best hikes in rocky mountain national park

8 Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park is like heaven for hikers thanks to its incredible mountains, fantastic scenery, and endless trails. 

I’ve been fortunate enough to spend a significant amount of time in Colorado, especially this past year. One of my favorite things to do is explore the beauty of this state, whether it’s hiking, ice climbing, or trying my hand at skiing, the Rockies have been my go-to destination for outdoor adventures recently. 

In this guide, I want to share the magic of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, hoping to inspire you to hit the trails.

best hikes in rocky mountain national park

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The Best Hikes In Rocky Mountain National Park

Keep diving in below as I share a few of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, from easy strolls to tougher treks, and a few in-between gems.

Easy Hikes 

When you think of Rocky Mountain National Park, big peaks and tough hikes might be the first things that come to mind. But guess what? There are some easy hikes too.

Here are a few of my favorites for beginners, families, or anyone who just wants a quick, enjoyable stroll with awesome views.

Alberta Falls Trail

One of my favorite easy hikes in the park is Alberta Falls. The trail is a short 1.6-mile round trip, with a gentle elevation gain of just 226 feet, making it suitable for hikers of all levels. While parking is available at the trailhead, it’s important to note that space is limited. To ensure a spot, consider arriving early, especially if this scenic hike is on your bucket list.

The Alberta Falls hike starts at the Glacier Gorge Junction Trailhead. As you start the hike the path is lined with tall aspen and pine trees. After walking about half a mile, the trail opens up, revealing a stunning view of Glacier Gorge. Keep going, and you’ll follow alongside Glacier Creek. As you get closer, the sound of rushing water fills the air leading you to the beautiful Alberta Falls. 

Adam Falls Trail

Adam Falls Trail is another one of my favorites and is one of the most popular brisk hikes in the national park. Covering just under a mile, it’s a quick and straightforward 0.8-mile round trip, making it an ideal choice for hikers of all levels. I suggest setting aside around 30 minutes total for the hike and taking in the beauty of Adam Falls.

Starting your hike at the East Inlet Trailhead, you’ll follow the East Inlet Trail. The initial part of the trail takes you through wooded areas filled with pine and aspen trees. After a short 0.3-mile stretch, you’ll find yourself on the Adam Falls Loop which will take you to the waterfall. With only a modest elevation gain of about 100 feet throughout the entire hike, it’s an easygoing adventure. While Adam Falls may not be as large as Alberta Falls, the journey offers a great experience with its beautiful waterfall and picturesque mountain views.

Dream Lake and Emerald Lake

This hike to Dream Lake and Emerald Lake is a must-do if you are visiting Rocky Mountain National Park for your first time. The hike starts on the Bear Lake Trailhead which is extremely popular and requires advanced time-entry reservations.

The 3.6 mile out and back hike has only 665 of elevation gain which makes it very easy and popular for visitors of all hiking levels. You see 3 alpine lakes on this hike which makes it a good bang for your buck if you are limited on time.

Plan for about 2 hours to take your time and see it all, but more time if you plan to spend some time at the lakes. It’s a great spot to enjoy a snack.

Click here to read more about hiking to Dream Lake and Emerald Lake.

*Pro Tip*
Get to the lakes at sunrise to catch the alpenglow light up Hallett Peak behind for beautiful views and photos.

best hikes in rocky mountain national park

Lake Haiyaha

Lake Haiyaha is one of my personal favorites. It may be the most breathtaking lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, maybe even in the whole front range of Colorado right now. The color of the lake is a vibrant turquoise color which sets it apart from all other lake hikes. 

But the color wasn’t always like this. There was a rockfall in Summer 2022 which released glacial silt into the lake but that color has since been fading. It is unknown how long the unique and temporary color will remain so add this to the top of your bucketlist for RMNP.

Click here to learn more about hiking to Lake Haiyaha.

Sprague Lake Loop

One of the nicest and easy walks in the park is the Sprague Lake Loop. Just like the name says, it takes you around Sprague Lake and treats you to some amazing views of the lake, the nearby mountains, and the Continental Divide.

The loop is a short .8-mile round trip journey and you can typically complete it between 20 to 30 minutes. 

You kick off the walk at the Sprague Lake Trailhead and just follow the trail around the lake. It’s a fantastic option for families with little ones who might want to bring a stroller, and it’s also great for anyone who needs a wheelchair-friendly path. 

Moderate Hikes

Rocky Mountain National Park is packed with trails, and a good chunk of them are moderately challenging. Deciding which one to tackle can get tricky. So, I’ve picked out some of the best hikes that offer a moderate challenge. Check them out below!

Fern Lake

The hike is about 7.5 miles out-and-back. You will gain about 1,476 feet in elevation gain throughout the journey, making it moderately challenging. It takes about 4-5 hours to complete. Be sure to bring plenty of water and some food to stay healthy and hydrated. 

Begin your journey at the Fern Lake Trailhead. The trail takes you through a mix of forests with lots of plants and trees, and then opens up to meadows where you can see wildflowers in the spring and summer. Follow the Big Thompson River, and after about 1.5 miles, you’ll reach the Arch Rocks, which are really big boulders.

Keep going, and at about 1.7 miles, you’ll come to a bridge over an area called The Pool, where Spruce and Fern Creeks meet. Cross the bridge, and when the trail splits, go right. As you go on, you’ll pass some waterfalls and navigate some switchbacks, eventually reaching Fern Falls. After the falls, you’ve got about 1 mile left to get to the lake.

Cub Lake

This hike is challenging but not too tough in the national park. It’s a 6-mile loop with only 744 feet of going up. You kick off your hike from the Cub Lake Trailhead, and soon enough, you’ll cross over the Big Thompson River. While you’re on the trail, keep your eyes peeled because you’ll follow along the edge of Moraine Park which is a cool spot for spotting wildlife.

About 1.5 miles in, you’ll hit the South Lateral Moraine Trail junction. Take a right towards Cub Lake. Now, you’re following Cub Creek for a bit, and a little while after making that initial right turn, you’ll see Beaver Ponds, some small lakes on your left side. At just under 2 miles, the trail gets a bit steeper, you’ll continue on this path which will lead you up to Cub Lake.

best hikes in rocky mountain national park

Challenging Hikes

If you’re in the mood for a more challenging hike, be prepared for some jaw-dropping views. The Rockies have some of the most stunning scenery on intense trails. 

Below, I’ve highlighted one of the best routes for both a great workout and unforgettable scenery.

Sky Pond via Glacier Gorge Trail

One of the park’s most stunning hikes is also a challenging one. It’s an 8.6-mile out-and-back trail with an elevation gain of 1,771 feet. Start your journey at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead, and not long into the hike, you’ll pass by the breathtaking Alberta Falls. Throughout most of the hike, Glacier Creek goes along the trail.

As you progress, you’ll encounter a trail junction where you’ll veer right toward Glacier Gorge and Loch Vale Trail. This is when the climb gets steeper. After about 0.5 miles, you’ll reach another junction. Choose the trail leading to Loch Vale, The Loch, Timberline Falls, and eventually Sky Pond.

When you get to Timberline Falls, the trail ascends toward the Lake of Glass and Sky Pond. Make sure you’re wearing sturdy shoes and ready for a bit of rock scrambling alongside the waterfall.

After around 0.25 miles after Timberline Falls, you’ll come across Lake of Glass. Another 0.25 miles will bring you to Sky Pond, which is about double the size of the previous lake. 

Brace yourself for truly breathtaking views of the pond and drastic mountain features surrounding Sky Pond. I recommend bringing plenty of water and maybe some lunch to fully enjoy the views for a while before making your way back down the mountain to where you started.

best hikes in rocky mountain national park

FAQs About Hiking In Rocky Mountain National Park

Keep reading as I answer a few frequently asked questions about hiking in the Rockies.

Where is the best peak in Rocky Mountain National Park?

The best peak in Rocky Mountain National Park is Longs Peak. Its highest point is 14,259 feet.

What time of year is best to hike the Rocky Mountains?

The best time to hike in the Rocky Mountains is early fall, around September. It’s cool but not too cold, and there’s usually not too much snow yet. Plus, you might see some really pretty fall colors during your hike.

What is the busiest month at Rocky Mountain National Park?

July and August are the busiest months at Rocky Mountain National Park. During these summer months, the park attracts a high number of visitors.

Can you enter Rocky Mountain National Park without a reservation?

Timed entry permits are required from May through October but there are hours you can enter the park without a permit. Bear Lake Road Corridor, in particular, requires a permit from 5 am to 6 pm. But you can access the rest of the park before 9 am or after 2 pm without a permit.

However, you will need a park pass to enter the park at all times and I’d recommend purchasing an annual National Parks Pass ahead of time here. This pass gives you access to all national parks, federal lands, and BLM for a 12-month period.

best hikes in rocky mountain national park

Where to Stay Near Rocky Mountain National Park

Estes Park is located close just outside the main park entrance to these hikes. The town has a lot of charm and a delicious BBQ spot you have to try!

Final Thoughts On The Best Hikes In Rocky Mountain National Park

As you explore the trails in Rocky Mountain National Park, whether you choose the easier or more challenging ones, you’re in for a treat. Some of the best views in the state of Colorado come from hiking in the Rockies so I’m excited for you to experience it yourself. So, put on your hiking boots, grab your camera, and get ready for an incredible time exploring the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Other Things to Do in Rocky Mountain National Park 

More Colorado Hikes You Might Like

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