Rocky Mountain National Park Top 5 Day Hikes
Hashtag 59's blog is back with my five favorite day hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park since I recently spent a week in this beautiful place and hiked every morning for seven days.
The above picture is my Dad, myself, and cousin Chris at the number three day hike on this list in 1985 and again in 2017...same rock even!
Prior to sharing the hikes here are some minor details about Rocky Mountain National Park!
For those of you unfamiliar Rocky Mountain National Park is located in Colorado and is just a short 75 minute drive from Denver International Airport. It’s one the most visited parks in the country and is over 250,000 acres. Which makes it a HUGE place but not even close to one of the biggest of the 59 National Parks.
(See Death Valley, Gates of the Arctic, Wrangell-St. Elias, and more for the biggest ones.)
RMNP has multiple park entrances and two tourist towns (Estes Park and Grand Lake) that you can stay in on both the West and East sides of the park. I grew up staying in Estes Park (the east side of the park) when visiting. These towns sport fun restaurants, breweries, mini golf courses, short drives to the park entrance, and of course TONS of ice cream and T-shirt shops!
You can also stay in the park in an RV/camper, tent camp at one of numerous campsites, or even get a backcountry permit from the park to stay in true wilderness bliss.
When visiting a National Park you can do tons of different activities. You can take a ranger tour, watch educational videos at the visitor center, learn about the history of the park, volunteer in a restoration project, just drive to the scenic overlooks and take pictures, go on a bike ride, take a wildlife tour, have a picnic, or HIKE the heck out of the place!
Hashtag 59 loves hiking in the 59 National Parks and the impact they can have on your life and the stories of others you get to meet and relationships that will be created as a result of it.
If you are headed to RMNP there’s not a better way to explore the place than getting into the park early, ditching your car, and getting off the road and onto the beaten path!
Here are my FIVE favorite day hikes in RMNP based on hiking the heck out of this place since I was two years old. I have visited probably about 20 times in my life and done around 100 total day hikes in the park (some being repeated.)
5. Twin Sisters
Do not attempt this hike on day one! Adjusting to altitude is vital in RMNP and you need to go on a few smaller hikes the first few days and be in good shape for scaling the Twin Sisters Peaks. But if you are in a good shape and adjusted this summit climb is incredible!
You will leave from the Twin Sisters Trailhead across the street from gorgeous Lily Lake. It is a steady four mile climb to the top of this mountain and gain over 2,000 feet in elevation. You get 360 degree panoramic views of the Continental Divide and the largest mountains in RMNP. You will feel the same you might after running a half marathon or triathlon. Wiped out but 100% accomplishment.
This is NOT A EASY HIKE but it is a BREATH TAKING LIFE CHANGING HIKE. One fun side story is my brother and I ran into bighorn sheep on the trail on the way down and we had to sidestep about a mile off the trail to avoid these large animals by hopping from boulder to boulder. An experience we will not soon forget.
4. Ouzel Falls
This trail gives you ton of bang for your buck! Try going in June or July as the snow is melting at a furious pace higher in the mountains and the waterfalls on this trail are ripping and roaring. You will leave from Wild Basin Campground (you will head down a well maintained dirt road for several miles prior to arriving. Just keep going!).
Right away you will meet beautiful Copeland Falls and as you walk along the river and climb to Calypso Cascades you will get to experience the true river rush and power of the high altitude snow melts.
After another amazing stop at Calypso Cascades you get to climb another mile to Ouzel Falls. Make sure after eating your apple that you march off up to the side to get a full straight on view of Ouzel Falls (it will require some rock scrambling and willingness to get the shoes muddy.)
This hike is 5.5 miles round trip with some elevation gain. If you are in decent shape it’s a great hike to adjust to the altitude.
Wild Basin Campground has plenty of other trails that go farther than Ouzel Falls (including Ouzel Lake, Bluebird Lake, Pear Lake, and Thunder Lake) but for a family affair this is a great few hour hike that will get you in touch with the beauty that is RMNP.
I also got to witness seeing a Moose for the first time in my life when leaving this trailhead in June!
3. Mills Lake and the Loch
Leaving from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead (arrive early to get a parking spot!!!) or heading out from the Bear Lake Parking lot (an early arrival is necessary as well!) you get to head up to Alberta Falls on the way to Mills Lake and the Loch. After seeing this majestic waterfall you will get to cross out into the vast openness of RMNP en route to beautiful Mills Lake.
Mills Lake is named after Enoch Mills. One of the pioneers of RMNP and a brave explorer. This lake is pristine and lies below some of the most gorgeous mountains in the lower 48. Here’s a pic of my dad, myself, and my cousin Chris at Mills Lake in 1985 and then again in 2017! We have aged but the lake’s beauty has hardly been worn off.
After enjoying your time at Mills Lake head back to the trail split and prepare to march up a tough mile to the Loch. It will be worth it! Take some time to walk around this alpine lake and if you are a fisherman catch and release is available here.
The crowds stop at Alberta Falls and you will feel like you own this special place if you arrive early enough in the morning.
The combination of the mighty falls and the two amazing lakes gives this 7 mile or so roundtrip hike well worth it and number three on my day hike list.
2. Chasm Lake
Longs Peak is the highest point of RMNP and is a towering 14,000 foot plus peak. At the base of the most popular scaling ascent of the mountain lies gorgeous Chasm Lake. But don’t be fooled about this hike, it’s a bear and will push your limits!
You will be above tree line for a good portion of this hike and you will gain over 2,500 feet of elevation gain (from a starting elevation of 8,000 feet) and have a roundtrip of over 8 miles.
It is in my opinion the best lake hike in RMNP. You will be rewarded from your rock scramble with one of the most special and beautiful places in the entire lower 48.
There’s not much else to say. If you are in a good shape and have a few days of altitude adjustment under you belt treat yourself to this one of a kind experience on this hike.
You won’t be disappointed.
Below is a picture of the iconic Chasm Lake!
1. Flattop Mountain and Hallets Peak
My day hike winner for RMNP! John Muir said “The Mountains are calling and I must go.” The lakes, waterfalls, wildlife, rangers, and history of RMNP are wonderful. But you are in the mountains and there’s something about reaching the top of one to truly have a sense of transformation and accomplishment when hiking in the Rocky Mountains.
It’s a feeling that is hard to describe until you push yourself beyond what is comfortable and have the same experience for yourself.
Flattop Mountain leaves from the Bear Lake trailhead and climbs…and climbs…and climbs…until you scale past tree line and you are out and up with the clouds.
It is a beast of a day hike by itself but once you reach this outstanding, and flat as the name portrays, peak you can walk across it to push yourself one final mile to get to the top of Hallets Peak.
It looks like a little scramble from afar but as you cross the Flattop Summit and begin making your final .8 mile ascent straight up the rocky trails your chest will be begging for oxygen.
As you reach the top and plop down to stare across the continental divide, the glaciers, and the Rocky Mountain peaks you will most likely have the thought that you are on the top of the world.
That’s because you are close at over 12,800 feet in the air!
Here's a view from the top!
Leave early for this hike as you will want to be off the summits and on your way down by late morning/early afternoon in case of thunderstorms. (Use caution, check the weather, and pack the proper supplies prior to attempting any type of hike like this.)
Life starts to get more clear at the top of a mountain and what you gain from an ascent and day hike like this you can utilize to grow both personally and professionally in your life!
That’s my take on the top 5 day hikes in RMNP.
There are tons of lists out there that will feature other hikes but this is from my personal experience and the desire to make Hashtag 59 a place that will be different than other hiking and travel blogs!
What do you think? Are the mountains calling you?
Is there a hike that you have taken on in RMNP that you believe should have been on the list?
Leave your thoughts in the comments below and make sure you sign up for our quarterly print giveaway in the footer!
Because Adventure Travel Feeds the Soul,
Mike R and The #Hashtag59 Crew