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Hiking at Rocky Mountain National Park

The park offers 359 mi (578 km) of trail to hikers, backpackers and horseback riders. Difficulty levels range from the half mile wheelchair accessible jaunt around Bear Lake to the backbreaking ‘Mummy Kill’, recommended only for those with years of mountaineering experience or a death wish. A few of the most memorable hikes are listed below. Many of the trails in the Eastern Part of the Park can be reached via shuttle buses. Snow conditions should be considered before hiking as higher elevations will be snow-covered later into the year.

Easy hikes

  • 1 Bierstadt Lake. (Trailhead is shuttle bus accessible.) A beautiful morning hike, this Lake is situated on top of Bierstadt Moraine giving brilliant views of Longs and the Front Range. As three routes converge on this lake, all of which lead to Shuttle Bus serviced trailheads, this hike can be done many different ways or even tacked onto a bigger venture. Arguably the best route is from the Bear Lake Trailhead to the shuttle parking lot as this 4.5 mi (7.2 km) stroll is mostly downhill. Walk down, take the bus back up.  
  • 2 Lily Mountain. This short hike leads to the top of a foothill near the edge of the park that gives a great view of the front range. A 3-mile hike, the trail is really close to the edge of the park which spoils some of the wilderness feeling you can get far inside the park, however the view from the top is more than worth it. The Lily Mountain Trailhead can be found a little ways south of Estes Park along Route 7.  
  • Emerald Lake. (Trailhead is shuttle bus accessible.) A beautiful tarn in the shadow of Hallets and Flattop, the hike up with take you past three other lakes (Bear, Nymph, and Dream) on route from the Bear Lake Trailhead. Although this trail can get crowded, an early morning start can give you relative solitude on what many people conclude is the best short hike (under four miles) in the park. 

Intermediate hikes

  • Sky Pond. (Trailhead is shuttle bus accessible.) Definitely the most crowded hike given its difficulty in the entire park with good reason. The vast number of features along this hike make it a favorite of many with two waterfalls and three lakes surrounded by increasingly shear and spectacular mountains. If there seems to be a lot of people, do not be discouraged. Beyond Timberline Falls the number of hikers reduce, as many are turned away by the short scramble up the side of falls. The Hike leaves from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead and is 9 miles long. 
  • Fern Odessa Loop. (Trailhead is shuttle bus accessible.) This 7 mi (11 km) trail consists of hiking from the Bear Lake Trailhead down to the Fern Lake Trailhead and taking the shuttle buses back. Not only will you not need to backtrack on this trail, it has several optional side hikes such as Spruce Lake that you can take if you are feeling better than expected. Look forward to hiking across some snowfields as the northern flank of Flattop seems to gather a lot of them. 
  • Flattop and Hallett. (Trailhead is shuttle bus accessible.) The easiest peak in the park is Flattop Mountain, a 9 mi (14 km) round trip up from the Bear Lake Trailhead. Although the route up is spectacular, the summit is less so though making the half-mile walk to Hallett Peak more than worth it. However, even though it is the easiest of the main summits in the park, even Flattop must be respected. People have died on this hike, mostly because they summitted too late and the weather closed in. 

Difficult hikes

  • Bluebird Lake. One of those destinations which is absolutely assured to make you gasp in amazement the first time you see it. Not only is the Lake itself magnificent the hike up is fantastic as well passing by three major waterfalls and magnificent views. The only question is if you can walk the 9 mi (14 km) round trip distance from Wild Basin Trailhead and back. 
  • The CCY. Also known as ‘Chapin, Chaquita, Ypsilon’ takes in three peaks in less than 9 mi (14 km), rising to 13,514 ft (4,119 m). Rising from Chapin Pass Trailhead on Fall River Road this hike is a local favorite with spectacular views of the entire park. Be wary of the volatile weather of the Mummy Range and do not be afraid to turn back with dark clouds approaching. Getting stuck up here in a storm is no picnic. 
  • Shelf and Solitude Lakes. (Trailhead is shuttle bus accessible.) Considered by many the best alpine lake hike in the book, and for good reason. This hanging valley off Glacier Gorge is truly a magical place, but the approach is dfficult at best. A nine mile round trip jaunt from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead on Bear Lake Road the last mile to the lakes leaves the main trail at an easily missed turnoff before climbing an extremely steep slope. If you are unable to find the turn off do not feel bad about continuing on the main trail to Black Lake, a spectacular lake in its own right. 
  • Longs Peak via the Keyhole Route. A classic 16-mile route allowing you to conquer this 14,259 ft (4,346 m) peak, the roof of Rocky Mountain National Park. This hike requires an early start from the Longs Peak Trailhead (head south on Route 7 from Estes Park), early as in 4AM. The last portion of the ascent crosses high above glacier gorge and will either permanently cure, or reinforce, your fear of heights. However, this section is not as dangerous as it seems. The largest danger manifests itself through the unprepared hikers who throng to this trail and have no business being on the mountain. 

Insane hikes

  • Continental Traverse. This hike begins at the Milner Pass Trailhead and continues from there along the continental divide before descending via the Flattop Mountain Trailhead to Bear Lake Trailhead 20 miles (32 km) later. You must be in prime physical condition, be completely acclimated, start at an absurdly early hour, and have extremely good luck as far as weather goes in order to make this work. If you can make this work you will see some areas of the park which very few people get to see, but if weather forces you off the ridge get ready for a long slog to the Kewaunchee Valley to get out. 
  • 3 McHenrys Peak. (Trailhead is shuttle bus accessible.) Climb up past Black Lake in Glacier Gorge and past where the trail ends. Go higher and even higher past Frozen Lake. Climb over Stone Man’s Pass, which except for a few weeks in late August requires crampons. Then continue up the mountain over extremely exposed class three climbing. That is McHenrys Peak. This 13,327 ft (4,062 m) peak is the most difficult non technical (and that’s pushing it) peak in the park. However, this 16-mile hike is considered a gem to those with the wherewithal to complete it, unlocking some of the most spectacular views in the Front Range.