Just to the west of Estes Park, CO, is a small pull-off and an even smaller sign that reads, “Lily Mountain Trail”. Although it’s easy to miss, especially if you’re not looking for it, it is harder to miss the cars parked in the pull-off, especially as more are sure to be parked both on the other side of the road and farther down the road in the summer. So, what draws these people to this trailhead? Namely, the nearly 360 view from the top of 9,786 ft. Lily Mountain, nearly 2 miles up the trail.
To get to the trailhead, from Estes Park take Hwy 7 south to the small pull-off on the west (right) side of road just after a rock cut. This is 2 miles south of the Mary’s Lake turn-off. If coming from the south, the parking area is 0.2 miles north of the Lily Lake area. The trail starts on the end of the pull-off near the rock-cuts (the north end of the pull-off) next to the sign for Lily Mountain. This is probably the last sign you’ll see on this trail, but since the trail only goes to Lily Mountain, you can’t really get too lost.
The trail itself is fairly steep, although not unbearable. First, it winds its way through grass, shrubs, rocks, and occasional views of Estes Park and the area just to the west of the town, then the trail begins to switchback upward through a pine forest. Near the top there is some scrambling over rocks, especially on the last push to the summit, but it really wasn’t anything someone in decent physical condition couldn’t do, especially if the person had a friend to help them up/down.
The view from the top really is beautiful, especially when there is still quite a bit of snow on the mountains. We did the hike in mid-June, and there was still plenty of snow to make for pretty pictures. We also had a great view of the YMCA (I gather quite a few people stay there while they’re visiting Rocky Mountain NP), as well as Estes Park and the mountain retreats and ranches of local landowners. Another great thing about doing this hike was that we could see into Rocky Mountain, and then, when we were hiking in the park itself, Lily Mountain was a noticeable landmark that we could see from both the Ute Trail and Flattop/Hallett Peaks, as well as from other viewpoints.
So, my recommendation is this: if you can, hike Lily Mountain before doing anything else in Rocky Mountain National Park. Then, you can “get the lay of the land” so to speak, and be able to recognize things that you see from other viewpoints in the park itself from what you saw at the top of the peak.