Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most popular locations for outdoor adventures and it is home to many famous hikes, like the Long’s Peak, the Continental Divide or the Sky Pond Hike. While we only had one week in the Rocky Mountains, we did our best to leave as early as possible every morning and see as many Rocky Mountain National Park Trails as we could! Here is my recommended itinerary with my favorite hikes for your next hiking trip to the Rocky Mountain National Park!
Rocky Mountain National Park Tips for Beginners
If it’s your first time in the Rocky Mountain National Park, you have to remember that the altitude will affect your hikes, so make sure to pack well, exercise before you go, and stay hydrated! If it’s your first time in the Rocky Mountain National Park, I recommend reading a very helpful article I wrote for hiking and camping at the Rocky Mountain National Park for beginners! Here are a few tips I always mention:
Pack Well for Your Trip
I put together a great list of things you will absolutely need on your next hiking/camping trip! Main thing to remember – always bring a rain jacket – it will most likely be raining in the afternoons. When we went on our trip, it rained several times every day and we were happy we all had our Marmot Rain Jackets.
Exercise Before You Go
Some hikes you will take will be challenging. Do daily exercise and take walks (preferably in higher altitudes) a few times a week before going on your trip. This will help you feel a lot better when you are hiking in the Rockies and prevent possible injuries.
Start With Lower Elevation Hikes
It will take you a couple of days for your body to adjust to the elevation change. Some of the most challenging hikes we did on our trip were: Bear Lake to Fern Lake, Sky Pond and Mount Ida hike along the Continental Divide. All of these hike are worth it and provide beautiful views, but my personal favorite was the Ouzel Falls hike!
Carry Water With You
Always take more water than you think you would need. It’s harder to hike at the higher elevation, the best thing to do is carry a small backpack with you with all of your gear. You won’t believe how many people we saw hiking in flip flops without any water.
Be Ready For the Rain
If you are hiking in June, there will be snow on the ground. There is even seen it snow in August. The weather can be crazy in the mountains, so always be mindful of the weather and have a rain jacket and good waterproof hiking boots on you.
Go Early or Go Late
This is probably the most important tip: it is very dangerous to be exposed to the rain on top of mountains because of high chances of lightning. Go early in the morning or later in the afternoon to avoid rain and lightning. How early should you go? We left between 6 and 7 AM but if you get to the trail head by 8:00 you will be ahead of a lot of people.
Learn More Rocky Mountains Tips!
I have a full list of useful tips for beginners for hiking the Rocky Mountain National Park trails that will keep you safe and will make your trip more enjoyable!
Rocky Mountain National Park Trails
Are you going to the Rockies? Here are a Few Useful Links You should check out:
- Camping Gear You Need for Your Trip to the Rockies
- Camping Packing Checklist
- Rocky Mountain Hiking Tips for Beginners
- Day Hike Packing List
Day 1 – Settling in at the Moraine Park Campground
Moraine Park Campground was love at first sight! It has so many fun things to do nearby! You can walk to the shuttle stop and take a ride to world-famous scenic hikes, backpacking, fishing, horseback riding and white water rafting!
We stayed at the Moraine Park Campground in the middle of August. This is the first place we got the most authentic experience of the Rocky Mountain National Park! We were setting up our camp during the afternoon rain, saw someone else’s tent flying across the campground and had the first coffee of the trip right after we were done.
I highly recommend staying there if you are with a group of people and prefer to stay on a budget! Prices are as low as $26 per night with a $20/day or $70/vehicle per week entry fee. With 4 people at our tent pad, we just had to pay $15 a night per person! Read my full review of the Moraine Park Campground if you are still looking for a place to camp on your trip!
Traveler’s Tip: there are so many fun things to do when you are camping! If you are planning your camping trip, this list of Fun Activities to Do While Camping from the Outdoor Authority will come in handy!
Day 2 – Bear Lake to Fern Lake
First Hike of the Trip – Early Morning
The day after we set up our camp at the Moraine Park Campground, we were ready to go on out first real hike in the Rocky Mountains. We woke up around 6 am, climbed out of our tents and started working on breakfast.
When we got ready to go, we packed all of our hiking gear and energy bars and drove to the Bear Lake Trailhead.
Bear Lake to Fern Lake Trail is about one-third ascending and two-thirds descending with the high point at Joe Mills Mountain. Along the way, you’ll see breathtaking mountain views, alpine lakes and a really cool waterfall!
Rocky Mountain National Park has a great (and free) shuttle system, which made it so much easier to take this beautiful trail. While this hike is a little challenging, it’s a great warm-up for any bigger hikes you can do on your trip to the Rockies. I recommend taking this hike in the beginning of the trip, because it is not as difficult and it offers many cool spots! If you are going to the Rockies soon, you should read more about this hike here!
Day 3 – Mount Ida Ascent and Continental Divide
Mount Ida Trail is a 9.2 mile lightly trafficked out and back trail. I would recommend starting your hike really early, because most of the trail is exposed. This is a pretty cool trail because for most of the time you are hiking along the Continental Divide. As you are walking the trail, you will see that the Continental Divide separates the waters that drain into the Pacific Ocean from those river systems that drain into the Atlantic Ocean.
The trail begins with pretty steep switchbacks through the woods, however at first you’re protected from the sun. For a considerable distance once you passed the tree line the trail is great to walk on. The trail to Mt. Ida is almost completely exposed and quite windy, so don’t forget to bring several extra layers (and watch the weather). The ascent at the summit is scrambling the boulders with no clear path, but the views from the summit are definitely more than worth it. Mount Ida is challenging but absolutely outstanding hike.
Day 4 – Ouzel Falls Hike
Th 5-mile hike to Ouzel Falls takes you on an amazing adventure past 3 cascade waterfalls, several creeks, beautiful forested trail and ends with an enormous 40-foot waterfall. This was a 5th day trip on our hiking itinerary, right after we hiked the Continental Divide up to Mount Ida. At 2.7 miles hikers will reach Ouzel Falls, which is a very impressive 40-foot waterfall. Although you can see it from the footbridge across Ouzel Creek, you can get a really cool view by traveling off trail for a short distance. This is one of the best Rocky Mountain National Park Trails (and also the most rewarding for the work that you do.) To see more stunning views from this Rocky Mountains trail, read my full Ouzel Falls review here.
Day 5 – Emerald Lake Trail
Emerald Lake Trail is a great recovery trail if you are feeling tired after your previous days of hiking. This 3.1 mile out and back trail offers a number of activity options and is best used from April until November. The hike to Emerald Lake begins from the Bear Lake Trailhead. It could be hard to find parking in the summer months, so you may want to take a shuttle to reach the trail head. From Bear Lake the trail makes a steady climb up to Nymph Lake(very beautiful). Every now and then you’ll catch a glimpse of Longs Peak through the trees. Due to the heavy amount of foot traffic this area receives, much of this section of trail has been paved and it is very easy to walk on.
At just over a half-mile from the trail head hikers will reach the south end of Nymph Lake, a beautiful lake ringed by pond lilies. If you continue up the trail for a short distance you’ll have a nice view of Hallett Peak over the lake. While this trail has a lot of visitors and is not very long, this was the only trail where we saw elk just a few feet away from us! It’s also kid-friendly, unlike some of the other longer trails. If you are going hiking in the Rocky Mountains, I highly recommend spending an afternoon or a morning hiking to the Emerald lake!
Day 6 – Sky Pond Rocky Mountain National Park Trail
This is probably the most difficult trail on this list (why I recommend doing it on the last day), but it’s also the most rewarding one. This trail has so many awe-striking photo opportunities and views and a huge waterfall towards the end. Sky Pond is a 8.1 mile heavily trafficked out and back trail. This trail is best used from June until September.
Keep an eye out for elk near the trail head – they frequently hang out there. Variety of stops on this trail provided places to stop and have some snacks with a great view. At just over eight-tenths of a mile hikers will reach Alberta Falls, one of the more popular hiking destinations in Rocky Mountain National Park. This scenic 30-foot waterfall thunders down a small gorge on Glacier Creek.
After you pass Alberta Falls and keep going, you will see traverse aspen groves, walk the shore of The Loch, pass Timberline Falls, scramble up steep and gorgeous rocky sections of the trail and then you will see the Lake of Glass and Sky Pond almost back to back. Sky Pond was and is one of the most gorgeous sites in the park and in the Rockies. The last mile of ascent is challenging with tons of stairs and elevation gain, save your energy for the last mile and reapply sunscreen (I sure got sunburnt ears at the end of this hike). I think you will really enjoy this hike and will be happy that you did it!
Day 7 – Packing Your Gear and Heading Home!
With these tips, I think you will have a great time camping and hiking the Rocky Mountain National Park trails. This trip was one of the most fun and challenging experiences I had, but it was also very challenging. When we got back to our campsite after hiking all morning, all we wanted a good meal and staying lazy the rest of the evening to get more energy for the hike the next day. After staying away from home for longer than 6 days, I didn’t want to go back to having cell service and living in the city. After going to the Rocky Mountains, you will start planning your next trip to come back again and again!
Are you ready for your trip to the Rockies? Read more about these Rocky Mountains Trails:
Which is your most favorite of the Rocky Mountain National Park Trails?