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15 Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park is best seen from a hiking trail. Fortunately, there are hikes for all ages and ability levels. From short, easy strolls around lakes, to ridgeline trails with panoramic views, to challenging but epic climbs to the tallest mountain peaks, there truly is something here for everyone. Here are 15 of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

This list starts with the easiest trails and progresses to the longer, more challenging hikes. Each of these hikes is a day hike, so they can all be completed in one day. Note: All distances are round-trip.

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While in Rocky Mountain National Park, please practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace: plan ahead, stay on the trails, pack out what you bring to the hiking trails, properly dispose of waste, leave areas as you found them, minimize campfire impacts, be considerate of other hikers, and do not approach or feed wildlife.

Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

1. Bear Lake

This is the shortest, most popular hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s a flat, beautiful easy walk in the park…literally.

The entire hike is less than a mile in length, making it great for all ages and ability levels. This trail is not paved (it’s a gravel trail for most of its length) but it is considered handicap accessible.

Bear Lake Hiking Stats

Distance: 0.6 miles round-trip
Length of Time: 30 minutes
Difficulty: Easy
Location: This hike starts at the Bear Lake Trailhead, located at the very end of Bear Lake Road. There is a large parking lot here but it can fill up by 9 am, so get here early, not only to get a parking spot, but to also avoid the large crowds on the trail.

Bear Lake | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Bear Lake Colorado | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Bear Lake | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Not only is this a scenic walk around a lake, but this also can be a learning experience. For about $1, you can purchase the interpretive guide at the trailhead, which takes you through 30 marked spots along the trail that teaches you about the Bear Lake area.

Note: Many hikes start at or near Bear Lake: Emerald Lake, Lake Haiyaha, Sky Pond, Black Lake, Fern Lake, Flattop Mountain, and Hallett Peak. If you have plans to hike one of these trails, adding on Bear Lake is quick, easy, and won’t take up much of your time.

2. Alberta Falls

Alberta Falls is one of the most popular waterfalls to visit in Rocky Mountain National Park. Like Bear Lake, it is an easy hike to get here.

From the Glacier Gorge parking lot, is a mostly uphill walk to get to Alberta Falls, but it is not too strenuous. Once at the waterfall, you can explore the short trails along Glacier Creek to find your favorite view of the waterfall.

Alberta Falls Hiking Stats

Distance: 1.7 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Length of Time: 1 to 1.5 hours
Location: Glacier Gorge parking lot on Bear Lake Road. To get a parking space here, plan on arriving no later than 6:30 am, but even earlier is better. If the parking lot is full, park in the large parking lot at the end of Bear Lake Road. From the Bear Lake Trailhead, follow signs to Alberta Falls. Parking in the lot at the end of Bear Lake Road adds roughly .4 miles to the hiking distance above.

Alberta Falls | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Alberta Falls | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Sunrise RMNP | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

In the morning, this can be a beautiful place to watch the sunrise.

3. Alpine Ridge Trail

At just over a half of a mile, round trip, this hike sounds easy. And for Rocky Mountain National Park, it is. But even the most fit, acclimated hikers can feel winded and out-of-breath on this short hike.

Starting at the Alpine Visitor Center (the highest visitor center in the United States) you simply hike up a long staircase to a viewpoint.

Here’s the thing: this hike starts just under 12,000 feet of elevation. This hike feels tough, a combination of the high elevation with the long stair climb. If this is your first day at RMNP, and one of your first days in Colorado, be prepared to take a few breaks. If you are not acclimated to the higher elevation, it’s normal to get out of breath very easily.

From the viewpoint, you are standing at 12,005 feet. The views across the park are incredible. When we did this, we saw lots of elk, some of them males with enormous antlers.

This is an essential hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. So, climb those stairs, catch your breath if you need to, and enjoy the awesome view from the top. You’ll be glad you did.

Alpine Ridge Trail Hiking Stats

Distance: 0.6 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Length of Time: 30 minutes
Location: Alpine Visitor Center on Trail Ridge Road.

Elk in RMNP | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

View from the Alpine Ridge Trail | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Alpine Ridge Trail

Looking back at the Alpine Visitor Center and Trail Ridge Road.

4. Gem Lake

This is one of the easier lake hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Gem Lake is a short but strenuous hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. Not only do you get to visit a pretty lake but you also get sweeping views of Estes Park with Longs Peak in the distance.

If you are looking for a short, family-friendly hike, and don’t mind a bit of a stair climb at times, this is a good hike to add to your to-do list.

Gem Lake Hiking Stats

Distance: 3.4 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Length of Time: 2 to 3 hours
Location: Lumpy Ridge Trailhead. This trailhead is located just north of Estes Park. To get here, you will take Devils Gulch Road to Lumpy Ridge Road.

Gem Lake | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Gem Lake | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Tim Kara Tyler Estes Park

Along the trail, there are viewpoints over Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park.

5. Ute Trail to Tombstone Ridge

If you are looking for a short, easy hike with spectacular views of Rocky Mountain National Park, put this hike at the top of your list. This is our favorite short, easy hike in the park. For very little effort, the views you get are unbelievable.

The Ute Trail to Tombstone Ridge is a wonderful, short, easy hike to do in Rocky Mountain National Park. For the entire hike, you are walking along the alpine tundra, with unobstructed views of Longs Peak, Forest Canyon, and the Continental Divide.

Tombstone Ridge Hiking Stats

Distance: 4 miles
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Length of Time: 1.5 to 3 hours
Location: Ute Trailhead on Trail Ridge Road, 7 miles east of the Alpine Visitor Center

Tombstone Ridge Hike | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Tombstone Ridge | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Ute Ridge Hike

Hike Ute Ridge | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Ute Trail to Tombstone Ridge | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

This is a great hike to do with kids. You don’t even have to hike the entire 4 miles. Simply turn around when you are ready, the spectacular views start as soon as your feet hit the trail. This is a wonderful hike to add onto your drive along Trail Ridge Road, and from the trailhead, it is just a 15-minute drive to the Alpine Visitor Center.

US National Parks List

6. Nymph, Dream & Emerald Lakes

The Emerald Lake hike is one of the most popular hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. On this hike, you get to see four very pretty alpine lakes (Bear Lake, Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, and Emerald Lake), over a relatively short distance.

This is a great hike for almost all ages and ability levels. The Emerald Lake hike is a family friendly hike and it also makes a great intro to hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park. With its short distance and manageable elevation gain, it is a great first hike in the park, as you acclimate to the higher elevation (if you haven’t already spent some time in the Rocky Mountains).

Dream & Emerald Lake Hiking Stats

Distance: 3.6 miles
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Length of Time : 2 to 3 hours
Location: Bear Lake Trailhead, at the end of Bear Lake Road

Emerald Lake | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Emerald Lake | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Dream Lake

Dream Lake | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Of course, you don’t have to hike all of the way to Emerald Lake. Nymph and Dream Lakes are beautiful, so you will have a wonderful hike if you choose to turn around at Dream Lake.

You also have the option to add on a fifth lake, Lake Haiyaha, making this hike a total of 6.2 miles.

PRO TRAVEL TIP: For the hikes that start on Bear Lake Road (Bear Lake, Alberta Falls, Mills & Black Lake, Sky Pond, Fern Lake, Hallett Peak) consider either arriving very early in the day (by 7 am) or taking the free park shuttle.

7. Deer Mountain

The hike up Deer Mountain is one of the easier hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park that offers high mountain views.

To get to the peak, it’s an almost constant uphill walk through an evergreen forest. You will get occasional glimpses of Longs Peak early on during the hike, but for the most part, you will have to wait until you reach the summit for the best views.

From the summit of Deer Mountain, enjoy views over Moraine Valley and out to Longs Peak and the surrounding mountains.

Deer Mountain Hiking Stats

Distance: 6.2 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Length of Time: 3 to 4 hours
Location: The Deer Mountain Trailhead is located on Trail Ridge Road, 3 miles west of the Beaver Meadows entrance. If you are staying in Estes Park, it is a 20-minute drive to get here.

Deer Mountain View

View from Deer Mountain | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

This is a nice hike but honestly not one of our favorites. Yes, the views from the summit are beautiful, but this hike is a bit boring at times since it is a constant uphill climb through a forest. However, if you want to hike a lower-traffic trail that is just a short drive from Estes Park, this is a nice one to consider.

This is a great hike for newbie hikers who want to summit a mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park. It also makes a nice acclimatization hike if you just arrived in Colorado and want to warm up your legs and cardio system, before tackling hikes like Chasm Lake, Flattop Mountain, or Mt. Ida.

8. Twin Sisters

Located on the eastern edge of Rocky Mountain National Park, you get panoramic views of Longs Peak and Estes Park from the top of the Twin Sisters Peaks.

Twin Sisters Hiking Stats

Distance: 7.4 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Length of Time: 4 to 5 hours
Location: Eastern Rocky Mountain National Park, near Lily Lake

Twin Sisters Hike | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Twin Sisters | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Twin Sisters View

Longs Peak from Twin Sisters | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Honestly, this is not the most exciting hike on the list. However, it’s a great warm-up hike for those who want to do Hallett Peak or Longs Peak and it’s a great hike for those who are looking for a less crowded trail that offers great views of the area.

For most of this hike you are entirely within a pine forest, so the views are rather lackluster for much of the hike. But once at the top, the view is very nice.

From what we noticed, most of the people on this trail were either locals (this is a popular trail running route) or those who had already checked off a bunch of hikes in RMNP.

9. Odessa Lake & Fern Lake

The hike to Odessa Lake and onward to Fern Lake is a relatively low-traffic trail in Rocky Mountain National Park. Its nearby neighbors of Bear Lake, Emerald Lake, and Dream Lake get a lot more visitors, so if you are looking for a relatively uncrowded trail with the chance to visit multiple alpine lakes, this is a nice hike to consider.

Odessa & Fern Lakes Hiking Stats

Distance: 7.5 to 10 miles, depending on the route you choose
Difficulty: Moderate
Length of Time: 4 to 7 hours
Location: Bear Lake Trailhead or Moraine Park

Fern Lake Hike | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Fern Lake

Fern Lake | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

This is a very pretty hike, but there are several other lake hikes that we would recommend first, before putting this hike on your list. Sky Pond is awesome, Chasm Lake is also great but it’s a little more challenging, and Emerald and Dream Lakes are also favorites of many park visitors.

There are three ways to hike to Fern Lake. You can either hike to Fern Lakes and Odessa Lake as a point-to-point hike, starting at Bear Lake and ending at Moraine Park (or vice versa). You can also hike to Fern Lake out-and-back from either Bear Lake or Moraine Park.

We hiked to Odessa Lake and Fern Lake as an out-and-back hike from Bear Lake. Get all of the details on how to do this hike in our post about Fern Lake.

10. Mills Lake & Black Lake

Black Lake and Mills Lake are often labeled as two of the prettiest lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

This hike starts at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead. First, you will pass lovely Alberta Falls. Past the waterfall, follow the signs to Mills Lake. At roughly three miles into the hike, you will reach Mills Lake. Those looking for a shorter, easier hike can turn around at this point.

Mills & Black Lakes Hiking Stats

Distance: 10 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Length of Time: 5 to 7 hours
Location: Glacier Gorge Trailhead on Bear Lake Road

Mills Lake

Mills Lake | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Continue for two more miles until you reach Black Lake. Along the way, you will hike through bogs and forests, past Ribbon Falls, and have a great view of Keyboard of the Winds. Black Lake looks similar to Chasm Lake, as both of these alpine lakes are surrounded by jagged mountain peaks.

11. Sky Pond

Sky Pond is one of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park for good reason. This hike has a little bit of everything…waterfalls, alpine lakes, high mountain views, and fun river and stream crossings.

To get to Sky Pond, you will rock scramble up a waterfall, which can be refreshing when the weather is warm and downright cold in chilly conditions.

But the whole reason to do this hike is for the view of Sky Pond, one of the most spectacular lakes in the park.

Sky Pond Hiking Stats

Distance: 9.5 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Length of Time: 4 to 6 hours
Location: Glacier Gorge Trailhead on Bear Lake Road.

Sky Pond Hike

Glass Lake | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Sky Pond | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Sky Pond | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

There is never a boring moment on this trail. The ever changing views and trail conditions really keep this hike interesting. Yes, it is on the long side and it can be challenging, but you get a great pay-off at the end, with the jaw-dropping view of Sky Pond.

This was one of our favorite hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park and we highly recommend it.

12. Chasm Lake

Chasm Lake is one of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

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For the first part of the hike, you will walk the same trail as the hikers on their way to Longs Peak, the highest point in the hike. For the final mile of this hike, you are treated to breathtaking views of Longs Peak, Columbine Falls, Peacock Pond, and finally Chasm Lake.

If you have been hiking in Glacier National Park, this hike looks very similar to the Grinnell Glacier hike. Views of Peacock Pond with the massive, rocky mountains that form the backdrop, waterfalls, and the chance to see wildlife, almost gave us a sense of déjà vu, like we were back in Glacier National Park again.

Chasm Lake Hiking Stats

Distance: 9 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Length of Time: 4 to 6 hours
Location: Longs Peak Trailhead, which is located at the end of Longs Peak Road on the east side of RMNP.

Hike Chasm Lake | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Chasm Lake

Chasm Lake | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Kara Chasm Lake

13. Continental Divide Trail to Mt Ida

On the hike to Mt. Ida, you really feel like you are walking on top of the world. For much of the hike you are walking along the Continental Divide. During this time, you get to enjoy panoramic views of Rocky Mountain National Park.

It gets even better once you reach the summit of Mt. Ida. From here, at an elevation of 12,899 feet, the entire park stretches out before you.

Mt. Ida Hiking Stats

Distance: 9.8 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Length of Time: 4.5 to 6.5 hours
Location: Poudre Lake/Milner Pass on Trail Ridge Road, 4.5 miles south of the Alpine Visitor Center

Hike Mt Ida

Continental Divide Trail | Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Mt Ida Hike

Mt Ida View

This hike is much different than many other hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. You spend very little time below the tree line, so the views are incredible for most of the hike. Plus, this is a lesser known hike, so the trail gets a lower number of hikers than other hikes on this list.

But this is a tough hike. It starts at 10,800 feet and tops out at 12,899 on Mt. Ida, so you will really feel the altitude. Expect lots of wind and cold temperatures, even during the summer months.

This is one of our favorite hikes in RMNP and we highly recommend it if you want unforgettable high alpine views.

14. Flattop Mountain to Hallett Peak

This challenging hike starts at Bear Lake and rapidly gains elevation once you are on the Flattop Mountain Trail. It doesn’t take long until you get see amazing views of Longs Peak and Keyboard of the Winds.

As you ascend higher, the trees disappear, as you enter the subalpine region. Enjoy panoramic views of the park, as well as spectacular views from the overlooks of Dream Lake and Emerald Lake. Beyond the Emerald Lake overlook you will reach the summit of Flattop Mountain.

To continue to Hallett Peak, follow the rocky, somewhat faint trail. This part of the hike is tough as you are hiking over very rugged terrain. The trail ends at the summit of Hallett Peak. You are now standing at 12,718 feet, with 360° views, which makes this one of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Hallett Peak is a good warm-up hike for those who plan to summit Longs Peak.

Hallett Peak Hiking Stats

Distance: 10.4 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Length of Time: 6 to 8 hours
Location: Bear Lake Trailhead

15. Longs Peak

At 14,259 feet, the only fourteener on this list, the trek up Longs Peak is one of the most epic hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

During the 15+ miles of hiking, you will ascend more that 5,000 feet. On the Keyhole Route, the hike ends with some serious rock scrambling and lots of exposure. Over 60 people have died attempting to summit Longs Peak.

Longs Peak Hiking Stats

Distance: 15 miles
Difficulty: Extremely difficult
Length of Time: 10 to 15 hours
Location: Longs Peak Trailhead is located at the end of Longs Peak Road. To get here, take Highway 7 south from Estes Park.

Longs Peak

This is a tough fourteener and many people who attempt it never make it to the summit, turning around early because of storms or the difficult conditions.

If this sounds like a hike you would like to do, it will take some planning and patience. Spend several days in the park, hiking the other trails, to acclimate yourself to the higher elevation. Then, pick the day with the clearest weather forecast, get a very early start (many hikers begin at 3 or 4 am), and keep your fingers crossed that afternoon thunderstorms don’t come rumbling through the park.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park: On a Map

How to Use This Map: Click the icons on the map to get more information about each point of interest. Click the star next to the title of the map to add this map to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.

Our Recommendations

Our favorite hikes are Sky Pond (super fun hike to a beautiful alpine lake), Mt. Ida (we loved the panoramic views along most of the trail, not to mention the jaw-dropping views from Mt. Ida), Chasm Lake (another gorgeous lake hike), and Tombstone Ridge (it’s short, it’s easy, the views are amazing, and most people can handle this hike).

The classic hike for first-timers in Rocky Mountain National Park is a Bear Lake and Emerald Lake combo. However, if you only have the time for one hike, and the thought of a tough, 9-mile hike isn’t a deal breaker, we recommend Sky Pond.

If you have more than a few days in RMNP and need some “warm-up” hikes, good options are Emerald Lake, Deer Mountain, and Twin Sisters.

If you want a short, easy hike, we recommend Tombstone Ridge (this makes a great add-on to your scenic drive along Trail Ridge Road) or Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lakes.

If you want to leave the crowds behind, Twin Sisters, Mt. Ida, and Tombstone Ridge are the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park for your list.

If you have limited time, I recommend driving Trail Ridge Road and hiking Tombstone on day 1, Sky Pond on day 2, and then Chasm Lake or Hallet Peak or Mt. Ida on day 3.

For the ultimate hiking experience in Rocky Mountain National Park, put Long’s Peak on the top of your list.

Before you go, get updated trail conditions on the National Park Service website. If you plan to visit the park during the summer months, you will also need to reserve your timed permit in advance.

US National Parks Guide

What do you think are the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park? Let us know in the comment section below. Happy hiking!

More Information about RMNP & Colorado

ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK: For an overview of Rocky Mountain National Park and links to all of our RMNP articles, take a look at our Rocky Mountain National Park Travel Guide. To help you plan your trip, we also have articles about the best things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park and how to plan the perfect itinerary.

ESTES PARK: In our Guide to Estes Park, learn about where to stay, where to eat, and what to do.

NATIONAL PARKS IN COLORADO: In our guide to the National Parks in Colorado, learn about all 4 national parks: Rocky Mountain, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Great Sand Dunes, and Mesa Verde. Learn how to combine them all together into one epic road trip in our 10 Day Colorado Itinerary.

SCENIC DRIVES IN COLORADO: Pikes Peak, the Million Dollar Highway, and the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway is just a short list of the scenic drives you can do in Colorado. For the full list, read our article about the Best Scenic Drives in Colorado.

MORE GREAT HIKES IN THE NATIONAL PARKS: From hikes to the tallest peaks to beautiful coast trails, read our Guide to the Best Day Hikes in the US National Parks. If you prefer to keep your hikes short and sweet, read our guide to the Best Short Hikes in the National Parks.

TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY: For more information about the camera gear we carry, check out our Travel Photography Gear Guide.

If this is part of a bigger road trip through the USA, visit our United States Travel Guide for more inspiration and travel planning tips. Visit our Colorado Travel Guide for more things to do in Colorado.

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Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain NP Hikes

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15 Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park (With Map)

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Looking for the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park? We got you covered with trails from 0 to over 5,000 feet in elevation gain.

Boasting over three hundred miles of hiking trails, Rocky Mountain National Park is a hiker’s haven.

Ranging from flat lakeside strolls to steep mountain climbs, these hikes are incredible! There’s a little something for everyone here, from families traveling with young kids to the most enthusiastic peak collectors.

If you’re currently plotting a nature-filled escape to the Rockies and want to make sure to pick the best hikes, we’ve taken the time to gather 15 of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National park that need to be on your bucket list!

Rocky Mountain National Park; Colorado is one of the best places to visit in March in the USA

Best Time to Visit Rocky Mountain National Park

Even though you can visit pretty much any time of the year, the best season for hiking in the Rocky Mountains is between June and October.

Although summer and early fall are typically crowded, summer brings in great weather for hiking, wildflowers, and clear blue skies during the mornings and early afternoons.

September through mid-October is another excellent time to visit when fall foliage makes the landscape look absolutely stunning, and opportunities to stumble across seasonal elks are high!

Tips for Hiking in Rocky Mountain

  • Before you go, be sure to check trail conditions at the National Park Service website.
  • RMNP implemented a timed entry permit system to manage crowds from late May to early October. Still, the park is pretty popular, so reserve your entrance in advance!
  • To enter RMNP, you’ll need a timed-entry permit and a Park Pass. If you’re visiting a few national parks within 12 months, it is worth purchasing the America the Beautiful Pass so you can save money while enjoying the great American national parks. We highly recommend it!
  • Last but not least: please leave no trace behind. Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most beautiful places in Colorado, and places like these can only exist if we protect them. Dispose of trash properly, don’t feed animals, keep dogs on leash, take nothing back home (except your own waste bag), park and drive in designated places (not on vegetation), never build a fire outside of fire grates/campgrounds, and respect others.

15 Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

We divided this guide into three sections: easy, moderate, and challenging.

Easy Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

1. Emerald Lake Trail

The Emerald Lake Trail is one of the most accessible hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park and one that provides a ton of bang for your buck (or effort?).

Even though this popular hike is relatively short and easy to moderate, it provides some of the best panoramic views in the entire park, especially if you’re short on time and want to see a few of the prettiest alpine lakes in the Tyndall Gorge in one go.

Besides, you’ll visit Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, and Emerald Lake along a scenic trail that offers views of Glacier Gorge, Flattop Mountain, and Hallett Peak.

This is also a great “initiation” hike if you’re a first-timer hiking the Rocky Mountains and want to get used to the altitude and elevation gain.

The trek begins on a gently graded trail, starting at Bear Lake Trailhead (along Bear Lake Road) and heading to Nymph Lake.

You’ll arrive at the south shore of the lake after a mere .5 miles, with a little extra distance to the north shore and the majestic vistas of iconic Longs Peak and Hallet Peak.

After taking in the stunning views, set off on a more moderate trail for another half mile towards Dream Lake.

Next is Emerald Lake, which requires a bit more effort to get to, but it’s absolutely worth it!Once you catch sight of its jewel-like toned waters and the splendid views of the Tyndal Glacier around it, you’ll quickly understand why it was named that way.

Even though the lakes are the main stars of the show, this hike also provides fantastic alpine scenery every step of the way as well as chances to spot incredible wildlife if you get lucky. Black bears roam the area, so keep your eyes peeled for them and if you’re visiting during the fall, be sure to linger for a while around Morain Park, where elk sightings are common!

Note that this is one of the most popular hiking trails in Rocky Mountain National Park, so the parking lot fills up before 7:30 a.m. Your best bet if you arrive later is to take the shuttle to the trailhead.

Bonus: If you’re not done gawking at alpine lakes surrounded by rocky peaks, you can continue a mile onwards after Emerald Lake to see Lake Haiyaha, too! This lake is just as gorgeous, but thanks to the fact that it’s not officially a part of the Emerald Lake hike, it tends to be a lot quieter.

Pssst: If you prefer a shorter scenic hike, you can shave a little over a mile off the Emerald Lake Trail by following the two-mile Dream Lake Trail instead. You won’t get to enjoy Emerald Lake, but the shorter trail still includes Dream Lake and Nymph Lake.

2. Bear Lake Nature Trail

If you’re traveling with kids, Bear Lake is one of the best trails in Rocky Mountain National Park, thanks to how easy it is to tackle.

Bear Lake Trail is a short but stunning loop and is just under a mile long. Still, what it lacks in length, it makes up for with gorgeous scenery all over.

As you circle your way around a beautiful subalpine lake, you’ll get to walk amid an enchanting forest of aspens, pine, and fir as well as get to catch spectacular views of some of the most iconic peaks in the park, including Half Mountain, Longs Peak, and Hallet Peak.

As a tip, try to do the Bear Lake hike as early in the morning as possible in order to photograph Hallett Peak mirrored on the lake’s shimmering waters!

Good to know: Emerald Lake, Lake Haiyaha, Black Lake, Sky Pond, Flattop Mountain, and Fern Lake are some of the trails that start at or near Bear Lake.

3. Alberta Falls Trail

As one of the most popular hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, the Alberta Falls Trail is a must on any itinerary. This trail begins at the Glacier Gorge Junction trailhead.

This trail is rated as a moderate hike but doable thanks to its short distance, this trail will take you to a 30-foot waterfall, a rare sight in Colorado!

The falls were named after Alberta Sprague, wife of Abner Sprague, who settled and farmed land in Moraine Park back in the late 1800s.

The falls are a wonderful sight to behold, especially during late spring and early summer when water pours down from snow melting above.

As a tip, keep in mind that this is one of the most popular trails at Rocky Mountain National Park, so, if possible, try doing this hike on a weekday morning in order to avoid large crowds.

4. Alpine Ridge Trail

One of the best features of the Alpine Ridge Trail is that, from the summit, the mountain views are simply spectacular, but so are the vistas pretty much the entire way up.

At just 0.6 miles, this is one of the shortest trails in Rocky Mountain National Park, but what it lacks in length, it makes up for with amazing views all the way up.

Along the route, you’ll be walking on pure alpine tundra while getting to catch glimpses of peaks like Mount Chapin, Ypsilon Mountain, and Mount Chiquita on the east and the Never Summer Mountains on the west.

The hike begins at the parking lot of the Alpine Visitor Center at the top of Trail Ridge Road, one of the most scenic drives in Rocky Mountain. The trail is pretty steep, and due to erosion on the terrain, over 200 steps had to be built in order to keep the trail going, which is why it’s commonly dubbed “Huffers Hill.”

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In addition to the outstanding vistas and stunning alpine tundra scenery, you’ll also be treated to carpets of colorful wildflowers during the summer months as well as wildlife encounters galore – keep your eyes out for marmots and, if you get lucky, you may even get to spot a pika!

Moderate Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

5. Ute Trail to Tombstone Ridge

Want to walk in the footsteps of the Ute and Arapaho Indians who once called the mountains their home? Way back in time, they used this exact same trail to travel between their summer and winter hunting grounds, making it a wonderful way to take a trip back in time and get glimpses of how they used to live.

In fact, the trail is named after the footsteps they left behind!

As you make your way through nature and history, you’ll get to walk on alpine tundra with incredible views of the iconic Longs Peak and Forest Canyon keeping you company the entire way. This is a wonderful hike to do with kids because you don’t necessarily have to finish the whole 4 miles and can turn around whenever you feel like it.

It is also a great add-on to your scenic drive along Trail Ridge Road!

6. Bridal Veil Falls via Cow Creek Trail

Did you know waterfalls aren’t that common in Colorado? Even though its natural beauty is unparalleled, huge falls aren’t exactly its strong feature, which makes Bridal Veil a whole lot more memorable!

This hike in Rocky Mountain National Park will not only have you getting close and personal with the scenic Cow Creek region of the park, catching glimpses of wildlife regularly, and walking among aspens and meadows, but it will also have you arriving at a striking 20-foot tall cascade.

As far as popular hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park go, this one is one of the longest ones out there at 6.1 miles, but with so much to see along the way, you’ll have plenty of excuses to stop and catch your breath. Keep your eyes out for elk and mule deer, who are regular guests of this trail!

7. Deer Mountain Trail

If you’re on the lookout for a hike that is a bit longer than the most popular ones in Rocky Mountain but doesn’t require enormous amounts of effort, the Deer Mountain Trail is your go-to.

The Deer Mountain trailhead is located on Trail Ridge Road, about 3 miles west of Beaver Meadows entrance.

As you make your way along the trail, you’ll be treated to fabulous views of Little Horseshoe Park and the Mummy Range almost at the beginning before gaining altitude and getting to see clear birds-eye views of Estes Park, Longs Peak, Moraine Park, Hallett Peak, and the Continental Divide.

Keep your eyes wide open along the hike, as this is a favorite area for deer and elk, especially on the flatland section of the trail.

8. Gem Lake Trail

The Gem Lake trail begins at the Lumpy Ridge Trailhead, near the Twin Owls, which are two massive rocks that resemble two large owls that overlook the town of Estes Park.

Living up to its name, Gem Lake is a bit of a “hidden gem” in Rocky Mountain, making it an excellent trail for those looking for a bit of solitude while hiking.

The lake is nestled amid an expansive field of granite domes known as the Lumpy Ridge Area. Because it has no inlet or outlet streams, it’s actually more of a (gorgeous) shallow pond created by snowmelt and rainfall.

To reach the trail, head to the Lumpy Ridge Trailhead, where you’ll start hiking for two miles along several switchbacks that provide insanely gorgeous vistas of Estes Park, Longs Peak, and the Continental Divide.

Even though it’s a steep climb up, the fascinating rock formations you’ll get to see along the way paired with the beautiful views of the lake towered by mighty peaks make the effort you’ll put in well worth it. Make sure not to miss the views from the rocks behind Gem Lake!

9. Odessa Lake via Fern Lake Trail

Put in simple words, the Odessa Lake and Fern Lake Trail is a cirque of majestic landscapes and different terrains, making it one of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park to tackle if variety in scenery is what you’re after.

This 8.8 miles out and back trail begins at Bear Lake and will have you hiking through a dense pine forest before arriving into the wide-open Odessa Gorge, where you’ll be able to catch glimpses of Grace Falls in the distance.

Once you make it to Odessa Lake, you’ll be treated to views of looming mountain peaks that look as though they’re rising from its shimmering waters. If weather conditions are right, camping is allowed at the lake, so consider overnighting here if you’re up for a night spent under the stars!

After gawking (or camping) at Odessa Lake, continue your adventure onto Fern Lake. This trail will take you along the Big Thompson River, alternating between open and forested areas where you’ll find aspens, lodgepole pine, ponderosa pine, cottonwoods, and willows.

As you continue onwards, you’ll pass Arch Rocks, which are a set of massive rock formations that look larger than life. Not too far after, you’ll stumble across The Pool, which is the spot where Fern Creek meets the Thompson River and the last stretch of trail before arriving at Fern Falls, Fern Creek, and finally, Fern Lake.

Tip: You can actually do this hike backward by beginning at Fern Lake and then getting to Odessa Lake. Check out the shuttle services for hikers available and see which lake fits your schedule best!

Challenging Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

10. Chasm Lake Trail

Rocky Mountain National Park is a haven when it comes to impressive pristine lakes, and Chasm Lake may just be one of the most beautiful of them all.

The Chasm Lake Trail is one of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain, especially if what you’re after is a longer feat with challenging parts to test your skills with.

Aside from the alpine lake you’ll get to see at the end, the entire way to it will have you swooning at the gorgeous scenery on offer, including spectacular views of Longs Peak, a striking amphitheater with unusual rock formations, and even a lovely waterfall!

Chasm Lake is hands-down one of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park!

11. Continental Divide Trail to Mount Ida

Keen for a challenge? If you’re done tackling the easier hikes, or you simply want to head straight into rugged nature and conquer a difficult trail, this day hike is guaranteed to please.

The Mount Ida Trail is a 9.3 mile out and back hike near Grand Lake, which will have you crossing a vast array of varied (but equally stunning) scenery as you make your way to the top. Among the highlights, you’ll get to see a beautiful lake, a forest you’ll hike through, the clearest 360-degree views in Rocky Mountain National Park, birds-eye views of Poudre Lake, as well as stunning vistas of the Never Summer Mountain Range.

Moreover, wildlife spotting is another highlight of the trail, with yellow-belled marmots being the stars of the show!

12. Mills Lake, Black Lake, Frozen Lake Trail

They say good things take time, and the Mills Lake & Black Lake Trail proves just how true the saying is.

Black Lake is one of the most spectacular lakes in Colorado, but one that requires a bit (okay, a ton) of effort to reach. If you don’t mind a challenge, though, this is by far one of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park to take on.

To get there, you’ll need to do a pretty strenuous hike (about a 10-mile round-trip hike) with a hefty elevation gain through Glacier Gorge, but you’ll be glad you made the effort long before you reach the end.

Striking lakes, several waterfalls (including Alberta Falls), and Glacier Creek are just a few of the landscapes you’ll get to see as you move forward on this hike.

The trail is part of the Glacier Gorge Trailhead. It’s pretty easy at the beginning, but it gets tougher pretty soon.

Don’t worry, though. There is always the option to turn around at any point. A series of quaint wooden bridges will help you pass along several marshy areas between the lakes, and you are likely to see some moose roaming around.

13. Sky Pond via Glacier Gorge Trail

If you want to see striking alpine lakes while visiting Colorado, but hikes like Emerald Lake sound a tad too easy for you, the Sky Pond trail is a fantastic alternative for those looking to challenge their hiking skills.

Not only will you get to catch breathtaking views of dramatic valleys, looming granite spires, and Sharkstooth and Taylor Peaks along the way, but this hike also homes two of the most beautiful alpine lakes in the park, making every step of the way an absolute treat for those who are into unraveled natural scenery!

14. Keyhole and Longs Peak via Longs Peak Trail

It’s not exactly a secret that one of the best things to do in Colorado for outdoor enthusiasts is getting to conquer one of its 58 fourteeners, and Longs Peak may just be the most iconic one in the entire state!

While there are plenty of routes available for hikers, the Keyhole Route is by far the best one to follow, especially if what you’re after is an excuse to test out your hiking skills.

Rated as extremely challenging, the Longs Peak via Keyhole Route is a 14.5 mile (out and back) trail that boasts a whopping elevation gain of almost 5,000 feet.

As you ascend, you’ll be challenged by enormous vertical rock faces, loose rocks, and various steep cliffs.

Scrambling is a must on Longs Peak Trail, making it a pretty challenging hike even for experienced peak collectors!

This is definitely not a trail for the faint of heart, but it is definitely one of the best trails in Rocky Mountain National Park for those who are experienced enough to tackle it.

Make sure you wear a helmet and don’t hike without checking first if weather conditions are ideal for summiting.

15. Twin Sisters Peak Trail

If you’re looking for a challenging (but extremely rewarding) hike, the Twin Sisters trail is guaranteed to please because the incredible views at the top are simply striking.

The Twin Sisters Peak Trail begins at the Twin Sisters Trailhead near Lily Lake.

At the beginning of the hike, you’ll find yourself crossing forested terrain before reaching a massive landslide area. As you proceed higher and the forest begins to fade out, you’ll be able to catch glorious views of various peaks, including Longs Peak, Mount Meeker, Lily Mountain, Estes Cone, and Powell Peak.

At 2.9 miles in, you’ll reach the tree line, where you’ll be able to get excellent views of the two Twin Sister Peak summits. A bit further on, you’ll be able to choose which peak to summit. It’s considered much easier to reach the western peak, making it the more popular destination for hikers, but both peaks are accessible with a little effort.

As a tip, if you plan on doing the Long Peak hike via Keyhole Route, Twin Sisters is considered a great hike to warm up and acclimate first.

Rocky Mountain National Park Hiking Trails Map

Click here to access a free and interactive map of all hiking trails at RMNP. The pins on the map mark the trailhead so you can easily find your way through the park using your mobile.

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.

Final Thoughts on Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park

We hope this list of the best trails in Rocky Mountain National Park helped you come up with the perfect hiking itinerary for your time at the park.

Even though there are hundreds of miles worth of terrain (seriously, there are so many of them that you could easily spend an entire year hiking and still not do them all), these trails are a great way to start getting acquainted with the park and get to see some of its most iconic sights.

Have you ever been hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park? Which was your favorite hike and why? Feel free to let us know all about your experience in the comment section below!

How to Pack for Your Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

Many people come to Rocky Mountain National Park without really thinking about what to pack or what they might need in an emergency. Here are some of the essentials to always have with you.

Happy backpackers returning from a successful camping trip at Lost Lake

Far too often visitors head into the mountains entirely unprepared for the wilderness. Besides dressing appropriately, it is important to bring more on your hike than just your cell phone and car keys. If you end up lost or injured, having the following essentials will enable you to better handle the situation.

Navigation (maps & compass)

Sun Protection (sunglasses, sunscreen, lip balm, sun hat)

Extra Clothing (rain protection, warmth, extra socks, gloves, hat)

Illumination (head lamp & batteries)

First Aid Supplies

Tools (knife, multi-use tools, duct tape)

Hydration (water filter & bottle)

Signaling Devices (whistle, mirror, high-visibility clothing)

Emergency Shelter (bivy sac, tarp)


The most important thing to have in your pack is an old-fashioned map and manual compass together with the knowledge of how to use them. They aren’t very heavy or expensive and may save you in an emergency. The National Geographic Trails Illustrated Topographic Map is a good option. You also need a simple compass, which you can buy for about $10–$20. If you aren’t comfortable reading a topographical map and using a compass, take a few minutes and watch the linked instructional videos. This is all very old school, but you want these in your pack. They may save your life.

There are of course more high-tech options out there. However, they all have significant limitations. The main limitation is that they rely on battery power. You can help to compensate by bringing a battery backup but when that also runs out, the high-tech device in your pack is meaningless weight. In many emergency situations, people are stuck in the wilderness for days or even weeks. No battery will last that long. Additionally, these are fragile electronic devices, and if they were to be damaged by a fall, water exposure, or an electrical strike, you are again stuck. So, bring a map and compass with you and know how to use them, just in case.

Once you have those in your pack, then you can take advantage of some of the modern options available. There are numerous apps for your phone such as Gaia GPS, AllTrails, and many others. With such apps you can download detailed maps of the areas you plan to hike, and the app will help you know where you are even when you lose cell reception, assuming you downloaded the detailed maps before you left. These tools will not only help you find your way but can also track your trips, and many have a lot of other fun features. There are also dedicated GPS devices that are designed for this purpose. They are usually waterproof and have a long battery life. I mentioned elsewhere that there are some devices that have not only the GPS capability but can also serve as a personal locator beacon that can summon help in an emergency. Some of them even allow you to send texts via satellite when you are far from any cell connection.

Sun Protection

Coloradans often boast that they get more sun than places like San Diego or Miami with over three hundred sunny days a year. This makes for beautiful dark blue Colorado skies and great hiking, but it also comes with some drawbacks. Because of the high elevation of Rocky Mountain National Park the rays of the sun are much more intense. At Bear Lake the UV rays are 40 percent more powerful than at sea level and they continue to increase by about 4 percent for every additional 1,000′ in elevation gain. As a result, it is very easy to get burned in the mountains not only in the summer but also in the winter. Not only will this harsh light quickly burn any exposed skin, but it is also very hard on the eyes. In the winter people sometimes suffer from snow blindness when their eyes become burned by the sun. Even though snow blindness is usually temporary, it is definitely something you don’t want to happen out in the wilderness.

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It is therefore essential that you always wear sunglasses with full UV protection. Cheap sunglasses may actually cause your eyes to dilate and let in more harmful UV rays, causing even greater harm to your pupils than if you had no sunglasses at all, so get ones with proper protection. Additionally, you’ll want to lather on the sunscreen before you leave the trailhead and take additional sunscreen with you to apply as needed. In the winter it is important to also cover areas such as under your chin and nose since light will reflect off the snow below you. You’ll also want to wear sun-protective lip balm. Some hikers wear lightweight loose clothing that has UV protection in the fabric. You can find this type of clothing at most outdoors stores such as REI or the hiking stores around Estes Park and Grand Lake. Additionally, it is a good idea to wear a UV-protective sun hat while out in the mountains, especially is you have less hair to provide natural protection.

Extra Clothing

You never know what the weather is going to do when you are in the mountains, no matter the time of year. The wisest thing to do is pack your backpack with the idea of what with items you might need to survive a night in the mountains in case the unexpected happens. Do you have enough clothing to stay warm at night? In particular, do you have a warm hat, gloves or mittens, a warm sweater or jacket, as well as a weatherproof (wind and water) shell? Some folks like to bring along an additional pair of warm socks and two thick plastic bags about the size of bread bags. This way if you have gotten your feet wet you can dry them, put on a pair of dry socks and then before you put your feet back in wet boots, put a plastic bag on each foot to serve as a moisture barrier. This isn’t a great long-term solution but for the short term it is much more comfortable than wet, cold feet.


Never leave a trailhead without a head lamp in your pack. If the hike ends up taking longer than you expected you might find yourself out at night, which can be very disorienting. Because the mountains block the horizon, it can get dark very quickly unlike other places where the sky can give off light for hours after the sun goes down Some people think they can rely on their phones for light. This works for only thirty minutes to an hour. When your phone runs out of power, you are stuck. It is a good idea to have some sort of light that will work for several hours. Headlamps are better than flashlights as they allow you to keep your hands free. Carry several spare batteries for your headlamp and keep the batteries separate from the headlamp until you need it lest the batteries discharge or corrode. Just remember to put those batteries in before it gets fully dark, as you will have some trouble doing it at night without another light. Without a headlamp or a full moon, you’ll have to sit by the trail until the sun rises again the next day. Even in summer, this will involve some long hours out in the cold and exposed to the elements.

First Aid Supplies

Always keep a first aid kit in your hiking pack. Essential items include antiseptic cream, bandages of various sizes, gauze pads, tape, pain reliever such as ibuprofen, tweezers, blister pads, moleskin, allergy medicine, any personal medicine you might need if you had to spend the night. You can find great little first aid kits that include most of the basics at most outdoors stores. If you plan to travel in the wilderness regularly, take a Wilderness First Aid course to help you know what to do in an emergency in the backcountry. Whether or not you’ve taken a course, it is wise to carry either a physical or digital copy of a wilderness first aid book. It will have all sorts of helpful information to guide you if you find yourself in an emergency.

Fire Starter

While making fires in Rocky Mountain National Park is illegal in all but a few special areas, if one’s life is in danger, then the wise use of fire may keep you warm and alive until help can arrive. For this reason, it is good to have with you what you need to start a fire in the wild. This includes waterproof matches, a lighter or flint, as well as fire-starter sticks or squares made of something like wood chips and wax. A candle can also be helpful to maintain a flame while getting a fire started.

Be aware that the Rocky Mountains are a high desert and so it tends to be very dry. With great ease one could burn down an entire forest. So, choose a location where you can completely control the fire, where the ashes are not likely to drift into the dry treetops or the flammable undergrowth. When you are done, be sure to not only extinguish the fire but also douse it completely with water and stir it well, since fire can actually continue to burn underground. If you don’t have easy access to water, use dirt, sand, and a stick to really stir until it is no longer hot. In 2013 an illegal wildfire spread across the park and to the border of Estes Park. It resulted in the evacuation of a large area of Estes Park and cost $6 million to put it out.


You don’t need to bring a hammer or drill, but there are a few small pieces of equipment you may find very helpful. The first is a pocketknife or better yet a multi-tool with a knife. This can be helpful for everything from creating wood shavings for a fire to making a small spear for catching fish. A multi-tool often includes things such as a small saw, pliers, a screwdriver for fixing your hiking poles, or other useful little tools that can help you fix your equipment or survive in the wild. The second item that you should certainly have with you is duct tape. There are so many uses for this in the wilderness, from protecting your heels from developing blisters to patching a rain jacket or creating a splint with pieces of wood. If you start to feel a “hot spot” on your foot, a place where the boot is beginning to rub, put a large piece of duct tape on that area and it will likely prevent you from developing blisters. It is also helpful to carry a length of parachute cord. It is small, lightweight, and very strong and can come in handy for a wide variety of situations.


When you head out into the mountains, you’ll be burning a lot of calories. To keep going you need to bring adequate food with you. Candy bars and potato chips are not what your body needs. Choose foods that will last in both the heat and the cold and will provide you with proper nutrition to fuel your body. Be aware that meat and cheeses may go bad in your backpack, and chocolate may turn into a runny mess unless these types of items are properly insulated. Consider bringing snacks such as trail mix, granola bars, nuts, dried fruits, and dried meats. For sandwiches consider using tortillas instead of bread, as they are less compressible.

When out for a day of hiking it is best to eat small amounts at frequent intervals rather than eating large meals less often. People often eat too much when they stop and then they find themselves very fatigued just a short time later, as their body has to work too hard to process all that food.

Be sure to bring an empty bag with you such as a Ziplock bag where you can put all of your trash. Check all around you before you leave the place where you ate to be certain that you’ve picked everything up and that nothing has blown away. Pay attention to any micro-trash, those tiny pieces that might be overlooked. Take it all and leave this place pristine for the wildlife that live here and for those who will come after you.


At these high elevations staying adequately hydrated is essential. Your body loses moisture at a much greater rate in the mountains than at sea level but surprisingly you might not feel as thirsty. People are often unaware that they are dehydrated until it is fairly advanced and a serious issue. So be very conscientious about your water intake. There are apps that will remind you to drink and tell you how much you have drunk during the day, and these can be helpful when at elevation. The recommended amount of water intake is 48–72 ounces per day, but if you are out hiking on a hot summer day you may need to drink as much as a liter of water per hour. Your goal should not be to over-hydrate, just be sure you are not ignoring your body’s need for water. Also, don’t substitute coffee, soda, alcohol, or other drinks for what your body needs most, which is water.

So how do you stay hydrated while hiking? Unfortunately, you won’t find water at the trailhead so come prepared. Bring a good supply of water with you. Buy a bottle you can use over and over again while hiking, one that won’t break. The visitor centers near the park entrances have places where you can fill your own bottles with fresh cold water. For long hikes, you will also need a way to clean water that you find along the way.

A SteriPen is one way to purify water in the mountains

While the streams and lakes in the park come directly from melting snow and are generally pretty clean, it still needs to be properly treated, as elk, bighorn sheep, and other animals may have contaminated the water farther upstream. If you don’t clean the water you find, it could lead to giardia, which is a way to lose a lot of weight in the most unpleasant of ways. There are different ways to filter water. Many people choose to bring a pump type of water filter with them, others use special straws, or use a SteriPEN (specialized UV light) to purify the water. Each of these methods has pros and cons. A good outdoor store can walk you through the options. (Be aware that if you are using one of the UV light purifiers, it only works properly with lithium batteries even though it looks like it works with regular batteries. Regular batteries simply aren’t strong enough to fully purify the water.) Remember that without one of these purifying options, your hikes are limited in length by the amount of water you can carry.

Be aware that along with water your body also needs a little salt and electrolytes to maintain its balance. A few bites of a salty snack and a few sips from a sports drink along with enough water can help to keep your body chemistry in equilibrium.

Signaling Devices

If you find yourself lost in the wilderness, you need a way of signaling others. The first item you absolutely must have is a whistle. You will lose your voice after about twenty minutes of yelling, but you can keep using a whistle as long as you can breathe. Another helpful thing to have with you is a small mirror. With a mirror and some sunlight, you can signal a helicopter that may be looking for you. Wearing very bright clothing also helps if you get lost, as it will make you easier to spot. Consider keeping a brightly colored rain jacket in your pack that you can wear if you need to be found.

Carrying with you an emergency locator beacon will be invaluable if you need to be rescued, as you will not only be able to notify the authorities of your need for rescue, but the device will also transmit your exact GPS coordinates. When paired with the other signaling devices listed above, tan emergency locator beacon is an invaluable tool.

Emergency Shelter

If you end up having to spend a night in the wilderness, you will be glad to have some sort of emergency shelter. A small tarp with string can be set up to keep the rain off you during a cold, rainy night. An emergency bivy sac can help you hold your heat and avoid hypothermia. These are made of waterproof, windproof, reflective material that may save your life. They also can be used for signaling for help. Both the bivy and emergency tarp come in small packs that will not take up much room in your backpack.

Additional Items to Consider:

Besides the essentials above, consider bringing:

Hiking Poles

Hiking poles are not just for older people. People of all ages can benefit from hiking poles. They absorb some of the impact on the knees and feet when descending, they help with balance on unstable terrain, and they may actually increase the speed at which you can comfortably hike. However, simply having them isn’t enough; you need to know the best way to use them. Here’s a great YouTube video showing the best way to use them.

Cell Phone and Portable Power Charger

Although cell reception is nonexistent in many parts of Rocky, it is wise to bring a cell phone with you just in case you can get reception. Yet a cell phone by itself won’t do you any good if it loses power, so bring along a portable charger. Ideally, keep your phone off and in a waterproof pouch inside your backpack until you need it. If you are in an emergency situation, you’ll want to connect with the NPS Dispatch (970-586-1203) and then set a schedule with them for ongoing communication. This way you can turn your phone off to conserve power until the scheduled check-in time.

Insect Repellent

Generally, there are very few pesky insects here in Rocky Mountain National Park but on wetter years or when you are traveling near marshy areas you may find yourself attacked by mosquitoes. For those rare situations keep some insect repellent in your bag as well as a mesh head net to wear when they are at their worst.

Garbage Bag

Bring an extra bag that you can use to carry out any trash you come across on the trail. If all of us take a little extra responsibility, we can keep this park pristine for generations to come. You might want to bring a pair of medical gloves to remove the worst rubbish.


This may sound like an odd item to carry, but often when hiking through the tundra there is a strong cold wind. In high winds, you can simply put in some earplugs and prevent earaches. Alternatively, music earbuds can serve the same purpose.

Ziplock and Human Waste Bags

If you use toilet paper in the wilderness, you need to pack it back out with you. For this purpose, keep a few Ziplock bags in your pack. They don’t take up any space or weight and ensure that you can leave the wilderness as you found it.

If you find that you have to do more than pee, bring a human waste bag for poop and toilet paper and pack it out. With the millions of visitors, burying your waste is no longer a viable option.


A pair of gaiters can be helpful year-round. They wrap around the lower part of your leg and boot. In the winter and spring they can keep snow out of your boots and during other seasons they can keep the rocks and sand out. They are handy when you encounter deep mud or if you simply want to keep the bottom of your hiking pants clean. They are also very helpful during tick season, preventing ticks from crawling under your pant leg.


If you plan to visit the park between late October and early May, you will have a much better experience on the trail if you have a set of microspikes such as those made by Kahtoola. They stretch around your boot and provide great traction when you are walking on icy trails. While others are slipping and falling, you can hike right on by without difficulty.




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