10 Best Day Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

10 Best Day Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, Views from the Alpine Ridge Trail in Rocky Mountain, Colorado

Views from the Alpine Ridge Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain is one of those parks famous for its peaks.  Now, I think there are better mountain views in Colorado, but for a classic experience, Rocky Mountain is certainly a good one (especially considering how convenient it is to population centers and airports like Denver, and the fact that it’s all in one contained space).  You’ll get your share of mountains here, not to mention alpine lakes, waterfalls, tundra, and wildlife.

 


 

So here are my 10 favorite hikes in (and near) Rocky Mountain (with a general bias toward great views).  I’d love to hear your favorites in the comments below!

 

10 Best Day Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Walking up the Huffer's Hill Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Walking up the Huffer’s Hill Trail

Huffer’s Hill (Alpine Ridge Trail).  This trail is short and sweet, but views of the Mummy Range are worth seeing.  It’s a pity the park service removed the sign saying you’re higher than “Oregon’s famed Mt. Hood” at this point. 0.5 miles RT; trailhead along Trail Ridge Road.

Dream Lake en route to Flattop Mountain, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Dream Lake en route to Flattop Mountain

Flattop Peak.  If you want a challenge in terms of elevation gain – but you want terrific gain for your pain – try Flattop Peak.  Views extend far across Rocky Mountain National Park in stunning array, and the views along the way of Dream Lake and Hallett Peak are epic. 8.9 miles RT; trailhead at Bear Lake.

Alberta Falls, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Alberta Falls; photo courtesy of Tom Pratt

Alberta Falls.  This short trail isn’t particularly view-heavy, but the falls are worth a look if you take the shuttle (or drive for a parking space) down the Bear Lake Road. 1.7 miles RT; trailhead along the Bear Lake Road.

Along the Tundra Communities Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Along the Tundra Communities Trail

Toll Memorial Trail (Tundra Communities Trail).  For a high-alpine trail across the tundra, Colorado is hard-pressed to deliver another trail with this kind of views for such little hiking pain – the path is paved.  Peaks rise in every direction, and volcanic “mushroom” rocks along the trail make it one unique experience. 1.1 miles RT; trailhead along the Trail Ridge Road.

Views en route to Chiquita Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Views en route to Chiquita Peak

Chapin / Chiquita / Ypsilon Loop.  Now if you’re looking for a real challenge – and very real bragging rights – take in this route taking in one 12,000ft. peak and not one, but two 13,000ft. peaks (in Coloradoese, 13ers).  Maybe your coworkers won’t understand, but it’s not your average lowlander who can endure the lack of oxygen up that high for one peak, let alone three… And did I mention that the views are outstanding? 8 miles RT; trailhead along the Fall River Road.

Wildflowers along the Ute Trail East in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Wildflowers along the Ute Trail East

Ute Trail East.  Most commonly known as the “Ute Trail” – and with a parking lot that holds less than a dozen cars – the popularity of this trail is not underrated.  But it’s worth the crunch to experience walking the top of the world through mountain and valley views to take your breath away. 4 miles RT to Milner Pass; trailhead along the Trail Ridge Road.

Inside the buildings at Holzwarth Historic Site in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Inside the buildings at Holzwarth Historic Site

Holzworth Historic Site.  Formally known as the Never Summer Ranch, it’s just a group of buildings on the west side of the park.  But in the summer, interpreters show off the history of the place, and seeing the near-headwaters of the Colorado River is a fun little excursion, especially when afternoon thundershowers make the rest of the park hazardous to one’s health. About 1.5 miles RT; trailhead on the West Side of the park.

Views toward Long's Peak from Lily Mountain near Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Views toward Long’s Peak from Lily Mountain

Lily Mountain. The peak is actually outside the park, but for views into the park – and of Long’s Peak – this is a hard hike to beat, especially considering its short mileage.  4 miles RT; trailhead west of Estes Park.

Views along the Ute Trail West in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Views along the Ute Trail West

Ute Trail West.  If views of the Never Summer Range are your bailiwick, try the easy but sloping section of the Ute Trail West.  Walk all the way down to Milner Pass, or turn around when the views start to be obscured by the trees. 4 to 8.2 miles RT; trailhead along the Trail Ridge Road.

Views from Hallett Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Views from Hallett Peak

Hallett Peak.  Views from Hallett Peak may be the best in the park.  It’s a bit of a scramble up the peak, but the view is so worth it, as nearly the entire park spreads out beneath – and above – you atop a craggy pinnacle above Flattop Mountain. 10.3 miles RT; trailhead at Bear Lake.

Emerald Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Emerald Lake

Bonus #1! Bear Lake, Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, & Emerald Lake. Take this double loop for great mountain and alpine lake views below rocky cirques and cliff walls. 4.3 miles RT; trailhead at Bear Lake.

Views of peaks near Thunder Pass, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Views of peaks near Thunder Pass

Bonus #2! Thunder Pass. There’s no denying variety on this hike, as it passes through alpine meadows to the site of an old mining camp, then climbs up to a high alpine pass with great views.  It’s on my to-do list someday. 13.8 miles RT; trailhead on the West Side of the park.

Views from Mt. Ida, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Views from Mt. Ida

Bonus #3! Mt. Ida.  This is another true gem of the park, overlooking not only multiple peaks in every direction, but also many valleys and some outstanding alpine lakes.  I so want to do this hike someday! 9.6 miles RT; trailhead along the Trail Ridge Road.

 

What are your favorite hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park?

 

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