These Rocky Mountain Trails Are Among My Favorites in Colorado

Rocky Mountain trails like the ones you see here lead to lakes, waterfalls, autumn color, and beautiful scenery, among other things.

The trails on this page all lead to lakes within the park. If you'd like to hike to a waterfall in the park, you can visit my Rocky Mountain National Park trails page.

Bring a picnic if you like; although there are no picnic tables, you can usually find a comfortable enough spot to sit and enjoy the scenery while you eat.

Mills Lake Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park

All of the Rocky Mountain trails on this page are in Rocky Mountain National Park and I've hiked each one of them. I've also taken most of the pictures on this site to give you a personal perspective. Hope you like them!

So, are you ready to hike these Rocky Mountain trails? Let's go then!

Cub Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park

Cub Lake
Trailhead-Cub Lake
One-way distance-2.3 miles
Difficulty level-moderate
Approximate one-way hiking time-1 hour and 15 minutes;
Elevation-8,620 feet

Directions to Cub Lake trailhead: from the Beaver Meadows entrance to the park, turn left on Bear Lake Rd. which is the first road after you pass through the entrance station. Follow Bear Lake Rd. then turn right at the sign for Moraine Park campground. Follow this road until you see the sign for the Cub Lake/Fern Lake trailheads and turn left onto it. This will take you to the Cub Lake trailhead and a small parking area. Get here early if you can...it's a popular trail.

The Cub Lake trail starts out by crossing a bridge over the Big Thompson river. As you walk, watch for elk since this is a popular place for them to be, especially in the fall. Also, you'll see a good number of aspen trees along this trail, making it an excellent place to hike in the fall, usually from about mid September to early October.

Although the first part of this Rocky Mountain trail is flat, you will soon start climbing. You'll be leaving the big meadow behind and moving through trees and alongside some smaller meadows where you might also see elk. Eventually, you'll reach Cub Lake, which in summer, is covered by pond lilies. In the distance, you'll be able to see Stones Peak and it's probably worth a picture. Enjoy...

Bierstadt Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park

Bierstadt Lake
Trailhead-Bierstadt Lake
One-way distance-1.4 miles
Difficulty level-moderate
Elevation-9,416 feet

Directions to Bierstadt Lake trailhead: from the Beaver Meadows entrance to the park, turn left onto Bear Lake Rd. which is the first road after you pass through the entrance station. Follow Bear Lake Rd. for approximately 6.4 miles until you see the Bierstadt Lake trailhead on your right. (It'll be just after the Boulder Brook/Storm Pass trailhead). There are about twelve spaces at this parking lot and you'll also find a restroom here.

This Rocky Mountain trail starts to climb almost as soon as you set foot on it but it's worth it because after you get beyond the trees, you'll be in an open area. From here, you'll be able to see Longs Peak, Hallett Peak, and Flattop Mountain. Also, when you get high enough up, you'll be able to see Sprague Lake down below and it looks like something you'd see in a postcard.

Since this trail tends to be fairly open, it can be hot in the summer so be sure to bring plenty of water. You'll find a good collection of aspen trees along the way so if you're here in the fall, be ready for the show. When you reach the top of your climb, the trail will level off into a wooded area. From here, the trail will take you around the lake but there are several smaller trails that will take you to the lake itself, so follow the signs for Bierstadt Lake.

Bierstadt Lake, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park

Bierstadt Lake
Trailhead-Bear Lake
One-way distance-1.6 miles
Difficulty level-moderate
Elevation-9,416 feet

Directions to Bear Lake trailhead: from the Beaver Meadows entrance to the park, turn left onto Bear Lake Rd. which is the first road after you pass through the entrance station. Follow Bear Lake Rd. for about 9.3 miles until it ends in a large parking lot, then look for a good parking spot. Even though the lot is large, it's still a good idea to get here early in the summer since it's a popular trailhead. Restrooms are located here too in case of need.

The Bierstadt Lake trail that starts at Bear Lake trailhead is only a little longer but it's also an easier trail. It starts out relatively smoothly and you'll be hiking through a combination of pine and aspen trees. (Think autumn gold). After a little while, the trail gets a little steeper but it doesn't last long; you'll be at the lake before you know it!

At one point, the trail starts to get rocky so I think of it as a true Rocky Mountain trail. It's not loose rock though so it's pretty easy to navigate. Otherwise, most of this hike takes you through a forested area which makes it cooler in the summer. Once at the lake, you'll find the same trail around it so you can either do that or take one of the smaller trails to the lake itself. Either way, enjoy!

Mills Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park

Mills Lake
Trailhead-Glacier Gorge Junction;
One way distance-2.8 miles
Difficulty level-moderate
Elevation-9,940 feet

Directions to Glacier Gorge Junction trailhead: from the Beaver Meadows entrance to the park, turn left on Bear Lake Rd. which is the first road after you pass through the entrance station. Follow Bear Lake Rd. for about 8.5 miles until you see the Glacier Gorge Junction parking area on your left. This parking lot includes restrooms and a covered sitting area for the shuttle bus.

This trailhead is one that you definitely need to reach early during the summer months if you'd like to park here. We arrived around 9:30 a.m. and it was too late; the lot was full. So we had to, (and you would have to), drive up to the Bear Lake parking lot which is much bigger. From there, the shuttle bus can be taken back down to Glacier Gorge.

The first part of this Rocky Mountain trail is easy and leads you to Alberta Falls. It's especially pretty in the early summer because of the spring runoff so it's a very popular spot. Get here early and bring your camera!

Beyond the falls, the trail becomes more moderate and follows Glacier Creek. The trail continues upward through spruce and fir until eventually, you will reach a large area of flat bedrock. From this point on, the trail is marked by piles of rock, which are called cairns. Follow them and they will take you to one of my favorite lakes in the park!

Fern Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park

Fern Lake
Trailhead-Fern Lake
One-way distance-3.8 miles
Difficulty level-moderate to difficult;
Approximate round-trip hiking time: 5 hours;
Elevation-9,530 feet

Directions to Fern Lake trailhead: follow the directions to the Cub Lake trailhead, (first lake on this page), then from there, follow the dirt road all the way to the end of the road. Try to get here before 8:30 a.m. during the summer because it's a very popular trail.

The Fern Lake trail leads you first to Fern Falls, (see 4th description on this page), so I'll tell you about the Fern Lake trail from that point on, so you won't have to read the same description twice.

From Fern Falls, (where we saw a few columbine flowers sprinkled nearby), the trail continues on fairly steeply, away from the creek. You will still be in the forest though, so plenty of shade can be had. Eventually you will cross a creek, and not much further after that, you will reach the junction for the Spruce Lake trail. From that point, you are almost to Fern Lake. Just a little further...

Bear Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park

Bear Lake
Trailhead-Bear Lake
One-way distance-.5 mile loop;
Difficulty level-easy
Approximate round-trip hiking time: 20-25 minutes;
Elevation-9,475 feet

Directions to Bear Lake: from the Beaver Meadows entrance to the park, turn left onto Bear Lake Rd. which is the first road after you pass through the entrance station. Follow Bear Lake Rd. for about 9.3 miles until it ends in a large parking lot, then start looking for a good spot.

Bear Lake is probably the most seen, (and photographed), lake in the park and the Rocky Mountain trails which lead from it are definitely the most heavily used. So, if you’d like to take a quiet walk around this lake, your best bet is to arrive sometime after the fall color season and before people start showing up here for snowshoeing.

We took our walk around the lake in mid October, and only encountered about three other small groups of people. So you will probably encounter fewer people here from about mid October to later November or maybe a little later. Each year will be a little different. Of course, it always helps to arrive earlier in the morning and on weekdays if you can.

From Bear Lake, you can choose to follow it around to the right or the left. Either way, you will find a good number of benches where you can sit and enjoy the scenery. This Rocky Mountain trail is flat most of the way around except for a couple of places where it goes gently up or down, depending on which direction you’re going. Also, there is a good sized patch of aspen trees on one side, which is beautiful in the fall. Enjoy…

Dream Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park

Dream Lake
Trailhead-Bear Lake
One-way distance-1.1 miles
Difficulty level-moderate
Approximate one-way hiking time: 40 minutes;
Elevation-9,900 feet

Directions to Bear Lake Trailhead: please see directions to Bear Lake, above.

This Rocky Mountain trail to Dream Lake is probably the most heavily used trail in the park and with good reason. On the way to Dream Lake, you will pass Nymph Lake which is a beautiful little lake in its own right. In the summer, it's covered with lily pads, some of which have yellow flowers on them. We also saw ducks here, including a baby duck.

From Nymph Lake, the trail continues steadily upwards, and you'll have nice views of both Hallett and Longs Peaks. You will also find Indian paintbrush scattered in different spots along the trail. After a short time, you'll come to a branch in the trail. The left branch goes to Lake Haiyaha and the right branch goes on for the last .1 mile to Dream Lake. Cross Tyndall Creek and you'll be close to one of the prettiest lakes in the park.

Lake Haiyaha, Rocky Mountain National Park

Lake Haiyaha
Trailhead-Bear Lake
One-way distance-2.1 miles
Difficulty level-moderate
Elevation-10,220 feet

Directions to Bear Lake trailhead: please see directions for Bear Lake, (above).

Here's a Rocky Mountain trail that makes you wonder when you're going to reach the lake; not because of distance but because you pass by several smaller lakes before you reach Lake Haiyaha. Maybe it should be called Lake Haha! (The picture below is one of these such lakes.) Anyway, from Bear Lake, just follow the trail towards Dream Lake. At about the 1 mile mark, you'll see the sign for Lake Haiyaha pointing to the left.

Lake Haiyaha trail, Rocky Mountain National Park

Take that Rocky Mountain trail and you might also want to pace yourself because it's relatively steep for a short while. It switchbacks up the mountain through the woods and then eventually leads you to an open area. Here, you can look down and see both Bear and Nymph Lakes. From this point, you can also look up at Longs Peak.

Soon, you'll be back in the trees again and eventually, you will cross a bridge over Chaos Creek. Shortly after this, is a tiny lake on your right. Keep following this Rocky Mountain trail and you will see another small lake on your left. Just follow the path through the big boulders until you see a large, gnarled limber pine. Lake Haiyaha is hiding right behind this grand old tree.

Loch Vale, Rocky Mountain National Park

Loch Vale
Trailhead-Glacier Gorge Junction or Bear Lake;
One-way distance-2.7 miles; 3.2 miles from Bear Lake;
Difficulty level-moderate;
Approximate round-trip hiking time: 3 hours and 15 minutes from the Bear Lake trailhead; a little less from Glacier Gorge Junction.
Elevation-10,180 feet

Directions to Glacier Gorge Junction: please see directions for Mills Lake. Also, if you arrive at this parking lot too late to find a spot, (it fills up fast), you have a couple of choices. One, you can drive on up to the large Bear Lake parking area and take the free shuttle bus back down, (summer only), or two, you can start your hike from the Bear Lake trailhead and hike the trail down to Glacier Gorge Junction. It's only .5 mile from the Bear Lake trailhead down to Glacier Gorge Junction.

This Rocky Mountain trail to Loch Vale first takes you on an easy walk to Alberta Falls. From there, the trail starts to climb steadily but moderately. Eventually, you will reach a fork in the trail and you want to follow the right fork. Not long after this, there will be another fork in the trail and again, you want to take the right fork.

Continue following this Rocky Mountain trail, and after a short while, you will see Icy Brook below you. It will keep you company for a little while and then you'll come to a point where you'll see a waterfall that splashes down the rocky canyon wall. Be careful here since you will be standing near the edge of a cliff.

From that point, the trail switchbacks its way up the mountain until you come to a meadow-like area on your left. From here, it's just a short hike on to Loch Vale. I consider Loch Vale to be one of the beautiful lakes in the park and I think you will too. Happy picture taking!

Jewel Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park

Jewel Lake
Trailhead-Glacier Gorge Junction or Bear Lake;
One-way distance-3.0 miles; 3.5 miles from Bear Lake;
Difficulty level-moderate;
Approximate round-trip hiking time: 3 hours and 30 minutes from the Bear Lake trailhead; a little less from Glacier Gorge Junction.
Elevation-9,950 feet

Directions to Glacier Gorge Junction: please see directions for Mills Lake.

Remember that the Glacier Gorge Junction parking area is very busy during the summer. This applies into the fall too. On the early autumn day that we were here, the lot was full before 10:00 a.m. So we drove up to Bear Lake and hiked this Rocky Mountain trail from there. You can do the same if you need to.

So, the first thing you need to know is that you won't find a sign for Jewel Lake at either of these trailheads; it's simply not marked. However, if you're starting from the Bear Lake trailhead, you will find a large map there that clearly shows Jewel Lake. Jewel Lake is located just beyond Mills Lake.

So of course, you need to follow the Rocky Mountain trail that leads to Mills Lake. If you've hiked from this trailhead before, you know that you pass through aspen trees, and that a short and easy walk leads you to Alberta Falls. Though the falls are nice at this time of year, I highly recommend seeing them in the spring or early summer, when the volume of water is much greater.

Beyond the falls, this Rocky Mountain trail starts to get rocky, (no big surprise!), and steeper. Continue on until you reach a fork in the trail. Here, you want to take the right fork towards Mills Lake. Not long after, you'll reach another fork in the trail. This time, take the left fork and it will lead you up to Mills Lake.

Enjoy Mills Lake, (and the ground squirrels!), for as long as you wish, then follow the Rocky Mountain trail around the lake. It follows along near the water's edge and on the opposite side, you'll make a short climb. Shortly thereafter, you will come upon Jewel Lake as well as a nice view of Longs Peak. Though smaller than Mills Lake, I think Jewel Lake has its own charm. It's marshy and tends to be more peaceful since fewer people visit it.

Lake Helene, Rocky Mountain National Park

Lake Helene
Trailhead-Bear Lake
One-way distance-2.9 miles
Difficulty level-moderate
Approximate round-trip hiking time: 3 hours and 30 minutes
Elevation-10,580 feet

Directions to Bear Lake trailhead: please see directions for Bear Lake.

This Rocky Mountain trail to Lake Helene is another one that isn't marked by the park so here's what you need to know: from Bear Lake, follow the Bear Lake trail counter-clockwise around the lake until you see a trail branching off to your right. This leads to Bierstadt Lake, and it's where you want to start your hike.

The first part of this Rocky Mountain trail takes you through aspen trees so if you can be here in the fall, so much the better! After about 1/3 of a mile, you come to a junction in the trail. You want to follow the left trail, towards Flattop Mountain and Odessa Lake.

As you climb this portion of the trail, you will probably notice an imposing mountain off to your left. This is Longs Peak and it will keep you company for a while. Eventually though, you'll leave it behind and come to another fork in the trail. This time, you want to follow the Rocky Mountain trail that goes to your right. It will lead you to Lake Helene, and then continues on to Odessa Lake.

At this point, you'll be in a forested area, and not long after, you'll come to a spot where you'll have a sweeping view of Bierstadt Lake. Keep following this Rocky Mountain trail and it will take you across a big rock field. From here, you're about 3/4 of the way to Lake Helene.

The lake itself is in a bowl so you'll know when you're getting close. Be looking through the trees on your left and eventually, you will see it. From this point though, there is no access to it. Just keep following this Rocky Mountain trail until it goes downhill. On your left, you'll see several small trails, none of which are marked. One of them does have a cairn, and this one leads straight to Lake Helene. It was sparkling on this late September day, and there was even some old snow on the cirque surrounding the lake.

Gem Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park

Gem Lake
Trailhead-Lumpy Ridge
One-way distance-1.7 miles
Difficulty level-moderate
Approximate one-way hiking time: 1 hour and 15 minutes
Entrance fee-no
Restroom facilities-yes, at the parking area.
Elevation-8,830

Directions to Lumpy Ridge trailhead: this new trailhead to Gem Lake opened in 2007 and replaces the original Twin Owls and Gem Lake trailheads. To get there from Estes Park, take Hwy. 34 west, (Fall River Rd.), past the Stanley Hotel. Turn right onto MacGregor Ave. Follow the road past the MacGregor Ranch which will be on your left. About a 1/2 mile beyond the ranch, turn left onto Lumpy Ridge Road. This will take you to the parking area and trailhead.

This Rocky Mountain trail to Gem Lake is one of the few trails in the park that you can access for free. So be sure to take advantage of this fact! Just to let you know, the bottom portion of the trail passes through private land, so please stay on the trail.

The trail itself starts off fairly easily but before long, you’re climbing. And after that, you’re climbing most of the way to the lake, without very many level places to catch your breath. Still, you can stop and rest whenever you want to, and the scenery is worth it.

There are all sorts of large rock formations along the way, and in some spots, it looks like trees are growing right out of the rocks. Speaking of the trees, although there are plenty of them along the way, it’s not thick enough to be a forest, so this Rocky Mountain trail is probably hot during the summer.

Paul Bunyan's Boot Rock

You will pass several stands of aspens along the way, which is always good for fall color. At one point, you will come to a big open area where you can see Estes Park and Lake Estes off to your right. After enjoying the view, continue up the trail and eventually you will reach another point of interest which is a large boot-shaped rock that has a hole in it.

The rock is called Paul Bunyan’s boot. From that point, you’re maybe 3/4 of the way to the lake. But you also have the hardest part of the hike ahead of you. The trail gets steeper and you’ll soon be climbing up tall rock steps. Just take your time, and before long, you’ll reach the charming Gem Lake. If you sit on a rock, you might be greeted by chipmunks. Have fun!

Emerald Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park

Emerald Lake
Trailhead-Bear Lake
One-way distance-1.8 miles
Difficulty level-easy to moderate
Approximate one-way hiking time: 1 hour;
Entrance fee-yes
Restroom facilities-yes
Elevation-10,080 feet at Emerald Lake;

Directions to Bear Lake trailhead: please see directions for Bear Lake.

This Rocky Mountain trail to Emerald Lake starts out relatively steeply on the climb to Nymph Lake which has many lily pads on it. You’ll see Nymph Lake on your left at the 0.5 mile mark. The trail follows around the lake and then starts climbing again. You will soon have views of Longs Peak off to your left.

Keep working your way up this Rocky Mountain trail, and in a short time, you’ll reach Dream Lake at the 1.1 mile mark. From this point, the trail follows along the length of Dream Lake at an easy pace. After you pass the far end of Dream Lake, the trail starts to climb again. But at this point, it’s only a short distance to Emerald Lake. So take your time, and enjoy the scenery :-).

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