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

Hike up Old Fall River Road to Chasm Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park

We just got back from a wonderful trip to Estes Park, Colorado and Rocky Mountain National Park. The national park had been closed to help stop the spread of Covid-19. Even though the park is now open, operations will be different this year. One of the biggest differences is visitors must obtain a time-entry permit through Recreation.gov. We purchased a season pass to the national park, and will also pay $2.00/day as a reservation fee. Here is a link to Frequently Asked Questions about Rocky Mountain National Park’s new timed entry system which will start June 4, 2020.

Another change in the park is signage directing visitors to stay 6 feet apart from other groups. When distancing isn’t possible, wear a face covering. Taking a mask off and on was a little cumbersome on the trails, so I’m thinking about ordering us neck gaiters or buffs like this one. That way we can wear them around our necks, and just quickly pull them up when we pass by fellow hikers.

old fall river road

Old Fall River road is a gravel road that travels one-way up to the Alpine Visitor Center. Because of extreme weather conditions at this altitude, the road is typically only available to drive up from July through September (in 2019, the road opened July 12).

When the road is closed to vehicle traffic, visitors use the trail for walking, jogging, and biking. Dogs aren’t allowed on trails in RMNP, but since this is a road, it is one of the few places that dogs are welcome to go on a hike with you inside the national park.

Old Fall River Road begins near the Endovalley Picnic area. When we were visiting, this area was closed so we parked just past the Alluvial Fan. The road between the Alluvial Fan and Fall River Road is approximately 1 mile. We enjoyed the mountain views and towering aspen trees along the way.

Old Fall River Road is currently closed to traffic, but signage indicates that dogs are allowed on leash and two way biking is also permitted.

Did I mention that Old Fall River Road heads up to the alpine tundra? That means it’s basically straight uphill.

For your effort, you are rewarded with some great views.

You will also see several waterfalls on your way including under bridges you cross and flowing down the mountainside.

You will hear Chasm Falls before you see it. This is one of my favorite waterfalls in the whole park. We ended our hike by exploring the lower/middle area of the falls which was a mile from where the gravel road began. There is a viewing platform near the top of the falls which is located an extra quarter mile up the road. Our total hike was 4 miles long, which is right about our family’s limit when hiking with our girls (ages 3 and 5).

This was our first time hiking to Chasm Falls. In the past we stopped by for a quick photo while driving up to the Alpine Visitor Center. The extra effort and time gave us a new appreciation for Chasm Falls as a true destination in the park, and not just a stopping point along the way.

from below Chasm Falls
Chasm Falls
looking up Chasm Falls
Chasm Falls from viewing deck (taken on previous trip)

Helpful Links:

Old Fall River Road – National Park Service site

Best Waterfall Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Road Status – National Park Service site

More Dog Friendly Hikes Near Estes Park, Colorado

Rent our Cabin

We haven’t been able to rent our cabin for the past few months to comply with accommodation orders in the state of Colorado. Starting this week, we are ready to rent! If you are looking for a relaxing place to stay in Estes Park this summer, we hope you consider booking at Solitude Cabins. Also consider following Solitude Cabins on facebook. The management team does a great job at sharing pictures and promotions.

If you are looking for a great place to stay on the West side of Rocky Mountain National Park, I’m happy to share recommendations. Thanks!

*this post contains affiliate links.

Thank you for following along on our adventures!

7 of the Most Romantic Things to do in Estes Park, Colorado

Happy Valentine’s Day week! Last February, I wrote a post about 7 Romantic Things to Do in Estes Park. This post was one of our most popular last year, so I wanted to add 7 additional ideas for everyone planning romantic trips out to Estes Park.

Watch the sunrise over the mountains – On Valentine’s Day, the sunrise should take place right at 7:00 am. Kind Coffee, one of our favorite local coffee shops, opens at 6:30 am. Grab a warm cup of your favorite caffeinated beverage, and take a quick stroll in the Centennial Open Space at Knoll-Willows which is located across the street from the historic Stanley Hotel. The space overlooks downtown Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park.

Not a morning person? This is a great spot in the evening too. Read more…

The Centennial Open Space is a great spot to enjoy an inspiring sunrise or breathtaking sunset in Estes Park, Colorado

Hike to a frozen waterfall (or climb over a waterfall in the summer) – Taking a break from our hectic lives and spending time out in nature always brings us close as a couple. We recently took a winter hike to Alberta Falls which was frozen over. Sitting in the quiet, we could still hear the water rushing beneath the layers of snow and ice.

Alberta Falls in the snow

If you are looking for a thrilling waterfall hike, I loved our adventure to Sky Pond last summer. My husband and I had to climb through a waterfall together to make it to this dreamy destination. If you think waterfalls are as romantic as I do, here are some more of our favorite waterfall hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Timberline Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park

Try out a new (to you) restaurant – there is comfort in returning to our favorite places. (Here is a list we compiled of our top restaurants in Estes Park.) However, this Valentine’s Day I’m craving novel experiences. A few restaurants we are hoping to try this year include Bird & Jim, Clair’s Restaurant and Bar, and Nicky’s Steakhouse.

Play a board game at a local brewery – We have been thrilled to see the number of breweries expand in Estes Park over the last few years. One of our favorites is Rock Cut. This place feels cozy in the winter and inviting in the summer months. It’s a great place to challenge your significant other to a board game over a pint of local brew.

Go indoor rock climbing – Estes Park Mountain Shop has an indoor rock climbing gym that would make a fun and active winter date. You can find out more details about times and pricing on their website.

Star gaze – One of my favorite romantic times during our vacations in Estes Park, is when we put the kids to bed and sneak out to the back deck where we can enjoy a glass of wine, have a moment to talk, and gaze up at the star-filled night sky. For a closer look at the stars above, Estes Park also has an observatory. Book your spot in advance through angelsabove.org.

Sleep in – The thought of snuggling into a warm, cozy bed and sleeping in without an alarm or children to wake us up, sounds amazing to this mom of two little kids + fur baby. If you are looking for a great place to sleep-in, I hope you check out our place at Solitude Cabins for your next trip to the mountains.

Plus: VisitEstesPark.com recently posted ‘3 Ways to Celebrate Valentine’s Day in Estes Park.’

4th of July Weekend in Estes Park, Colorado

I can’t believe that next week we will be celebrating 4th of July! If you are heading to Estes Park, Colorado, I looked back through our ‘archives’ to see what we’ve done on this holiday weekend over the past several years.

From firework displays to waterfall hikes, we’ve always had a blast. A lot of people complain about the crowds this time of year, but the key is just getting up early. We aim to get into the park before 7:00am. I also have a few suggestions for trails that are typically less crowded.

4th of July in Estes Park Colorado

FIREWORKS HIKE

We took an evening hike starting at the Lumpy Ridge trail head up to a spot that looks over Lake Estes to watch Estes Park’s annual fireworks show at 9:30pm. After the spectacular display, we hiked back down the trail with a large group of people who had the same idea. It was magical to see the trail lit up by headlamps. My preschooler thought it was the coolest thing because she got to stay up WAY past her bedtime. It was one of the most memorable 4th of July’s we’ve had (ever).

Estes Park Fireworks Show

Hike in the Wild basin

The Wild Basin area of Rocky Mountain National Park is located approximately 19 miles south of Estes Park on highway 7. The Wild Basin area is more remote than other areas of the park. There is not shuttle service to this area. Even though it is more remote, you will still need to arrive early to find a parking spot, but we’ve been lucky to find spots there even on 4th of July weekend several times.

Once you turn off the highway, drive down narrow dirt roads to get to the Wild Basin trail head. You can walk to Copeland Falls (.3 miles/way) and Calypso Cascades (1.8 miles/way) which are some of our favorite family-friendly waterfall hikes.

Less Busy Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

The Pool is another hike we’ve enjoyed over the 4th of July weekend. This trail is located in the Moraine Valley area of RMNP. I love that you can shorten the hike by stopping at Arch Rocks or extend it by going on to Fern Falls. I wrote more details in this post.

Alluvial Fan

The Alluvial Fan is a “waterfall” (created by the lawn lake flood in 1982) located right off Old Fall River Road near Horseshoe Park in Rocky Mountain National Park. This is a fun spot to explore. I recommend packing a picnic because there are several picnic spots nearby.

Alluvial Fan

Lake Estes

A walking trail goes around Lake Estes and leads to downtown Estes Park. There is a playground, picnic spots, fishing, and boat rental. You can learn more about the fees, hours, and rentals on their website.

Trail Ridge Road & Grand Lake, Colorado

As I write this post (June 26, 2019) Trail Ridge road is closed because of a late-season snow storm. The scenic highway that connects the East and West sides of Rocky Mountain National Park is typically open this time of year and will hopefully re-open in time for the holiday. Visitors can call 970 586-1222 to get updated information.

You can spend a full day on Trail Ridge Road if you stop at the many outlooks to take pictures and spot wildlife. The Alpine Visitors Center is awesome for lunch, bathroom breaks, shopping, and breathtaking views!

We enjoy going all the way over to Grand Lake, Colorado to walk along the shore of the largest natural lake in Colorado, play on the playground, and eat ice cream while strolling around the scenic mountain town. I wrote more about Grand Lake here.

Trail Ridge Road Open for Season? or is Trail Ridge Road Closed?

Additional POSTS to HELP Plan Your 4th of July Trip to Rocky Mountain National Park

Waterfalls, Wildflowers, Weather and Wine – Why I love the Rocky Mountains in July

A Trail Less Traveled

Get the Most Out of Your Rocky Mountain Vacation by Avoiding Crowds, Bugs and Car Sick Kiddos