Hiking Overview: Rocky Mountain National Park


Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

  • Summit hikes are plentiful in the park, and they vary in difficulty. One of the best is the Lily Mountain hike, which is interesting enough for seasoned hikers and moderate enough for novices. It's outside the main park entrance and is usually not as crowded. Providing views of Estes Park and Longs Peak, you travel through forest and end at the summit.
  • For a lake destination, another favorite is Gem Lake. Like Lily Mountain, the trailhead is outside the main entrance. Hike a moderate uphill for a few miles, then sit by the lake and eat lunch. It's a small lake with a gem-like reflection. The Gem Lake Trail continues for many miles past Gem Lake if you desire a longer outing.
  • If it's springtime, go to the Wild Basin Trailhead and take the trail to Ouzel Lake. This is a waterfall hike in the first degree. The raging streams and thundering cascades will jam-pack your camera's memory card in no time.
  • Hiking above tree line is a treat, but it usually takes some miles to get there. Since you will probably drive Trail Ridge Road while visiting, access one of the higher trailheads. Milner Pass trailhead will get you above tree line quickly. Look for Bighorn sheep and elk in the summer.
  • Hike along the headwaters of the famous Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, where it's a small creek most of the year. Beside the river to Lulu City, the hike on what is called the Colorado River Trail is easy and ends at a mountain meadow. The trail's official entrance and trailhead are on the west side of the park, accessed through Grand Lake or by traveling over Trail Ridge Road on the east side.
  • Looking for moose? Your best bets are the trailheads near the Kawuneeche Visitor Center on the west side of the park. Meadows in the valley are where you will find these majestic animals, and they are curiously absent on the east side of the park. It's a rare treat to see a moose lumbering along without a care in the world.

On a crisp winter day, from a high point in west Denver, Long's Peak towers over the Front Range, its white summit jutting into a deep blue sky. That mountain symbolizes Rocky Mountain National Park beckoning you to come up and take a hike. My favorite walk in the park climbs up a steep ridge to the base of Long's Peak, then flattens out on the east shore of Chasm Lake. West of the lake, you will likely see the bright red sweater of a climber hundreds of feet up the wall that rises from the water's edge, trying to conquer one more fourteener!

Rocky Mountain is a dayhiking park par excellence. Almost all the trails are less than ten miles, most are less than five, and with easily accessible trailheads. If you're itching for a longer, multi-day backpacking trip, don't fret. You can always string a few trails together for a tailor-made excursion. Start your research at our comprehensive list of trailheads and trails.

Going in winter? Many of the trails in lower elevations on the eastern side of the park remain hikeable while the park's western side and higher elevations are slammed with snow. Check our winter hiking page for some good ideas.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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