Rocky Mountain National Park

Hiking Trails
Gorp.com

More than 370 miles of walking and hiking trails abound in Rocky Mountain National Park. Choices are tough for both novice and experienced hikers. You might want to take a look at GORP's favorite hikes for a lead. Other popular trails in the park include Bear Lake Nature Trail (0.5 miles), Never Summer Ranch (1 mile), Lulu City (7.2 miles), Morraine Park Nature Trail (0.25 miles), Sprague Lake Nature Trail (0.5 miles), and Tundra Nature Trail (0.5 miles).

Several trails have backcountry camping spots, facilitating overnight or multi-day backpacking trips. Some easy trips, especially suitable for families with young children, include Moore Park, which passes by the ruins of Eugenia Mine, the gentle Tonahutu Creek Trail, and Mummy Basin's Ypsilon Creek. Wild Basin has several backcountry camp sites within three miles from the trailhead in the wildest section of the park. For the slightly more ambitious, recommendations include Mirror Lake, Bouldersfield/Storm Pass Loop, Thunder Lake, and Never Summer Loop. For the in shape backpacker, both Nokoni and Nanita Lakes, and North Inlet/Tonahutu Loop excursions fit the bill. These trails originate at the North Inlet trailhead.

Don't confine your imagination to spring, summer and fall—winter hiking in Rocky Mountain is also sublime. Choosing the best from the park's dozens of trails is an impossible task. Take this selection as a taste of what you will find when you go exploring...

Chasm Lake
Length: 8.4 miles round trip
Rating: Strenuous
Elevation: 9400' to 11800'
The trail starts at the Long Peak's Ranger Station. It ascends moderately through conifer forest. At a third of a mile, the trail to Estes Cone branches right. You stay left and continue through the woods. At a little under two miles, the track hits timberline. At this point, you will be glad you started early. Late afternoon thunderstorms can make this open terrain treacherous. You continue onward through a slope covered with evergreens hugging the ground but no trees blocking the vista. At about three miles, bear left; the right fork heads for Granite Pass and the Keyhole. You have a little over a mile to go. The first stretch is along the marshy banks of the headwaters of Roaring Fork Creek. Once you pass Peacock Pool, a ridge rises sharply ahead—still no sign of the lake itself. You need to clamber up the steep rocky slope. A couple of false summits will have you questioning whether the pool really exists, but as you scramble over the top, a scene of unbelievable majesty unfolds before your eyes, dominated by the Diamond—the world class climb of Long's Peak east face!

Black Lake
Length: 8.4 miles round trip
Rating: Moderate
Elevation: 9240' to 10620'
Black Lake is a final jewel along the mystic Glacier Gorge. The trail starts at Glacier Gorge Junction on the road to Bear Lake. It follows up Glacier Creek, through stands of Aspen and across boardwalks over marshy areas. The mountain walls frequently feel like they are closing in as you stroll up the narrow canyon. The sites are a lesson in the power of water. Alberta Falls plunges into the creek at a little over half a mile. At two miles, the trail to the Loch branches right, a fabulous destination in itself if you want a shorter round trip (5.5 miles). Bearing left, Mill's Lake follows next, named for Enos Mills, one of the early naturalists that ventured into the area. The path then winds through a landscape of dwarf fir until steep walls block the canyon. Here lies Black Lake, with the dark wall of McHenry's peak reflecting in its surface.

Old Ute Trail
Length: 6 mile point to point; or go out and back
Rating: Moderate
Elevation: 11,250' to 8,250'
When you are crossing the barren windswept slope of Tombstone Ridge, try to picture the highway this trail used to be. The Utes traversed similar vast stretches all along the Continental Divide as they traveled from village to village. The trail begins off Trail Ridge Road below the Forest Canyon Overlook. You are on top of the world here—one of your few chances to hike downhill for the day. The low life of Alpine tundra surrounds you and Long's Peak stands guard to the south. You can hike as far as your legs will carry, enjoying the expansive scene. But remember, you go six miles to Upper Beaver Meadows or a steep climb back to Trail Ridge Road.

Flat Top Mountain
Length
: 8.0 miles round trip
Rating: Strenuous
Elevation: 9,500' to 12,300'
Departing around the north side of Bear Lake, the Flattop Trail offers more of the alpine tundra hiking so outstanding in Rocky Mountain National Park. You rise steadily through the various ecological zones, starting with the conifer forest around Bear Lake. After a couple of miles, the terrain will have opened up and you can peer straight down to Emerald Lake, more than a thousand fee below the trail. You will continue climbing until the mountain really flattens out. You will feel like your are on an enormous plateau at an elevation where the Gods live. There is nothing particularly distinct about Flattop itself, but you can take in the park's beauty in almost every direction. At four miles, you will have reached your destination, but if your stamina still holds, you can take the left fork at the junction, to Hallet Peak, another mile and another few hundred feet up.

Storm Pass and Estes Cone
Length
: 6.6 miles
Rating: Moderate
Elevation: 9,400' to 11,000'
Storm Pass is a great place to head for a warm-up hike when you are acclimating to Rocky Mountain altitudes. The trail starts at the Long Peak's Ranger Station. Follow the Chasm Lake trail for a third mile, then branch right. At 2.5 miles, you will have climbed almost 1,000 feet, but your legs will scream more thanks to a lot of ups and downs. The trail splits here, the left branch heading miles farther to Glacier Basin, the right climbing 750 feet to the Estes Cone. If you are warming up, turn around here. If you still have energy to burn, scramble up the scree to enjoy the Cone's panorama of the Twin Sisters, Mount Meeker, and Long's Peak.

Trails & Trailheads Overview

* Indicates trails on the west side of the park.

Trailhead
(starting
elevation)

Destination

Distance
(mi., one-way)

Elev.
Gain
(feet)

Difficulty
Level

Trail
Notes

Bear Lake
9,475 feet
Around Lake 0.6 20 Easy Scenic, self guiding nature trail
Nymph Lake 0.5 225 Easy Views of Flattop Mt., Hallett Peak
Dream Lake 1.1 425 Moderate Beautiful lake, great family hike
Emerald Lake 1.8 605 Moderate Photographic stop flanked by the rugged spires of Hallet, Flattop
Lake Haiyaha 2.1 745 Moderate Superb views of Nymph, Bear Lakes and Longs Peak. Spectacular lake frames by Hallet Peak.
Flattop Mountain 4.4 2,849 Strenuous Panoramic Views
Odessa Lake 4.1 1,205 Moderate Less crowded trail leads to another beautiful lake, passing from forest to open tundra
Fern Lake Trailhead 8.5 1,205 Moderate Scenic waterfall, beautiful river with interesting pools. One of the more popular hikes in the park
Bierstadt Lake
8,850 ft
Bierstadt Lake 1.4 566 Moderate Trail passes through a beautiful stand of aspen and ends at a pleasant lake
Chapin Lake
10,640 ft
Ypsilon Mountain 3.5 2,074 Strenuous Three mountain peaks offering wonderful views. Most of the trail in above timberline.
Colorado River*
9,010 ft
Luly City Site 3.7 350 Moderate Route to Lulu city offering great river scenery
Corral Creek
10,076 ft
Cow Creek
Mirror Lake
8.4
0.7 mile detour
1,364
Moderate Classic tarn flanked by imposing peaks
Crater
11,480 ft
The Crater 1 730 Moderate Steep hike to a great view
Cub Lake
8,080 ft
Cub Lake 2.3 540 Moderate Hike by interesting rock formations, meadows and forests leading to a nice lake
Deer Ridge Junction
8,930 ft
Deer Mountain 3 1,083 Strenuous Great views of Longs, Estes and Ypsilion Mountains
East Inlet*
8,391 ft
Adams Fall 0.3 79 Easy Easy hike to a pretty falls
Finch Lake
8,470 ft
Finch Lake 4.5 1,442 Moderate Nice hike to a pleasant lake
Gem Lake
7,740 ft
Gem Lake 2 1,090 Moderate Lake is set amidst a beautiful natural amphitheater
Glacier Gorge Junction
9,240 ft
Alberta Falls 0.6 160 Easy Great views along the trail to what some call the prettiest falls in the park
Mills Lake 2.5 700 Moderate Great hike to a beautiful lake framed by spectacular peaks
Black Lake 4.7 1,390 Strenuous A jewel in mystic Glacier Gorge
The Loch 2.7 940 Moderate Scenic hike leading to a popular destination in the park
Timberline Falls 4 1,210 Strenuous Great views and pretty falls
Sky Pond 4.6 1,660 Strenuous Magnificent lake sitting below the Taylor and Powell Peaks
Andrews Glacier 5 2,460
Strenuous
Green Mountain*
8,800 ft
Big Meadows 1.8 606 Moderate
Lawn Lake
8,540 ft
Ypsilon Lake 4.5 2,180 Strenuous Interesting hike leading to a picturesque lake flank by an imposing mountain
Lily Mountain
8,780 ft
Lily Mountain 1.5 1,006 Moderate Good view of Twin Sisters, Longs Peak, Meadow St., Vrain Mts.
Longs Peak Ranger Station
9,300 ft
Estes Cone 6.6 1,606 Moderate Panoramic views of Twin Sister, Mount Meeker, Long's Peak
Eugenia Mine 1.4 508 Moderate Hike to the remains of a miner's cabin and mining machinery
Chasm Lake 4.2 2,390 Strenuous Lake set amidst unbelievable scenery
Longs Peak 8 4,855 Strenuous Difficult hike leading to the top of this 14,225 foot peak. Start VERY early!
North Inlet*
8,540 ft
Cascade Falls 3.5 300 Moderate Popular hike to a pretty falls
Lake Nokoni 9.9 2,240 Strenuous
Lake Nanita 11 2,240 Strenuous Photogenic lake set amidst the spires of Ptarmigan Mountain
Onahu Creek
8,850 ft
Onahu Creek 6.5 820 Easy
Sandbeach Lake
8,312 ft
Sandbeach Lake 4.2 1,971 Strenuous
Sprague Lake
8,710 ft
Around Lake 0.5 20 Easy Pleasant family hike with great views.
Timber Lake*
9,000 ft
Timber Lake 4.8 2,060 Strenuous Hike through dense forest to a beautiful mountain LAKE
Tundra/Rock Cut
12,110 ft
Toll Memorial 0.5 260 Moderate
Twin Owls
7,920 ft
Gem Lake 1.8 910 Moderate Lake is set amidst a beautiful natural amphitheater
Twin Sisters
9,090 ft
Twin Sisters Peak 3.7 2,338 Strenuous Great views of Longs Peak
Ute Trail
11,800 ft
Upper Beaver Meadows 6.1 -3,000 Moderate On top of the world! Downhill hike with great views.
Wild Basin Ranger Station
8,500 ft
Copeland Falls 0.3 15 Easy
Calypso Cascades 1.8 700 Moderate
Ouzel Falls 2.7 950 Moderate
Bluebird Lake 6.0 2,478 Strenuous
Thunder Lake 6.8 2,074 Strenuous
Lion Lake No. 7.0 2,565 Strenuous
Lion Lake No 2 7.5 2,900 Strenuous
Snowbank Lake 8.0 3,021 Strenuous

 


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 18 Apr 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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