Where Should I Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park?

Rocky mountain national park timed entry permit

Planning a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park this summer? You need to make a reservation. The reservation will give you a two hour window to enter the park. The new system is designed to cut down on traffic and allow guests to practice social distancing. You can make a reservation on recreation.gov. There is a $2 online reservation fee in addition to the cost of park pass.

Keep in mind that the lines at the park entrances may be long, so for example if your timed entry is between 8:00 am and 10:00 am, I would avoid arriving last minute at 9:45 am. Also remember to print your pass and have it with you.

hiking near estes park, colorado

Visitors to Estes Park who do not have a reservation to Rocky Mountain National Park have several great trail options outside the park boundaries. If you don’t mind paying a fee, we recently hiked Kruger Rock in Hermit Park. The views are amazing!

Free adventures near Estes Park include walking or biking around the Lake Estes loop, climbing Lily Mountain, or hiking the Homer Rouse trail.

hike in Hermit Park to Kruger Rock near Estes Park, Colorado

favorite hikes in Rocky mountain national park

Sometimes we spend hours debating which hike we should do during our limited time in Rocky Mountain National Park. The reality is, you can’t go wrong. To help make the decision a little easier, I put together a chart (see above) to narrow down the hikes that are best for you based on the number of miles you want to hike, the popularity of the trail, and type of destination such as lake, waterfall or summit.

Bierstadt Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

You will find details about these destinations (and more!) in the following pages:

Best Rocky Mountain Hikes Under 2 Miles

Favorite 2-4 Mile Hikes

Favorite Rocky Mountain Hikes for Families: Beyond 4 Miles

Sky Pond, Twin Sisters, and Flattop Mountain are some of my favorite hikes in the park, so I included them in my decision chart. I don’t classify these destinations as ‘family hikes’ because they are more strenuous. I recommend them to people looking for a fun challenge.

On the way to Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park

Articles we’ve written about these destinations:

Sky Pond

Twin Sisters

Flattop Mountain

My list is just the beginning. There are countless adventures in and around Rocky Mountain National Park. I relate to the following quote by Abner Sprague, owner of Sprague Lake Lodge from 1910-1940.

‘If he (the guest) fails to see every nook and corner of the place on one visit, he comes year after year…. Our guests never get tired, the same old urge to visit spots seen more than once brings them back on their next vacation. They go home rested.”

Abner Sprague
Moose at Sprague Lake in Rocky Mountains
Sprague Lake

Kruger Rock with Kids

Last year my husband wrote about his solo hike to Kruger Rock near Estes Park, Colorado. He enjoyed the trail so much that we decided to try hiking up to Kruger Rock as a family this year. I was blown away that my 5-year-old daughter hiked this on her own. My husband carried our younger daughter. We all enjoyed the challenge and appreciated the amazing views.

hermit park open space

Hermit Park Open Space is located Southeast of Estes Park, Colorado on highway 36. There is a daily entrance fee of $9 per vehicle. We went to Hermit Park to hike to Kruger Rock. Additional activities include camping, biking, and horseback riding.

Kruger ROck Trail

The hike to Kruger Rock is 1.7 miles each way. The starting elevation is 8,444 ft and gains 878 ft. Dogs are allowed on a leash.

This is a popular attraction, so plan to arrive early to get a parking spot. During our visit, we practiced social distancing by pulling on face masks when we were unable to keep 6 ft distance between us and other hikers (which was not often).

Kruger Rock in the distance

The hike begins through a meadow where we enjoyed seeing a variety of wildflowers. You can see Kruger Rock peeking above the trees in the distance.

views – Lake Estes and Estes Valley

We stopped several times on our hike for quick snack breaks.

I believe this purple flower is a pasqueflower. According to the national park’s website, it is one of the earliest flowers to bloom.

When I think of aspen trees I typically imagine the golden aspens of autumn, however the new green leaves in springtime are also stunning.

More views of Estes Valley

The hike uphill can get tiring, so we were thankful for the lookout points where we could stop to take in the expansive views of the Rocky Mountains. These spots are rewarding on their own for anyone who wants to cut the hike short.

The final ascent up Kruger Rock is a scramble. This was the first time our daughter attempted a summit like this, but we felt that the rock walls on both sides made this fairly safe from a serious fall. For extra caution, my husband walked behind her and guided her to the top.

I staid back with our 3-year-old (and snacks) then went up on my own once my husband and daughter came back down. At the top, I enjoyed the cute chipmunks and the surrounding mountain views.

360 views from Kruger Rock

This video shows the 360 degree views from the top of Kruger Rock. We really enjoyed this hike. I’m eager to head back to Hermit Park to explore more trails in this area.

Kid’s Review

I was reading what other hikers have said about Kruger Rock on AllTrails and someone pointed out that they passed kids around age 5 on the hike, but the kids were whining and parents had to help carry them. I was wondering, is she talking about us!? Haha, that would definitely be a good description of the reality of hiking with young children sometimes. So, I thought I’d ask my daughter her thoughts:

Did you like the hike? Yes!

Do you want to do it again? No.

Why? Because it’s really long.

Are you proud that you did it? Yes, because it was really hard.

Advice for other kids? You should keep on going until you reach the top!

I believe the comment I read suggesting that this hike might be better for older kids is valid. I’m also glad we pushed ourselves. I think the overall topic of when to turn around when kids are complaining on a hike vs. when to encourage them to keep going, is something we can continue to explore in future posts.

Helpful Links:

Hermit Park Open Space – Larimer County website

Kruger Rock – A Dog Friendly, Early Season Trail just outside Estes Park, Colorado – Eric’s post from last year

Wildflowers – Rocky Mountain National Park, National Park Service.

More Dog Friendly Hikes Near Estes Park, Colorado

More Early Season Hikes

Alltrails Reviews

Hike to Arch Rocks and The Pool in Rocky Mountain National Park

The hike to The Pool in Rocky Mountain National Park is one of our favorite early season hikes. It’s lower starting elevation (8,150 ft) typically means there is less snow than other areas of the park.

The hike begins at the Fern Lake trail head. There is a small non-paved parking area. The road is narrow for two-way vehicle traffic. There is shuttle service and some additional parking .8 miles away from the trail head.

On our late-May hike we enjoyed spotting spring wildflowers, a busy humming bird, and a garter snake.

Arch rocks

40 foot vertical rocks called Arch Rocks are a main attraction along the way to The Pool. The rocks are 1.2 miles from the trail head.

Arch Rocks

big thompson river

Walking along the Big Thompson River is another highlight of this hike.

The Pool

A wooden bridge crosses over the river. This video shows the water gathering and powerfully flowing into the Big Thompson River. The Pool is 1.7 miles from the Fern Lake trail head. If you turn around at this point, the hike is a total of 3.4 miles. On this trip, we chose to turn around at this point.

Love loop hikes? From The Pool you can split off towards Cub Lake and head back around to the Cub Lake trail head. The final section of the hike between the Cub Lake trail head and the Fern Lake trail head is on a connecting road. This loop is 6 miles.

Fern Falls

Fern Falls

Another option to continue the hike is to make your way up to Fern Falls. To hike to the waterfall, you will add approximately 1 mile each way. Most of this section is uphill. If you are up for the challenge, the waterfall is worth the effort!

Fantastic Family Hike to Fern Falls

Fern Falls with a Fussy Baby

fern lake

The name sake of this trail is Fern Lake, which is 3.8 miles from the trail head. It has spectacular views of Notch Top mountain.

Fern Lake

The Fern Lake trail head is a launching point to many memorable destinations in Rocky Mountain National Park including Arch Rocks, The Pool, Fern Falls and Fern Lake.

on my mind: Ticks in Rocky Mountain National park

Well, it happened! After five years of living tick free, we found several ticks on my daughter during our most recent trip to Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park, Colorado. We were playing in some areas that had tall grass, so it’s not very surprising, but I just wanted to take this opportunity to remind everyone who is out enjoying the great outdoors to be checking themselves and their kids. Here is some additional information about ticks found in RMNP.

Make your reservations now: Trail Ridge Road is Open

Trail Ridge Road is a scenic highway that connects Estes Park, Colorado to Grand Lake, Colorado. The road is located within Rocky Mountain National Park, so a park pass and time-entry permit are required to travel on this scenic roadway which will take you above tree-line and into the alpine tundra. Trail Ridge Road opened on June 4, 2020. Here is an article from Estes Park News about the annual ribbon cutting celebration.

New! Visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park can obtain a time-entry permit through Recreation.gov. 

Father’s Day Gift Ideas for the Active and Outdoorsy Dads in Your Life

Father’s Day is coming up on June 21, 2020. We love the opportunity to celebrate my husband, dad, father-in-law, and grandpa.

Dad’s can be difficult to shop for sometimes. That’s why I put together this list of ideas for the men in our life who enjoy staying active in the outdoors in their own back yard grilling or hiking up mountains. Our favorite men often say they don’t need anything, but I bet they’d love to get one of these fun gifts!

You can click the links below to go directly to Amazon to shop for similar items.

Schwinn Children’s Bike Trailer

Deuter kid carrier

CamelBak Hydration pack – for staying hydrated on long hikes.

Coleman Lantern – camping lantern.

Rocky Mountain National Park, The Complete Hiking Guide by Lisa Foster

adidas slide sandal – classic

Reef’s leather sandal

Coleman portable camping chair

Therm-a-Rest foam camping ground pad – light weight insulation

Foam roller – good for stretching out tight muscles

Weber gas grille

Canon Digital SLR camera

Field & Stream magazine

The River, a novel by Peter Heller

Floor pump – for airing up bike tires

New Era Kansas City Chiefs Superbowl Champions hat

Baseball Prospectus Guide

*This post contains affiliate links.

Thank you for following our adventures!