New Family – Favorite Hike: Black Canyon Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park

Just when I think we’ve hiked every kid-friendly trail in Rocky Mountain National Park, we find a new one and I get so very excited to try it out. Our recent hike on the Black Canyon trail exceeded our expectations. Our young girls enjoyed themselves because of the short distance and rocks to climb on, while I appreciated the unique rock formations and the mountain views.

Lumpy Ridge Trailhead

The Black Canyon trail leaves from the Lumpy Ridge trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park. The Lumpy Ridge is located off of Devils Gulch road in Estes Park, Colorado.

Raptors

This area is known for unique rock formations which are natural habitats for raptors. When raptors make nests in the rocks, the National Park Service shuts down the trail to protect these birds of prey. When planning a trip, just be aware that the trail might be closed from spring through mid-summer.

rock climbing and trail running

The Lumpy Ridge is a popular technical rock climbing destination. You can see Twin Owls perched above the trail. We saw several rock climbers heading up with their ropes and climbing gear. This trail also seems to be a popular spot for trail running.

Twin Owls
Rock climbing for little rock climbers
Walk through aspen grove with Twin Owls in background

Views of the Rocky Mountains

This area offers expansive views of the peaks in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Views of the Rocky Mountains from Black Canyon Trail
Rocks along the trail
‘Tree house’

There was a huge rock and tree right off the trail that my girls LOVED. They pretended that it was their tree house. This was a great spot to enjoy a water break.

We continued our hike, but soon the trail divided. The left leads to climber access trails for Batman Rock as well as The Book, The Pear, and Sundance Buttress. We were surprised to see that the trail continues all the way to Lawn Lake (9 miles).

Towards the right, there is a trail up to Lower Twin Owls and Upper Twin Owls. We decided to head back the way we came, making the total distance 1.2 miles round-trip.

National Park Service map at trail head – I added yellow highlight to show trail section we hiked on.

More hikes from lumpy ridge Trailhead

On prior trips, we’ve enjoyed hiking up to Gem Lake. Seeing our young kids, a park ranger urged us to go on the Black Canyon trail and I appreciate the suggestion. Gem Lake is a great hike, but a good portion of that hike is straight up the mountain.

Links to our posts about Gem Lake:

Rocky Mountain Tot Goes to Gem Lake

Riding High in New Kid Carrier

Scenic Hike to Emerald Lake Lookout – Rocky Mountain National Park

Emerald Lake is one of the most iconic destinations in Rocky Mountain National Park. If you haven’t taken the trip past Nymph Lake and Dream Lake to visit this inspiring spot, I highly recommend it. It’s one of our favorite 2-4 mile hikes in the park.

However, if you are looking for a greater challenge, you can see Emerald Lake from a whole new perspective by hiking from Bear Lake up to the Emerald Lake Lookout via the Flattop Mountain trail. The starting elevation at Bear Lake is 9,475 ft. and the trail continues to gain elevation from this point.

Hike up to Emerald Lake Look out via Flattop Mountain Trail
Hike up to Emerald Lake Look out via Flattop Mountain Trail

We took this trip back in July of 2015 with our friends who wanted to hike up to the summit of Flattop Mountain. We had our daughter with us who was about 8-months-old at the time, so we agreed to hike with them up to the lookout and then hike back down and take a nice stroll around Bear Lake.

Looking down at Emerald Lake
Looking down at Emerald Lake

The trail leading to Flattop Mountain has spectacular views. From this vantage point, you can also look down at Bierstadt Lake, which is another one of our favorite hiking destinations.

You will pass the Dream Lake overlook at 1.7 miles into the hike. Keep going until you spot the dark green lake and see signage for the Emerald Lake viewpoint.

Looking down at Bierstadt Lake
Looking down at Bierstadt Lake.

Our total mileage was about 6.8 miles. (approximately 3 miles up to lookout + 3 miles down to Bear Lake + walk around Bear Lake)

Photo by Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park
Photo by Bear Lake

I can’t believe our little baby is 4.5 this summer! I’m really glad that we keep our family’s hiking journal, so I can look back at hikes we’ve taken in the past with fond memories. I wrote more about our hiking journal here.

More Scenic Hikes Around Estes Park

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

9 Hikes with Amazing Views Near Estes Park, Colorado

Crossing the Divide—Bear Lake to Grand Lake Traverse

Twin Sisters Peaks in Rocky Mountain National Park

A couple of months after our wedding my husband brought me to Estes Park, CO. The first hike we went on was Twin Sisters Peaks. When we made it to the top, I looked over at the surrounding mountains in awe and instantly fell in love with the area.

Newlyweds - Mountain Love
Newlyweds – Mountain Love

Fast forward three years and we hiked the same mountain plus a baby and a sister-in-law! We began at the Twin Sisters trail head which is located six miles south of Estes Park on Highway 7.

Me and my mountain baby
Me and my mountain munchkin

I was excited to share this summit hike with my little one, but next time we will probably leave her home with a babysitter. My husband carried her, but that meant I also carried a lot of weight in my pack so the three of us would have enough water, snacks and gear. Baby gear = diapers, wipes, sunscreen, hat, change of clothes … we could have over-packed!?

We were slowly chugging up the mountain with extra weight on our backs when we ran into the landslide area about 1.5 miles in. We navigated over loose rocks and a steeper slope.

Landslide Damage
Landslide Damage

Once we crossed, we found that the landslide wiped out several switch backs so we had to make it up three steep vertical climbs that were approximately 20-25 yards each. This was the part that I was most concerned about with our baby, even though my husband was very careful.

*2020 Update: This section remains steep, but has been improved.

Despite the new challenges, this is such a fun hike and the views of Longs Peak from the top are truly amazing. This was my sister-in-law’s first summit hike which was very cool to share with her too.

Round trip is about 7 miles reaching 11,413 ft of elevation on the West Summit, a gain of 2,253 ft. The East Summit is slightly higher, but we decided to shorten the trip this time by going up just one side. The final approach to the East Summit is a fun class 2 scramble.

View from the top
View from the top

2020 Update on Twin Sisters hike:

My husband recently hiked Twin Sisters (late May 2020). He took this video from the top of the East Summit on an early morning. Twin Sisters melts out sooner than some of the other summit hikes in the area, so it’s a great early season trail. It’s always good to check trail reports/conditions to make sure you have the right gear, especially during the spring when weather conditions are always changing. For the most part, the trail is similar to the conditions we wrote about nearly 5 years ago. We include Twin Sisters on our list of 9 hikes with amazing views.

View from East Summit of Twin Sisters – Spring 2020