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Our Guides’ 5 Favorite Rocky Mountain National Park Hikes

By
The Aspire Staff

Search the web and you’ll find plenty of top hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park lists, but they’re all pretty much the same!

Don’t get us wrong — we’re not against playing the hits. Some of the park’s most popular hikes are ranked highly for a reason. What sets our list apart is that it is curated by the trail-hearty Aspire Tours guides, not just someone with Google and an All Trails account.

We know these trails. We know the best viewpoints, where to stop for lunch, and where to spot wildlife. We know how they smell. We know how to read the weather and choose the trail for the conditions of the day. That’s what sets Aspire Tours apart from trying to do a hike yourself — the local expert knowledge to find the best trail and experience for that particular day.  

Pulled from a conversation in the Aspire Tours Slack channel, where we share weather reports, road conditions, wildlife sightings, and more, here are our guides' top 5 favorite hikes.  

1. Sky Pond

The granite cliffs at Sky Pond include The Sharkstooth, Taylor Peak, and Powell Peak.

Sky Pond was the clear favorite among Aspire Tours guides and for good reason.

“It's probably on a lot of people’s lists, but Sky Pond in the National park is my favorite hike by far,” says guide Josh. “I recommend it as often as I can. The scenery, the difficulty, the views, and even the fishing at 10,000+ feet make it an incredible excursion.”  

When you think about an epic hike, a lot of things likely come to mind. Above all, you want a big payoff at the end. But what about a hike that delivers over and over again on the way there? Sky Pond conjures an image and then delivers with several of our favorite scenes in the park.  

We’ll admit, this hike is super popular. But it’s SO worth it. Just start early. Along the way, you get to enjoy the thundering 30-foot Alberta Falls, a lovely gorge, the cascading Icy Brook, and The Loch — a beautiful alpine lake in its own right.

All that and you’re only halfway to your destination! Push further and scramble up the slightly sketchy rock stair section at Timberline Falls. Here, you’ll reach Lake of Glass, your second incredible lake on this hike.  

Still. Not. There.

Continue on to your final destination — Sky Pond. At 10,900 ft. and surrounded by sheer granite cliffs, including The Sharkstooth, Taylor Peak, and Powell Peak. This is the hike of your dreams.

We’ll let guide Dibala sum things up.

“I really love Sky Pond. On the way up, the views from Loch Vale are sweeping and once at Sky Pond, the towering Sharkstooth provides a backdrop unlike anywhere else in the park. Also, the ascent up through Timberline Falls is a fun and slightly scary technical challenge, especially in the winter when it’s frozen over.”  

  • Rating: Difficult
  • Distance: 9 miles
  • Elevation Gained: 1,780 ft.
  • Highest Elevation: 10,900 ft.

2. Emerald Lake

For an easier trek, try Emerald Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park.

If your quads are burning just thinking about climbing to all those alpine lakes above, how about something a bit easier on the legs? The hike to Emerald Lake isn’t totally easy, but only covers about a third of the elevation and distance as Sky Pond.  

That’s not to say the views are any less spectacular. Head deep into the Tyndall Gorge and pass by Nymph Lake and Dream Lake on the way to your destination, and in the summer you’ll even get to enjoy wildflowers.  

According to our guide, Mike, you’ll also spot wildlife beyond the park’s short summer season. When we asked him about his preferred hike, the answer was clear.

“Emerald Lake,” says Mike. “It’s accessible to a broad audience, features classic alpine scenery, and great wildlife (especially in the fall).”

This is another popular trail in Rocky Mountain National Park, and a great warm-up hike if you need time to acclimatize to the elevation. The air is thin up here!

  • Rating: Easy
  • Distance: 3.2 miles
  • Elevation Gained: 698 ft.
  • Highest Elevation: 10,110 ft.

3. Old Fall River Road to Chasm Falls

Old Fall River Road to Chasm Falls is a lesser-known hike with both waterfalls and wildlife.

Looking for fewer crowds, less of a climb, and a good chance at spotting wildlife? Give Chasm Falls a try.  

Just ask guide, Aaron:  

“In the off-season, especially early spring, the hike up Old Fall River Road to Chasm Falls offers amazing opportunities to spot moose in the Endovalley with a killer and not overly-crowded waterfall at the highpoint for a perfect picnic spot.”

In the short peak summer months, you can actually drive right up to the Chasm Falls trailhead and enjoy a short walk to the viewing platform. But for more solitude, venture in outside of those months and take a relatively easy walk up the gravel road to enjoy the falls — arguably one of the best in the park!

  • Rating: Easy
  • Distance: 2.8 miles
  • Elevation Gained: 585 ft.
  • Highest Elevation: 10,110 ft.

4. Mt. Ida

Get rugged with an exposed hike to Mt. Ida on the Continental Divide.

Let’s turn things back up again.

“If you're willing to do something a little harder, I'd add Mt Ida,” says guide Mike. “It's off the beaten path, well down Trail Ridge Road. It's a nice early season above tree line hike. Exceptional wildlife viewing. I've seen a herd of 75 bighorn sheep there. Really nice lamb viewing early in the season.”

We love our alpine lakes, and this hike has some of those too, but it’s time for a real summit view. Mt. Ida delivers.

This is an exposed hike, so paying attention to weather conditions is paramount. You’ll also need some route-finding skills for the last mile or so to reach the summit. It’s fairly rugged, off-trail trekking, but doable if you have hiking experience.  

But the payoff? The views along the Continental Divide and from the summit are stunning. In fact, it might be our favorite summit view in the park.  

Our tips:  Bring the proper gear for ever-changing weather, bring plenty of water, and get your butt off the summit before noon.  

  • Rating: Difficult
  • Distance: 9.6 miles
  • Elevation Gained: 2,465 ft.
  • Highest Elevation: 12,889 ft.

5. East Inlet Trail to Lone Pine Lake

East Inlet Trail to Lone Pine Lake is a beautiful, moderate climb with plenty of chances for wildlife sightings.

From guide Will:

“The East Inlet Trail to Lone Pine Lake on the west side of the park is the most beautiful hike I can think of. Even though some damage from the Cameron's Peak Fire in 2020 is visible, it only reinforces the serenity of the area. You follow a river for the majority of the hike and get exposed to a few different ecosystems. It's also one of the few places that I've run into bears out here, which is pretty neat.”

Near the town of Grand Lake on the west side of the park, this hike gives you a mix of forest, waterfalls, a deep gorge, East Meadow along the creek (a great place to spot wildlife), and finally, a pristine lake with great viewpoints to picnic and soak in the views.  

Though long, the climb is spread out over the hike and not overly difficult, in our opinion. There is generally less of a crowd here and even without the stunning views, the prospect of wildlife along the way gets us excited every time.  

  • Rating: Moderate
  • Distance: 11 miles
  • Elevation Gained: 1,625 ft.
  • Highest Elevation: 9,908 ft.

Ready to Hike With Aspire Tours?

Rocky Mountain National Park is truly a hiker's paradise. We offer too many hikes, summits, lakes, and waterfalls to count — you really can’t go wrong!

Sometimes, it just pays to go with someone who knows the way. Leave all the planning to us, including round-trip transportation to and from your hike from Denver. Whether you’re just visiting or a local looking to venture into the outdoors, Aspire Tours has the perfect half-day Rocky Mountain hike or full-day Rocky Mountain National Park hiking tour adventure ready to go.  

You can even book a private Rocky Mountain National Park hiking tour if you’d like to stick with your own group — be it a work outing, family adventure, or friendly getaway in nature.  

We can’t wait to see you on the trail!

Categories:
Hiking
Tags:
Hiking

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