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.