Rocky Mountain National Park is 415 acres of America’s greatest splendor. Situated just to the East of Estes Park, Colorado, the park sits within the front range of the Rocky Mountains. The Continental Divide cuts through the park, nearly at its center and feeds the headwaters of the Colorado River from the snow melt of its lofty peaks.
The park features a multitude of microclimates and environments: alpine, subalpine, forest, prairie, lakes, rivers and streams. Each playing host to its particular supported fauna: deer, elk, bears, cougars, sheep, birds, and insects. Trails cut throughout the park; some meant for multiple day, back country excursions for the highly-skilled outdoors person, and some for the most amateur, just off the couch day walker. If you were driving through, what would be the best bang for your buck hike?
Here are 5 to recommended Rocky Mountain National Park Hikes.
The Ute Trail
Beginning at Ute Crossing, this four-mile trail allows day hikers to experience expansive views with just 405 feet of elevation gain. Traversing Tombstone Ridge, the trail stays above the treeline for its entire length. Hikers should remember the adage of climbing in Colorado, “If you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes” and prepare accordingly. At this elevation, you should expect a lot of sun, wind, and weather. This is a hike where you will experience high alpine tundra and flora and fauna associated with it. Expect lots of flowers in season, and not many animals year round. During summer seasons, though, you can see elk, sheep, and goats, so keep your eyes peeled.
Tundra Communities Trail
At just over a mile in length, though short, this trail is not for the weak at heart. Starting at 12,110 feet in elevation, you will experience 35% less oxygen than you did sitting on the beach. This is a very easy trail crossing open tundra. The trail area averages only 40 days per year with no frost, so the summer is very brief, and the flowers and animals are very particular to the region. You’ll see mushroom rocks, Toll Memorial, and incredible views of the surrounding mountains, each noted on the marker at the top of the rocks.
Alberta Falls trail
Starting at a measly 9,240 feet of elevation, this 2-mile easy trail will allow you to take in one of the most popular and photographic sites in the park. As you walk through pine and aspen forests, you’ll realize just how beautiful this area can be in the fall. The 30 foot Alberta Falls tumbles down a gorge of Glacier Creek. The cool air, amazing scenery, and thunderous background noise make this an outstanding place for a picnic meal.
If you are longing for alpine lake views, the Emerald Lake trail will provide you with arguably the best view you may get in the park. This day hike is a little bit tougher, three and one-half miles, starting at 9,475 feet, with 650 feet of elevation gain. Some of the gain is in steep shots, so a little huffing and puffing can be expected. Your work will pay high dividends, though, with the views of the mountains and lakes you will experience. It will seem as though there is a lake or vista at every turn of this trail, each as splendid as the next. A highlight-laden trail, in one of the most majestic parks in the country.
If all that elevation, dust, and vigor are not for you, Lake Estes trail offers an easy walk along the Big Thompson River and the shore of Estes Lake. Offering a wide paved path that is perfect for strolling with the dogs, or a casual bike ride, the Estes Trail can still deliver you to a herd of Elk grazing on the tasty grass of the local golf club.
Whatever your reason for visiting this part of Colorado, whether it is the majesty of Rocky Mountain Park or just to get away from the junk in your life, you can drive up, hike and be back in the comfort of town in a few hours with any of these hikes.
So, get out of the car and enjoy the beauty of Colorado.