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18+ EPIC ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK HIKES (+ Photos)

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best hikes rocky mountain national park
Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

If you’re looking for the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park you’ve come to the right place. I was part of a film crew tasked with shooting the most beautiful places in the park and as a result have hiked nearly every trail in Rocky Mountain.

Situated in the heart of Colorado’s Front Range, Rocky Mountain National Park spans more than 400 square miles of jaw-dropping mountain beauty.

Alpine lakes, panoramic vistas, abundant wildlife, and vast forests comprise this high-elevation wonderland. Rocky Mountain embodies every aspect of “epic”.

Let me tell me you, Rocky Mountain National Park lives up to the hype. There is a caveat however. Nowadays visiting the park and having the best possible time requires some extra planning but not to fear, I’ve got all the details you need here.


Rocky Mountain Reservation System

rocky mountain national park reservation system
An elk crosses Bear Lake Road in Rocky Mountain National Park

Due to surging demand Rocky Mountain National Park has instituted a timed-entry system.

What this means for you: Visitors trying to access the park between May 28 – October 11 must:

  1. Obtain a Timed Entry Ticket (follow the link to do so)
  2. Pay the entry fee for the park (all regular passes are accepted in lieu of payment)

If you plan to visit during a time between October 12 – May 27, these rules does not apply to you and you may enter the park at your leisure.


Bear Lake Road Permit (yep, another permit required)

When you go to the reservation system to obtain your Timed Entry Ticket you will be given two types of permits to choose from (if they’re available).

Option 1 is called Park Access with Bear Lake Road. This permit gives you the ability to access the very popular Bear Lake Road + the rest of the park. Bear Lake Road is the gateway to attractions like Sprague Lake, Storm Pass, Bierdstat Lake, Bear Lake, Dream Lake, Emerald Lake, and more.

Option 2 is called Park Access, No Bear Lake Road which, as it says in the name, includes access to everything in the park except for the Bear Lake Road corridor.

For more information on the system you can check out the NPS Timed Entry page.


Rocky Mountain National Park Shuttle System

Hooray! Rocky Mountain is one of the all too few national parks that offers an alternative transportation system. However, the shuttle is currently only doing park and ride along the Bear Lake Corridor and not from the Estes Park visitor Center.

Here’s a current route map:

rocky mountain national park shuttle system
Rocky Mountain Shuttle System – Park & Ride (courtesy NPS)

For more information on the Rocky Mountain shuttle system check out the NPS shuttle page.


Rocky Mountain National Park Video

Rocky Mountain National Park Video

ROCKY MOUNTAIN 8K is the culmination of several years spent filming in the rugged mountains of Colorado. Situated in the heart of Colorado’s Front Range, Rocky Mountain National Park spans more than 400 square miles of jaw-dropping mountain beauty.

Journey with us as we experience all four seasons of life high in the wild heartland of the continental divide.

RELATED: 25 BREATHTAKING National Park Videos to Inspire Your Next Trip


Rocky Mountain National Park’s Best Hikes

dream lake rmnp, dream lake hike rocky mountain
Dream Lake Hike | Rocky Mountain National Park

1. Nymph, Dream, & Emerald Lakes Hike

  • Distance: 3.2 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 700ft
  • Time: 2-3 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Hiking Emerald Lake Trail

One of the most popular hikes in all of Rocky Mountain National Park is the Nymph, Dream, & Emerald Lakes Hike. This moderate hike starts at the Bear Lake Trailhead and follows Tyndall Creek via the Emerald Lake Trail all the way up to Emerald Lake.

emerald lake rocky mountain national park colorado, emerald lake rmnp
Emerald Lake Trail | Rocky Mountain National Park Hikes

The first lake you’ll see is the smallest of the three, Nymph Lake, which is more like a pond. Dream Lake is a crowd favorite coming next with dramatic views of Flattop Mountain. Finally Emerald Lake appears at the 1.6 mile mark with steep walls all around.

In the winter and early Spring this hike is completely buried in feet of snow. As such it is primarily used as a Summer and Fall hike.

To get the above photo of Emerald Lake I scrambled up the right side of the canyon to a high vantage after reaching the trail’s end. I do not recommend doing this as the rock is loose and the terrain is dangerous.


bear lake sunrise rocky mountain national park colorado
Bear Lake Trail at Sunrise | Rocky Mountain National Park Hikes

2. Bear Lake Hike

  • Distance: .7 mile
  • Elevation Gain: Minimal
  • Time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty: Easy

Hiking Bear Lake Trail

The Bear Lake Hike is one of the most popular hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park and very easily accessible. The trail features magnificent views of Flattop Mountain as well as the surrounding peaks.

The distance from the parking lot to the lake is a few hundred feet. From there hikers can take a leisurely .7 mile stroll around Bear Lake.

bear lake snowshoe trail rocky mountain national park hikes, bear lake rmnp
Bear Lake Snowshoe Trail | Best Hikes Rocky Mountain National Park

I’ve hiked this trail in all seasons and prefer winter when the lake is frozen over and the signs are completely buried in snow. Bear Lake makes for a great and easy snowshoe trail in Rocky Mountain National Park for the whole family.

bear lake, rocky mountain national park hikes, winter, bear lake rmnp
Hiking Bear Lake in Winter | Best Hikes Rocky Mountain National Park

alberta falls hike rocky mountain national park, alberta falls rmnp
Alberta Falls | Best Hikes Rocky Mountain National Park

3. Alberta Falls Hike

  • Distance: 1.6 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 230 feet
  • Time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty: Easy

Hiking to Alberta Falls

Alberta Falls is an easy, popular hike in Rocky Mountain National Park featuring a beautiful waterfall. Many folks (myself included) consider it the most beautiful waterfall in Rocky Mountain National Park.

alberta falls hike rocky mountain national park colorado
Alberta Falls Hike | Rocky Mountain National Park

To access the trail hikers must use the Glacier Gorge Junction Trailhead. The hike itself is relatively easy but follows uneven terrain and rock so take caution with small children and older folks.

The Alberta Falls Trail, like many other hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, follows a creek (in this case, Glacier Creek).


rocky mountain national park hikes colorado
Best Hikes Rocky Mountain National Park

4. Odessa & Fern Lakes Hike

  • Distance: 7.5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1500 feet
  • Time: 3-4 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate – Difficult

Hiking Odessa & Fern Lakes Trail

The hike to Odessa Lake & Fern Lake is a moderate to difficult hike in Rocky Mountain National Park ascending more than 1400 feet of elevation gain over 7.5 miles.

The trail itself is quite scenic with fishing in the lakes. This trail sees a lot less traffic and so on busy days in the park is a great choice.


boulder brook trail rocky mountain national park colorado fall, boulder brook rmnp
Boulder Brook Trail | Best Hikes Rocky Mountain National Park

5. Boulder Brook Hike

  • Distance: 4.6 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1400 feet
  • Time: 2-3 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Hiking Boulder Brook Trail

Boulder Brook is one of the best kept secrets for fall hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. The trail features spectacular foliage and follows an idyllic creek (Boulder Brook) for a couple of miles.

best hikes rocky mountain national park colorado
Boulder Brook Trail | Rocky Mountain National Park Hikes

Along the way hikers are treated to a bevy of small falls and pleasant babbling from the brook. Another plus is that this hike is lesser traveled meaning you’ll probably have it to yourself.


alpine ridge hike rocky mountain national park colorado, alpine ridge rmnp
Alpine Ridge Trail | Rocky Mountain National Park Hikes

6. Alpine Ridge Hike

  • Distance: .7 miles
  • Elevation Gain: Minimal
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty: Easy

Hiking the Alpine Ridge Trail

Situated at an elevation of 11,976 feet the Alpine Ridge Trail is one of the highest trails in North America. Starting at the Alpine Ridge Visitor Center the trail itself is a short, scenic walk amongst the peaks.

rocky mountain national park weather
Alpine Ridge Trail | Best Hikes RMNP

Stretching your legs on this trail is a great way to experience the park at it’s high elevations and one of the unique aspects of Rocky Mountain.


rocky mountain national park colorado
Mills Lake Trail | Rocky Mountain National Park

7. Mills Lake Hike

  • Distance: 5.4 Miles
  • Elevation Gain: 850 feet
  • Time: 2-3 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Hiking to Mills Lake

Mills Lake is one of many hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park located off the Glacier Gorge Trailhead. The trail is typically well kept and a scenic one ascending up Glacier Gorge.

As with all of the hikes in leaving from Glacier Gorge I recommend either using the park and ride OR getting to the trailhead early to find parking (which is very limited).


rocky mountain national park colorado
The Loch | Best Hikes RMNP

8. The Loch Hike

  • Distance: 5.4 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1000 feet
  • Time: 2-3 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Hiking The Loch Trail

The Loch is a beautiful lake located off The Loch Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park featuring beautiful alpine scenery. The trail ascends over 1000 feet from the Glacier Gorge Junction Trailhead to the Loch itself.

This hike is a popular one and for good reason as the scenery is top notch. I frequently see trail runners on this one for whatever reason.


sprague lake trail rocky mountain national park, sprague lake rmnp
Sunrise at Sprague Lake | Best Hikes RMNP

9. Sprague Lake Hike

  • Distance: .8 miles
  • Elevation Gain: Minimal
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty: Easy

Hiking Sprague Lake

Hiking around Sprague Lake is a great activity for families and those looking for an easy, scenic jaunt to stretch the legs. The lake itself is situated at 8,700 feet elevation and is a great spot to get acclimated to the elevation with minimal effort.

sprague lake rocky mountain national park colorado
Sprague Lake | Rocky Mountain National Park

Scattered along the trail hikers will find several picnic tables and benches for anyone looking for a rest.


upper beaver meadows rocky mountain national park sunrise
Best Hikes Rocky Mountain National Park

10. Upper Beaver Meadows

  • Distance: 1.1 miles
  • Elevation Gain: Minimal
  • Time: 1 hour
  • Difficulty: Easy

Hiking Upper Beaver Meadows

The Upper Beaver Meadows Trail is a short and popular one mile loop trail in Rocky Mountain National Park. In the Spring and Summer the meadow fills with lovely wildflowers making for a beautiful display.

From the trail hikers have a great vantage of the surrounding mountains and peaks as well as some nice wildlife viewing including deer, elk, and even moose (if you’re lucky).


rocky mountain national park colorado, sky pond rmnp
The Hike to Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain

11. Sky Pond Hike

  • Distance: 9.4 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1700 feet
  • Time: 4-6 hours
  • Difficulty: Difficult

Hiking to Sky Pond

A lot of folks consider Sky Pond the most beautiful hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. Breathtaking alpine scenery and some of the best views in the entire park is visible from the Sky Pond Hike.

The trail itself is not easy so hikers will have to work for the views. At 9.4 miles long with over 1700 feet of elevation gain the hike will likely take around 6 hours to complete.

Those who complete it typically recommend it to family and friends as *the hike* in the park on account of the scenery.


alluvial fan rocky mountain national park, alluvial fan rmnp
The Alluvial Fan | Best Hikes RMNP

12. Alluvial Fan Hike

  • Distance: .5 miles
  • Elevation Gain: Minimal
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty: Easy

Hiking the Alluvial Fan

As one of Rocky Mountain’s most accessible hikes (featuring full wheelchair access) the Alluvial Fan Trail is a great hike to pop off and get a taste of what the park has to offer. In the fall this trail is a great easy access point to beautiful fall scenery.

alluvial fan rocky mountain national park colorado
Alluvial Fan Trail | Rocky Mountain National Park

The trail itself is half a mile long with two access points (East and West) with minimal elevation gain requiring about 15-30 minutes to complete.


rocky mountain national park video
Rocky Mountain National Park Hikes

13. Chasm Lake Hike

  • Distance: 8.8 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 2500 feet
  • Time: 4-6 hours
  • Difficulty: Difficult

Hiking to Chasm Lake

Many of those who hike to Chasm Lake say it’s the best hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. The hike is a tougher one, usually requiring between 4-6 hours to complete.

Hikers ascend 2500 feet with the last mile revealing the epic scenery, finally arriving at the breathtaking Chasm Lake.


storm pass rocky mountain national park colorado, storm pass rmnp
Storm Pass | Rocky Mountain

14. Storm Pass Hike

  • Distance: .2 miles
  • Elevation Gain: Minimal
  • Time: 15-30 minutes
  • Difficulty: Easy

Hiking Storm Pass

The Storm Pass hike is really nothing more than a trailhead but offers some of the best views in the entire park, especially in the fall.

With Flattop Mountain dominating the landscape and brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows ablaze, Storm Pass is worth a stop.


continental divide trail rocky mountain national park colorado, mt ida rmnp
Views from the Continental Divide Trail | Best Hikes RMNP

15. Mt Ida Hike

  • Distance: 9.3 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 2300 feet
  • Time: 4-7 hours
  • Difficulty: Difficult

Hiking Mt Ida Rocky Mountain

If you love feeling on top of the world then Mt. Ida via the Ute Trail is the hike for this in Rocky Mountain National Park. The trailhead starts on the Continental Divide and heads up climbing 2300 feet to Mt. Ida.

This is another favorite hike for folks in the park because of the absolutely stunning scenery all around. Hikers should be cautioned that due to the altitude this hike should take longer as oxygen levels are lower.

elk rocky mountain national park colorado
An elk looks into the distance on the Continental Divide | Mt Ida Trail Rocky Mountain

We saw lots of elk, bighorn sheep, and marmots along this hike up Mt. Ida. The entire trail is full of sweeping panoramic views which adds to the hike time as you’ll want to soak in the views (and catch your breath) frequently.


longs peak rocky mountain national park colorado, longs peak rmnp
Longs Peak Hike | Rocky Mountain National Park

16. Longs Peak Hike (Keyhole Route)

  • Distance: 14.8 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 5000 feet
  • Time: 7-12 hours
  • Difficulty: Very Difficult

Hiking Longs Peak

Longs Peak is the tallest and most prominent of all the peaks in Rocky Mountain National Park luring many a hiker in to see what they’re made of. My advice, if you haven’t heard of this hike before entering the park don’t try it this time.

More than 60 people have died attempting to climb Long’s Peak over the years. The hike itself is a grueling, all-day affair with an ascent of over 5000 feet at high elevations.

Getting to the top requires scrambling over loose rock and there are many places on the trail where a slip would likely be fatal.

If you’ve done your homework and have prepared for the hike (both physically and mentally) then it can be incredibly rewarding offering some of the best views in Colorado.


Tombstone Ridge Hike rocky mountain national park, tombstone ridge rmnp
Me pausing to take a photo from the Ute Trail | Rocky Mountain Hikes

17. Tombstone Ridge Hike

  • Distance: 5.6 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 1900 feet
  • Time: 3-5 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Hiking Tombstone Ridge via Ute Trail

Tombstone Ridge is an epic ridge line in Rocky Mountain National Park located off of the famous Trail Ridge Road at high elevation.

Wind can be a major factor here (it was for me anyway) as wind speeds can be quite high and constant throughout the hike. Weather can change rapidly here with fronts moving in quickly.

rocky mountain national park
The view from the Ute Trail along Tombstone Ridge | Rocky Mountain Hikes

As the entire hike is completely exposed make sure to pack it in at the first sign of dark clouds.


moraine park rocky mountain national park colorado
Moraine Park from Cub Lake Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park

18. Cub Lake Trail Hike

  • Distance: 6 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 700 feet
  • Time: 2-3 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Hiking the Cub Lake Trail

Cub Lake is on the easier side of hikes but rated as moderate located near Moraine Park in Rocky Mountain National Park. Elk are frequently sited on the hike as well as beautiful alpine scenery (some of my favorite in the park).

cub lake trail rocky mountain national park colorado, cub lake trail rmnp
Cub Lake Trail | Best Hikes Rocky Mountain

The trail is 6 miles long with 700 feet of elevation gain taking about 2 – 3 hours to complete depending on your pace.


List of the Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

  1. Nymph, Dream, & Emerald Lakes Hike
  2. Bear Lake Hike
  3. Alberta Falls Hike
  4. Odessa Lake & Fern Lake
  5. Boulder Brook Hike
  6. Alpine Ridge Hike
  7. Mills Lake Hike
  8. The Loch Hike
  9. Sprague Lake Hike
  10. Upper Beaver Meadows Hike
  11. Sky Pond Hike
  12. Alluvial Fan Hike
  13. Chasm Lake Hike
  14. Storm Pass Hike
  15. Mt Ida Hike
  16. Longs Peak Hike
  17. Tombstone Ridge Hike
  18. Cub Lake Hike

Map of the Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park


Further Reading

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best hikes rocky mountain national park
Best Hikes Rocky Mountain National Park
Will Pattiz

Co-founder of More Than Just Parks. Husband. Conservationist. Currently living in NYC.

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