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

Homer Rouse Trail – Revisited

A couple of years ago, I wrote about our hike on the Homer Rouse Trail in Estes Park, Colorado. We’ve noticed some pretty major changes to the area, so we decided to revisit the hike on our most recent trip.

We were lucky to have two cars with us, so we decided to leave one parked off of Fish Creek Road near the turnoff to Cheley Colorado Camp. We shuttled our family so that we could walk downhill one-way from the Lily Lake/Twin Sisters parking area back to our parked car. (Last time we walked both ways)

Park near Lily Lake and Twin Sisters to start hike on Homer Rouse Trail

Going one-way made the hike approximately 2 miles, which was attainable for our 4-year-old to walk on her own while my husband carried our 2-year-old on his shoulders.

The Homer Rouse Trail is a public trail that is on private property. It is not in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Walk by Historic Baldpate Inn in Estes Park, Colorado

We walked past the historic Baldpate Inn before entering the gravel road where motorized vehicles are restricted. Horses, bikes, and dogs are welcome on the trail. We passed by groups on horseback and on a bike riding tour that looked challenging and fun. Friendly dog owners allowed our girls to pet their playful pets, which was the highlight of their walk.

Trees Cleared on Homer Rouse Trail

We didn’t walk far before we came to areas along the trail that were cleared of trees. I’ve heard two theories about the clearing. The first is that the trees were cut down to help prevent potential forest fires.

Aspens in Estes Park Colorado

The second theory is that the trees were not native to the area, so eventually the forest will grow back with new trees that will thrive. (I’m guessing aspens)

Trees cleared by Twin Sisters in Estes Park Colorado

I thought seeing so many trees down would ruin this hike for me, but if I trust that the goal is long-term forest conservation and restoration, I can see the positive. The views of the surrounding mountains and valley below are much more open.

Wildflowers in Estes Park Colorado

And wildflowers were popping up where once they would have more competition for sunlight. Here is an article from Estes Park News with more details.

Homer Rouse Trail is a dog friendly trail in Estes Park Colorado

Besides the vast views, my favorite part of the trail is when the dirt road turns into a narrower wooded section of the hike.

Fish Creek

We continued downhill through the pines until we reached a small bridge over the creek. We turned right on the dirt road for the final stretch.

Twin Sisters views

I took one last look back at Twin Sisters before we arrived where we parked our car. It’s amazing how much the Homer Rouse trail has changed in the last couple of years, but I think it’s still a hidden gem.

If you are looking for more hikes that you can take your dog on, check out our new page – Dog Friendly Hikes Near Estes Park, Colorado.

Kruger Rock—A Dog Friendly, Early Season Trail just outside Estes Park, Colorado

We love hiking with our kids, but it’s also a gift to go on a solo hike. On his birthday (May 30th), Eric took a more challenging hike without the girls – and where better to get a moment away than in a place called Hermit Park?

We are always on the look-out for new (to us) hikes in and around Rocky Mountain National Park, especially in the springtime when snow still covers many of the higher-elevation destinations. Rock Cut Brewery recently started a hiking club, and posted about their group adventure to Kruger Rock a month or so back, and it looked like just the right fit for a quick spring challenge.

The Kruger Rock Trail is located in Hermit Park, just outside of Estes Park on Highway 36. I’ve driven by Hermit Park hundreds of times, but had never stopped to check it out. Its maintained by Larimer County, and there are dozens of campsites, a nice pavilion, and a few other trails to explore. You can read more on their website, here.

Entrance for day usage (hiking) was $9, handled at an easy-to-use self-pay system just off the highway. The trailhead is a couple of miles back near the large pavilion—I found the trailhead locater in the AllTrails app to be helpful in finding it, as the official sign was down when I visited.

Kruger Rock Trail 2 miles each way

The trail is roughly 2 miles each way, steadily gaining just under 1000 feet of elevation. The first section of the trail isn’t spectacular, but is certainly pleasant, as you wind through the pine trees up towards the ridge line.

Kruger Rock Trail Colorado

Less than a mile in, you reach a junction with the Limber Pine trail.

Hiking near Estes Park dog friendly location
kruger rock trail

From here, things start to get more scenic, both looking back over the valley you are ascending, and soon, with views of the Estes Valley beginning to emerge.

views along kruger rock trail
views kruger rock trail of estes valley and rocky mountain national park

If you look closely, you may even spot our cabin 😊 (excuse the grainy iPhone-zoom photo).

solitude cabins

From this point forward, the views are truly wonderful, and the adventure culminates in a fun scramble to the summit. I’m not an expert, but I would put the brief climb at class 3, although its just a few moves and has zero exposure to be concerned about. Might be a little tricky with a dog, but even without the final scramble, the views are fantastic.

class 3 hike up to summit of kruger park trail in hermit park
great views at summit of kruger rock trail in hermit park near estes park colorado

I was back at the trailhead in a total time of just under an hour and a half, including a 5-10 minute stop at the summit. It was an awesome hike, with very few other people out that day (granted it was a Thursday, and I got a relatively early start). Nearly everyone else I encountered had their dog as a hiking partner, and as mentioned above, it seems like a great place to bring them, outside of perhaps the very end of the trail.  Given how close Kruger Rock is to Estes, and how early in the season the snow melts out, we will definitely be recommending this one to our friends, and visiting again soon!

Additional Dog Friendly Hikes Near Estes Park include Lily Mountain and the Homer Rouse Trail.