Top Ten Day Hikes in the Rocky Mountains - Page 2
5. Goat Lake
8-mile circuit in Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta
A sapphire oasis in an Eden-esque hanging valley, Goat Lake feels like it should be much harder to reach. As it is, you'll start out following a nearly flat former roadbed from the Red Rock Canyon parking lot in the park's northwest corner. Cyclists share the route for the first 2.4 miles, which runs through aspen and lodgepole forest, looking ahead at the ochre-tinged pyramid of Newman Peak. The last 1.5 miles veer away, switching back somewhat steeply through wildflower meadows and huckleberry brush. Grizzlies frequent the area in midsummer, so be sure to carry bear spray. An outlet creek from Goat Lake follows most of the trail, occasionally cascading through the valley in noisy and photo-friendly waterfalls. Pack a lunch for a lakeside picnic at the end of the trail, but watch out for mule deer, many of which seem tame enough to eat out of your hand. The mountain goats are a little more standoffish, though, camouflaged and sure-footed among the surrounding cliffs of Avion Ridge. Goat Lake sees a fair amount of traffic in the summer, but you can beat the crowds (and the midday heat) by heading out early in the morning.
4. Iceberg Lake
10-mile circuit in Glacier National Park, MT
Hiking the five miles to Iceberg Lake is like strolling through a northern Rockies diorama, a neat little package of glacier-in-miniature. You'll get a glimpse of everything that makes this park the "crown jewel" of Montana—yes, monster peaks and the park's eponymous glaciers, but also high-country waterfalls, wildflower meadows, and one shockingly blue alpine lake. Warming summers have tended to banish the ice floes that give the lake its name, but you'll still spot bobbing chunks of white during the shoulder seasons. Keep your eyes peeled for bighorn sheep and mountain goats in the surrounding cliffs. You may also see grizzly bears in the summer and fall, particularly in early August, when peak huckleberry season attracts hundreds of ursine locals into the Many Glacier Valley. What you'll definitely see are people. Try this hike after Labor Day for a little more solitude, but don't wait too long. From the park's eastern boundary, the trailhead is 12 miles up Many Glacier Road, and snow can render it impassable as early as October.
Check out our profile of Iceberg Lake—and add to it—in our Trail Finder Wiki
3. Cory Pass
8-mile loop in Banff National Park , Alberta
It's one of the brawniest day hikes in the entire Canadian Rockies, but Banff's lung-busting Cory Pass Trail is also the most rewarding by a country mile. Fit hikers with basic route-finding skills start out at the Fireside Picnic Area off the Bow Valley Parkway. The sweaty stuff begins almost immediately, as the trail climbs 3,000 feet in 5.8 miles to reach 7,710-foot-high Cory Pass. Be prepared for steep switchbacks through conifer forest, cairn-following across a broad talus, and one scramble down an exposed cliff band a couple miles shy of the pass. The reward for all this is a perch between the huge limestone slabs of Banff's iconic Cory, Edith, and Louis mountains. The pass feels more like a raised nook than a saddle, and it's a good place to look for bighorn sheep. Return via the Edith Pass Trail on the east side of that peak for a slightly gentler—but no less scenic—descent. The whole loop is about eight miles, but set aside a good five to six hours on account of the challenging terrain. An ice axe is a good idea in all but a few weeks of July and August, since snowfields can remain deep into the summer.
2. Glacier Gorge
10-mile circuit in Rocky Mountain National Park, CO
Climbers stream year-round into Colorado's largest national park for its wealth of challenging mountaineering routes, but you don't need ropes or crampons to access some of the most epic scenery in the Front Range. The trail into Glacier Gorge picks up near the end of Bear Lake Road, at a parking area about 8.5 miles from U.S. 36. The five-mile hike leads past a handful of stunning waterfalls, starting with busy Alberta Falls just a half-mile from the trailhead. Head deeper into the gorge to leave the crowds behind, following a few moderate switchbacks alongside an imposing wall of sheer granite. Everything in Glacier Gorge seems vibrant and supersaturated, from the flashy carpets of wildflowers to the slate- and henna-colored streaks down the faces of the cliffs. You'll hear elegant Ribbon Falls before you see it, just a half-mile shy of the trail's upper terminus at 10,620-foot Black Lake. The surrounding cirque feels like a cathedral, so deep and sheltered that the water does indeed look dark. Some unofficial climbers' trails continue up from the far side of the lake, but no place in the park beats the shore of Black Lake for picnicking, stone-skipping, or quiet reflection.
Check out our profile of the trail to Glacier Gorge to Sprague Lake—and add to it—in our Trail Finder Wiki
1. Surprise and Amphitheater Lakes
4.8-mile circuit in Grand Teton National Park, WY
Grand Teton is the quintessential backcountry user's park, so it's rare to have a trail to yourself, even at the crest of these postcard-perfect peaks. The trail to Surprise and Amphitheater lakes is no different, but it's absolutely worth sharing the trail to check out these exemplary alpine lakes, tucked into the shadow of the grossly misnamed Disappointment Peak. The 4.8-mile trail never stops climbing, but the incline is gradual enough that even an inexperienced hiker can hack it with a few well-timed rest stops. And what rest stops they are. Beginning at the Lupine Meadows Trailhead, the route meanders in and out of sub-alpine wildflower meadows that would have sent Monet into fits. The trail looks out over the floor of Jackson Hole, and the series of moraine lakes at the Tetons' base looks like a chain of turquoise beads. You'll reach Surprise Lake first, with Amphitheater a mere 0.2 miles beyond. Mount Owen, a stocky younger brother to towering Grand Teton and the second highest peak in the range, can be seen from both lakes. Swimming is only for the bold and the crazy; you'll find ice on both lakes even in July.