. That's because it starts from the Alpine Visitor Center on Trail Ridge Road, a very crowded place during summer. The hike is tantalizingly short, but quite steep, and reaches 12,000 feet elevation, making it difficult if you're not in decent shape. It's all paved, and mostly just stairs from start to finish.
This section of the Ute Trail is part of a longer route, once used by indigenous people to cross the mountains, and now a designated trail in the national park. The segment begins from a nondescript trailhead along Trail Ridge Road, with a small parking area. The lack of obvious signage makes it lightly traveled, even though it’s one of the best hikes in this area of the park.
This hike is perfect training for Colorado 14ers, but it’s also spectacular in its own right and is among the best summit hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. The entire trail is more or less along the Continental Divide, tracing it from Milner Pass to Ida’s summit. Most park maps do not show the full trail up the mountain, but it’s a designated and well-worn path. It’s all very easy to follow, except maybe after recent snow, most of the way to the summit of Mount Ida.
For seeing alpine lakes, this may be the single best hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. In just a few miles of hiking, you’ll see four different lakes, each with its own unique character and scenery. The lakes get progressively higher in elevation, the shores rockier, and the peaks closer overhead as you go.
The full trip to Sky Pond is a rather serious hike, requiring rock scrambling and potentially snow travel, depending on the season. But the hike serves many highlights along its length, thus offering many logical turnaround points. The trail begins as one of the park’s most popular and ends as a rugged path in alpine wilderness.
This hike delivers you quickly away from the crowds and into the backcountry of Rocky Mountain National Park. Even though it starts at the congested Bear Lake area, you can find solitude among the forest and lakes along this route. Thanks to the park’s free shuttle buses, you can hike one way from Bear Lake all the way to Fern Lake trailhead, and you can avoid searching for parking at Bear Lake.
Gem Lake sits high in the jumbled rock formations of Lumpy Ridge, within Rocky Mountain National Park. The trail begins outside the national park, however, so it requires no entry fee. That fact, along with its proximity to the town of Estes Park and year-round access, makes Gem Lake one of the area’s most popular hikes. It’s not too long or strenuous, but just the right workout for fit hikers adjusting to the altitude.
Starting from the lesser-traveled Wild Basin trailhead of Rocky Mountain National Park, the hike to Ouzel Falls goes gradually uphill, through conifer and aspen forest, beside a cascading creek. The first notable waterfall is Lower Copeland Falls, less than half a mile into the hike, followed shortly by Upper Copeland Falls. Beyond there, the trail steepens somewhat and becomes rockier, leading higher into the valley. Though the trail is well shaded by the trees, it can get hot in summer.
Chasm Lake is just below the sheer east face of Longs Peak, which is the tallest mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park. To reach Chasm Lake, you’ll begin on the same trail which leads to Longs’ 14-thousand-foot summit. The first couple of miles are steadily uphill, on a well-trodden path through evergreen forest. Eventually, the trail emerges from the trees, onto alpine tundra dotted with squat spruce and colored with wildflowers.
Longs Peak is a true icon of Colorado. At 14,259 feet, it’s one of the state’s proudest 14ers, and the only one within Rocky Mountain National Park. It looks imposing from every side, but the “Keyhole” notch allows passage to the summit. Keyhole Route is one of the most popular 14er routes in Colorado, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. The fame of Longs Peak draws more people toward its summit than rightfully belong there. Nearly half who attempt it do not reach the top.