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.
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.
You will find details about these destinations (and more!) in the following pages:
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.
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.”
We just reserved our cabin for Memorial Day 2020 in Estes Park. Of course in the back of my mind, I’m thinking we might have to cancel it because we don’t know when Rocky Mountain National Park will reopen and the stay-at-home orders to protect us from getting and spreading Covid-19 will be lifted. Here are the official details.
Since the future is looking foggy, I’m going to take a look back at some of our favorite Memorial Day moments of the past 5 years. I’ve included tons of links to hikes we’ve done over Memorial Day weekend plus a list of the top hikes we recommend this time of year in Rocky Mountain National Park.
2015 – Rocky Mountain National Park with a baby
We took our now 5-year-old daughter to Rocky Mountain National Park for the first time. We hiked up Deer Mountain which is a great early season hike. You can read more here. When we weren’t hiking, we were looking at vacation properties and we ended up buying our first Colorado property which was a two bedroom condo at the historic Mary’s Lake Lodge. Since then, we’ve made countless family memories in our home away from home.
2016 – Rocky Mountain National Park with a Toddler
The next Memorial Day, our baby was a toddler and she could walk short distances on her own. One of our favorite early season short hikes is Sprague Lake. This loop is less than a mile. We wrote, Toddler Self-Guided Tour of Sprague Lake.
For longer hikes, we decided to graduate from our ergo baby carrier to a new kid carrier. We tried it out for the first time up to Gem Lake. We love the views on this hike. We wrote about it in, Riding High in New Kid Carrier.
But what would we do with the old baby carrier? On this trip we found out we were expecting baby #2.
2017 – Family Adventures in Rocky Mountain national park
We also visited the Wild Basin area of Rocky Mountain National Park. This is a less crowded area of the park which has beautiful waterfalls and wildflowers. We posted, Family Friendly Waterfall Hike in Wild Basin. Our baby gave it a thumbs up!
memorial day in estes park
In the town of Estes Park, we enjoyed a ride up the Aerial Tramway. May is also a great time of year to enjoy the restaurants and shops in downtown Estes Park. We have a list of our favorite restaurants here.
2018 – buying a cabin in estes park, colorado
The following Memorial Day we picked up the keys to our new cabin. We enjoy having a free-standing property so we don’t have to worry quite so much about our noisy little family disturbing other guests. We can’t get enough of the mountain views, sitting by the fireplace, and home cooked meals on the back deck. It’s in the rental pool at Solitude Cabins, you can learn more about renting it here.
On this Memorial Day weekend the weather was warmer, so we were able to go on some wonderful hikes to Fern Falls and Dream Lake.
2019 – Epic road trip to new mexico and colorado
Last year we made our way to Rocky Mountain National Park on Memorial Day weekend, but first we went to Santa Fe, New Mexico. I wrote about traveling with kids to Santa Fe here, and here. Our road trip continued with an afternoon at the Great Sand Dunes National Park which is located in southern Colorado. We spent the night in Buena Vista, Colorado (which was gorgeous) before heading up to lunch at a brewery in Boulder, Colorado and finally Estes Park. During our time in Estes, we hiked in the Upper Beaver Meadows and on a snowy stroll around Bear Lake. My husband enjoyed a solo hike on Hermit Park’s Kruger Rock trail.
best Memorial Day HikES in Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park, colorado
> Deer Mountain – 6.2 miles roundtrip with great views. > Sprague Lake – half mile loop with benches, views and wildlife. > Bear Lake – half mile loop, higher (9,475 feet) elevation could mean snow > Nymph Lake & Dream Lake – .5 miles to Nymph Lake, 1.1 miles to Dream. > Gem Lake – 1.6 miles each way. The views on the way up are the highlight. > The Pool & Fern Falls – 1.7 miles to the Pool and 2.6 miles to Fern Falls. > Kruger Rock – 2 miles each way. Hermit Park has separate fee from RMNP. > Copeland Falls & Calypso Cascades – short waterfall hikes in the Wild Basin. > Upper Beaver Meadows – 1 mile hike in lower (8,437 feet) elevation.
tips for memorial day weekend in rocky mountain national park
> Scenic drives such as Trail Ridge Road are open seasonally based on weather conditions. Trail Ridge Road typically opens the last week of May. You can get up-to-date information by calling (970) 586-1222. > Pack layers for changing weather. Higher elevations typically get chillier. > Expect snow, ice, mud…really anything is possible. Waterproof gear and footwear are helpful. We’ve also used trekking poles to help navigate snow covered trails. > Estes Park hosts an annual art festival on Memorial Day weekend, for more information about events check out visitestespark.com
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.
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.
Less than a mile in, you reach a junction with the Limber Pine 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.
If you look closely, you may even spot our cabin 😊 (excuse the grainy iPhone-zoom photo).
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.
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!