Hiking Trails in the Rocky Mountains for Beginners
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Looking for hiking trails in the Rocky Mountains for beginners? If you’re a beginner looking to explore hiking trails in the Rocky Mountains, Rocky Mountain National Park is an ideal destination. With unending picturesque landscapes, a myriad of flora and fauna, dreamlike formations of rock, cascading waterfalls, and weaving paths that put you right in the center of it all, it’s the perfect escape.
Hiking is the perfect way to experience the park, as some trails lead to stunning waterfalls, while others take you to scenic lakes or offer views of mountain peaks. For beginners, there are plenty of trails in the park that provide both great scenery and easy terrain, ensuring a pleasurable experience. Rocky Mountain National Park offers a diverse range of hiking trails for beginners, with over three hundred miles of paths to choose from.
These trails cater to a wide range of abilities and interests, from flat lakeside strolls to steep mountain climbs. Whether you’re traveling with young children or an avid hiker, there’s something for everyone here. In addition to stunning mountain views, visitors can also see waterfalls, elk, and frozen lakes. Some even come to go rock climbing or drive along the park’s breathtaking roads.
It’s no wonder that millions of visitors flock to Rocky Mountain National Park each year. If you’re looking for hiking trails in Rocky Mountains for beginners and planning a nature-filled escape, we’ve compiled a list of 15 must-do hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. The truth is that all hikes in the park offer stunning 360-degree views, but if you have specific preferences like spotting wildlife or waterfalls, some hikes may suit you better than others.
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Best Time to Visit Rocky Mountain National Park
For beginners who are looking for hiking trails in Rocky Mountains, the ideal time to visit Rocky Mountain National Park would be from June to September. During these months, the snow would have melted, and the hiking trails and attractions will be accessible. However, keep in mind that this time of the year is also the busiest for visitors. Alternatively, if you prefer a quieter and more secluded experience while wearing snowshoes or cross-country skis, you may want to consider visiting between the months of October and May.
If you’re looking for breathtaking views of fall foliage and a chance to spot seasonal elks, consider visiting Rocky Mountain National Park from September through mid-October. Regardless of the weather, the park remains open to the public 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. However, it’s worth noting that certain areas may be inaccessible during different times of the year.
June to September
If you’re planning a visit to Rocky Mountain National Park, be aware that the peak travel season is between June and September, and the crowds can be as dense as the mountains are tall. However, this time of year is also the best time to ensure that Trail Ridge Road, the park’s main east-to-west thoroughfare, is open to cars, and the park’s trails and attractions are accessible to travelers. To avoid the crowds, consider planning a fall weekday visit, which can provide a slight break from your fellow tourists.
According to the NPS, visitation is 50% higher on September weekends compared to weekdays. During these months, the average daytime temperatures usually hover in the 70s, although they can drop as low as the 40s in the evenings, so be sure to pack layers. While accommodation rates in Estes Park peak during this time of year, you can find more affordable options at campgrounds or the YMCA of the Rockies.
October to May
At Rocky Mountain National Park, the period between October and May typically sees fewer crowds compared to the peak travel season. However, visitors during this time should be prepared for the possibility of snow, which can impede hiking and scenic drives.
The park is also susceptible to severe cold, particularly in January and February, with daily temperatures averaging in the 20s and 30s, and nightly temperatures occasionally dropping below zero. Nevertheless, visitors may have the chance to enjoy mild temperatures during early fall or late spring, with the added bonus of having the park mostly to themselves. Moreover, the area’s wildflowers start to bloom at lower elevations in late April and early May.
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Tips for Hiking in Rocky Mountain
1. Make sure to visit the National Park Service website to check the trail conditions before heading out.
2. To regulate the number of visitors between late May and early October, RMNP has implemented a timed entry permit system. As the park remains a popular destination, it’s advisable to book your entrance reservation in advance.
3. To gain entry into RMNP, you’ll require both a timed-entry permit and a Park Pass. If you plan to visit multiple national parks within a 12-month period, it’s worthwhile to purchase the America Beautiful Pass, which enables you to save money while experiencing the beauty of America’s national parks. We strongly recommend it!
4. It’s important to keep a safe distance from wildlife while exploring RMNP. Keep an eye out for animals such as elk, bighorn sheep, and moose.
5. Lastly, remember to leave no trace while at Rocky Mountain National Park. Protect this beautiful location by properly disposing of trash, not feeding animals, keeping dogs on a leash, taking your waste bag with you, parking and driving in designated areas, avoiding building fires outside of fire grates/campgrounds, and respecting fellow visitors.
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Here are the best hiking trails in the Rocky Mountains for beginners:
1. Emerald Lake Trail
If you’re looking for the best hiking trails in the Rocky Mountains for beginners, the Emerald Lake Trail should definitely be on your list. It’s one of the most accessible hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park and offers a lot of value for the effort put in. This popular hike is relatively short and easy to moderate, making it perfect for those who are new to hiking in the Rockies.
Not only does the Emerald Lake Trail provide some of the best panoramic views in the park, but it also takes you to some of the prettiest alpine lakes in the Tyndall Gorge. On this scenic trail, you’ll visit Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, and Emerald Lake, while taking in views of Glacier Gorge, Flattop Mountain, and Hallett Peak.
The trail is a great “initiation” hike for first-timers in the Rockies who want to get used to the altitude and elevation gain. It starts on a gently graded trail at the Bear Lake Trailhead along Bear Lake Road, leading to Nymph Lake. The south shore of the lake is only half a mile away, with a little extra distance to the north shore and stunning vistas of iconic Longs Peak and Hallet Peak.
After enjoying the breathtaking views, continue on a more moderate trail for another half mile towards Dream Lake. Then, head to Emerald Lake, which requires a bit more effort to get to, but is absolutely worth it! Once you reach Emerald Lake, you’ll be amazed by its jewel-like toned waters and splendid views of the Tyndal Glacier.
While the lakes are the main attraction of this hike, the scenery along the way is equally impressive, and you may even spot some incredible wildlife. Keep your eyes peeled for black bears, which roam the area, and if you’re visiting in the fall, be sure to stick around Morain Park, where elk sightings are common!
Note that the Emerald Lake Trail is one of the most popular hiking trails in Rocky Mountain National Park, so the parking lot fills up before 7:30 a.m. If you arrive later, your best bet is to take the shuttle to the trailhead.
Length: 3.2 miles | Elevation gain: 698 feet
2. Bear Lake Nature Trail
If you’re searching for the best hiking trails in the Rocky Mountains for beginners and are traveling with kids, the Bear Lake Trail is an excellent option. This trail is easy to tackle and is just under a mile long, making it perfect for families. Despite its short length, the Bear Lake Trail offers stunning scenery throughout the entire loop.
As you make your way around the subalpine lake, you’ll walk through a charming forest of aspens, pine, and fir trees and enjoy spectacular views of some of the most iconic peaks in the park, such as Half Mountain, Longs Peak, and Hallet Peak.
To capture the best shot of Hallett Peak mirrored on the lake’s shimmering waters, it’s recommended to do the Bear Lake hike early in the morning. Additionally, many other trails start at or near Bear Lake, such as Emerald Lake, Lake Haiyaha, Black Lake, Sky Pond, Flattop Mountain, and Fern Lake.
Length: 0.7 miles | Elevation gain: 49 feet
3. Alberta Falls Trail
For those looking for the best hiking trails in the Rocky Mountains for beginners, the Alberta Falls Trail should be on top of your itinerary. This trail is one of the most popular hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park and is accessible from the Glacier Gorge Junction trailhead. Although rated as moderate, this trail is doable for beginners, thanks to its short distance, and takes you to a 30-foot waterfall, which is a rare sight in Colorado!
Named after Alberta Sprague, the wife of Abner Sprague, who farmed land in Moraine Park in the late 1800s, the falls are a fantastic sight, especially during late spring and early summer when water pours down from snow melting above. To avoid large crowds, it’s recommended to do this hike on a weekday morning as the trail tends to be crowded due to its popularity.
Length: 1.6 miles | Elevation gain: 232 feet
4. Alpine Ridge Trail
For beginners looking for the best hiking trails in the Rocky Mountains, the Alpine Ridge Trail is a must-visit destination. This trail is only 0.6 miles long, but it boasts some of the most breathtaking views along the way as well as from the summit. As you walk along the trail, you will see prominent peaks such as Mount Chapin, Ypsilon Mountain, and Mount Chiquita to the east, and the Never Summer Mountains to the west.
The Alpine Ridge Trail begins at the Alpine Visitor Center’s parking lot, which is located at the top of Trail Ridge Road, known as one of the most scenic drives in Rocky Mountain. Although the trail is steep, it is still suitable for beginners who want to enjoy the beauty of the Rocky Mountains. To make the trail safer and accessible, over 200 steps were constructed due to erosion on the terrain, which has earned the trail the nickname “Huffers Hill.”
The Alpine Ridge Trail is also famous for its stunning alpine tundra scenery, and during summer, hikers are treated to an array of colorful wildflowers. Moreover, wildlife sightings are also common, with marmots and pikas being some of the animals hikers might come across. Nevertheless, the Alpine Ridge Trail is a fantastic destination for beginners who want to experience the best hiking trails in the Rocky Mountains.
Length: 0.7 miles | Elevation gain: 147 feet
5. Ute Trail to Tombstone Ridge
The best hiking trail in the Rocky Mountains for beginners that allows you to walk in the footsteps of the Ute and Arapaho Indians, who once called the mountains their home, is the one that they used to travel between their summer and winter hunting grounds. The trail is named after the footsteps they left behind, making it an excellent opportunity to take a trip back in time and catch glimpses of how they used to live.
As you make your way through this trail, you will also get to witness the stunning views of the iconic Longs Peak and Forest Canyon from the alpine tundra. This hiking trail is perfect for families with kids as you don’t have to complete the whole 4-mile distance and can turn around whenever you feel like it. Additionally, it makes a great addition to your scenic drive along Trail Ridge Road.
Length: 5.6 miles | Elevation gain: 1,912 feet
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6. Bridal Veil Falls via Cow Creek Trail
For those seeking the best hiking trails in the Rocky Mountains for beginners, Bridal Veil in Rocky Mountain National Park is an excellent choice. While waterfalls are not common in Colorado, this 20-foot tall cascade makes Bridal Veil a memorable experience. During this hike, you’ll get to explore the beautiful Cow Creek region of the park, spot wildlife regularly, and wander through aspen groves and meadows.
When it comes to well-known hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, this one is among the longest, stretching for 6.1 miles. However, there are numerous sights to behold along the way, giving you plenty of reasons to pause and take a breath. Be on the lookout for elk and mule deer, which are frequent visitors to this trail!
Length: 6.1 miles | Elevation gain: 964 feet
7. Deer Mountain Trail
If you’re seeking a hike that is longer than the more popular options in Rocky Mountain National Park but still manageable, the Deer Mountain Trail is an excellent choice. Situated on Trail Ridge Road, roughly three miles west of Beaver Meadows entrance, the trail offers stunning vistas of Little Horseshoe Park and the Mummy Range right from the outset.
As you continue along the path and ascend in altitude, you’ll enjoy sweeping aerial views of Estes Park, Longs Peak, Moraine Park, Hallett Peak, and the Continental Divide. Be sure to keep a lookout for deer and elk, particularly in the flatland stretch of the trail.
Length: 6 miles | Elevation gain: 1,400 feet
8. Gem Lake Trail
For those seeking the best hiking trails in the Rocky Mountains for beginners, the Gem Lake trail is a fantastic option. Beginning at the Lumpy Ridge Trailhead, close to the Twin Owls, which resemble two large owls overlooking Estes Park, this trail lives up to its name by being a hidden gem in Rocky Mountain National Park, providing a great opportunity for solitude. Nestled amidst the Lumpy Ridge Area’s granite domes, Gem Lake is a gorgeous shallow pond created by snowmelt and rainfall, lacking inlet or outlet streams.
To access the trail, head to the Lumpy Ridge Trailhead and start hiking along several switchbacks for two miles, offering breathtaking vistas of Estes Park, Longs Peak, and the Continental Divide. Although it involves a steep ascent, the fascinating rock formations you’ll witness along the way, combined with the beautiful views of the lake encircled by mighty peaks, make it a worthwhile endeavor. Don’t forget to catch the views from the rocks behind Gem Lake!
Length: 3.1 miles | Elevation gain: 994 feet
9. Odessa Lake via Fern Lake Trail
If you’re a beginner looking for the best hiking trails in the Rocky Mountains, the Odessa Lake and Fern Lake Trail is a great choice. This 8.8-mile trail starts at Bear Lake and takes you through a dense pine forest before opening up to the breathtaking Odessa Gorge, where you can see Grace Falls in the distance. Odessa Lake offers stunning views of mountain peaks rising from its waters, and you can even camp there if the weather is good.
After admiring Odessa Lake, the trail continues to Fern Lake, where you’ll see a variety of trees such as aspens, lodgepole pine, ponderosa pine, cottonwoods, and willows. Along the way, you’ll also pass Arch Rocks and The Pool, which is where Fern Creek meets the Thompson River. The trail ends at Fern Lake, but you can also start at Fern Lake and make your way to Odessa Lake. Shuttle services for hikers are available, so choose the lake that fits your schedule best.
Length: 8.3 miles | Elevation gain: 2,004 feet
Challenging Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park
10. Chasm Lake Trail
If you’re looking for stunning lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park, Chasm Lake should definitely be on your list. The Chasm Lake Trail is one of the park’s top hikes and offers a longer, more challenging route for those who want to test their skills. Along the way to the alpine lake at the end, you’ll be treated to breathtaking scenery, including views of Longs Peak, a unique amphitheater with rock formations, and a beautiful waterfall. Chasm Lake is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Length: 8.8 miles | Elevation gain: 2,542 feet
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11. Continental Divide Trail to Mount Ida
Looking for a challenge? If you’ve already tackled the easier hikes or simply want to dive into rugged nature and conquer a difficult trail, the Mount Ida Trail is the perfect day hike for you. This 9.3 mile out and back hike near Grand Lake offers a vast array of stunning and varied scenery as you make your way to the top.
Along the way, you’ll be treated to a number of highlights, including a gorgeous lake, a forest to hike through, the clearest 360-degree views in Rocky Mountain National Park, bird’s-eye views of Poudre Lake, and breathtaking vistas of the Never Summer Mountain Range. Additionally, spotting wildlife is another exciting aspect of the trail, with the yellow-bellied marmots stealing the show!
Length: 9.3 miles | Elevation gain: 2,358 feet
12. Mills Lake, Black Lake, Frozen Lake Trail
The Mills Lake & Black Lake Trail exemplifies the saying that good things come to those who wait. Black Lake is one of the most breathtaking lakes in Colorado, but it takes a significant amount of effort to reach. However, if you’re up for a challenge, this hike is one of the best to take on in Rocky Mountain National Park.
The hike is pretty strenuous, covering about 10 miles round-trip, with a significant elevation gain through Glacier Gorge. But the rewards are worth the effort, and you’ll feel glad long before you reach the end. As you hike forward on this trail, you’ll get to see striking lakes, various waterfalls (including Alberta Falls), and Glacier Creek.
The trail begins at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead and starts off relatively easy before quickly becoming more challenging. Don’t worry, though, as you always have the option to turn back at any point. Along the way, you’ll pass over several quaint wooden bridges that help you cross several marshy areas between the lakes. Additionally, keep an eye out for moose, as they are often spotted roaming around the area.
Length: 11 miles | Elevation gain: 2,529 feet
13. Sky Pond via Glacier Gorge Trail
If you’re seeking a more challenging hiking experience to witness stunning alpine lakes while exploring Colorado, the Sky Pond trail is an excellent option to consider, especially if hikes like Emerald Lake seem too straightforward for you. This trail not only provides breathtaking views of dramatic valleys, granite spires, and Sharkstooth and Taylor Peaks but also offers access to two of the most exquisite alpine lakes in the park. With unmatched natural scenery throughout the hike, every step of the way will be a delightful treat for those who appreciate untamed beauty.
Length: 9.4 miles | Elevation gain: 1,758 feet
14. Keyhole and Longs Peak via Longs Peak Trail
It’s widely known that conquering one of Colorado’s 58 fourteeners is a top outdoor activity for enthusiasts, with Longs Peak being the most iconic one in the state. For hikers seeking a challenge, the Keyhole Route is the best option to test their skills. Covering a distance of 14.5 miles (out and back) with an elevation gain of almost 5,000 feet, this route is rated as extremely challenging.
As you ascend, expect to face towering rock faces, loose rocks, and steep cliffs that require scrambling. Even experienced peak collectors will find Longs Peak Trail a demanding hike. It’s essential to wear a helmet and check the weather conditions before attempting to summit. While this trail is not for the faint of heart, it’s undoubtedly one of the top trails in Rocky Mountain National Park for those with the necessary experience.
Length: 14.8 miles | Elevation gain: 5,039 feet
15. Twin Sisters Peak Trail
For those seeking a challenging yet highly rewarding hike, look no further than the Twin Sisters trail, which offers striking views from the top. The trailhead is located near Lily Lake, and the initial section takes you through forested terrain before reaching a large landslide area. As you ascend higher, the forest gives way to breathtaking views of various peaks such as Longs Peak, Mount Meeker, Lily Mountain, Estes Cone, and Powell Peak.
After 2.9 miles, you’ll reach the tree line, where you’ll get excellent views of the two Twin Sister Peak summits. From there, you can choose which peak to summit, with the western peak being the easier option and the more popular destination among hikers. However, both peaks are accessible with some effort. As a helpful hint, if you plan to tackle the Long Peak hike via Keyhole Route, the Twin Sisters trail is an ideal warm-up hike to acclimate yourself first.
Length: 7.5 miles | Elevation gain: 2,516 feet
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More Trails at the Rocky Mountain You Might Want to Check Out
Easy: Copeland Falls to Calypso Cascades, Adams Falls Trail, Glacier Gorge Trail, and Sprague Lake Trail.
Moderate: Ouzel Falls via Wild Basin Trail, Lake Helene via Fern Lake Trail, Bierstadt Lake Loop Trail, The Loch via Glacier Gorge Trail, and Cub Lake Trail Loop.
Challenging: Timberline Falls and Sky Pond Trail, Bear Lake to Sky Pond via Glacier Gorge Trail, The Loch and Lake of Glass, and Flattop Mountain Trail.
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Hiking Trails in the Rocky Mountains Safety Tips
Here are some safety tips to keep in mind when hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park:
1. Check the weather forecast before heading out and be prepared for sudden changes in weather conditions.
2..Bring plenty of water and stay hydrated throughout your hike. Dehydration can lead to fatigue and other health problems.
3. Wear appropriate footwear and clothing for the trail conditions, including sturdy hiking boots, a hat, and layers of clothing that can be added or removed as needed.
4. Stay on designated trails and follow park rules and regulations.
5. Pack a map and compass or GPS device to help you navigate the trails.
6. Tell someone your hiking plans, including your route and expected return time.
7. Bring a first aid kit and know basic first aid techniques.
8. Avoid hiking alone, especially in remote areas. It’s always best to hike with a friend or in a group.
9. Be aware of wildlife in the area and keep a safe distance from animals. Do not feed or approach wildlife.
10. If you encounter lightning, seek shelter in a low area and avoid tall trees or other high objects.
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Frequently Asked Questions
What is Rocky Mountain National Park?
Rocky Mountain National Park is a protected natural area located in Colorado, USA. It is home to a diverse range of flora and fauna and offers visitors stunning scenic views, hiking trails, and recreational activities.
Are there any easy hiking trails for beginners in Rocky Mountain National Park?
Yes, there are plenty of easy hiking trails in Rocky Mountain National Park that cater to beginners. With over three hundred miles of trails, visitors can choose from flat lakeside strolls to steep mountain climbs.
What kind of scenery can I expect to see while hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park?
Rocky Mountain National Park offers breathtaking scenery, including picturesque landscapes, dreamlike formations of rock, cascading waterfalls, and stunning mountain peaks. Visitors can also see wildlife such as elk and frozen lakes.
How do I prepare for a hiking trip to Rocky Mountain National Park?
Visitors should ensure they have the right equipment and clothing for their hiking trip, including sturdy hiking boots, a backpack, plenty of water, snacks, and sunscreen. It’s also important to check weather conditions and trail maps before starting a hike.
Are there any guided hikes available in Rocky Mountain National Park?
Yes, there are guided hikes available in Rocky Mountain National Park, led by experienced guides who can provide insights into the area’s history and ecology.
Can I hike in Rocky Mountain National Park during winter?
Yes, visitors can hike in Rocky Mountain National Park during winter, but they should ensure they have the right equipment and clothing for cold weather conditions. Some trails may also be closed during winter.
Are there any restrictions or rules I should be aware of when hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park?
Yes, visitors should follow the park’s rules and regulations, including staying on designated trails, packing out all trash, and respecting wildlife and other visitors. Dogs are not allowed on most trails, and permits may be required for backcountry camping.
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Rocky Mountain National Park offers some of the best hiking trails in the Rocky Mountains for beginners, with a diverse range of paths that cater to various abilities and interests. From stunning waterfalls and scenic lakes to towering mountain peaks and wildlife sightings, the park offers a plethora of breathtaking experiences that will leave you in awe.
With this list of 15 must-do hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, you can create the perfect itinerary for your nature-filled escape. So, grab your hiking boots, pack your backpack, and get ready to explore the wonders of Rocky Mountain National Park.
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