Nestled in the heart of Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. With its awe-inspiring landscapes, diverse ecosystems, and abundant wildlife, this national park offers some of the best hiking experiences in the US and across the globe.
From easy, family-friendly strolls to challenging alpine treks, the park boasts a wide range of hiking trails to suit all levels of adventurers. If you are ready to embark on an unforgettable journey through some of the most stunning wilderness in the country, consider these top hiking trails in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Distance: 0.6 miles
Elevation gain: 45ft
Time to complete: 30 minutes
The Bear Lake Trail is the most accessible and revered hiking route within Rocky Mountain National Park. This delightful path is a level and stroll through the park’s natural splendor, making it an ideal choice for hikers of all levels of expertise. Measuring just 0.6 miles long, this brief but breathtaking loop introduces you to some of the park’s most iconic attractions.
Enveloped by the enchanting beauty of dense forests, the Bear Lake Trail treats you to panoramic views of Bear Lake itself. This serene and crystalline lake mirrors the grandeur of the surrounding peaks, creating a scene of unparalleled tranquility. Also, the Bear Lake Trail is a pivotal entry point to many other popular trails, including the Alberta Falls and Nymph Lake trails.
To further enrich your Bear Lake experience, you can acquire an informative interpretive guide at the trailhead for a mere dollar. This guide leads you through 30 marked locations along the trail, offering enlightening insights into the natural wonders of the Bear Lake area.
Distance: 1.7 miles
Elevation gain: 160ft
Time to complete: 1.5 hours
Alberta Falls is a beloved gem within Rocky Mountain National Park, drawing many visitors. Accessing this natural wonder is a breeze, similar to the Bear Lake experience. The 1.6-mile round trip gently winds through a picturesque forested landscape, culminating at the breathtaking Alberta Falls, a 30-foot cascade. This hike is particularly well-suited for families and those new to hiking.
Securing a parking spot near Alberta Falls requires an early start before 6:30 a.m. or earlier. If the primary lot is at full capacity, consider parking in the spacious lot located at the terminus of Bear Lake Road. Simply follow the posted signs leading you toward Alberta Falls from the Bear Lake Trailhead. Opting for the Bear Lake Road lot adds approximately 0.4 miles to the overall hiking distance.
If you begin your journey from the Glacier Gorge parking lot, be prepared for a primarily uphill trek toward Alberta Falls. However, the ascent is not excessively demanding, making it manageable for most hikers. Upon reaching the falls, take your time to explore the brief trails along Glacier Creek, offering numerous opportunities to discover your favorite vantage point to admire this magnificent waterfall.
Alpine Ridge Trail
Distance: 0.6 miles
Elevation gain: 209ft
Time to complete: 30 minutes
This hike may seem deceptively easy, with a round-trip distance of just over half a mile. However, in the context of Rocky Mountain National Park, it presents a noteworthy challenge. Even the most physically fit and acclimated hikers can be winded and short of breath during this excursion.
The trail commences at the Alpine Visitor Center, the highest visitor center elevation in the United States. From this point, you embark on a steady ascent via a lengthy staircase, beginning at just under 12,000 feet in elevation. The formidable nature of this hike can be attributed to the combination of the high altitude and the demanding stair climb.
If this marks your initial foray into Rocky Mountain National Park, especially if you are still acclimating to Colorado’s higher altitudes, be prepared to take a few well-earned breaks. It’s perfectly normal to experience shortness of breath in such conditions. However, the reward for your efforts is certainly worth it.
As you reach the viewpoint, you will find yourself standing at an impressive 12,005 feet above sea level. The panoramic vistas stretching across the park are nothing short of awe-inspiring. During your hike, you might encounter a multitude of elk, including some majestic males sporting colossal antlers.
This hike is undeniably an essential experience within Rocky Mountain National Park. So, muster your determination, ascend those stairs at your own pace, and take the time to savor the magnificent view from the summit. The sense of accomplishment and the breathtaking scenery will make you glad you embarked on this memorable journey.
Distance: 9 miles
Elevation gain: 1,780ft
Time to complete: 5 hours
Sky Pond is an undisputed favorite among Rocky Mountain National Park’s visitors. The trail offers an exceptional blend of breathtaking scenery, hiking challenges, panoramic views, and even the opportunity for some high-altitude fishing at over 10,000 feet, making it an extraordinary adventure.
Numerous aspects likely spring to mind when you envision an epic hiking experience. Among them is the anticipation of a reward awaiting you at the trail’s end. However, Sky Pond goes beyond conventional expectations, providing breathtaking sights to captivate hikers throughout the journey.
Undeniably, Sky Pond is a highly popular trail, and for good reason. Its popularity is well-earned. The key is to kickstart your adventure early in the day to ensure an uninterrupted experience. As you traverse this path, you are treated to several natural wonders, making it nearly impossible to pinpoint a favorite.
Also, you will encounter the thundering Alberta Falls, a magnificent 30-foot waterfall. A lovely gorge and the melodious cascade of Icy Brook will further enhance your journey. The Loch, an exquisite alpine lake in its own right, provides yet another enchanting scene.
Press forward and conquer the slightly challenging rock stair section at Timberline Falls, known for its thrilling scramble. This will lead you to Lake of Glass, a second enchanting lake on this adventure. Keep your spirits high as you continue to your final destination—Sky Pond. Sitting at an elevation of 10,900 feet and encircled by towering granite cliffs, including the prominent Sharkstooth, Taylor Peak, and Powell Peak, this is the hike of your dreams.
The beautiful Sharkstooth backdrop is an awe-inspiring visual feast unparalleled by any other in the park. Also, the ascent through Timberline Falls poses an exhilarating and mildly nerve-wracking technical challenge, particularly in the winter when it transforms into an icy wonderland.
Distance: 3.2 miles
Elevation gain: 698ft
Time to complete: 2-3 hours
If the thought of a strenuous climb to reach picturesque alpine lakes is causing some worry, how about a more gentle adventure? The hike to Emerald Lake, while not without its challenges, offers a less demanding elevation gain and a shorter distance compared to the demanding trek to Sky Pond.
But that doesn’t mean you will be sacrificing the breathtaking scenery that Rocky Mountain National Park is known for. As you venture deep into the enchanting Tyndall Gorge, you will be treated to captivating vistas. Pass by Nymph Lake and Dream Lake, where, during the summer months, you can revel in the vibrant wildflowers that adorn the landscape.
Beyond the summer season, you can spot the park’s wildlife, especially during the fall season when the creatures are more active. Emerald Lake is a trail suitable for all hikers and offers the quintessential alpine experience with its classic, awe-inspiring scenery.
This trail is also renowned for its exceptional wildlife sightings, making it a fantastic choice for a warm-up hike, especially if you need time to acclimate to the high elevation. The thin mountain air up here is invigorating and provides a refreshing change from the bustling city life.
Before you explore these magnificent trails, consider the season, as the park’s high elevation can result in unpredictable weather, especially in the winter. Always check the latest trail conditions and advisories from the Rocky Mountain National Park website and be prepared with the right gear, including layers, water, and bear safety items.
Rocky Mountain National Park’s hiking trails offer a unique opportunity to experience the untamed beauty of the Rocky Mountains. Whether you’re an experienced mountaineer or a beginner looking to connect with nature, these trails provide an array of options to suit every adventurer. So, lace up your hiking boots, grab your camera, and embark on an unforgettable journey into the heart of this magnificent wilderness.