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

Memorial Day in Rocky Mountain National Park

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.

Deer Mountain trailhead
Deer Mountain trailhead
You will see new antlers growing on the elk in May

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.

family photos at sprague lake in rocky mountain national park

2017 – Family Adventures in Rocky Mountain national park

So the following Memorial Day we were back in Rocky Mountain National Park with two little girls. A highlight of our trip was spotting a moose in Sprague Lake. I wrote, Moose Spotting Makes for Memorable Morning Hike Around Sprague Lake.

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!

Waterfalls in the Wild Basin

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.

Our Trip on The Estes Park Aerial Tramway
Estes Park Aerial Tramway

2018 – buying a cabin in estes park, colorado

cabin in estes park colorado
We love our new cabin – it’s a great fit for our family

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.

Fern Falls
Snow hike in Rocky Mountain National Park
Hike to Dream Lake in late May with a few patches of slippery snow near the 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.

Upper Beaver Meadows
Snowy hike around Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park
Views from 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

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.