With 355 miles of trails ranging from leisurely lake loops to strenuous summit trails, there’s a lot of ground for hikers to cover in Rocky Mountain National Park. Day hikes to lakes and waterfalls are great for families, offering opportunities to view wildlife and visit some of the park’s historic structures. Seasoned backpackers will enjoy exploring the high country and the trails along the Continental Divide. No matter what your skill level, there are many popular hikes in the park.
Keep in mind that since Rocky Mountain National Park is a high altitude region with elevations ranging from 7,500 to more than 12,000 feet, visitors coming from lower altitude areas will need to take and precautions to adjust. This means drinking lots of water — which you should be bringing plenty of, since the park has limited facilities — as well as resting frequently and not skipping meals.
Every year, thousands of people attempt to summit the park’s dominant geological feature, the towering Longs Peak. Although it is by no means a hike, the Keyhole Route is the easiest way up. Other climbs can get very technical. Experienced climbers might appreciate the snowbound route up the Trough from Glacier Gorge trailhead. There’s also a variety of tough, technical ascents on the peak’s northeastern face, a 900-foot granite slab known as the Diamond.
Visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park’s backcountry must acquire a backcountry permit if they are planning to camp in the park overnight. Reservations cost $20 during peak season, and spaces are limited. The high-elevation regions of the park pose special hazards to travelers, including variable weather and risk of lightning strikes, particularly during the summer months when afternoon thunderstorms are common. If you’re going to trek the high country during July or August, make sure to get below the tree line by the afternoon.
It’s best to familiarize yourself with the park’s backcountry guide before planning a trip to the wilderness. There is a printable version with maps as well, but keep in mind that trail conditions are constantly changing due to a variety of factors, from weather to fallen trees to beetle infestation control. Make sure to check in with a ranger upon entering the park.
The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail runs through Rocky Mountain National Park. In 1997 the park adjusted the route to incorporate a new extended loop that runs through 30 miles of some of the area’s most spectacular scenic vistas.
While there aren’t any lifts in Rocky Mountain National Park, die-hard skiers gravitate to the park every winter to take advantage of its diverse and challenging conditions. Snow conditions can vary greatly depending where in the park you decide to go. The west side typically gets more snow overall, achieving adequate coverage of even early in the winter. This makes it prime ground for alpine touring, a hike-to-ski regimen that may be familiar to off-piste skiers. But remember, this isn’t a resort — it’s a good idea to book a guided tour, especially if you’re new to this demanding variety of winter sport.
The eastern side of the park is generally drier than the west, receiving less snow in the average season, particularly at elevations below 9,600 feet. Wind pushes snow into drifts, leaving some areas exposed. Therefore, any skiing that’s available is bound to be extra challenging. However, the patchy snow cover means that the east is ideal for winter hiking, especially at lower elevations. You might not even need snow shoes to traverse some of the trails. Ranger-led walks and snowshoe tours are available as well.