A New Era in Family Hiking, The Best 3 to 6 Mile Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

This summer we reached a turning point. Gone are the days of baby packs, kid carriers, and short strolls with preschoolers. We will look back on our early years of hiking with fond memories. But let’s be real, hiking with very young children is challenging!

This summer our seven-year-old and five-year-old daughters exceeded our expectations by hiking several of our favorite three to six mile hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park on their own.

Mills Lake

A hike to Mills Lake marked the first big trek of the summer. Mills Lake is in the Bear Lake Corridor of Rocky Mountain National Park. The hike begins at Bear Lake trailhead (9,475 ft elevation). The trail passes by the iconic Alberta Falls. The total distance is 5.6 miles roundtrip.

Looking Back: 2017 post, Seeking Serenity in the Mountains

Mills Lake

EMERALD LAKE

Hiking with best friends was the secret to our successful hike to Emerald Lake. Our group hiked 3.6 miles with an elevation gain of 650 ft. The hike to Emerald Lake is one of the best hikes in RMNP because you pass by Nymph Lake and Dream Lake on your way up. Like Mills Lake, this hike also starts at the Bear Lake trailhead in Rocky Mountain National Park. We didn’t get to enjoy the views at Emerald Lake for long before a sudden hail and rainstorm had us heading down the mountain. By the time we reached the parking lot, the sky cleared, and we saw the most spectacular double rainbow.

Looking Back: 2018 post, Breathtaking Hike to Dream Lake

Young Families in Rocky Mountain National Park

gem lakE

Gem Lake is in Rocky Mountain National Park’s Lumpy Ridge area. The hike is 3.6 miles (1.8 miles each way), gains 1,000 ft of elevation, and features unique rock formations like ‘The Boot’. Rock steps lead to the small mountain lake. These steps are moderately challenging for me. For the girls and their shorter legs, the climb required an extraordinary effort.

Looking Back: 2015 post, Rocky Mountain Tot Goes to Gem Lake

Ouzel Falls

Ouzel Falls is located in the Wild Basin area of Rocky Mountain National Park where abundant wildflowers bloom beside rushing waterfalls. This area is often less crowded and is lower in elevation compared to the Bear Lake area. The hike to Ouzel Falls begins at 8,500 ft of elevation and gains 950 ft. The total distance is 5.4 miles (2.7 miles/way). Before arriving at Ouzel Falls, the trail passes Copeland Falls and the Calypso Cascades which are both beautiful destinations on their own.

Looking Back: 2015 post, Into the Wild Basin in Rocky Mountain National Park

Deer Mountain

The trailhead for this summit hike is located off of Deer Ridge Junction, a few miles west of Rocky Mountain National Park’s Beaver Meadows entrance. The 10,013 ft. summit features sweeping views. The hike is 6 miles total distance (3 miles/way).

Looking Back: 2017 post, Deer Mountain – a Family-Friendly Summit Hike In Rocky Mountain National Park

Deer Mountain, good spring summit hike for families in Rocky Mountains

Blue lake in indian peaks wilderness

Unlike the other hikes in this post, Blue Lake is located in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area rather than Rocky Mountain National Park. The recreation area is located approximately 1 hour 20 minutes from Denver, 50 minutes from Boulder, and 50 minutes from Estes Park. The hike is 6.2 miles round trip and gains 1,250 feet in elevation. The trail passes several mountain lakes including Mitchell Lake. We spotted several moose along the trail.

Looking Back: Post from 2016 hike, Add This to Your Hiking Bucket List, Blue Lake in Indian Peaks Wilderness.

The fact that we were able to experience six world-class hikes as a family fills my heart with gratitude. To celebrate, we purchased the girls’ hiking badges for each destination they reached.

I can’t wait to see which badges they will add to their collections next!

8 Must-See Attractions in Rocky Mountain National Park

May 3 – 9, 2020 is National Travel and Tourism week. Given our current travel restrictions in the United States, the U.S. Travel Association decided on the theme of ‘the Spirit of Travel cannot be broken.’

Since I heard the theme, I’ve been contemplating what the ‘spirit of travel’ means to me. I ran across this quote from novelist Anita Desai.

“Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.”

Anita Desai

That’s it. I feel that a part of me is missing right now. The part of me that likes to travel, explore, find adventure, and plan trips. In a world where I can’t go to the grocery store without a face mask on, it seems silly to miss travel as much as I do. But, I do!

Must-See Attractions in Rocky Mountain National Park

It’s comforting to think the places you love become a part of who you are. In honor of travel week, I put together a list of must-see attractions in Rocky Mountain National Park.

This list includes the places I feel best represent the diverse landscapes of Rocky Mountain National Park. I chose spots that are accessible to most travelers (you don’t have to walk 10 miles to see them). Together, they showcase the dynamic spirit of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a popular destination in Rocky Mountain National Park. The lake sits at 9,475 ft in elevation. Behind the lake, you can see an open view of Hallett Peak. Our kids love walking the half mile loop around Bear Lake. Starting from the Bear Lake trail head, hikers can access destinations like Dream Lake, Emerald Lake, and Hallett Peak.

Bear Lake

Alberta Falls

You can hike to Alberta Falls from Bear Lake, but the shortest route starts from the Glacier Gorge trail head. The hike to the waterfall is less than a mile. After enjoying the magnificent waterfall, you can continue on to Mills Lake, The Loch, or even Sky Pond.

Alberta Falls

Moraine Park

Moraine Park is one of our favorite places in RMNP to spot herds of elk. The Big Thompson River winds through the valley. Compared to other areas of the park, Moraine Valley is lower in elevation, so we typically choose hikes in this area when we are acclimating to high altitude. I recommend a hike to The Pool which leaves from the Fern Lake trail head or a hike to Cub Lake which starts at the Cub Lake trail head.

Hike to Cub Lake in RMNP
Moraine Park

Gem Lake Trail

The Gem Lake trail begins at the Lumpy Ridge trail head. This area has unique rock formations that attract skilled rock climbers. This trail offers views of the Estes Valley and Rocky Mountains that are stunning. Another hike we enjoy in the Lumpy Ridge area is the Black Canyon trail.

Views from Gem Lake trail in Rocky Mountain National Park

Wild Basin

The Wild Basin of Rocky Mountain National Park feels a bit more rugged. You will find towering trees, vibrant wildflowers, and waterfalls. From the Wild Basin trail head, you can hike to Copeland Falls, Calypso Cascades, and Ouzel Falls.

Calypso Cascades

Trail Ridge Road

Trail Ridge Road is a scenic highway that connects Estes Park, Colorado to Grand Lake, Colorado. Along the way, there are several places to pull off to take in the sweeping views of the tundra. On this road trip, you will reach over 12,000 ft in elevation! The Alpine Visitor Center is a great place to stop for a restroom break, snack, souvenir shopping, and to learn more about the unique landscape.

Ute Trail – from Trail Ridge Road

Adams Falls

Adams Falls is located on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park near the town of Grand Lake, Colorado. The hike to Adams Falls is only .3 miles each way. There is a viewing deck for visitors to see the falls from. From this spot, you can continue on to beautiful destinations like the East Meadow.

Adams Falls

Longs Peak Viewpoint

Take a drive down Highway 7, and you will come to a vantage point of Longs Peak that is worth stopping to appreciate. At 14,259 feet in elevation, Longs Peak is the highest summit in Rocky Mountain National Park. 

Learn more about Travel and Tourism week here.

Learn more about the destinations mentioned in this article

Bear Lake: Bear Lake, Dream Lake, Hallett Peak

Alberta Falls: Alberta Falls, Mills Lake, Sky Pond

Moraine Park: Moraine Park, Cub Lake, The Pool, Fern Falls

Gem Lake: Gem Lake, Black Canyon Trail

Wild Basin: Copeland Falls, Calypso Cascades and Ouzel Falls, Finch Lake TH

Trail Ridge Road: Alpine Ridge Trail, Ute Trail

Adams Falls: Adams Falls and East Meadow, (video)

Longs Peak: The Keyhole

Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the places I am missing most. It is a part of me. Ocean views, mountain town, bustling city, desert landscape… what destination are you missing most? I hope you share in the comments.

Into the Wild Basin in Rocky Mountain National Park

A less busy, more remote area of Rocky Mountain National Park is appropriately named the Wild Basin. On our first trip, we almost drove right past the entrance station which is located 19 miles south of Estes Park, Colorado on Highway 7. Once you turn in, the road narrows and leads to dirt roads with limited parking.

Initially our goal was to scout out the area. We headed to the Wild Basin trail head and walked just .3 miles to Copeland Falls. The short, relativity flat walk through tall pine forest is lovely. There is an upper and lower falls, so make sure to go to both.

View of Copeland Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park's Wild Basin Area
This picture of Cecy with her Daddy melts my heart.

The Wild Basin trail head starts at 8,500 ft of elevation. We were pleasantly surprised by how much we enjoyed this lower elevation walk, so we came back on our next trip to Rocky Mountain National Park.

On our second excursion we wanted to push ourselves to go on to Ouzel Falls which is 2.7 miles each way. On this hike, you gain approximately 950 ft of elevation. There is a lot to see on your way to Ouzel Falls. After passing Copeland Falls we hiked to Calypso Cascades where water tumbles down against logs and boulders in a memorable display.

Copeland Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park
Calypso Cascades is located 1.8 miles from the Wild Basin trail head.

The trail follows a scenic mountain stream that you get to cross over several times on sturdy wooden bridges.

Wooden bridge crossing river in Wild Basin in Rocky Mountain National Park

We continued our adventure to Ouzel Falls which is 2.7 miles from the trail head.

Ouzel Falls in Wild Basin, Rocky Mountain National Park

When we were there in early September 2015 the bridge at Ouzel Falls that leads to Ouzel Lake was wiped out from flooding. A crew was there working to rebuild.

Trail Closed during September 2015

We hiked a little off trail to find a better view of Ouzel Falls. Our daughter seemed to enjoy the rushing sound of the falls and the soft mist that was coming off of it.

Ouzel falls splashes down boulders giving off mist

My husband hiked an additional .2 miles to the top of the falls which was somewhat technical and not baby friendly. He waved back down at Cecy and me as we played below.

Views from the top of Ouzel Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park
View from the top of Ouzel Falls

We love that the Wild Basin is typically less crowded compared to other areas in Rocky Mountain National Park. We appreciate that you don’t have to walk far to see a waterfall, but you can also push yourself and have quite the adventure.

Have you been to Rocky Mountain National Park’s Wild Basin area? What did you think?