Rocky Mountain National Park is one of our favorite national parks. It offers some of the most scenic hiking and some of the best wildlife sighting opportunities in the continental United States. We spent one week exploring Rocky Mountain National Park, which we felt was the perfect amount of time to hike a majority of the trails.
- You will hike close to 70 miles in 1 week following this plan – come in-shape!
- Set-up well for early risers
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Here is our perfect one week itinerary for hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park:
Day 1: Arrive, Hike Emerald Lake
On your first day, try to arrive early and settle into your accommodations before heading into Rocky Mountain National Park for a short hike. After flying into Denver on an early morning flight, we started our drive to Rocky Mountain National Park (about 90 minutes from Denver International Airport). We stopped along the way in Boulder. We ate Brunch at The Buff in Boulder and would highly recommend it. Sam got the Huevos Rancheros and Natalie got the Veggie Omelet with killer breakfast potatoes–both excellent.
The Buff in Boulder
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Stay in Estes Park
After this delicious meal, we drove to the cabin we rented in Estes Park, less than 10 minutes from the Beaver Meadows Entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. We highly recommend staying in the Estes Park area as it is very close to the Beaver Meadows Entrance, the most popular park entrance. This location was very convenient for exploring the park, as most of the trailheads are located near this entrance. This close proximity to the park helped limit required driving once we settled into our cabin.
The adorable cabin we rented was tucked away in a quiet neighborhood in Estes Park. We advise you book accommodations away from downtown Estes Park. The downtown area can be very busy and touristy (similar to the Wisconsin Dells or Gatlinburg), making it less than ideal for relaxing. We had a full kitchen and grill at our cabin and planned to pack/cook most of our own meals for the trip. With a short drive into the main town area, we went grocery shopping at the Estes Park Safeway to stock up.
Hike Emerald Lake
After settling into our cabin, we headed into the park around 3pm. We were happy to find parking at the Bear Lake Parking Lot in order to hike the iconic Emerald Lake Trail. The Emerald Lake Trail is a classic Rocky Mountain National Park hike (3.6 Miles, 708 feet of Elevation Gain, Out & Back) that leads to three absolutely stunning lake/mountain views. This hike is fast paced and with being relatively short, it is a great first hike in Rocky Mountain National Park, especially if you are still adjusting to the elevation like we were on day one. This trail is best to hike either early in the morning or later in the afternoon (after the morning hikers have left). Please see Top 3 Short Day Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park for more information on the Emerald Lake Trail.
You can also take an easy stroll around Bear Lake (0.5 miles, Negligible Elevation Gain, Loop) before or after this hike as it is also located at the same trailhead. However, be prepared for this lake to be busy as it is very accessible to all skill levels (we opted to see this lake another day early in the morning because it was very busy in the afternoon). After hiking Emerald Lake, we headed back to our cabin to cook dinner and relax.
Day 2: Hike Sky Pond with Lake Mills Add on
After getting some rest from a busy day of traveling, we arrived in the park early on day 2, a little after 6am, to hike the picturesque Sky Pond. This hike (8.2 Miles from Glacier Gorge Trailhead, 1,765 feet of Elevation Gain, Out & Back) offers diverse lake, mountain and waterfall views nearly every mile along the trail. The Sky Pond hike in Rocky Mountain National Park is technically challenging, requiring crossing some icy snowfields (depending on time of year visiting) and scrambling through a waterfall. However, this hike is definitely a must-do for anyone visiting Rocky Mountain National Park in relatively good shape.
We also added on a short 1.2 Mile Round Trip detour to the picturesque Mills Lake. Please see Top 5 Long Day Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park for more information on this trail. This hike took us about 6 hours to complete with breaks. We were very happy to kick up our feet and relax at the cabin after this challenging yet stunning hike.
Day 3: Hike Cub Lake/Fern Lake/Odessa Lake Loop
On day 3, we got another early start, heading into the park before 6am (we really benefited from gaining an hour with our central-time zone change). This early bird time is truly the best hour in the park as you may be the only one on the trails. We started our Cub Lake/Fern Lake/Odessa Lake Loop at the Cub Lake Trailhead. The morning was crisp and peaceful. We saw several Elk as we drove to the Trailhead in the park. This hike (12.6 Miles, 2,500 feet of Elevation Gain, Loop/Out & Back) was, to our surprise, was one of our favorites in Rocky Mountain National Park. It felt very different along each section of the hike and afforded us very contrasting views.
This trail has it all–open areas, heavy tree coverage, waterfalls, the Big Thompson River, large boulders and gorgeous lakes. Please see Top 5 Long Day Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park for more information on this trail. This hike took us about 6 hours with breaks and we enjoyed relaxing on the cabin porch the rest of the day.
Day 4: Drive Trail Ridge Road and Hike Onahu/Green Mountain Loop to Big Meadows
This day we drove the winding and elevated Trail Ridge Road, crossing the continental divide, to the Onahu Trailhead (about 90 minute drive from Estes Park). Along the way, we stopped at different lookouts points and drove to over 12,000 feet of elevation. The views along this road are unparalleled and this drive is a highlight to visiting Rocky Mountain National Park.
While driving this road, before reaching the Onahu Trailhead, we saw 4 moose (2 males, 1 female and 1 calf), countless elk (male and female) and two marmots. Once at the trail (7.6 miles, 1,300 feet of Elevation Gain, Loop), we did not see anyone for the first 4 miles. This side of the park (near Grand Lake entrance) tends to be much less busy than the Estes Park side. Please see Top 5 Long Day Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park for more information on this trail.
Tip: Drive the Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park as early as possible to avoid traffic and see more wildlife. Due to construction, the road was closed until 7am everyday while we were visiting Rocky Mountain National Park but we were some of the first people on it at 7am, likely contributing to our numerous wildlife sightings. Driving back in the afternoon, the road was much busier and we were glad we had made our stops at the lookouts in the morning as it was more difficult to pull off along the road with the afternoon traffic.
Day 5: Hike Lion Lake
Day 5 was another early day, as we arrived at the Wild Basin Trailhead before 6am. With about 14 miles of hiking ahead of us, to the very idyllic Lion Lake (12.6-14 Miles, depending on your route from Wild Basin Trailhead, 3,031 feet of Elevation Gain, Out & Back), we made sure to get an early start to our hike in order to summit the lake prior to potential afternoon storms.
Lion Lake was one of the most peaceful and serene places we visited in Rocky Mountain National Park. This was one of the more challenging hikes we did, due to the length and elevation gain. However, we both agree that the difficult climb was very worth it. There is not a lot to see along the trail to Lion Lake but you can add on a short 0.7 miles to see Ozuel falls to break up the hike a bit more. If you are feeling ambitious, you also can hike further to Trio Falls and Lion Lake #2 but we opted not to do this as we were already feeling the elevation at the first Lion Lake.
This hike took us about 7.5 hours to complete (fortunate timing, it started to rain the moment we got into the car after finishing the hike) and we enjoyed some well earned relaxation after this hike at the cabin. Please see Top 5 Long Day Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park for more information on this trail. Some other options for a longer hike, with slightly less elevation gain, for this day would be Thunder Lake or Finch/Pear Lake (we have not hiked either but the pictures of both are beautiful).
Day 6: Visit Bear Lake, Hike Bierstadt Lake & Hike Lulu City Trail
This morning we entered the park again before 6am. We headed to the end of Bear Lake Road to see Bear Lake without the crowds. This lake is a very short walk from the parking lot and accessible to all skill levels.
Hike Bierstadt Lake
We then drove back to the Bierstadt Lake trailhead on Bear Lake Road. This trailhead has about 10 parking spots, and we were the first one to park there this day. We had not originally planned to hike this trail. We had planned to hike Emerald Lake this day, but since we ended up hiking that trail the first day, we had time for this hike. To our delight, we were thrilled we did this hike. This relatively short hike (3.2 Miles Round Trip from Bierstadt Trailhead/Parking Lot, 626 feet of Elevation Gain, Out & Back) offers some beautiful mountain views on the steep climb up before reaching Bierstadt Lake.
Bierstadt Lake is one of the most peaceful lakes we have ever visited. The morning we visited, the mountains were magically reflected on the extremely still lake. This hike took us about 1.5 hours with breaks. See Top 3 Short Day Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park for more information on this hike.
Hike Lulu City Trail
After being pleasantly surprised with hiking to Bierstadt Lake and getting our morning fill of serenity, we headed back to the cabin to eat breakfast before heading to the other side of the park to hike to Lulu City (about 60 minutes from Estes Park). The Lulu City hike starts at the Colorado River Trailhead. This trail leads to the very minimal remains of Lulu City, a mining town that existed from 1879-1884. This trail is very tranquil, relatively easy and fast paced (7.4 Miles, 725 feet of elevation gain, out & back). We enjoyed our stroll to Lulu City but do not expect to find remains of the city here other than some minimal cabin remains. This hike took us about 3 hours including relaxing at Lulu city for about 30 minutes.
Another option for this day or afternoon would be to do a full or partial white water rafting trip (Highly Rated White Water Rafting in Estes Park) or to go fly fishing (Highly Rated Fly Fishing Outfitter in Estes Park).
After finishing this hike, we enjoyed grilling out at our cabin.
Day 7: Hike Chasm Lake, leave late tonight or the next day
This day we had another early start to our climb to the gorgeous Chasm Lake. This hike was challenging, with a steep and continuous elevation gain on the way out to Chasm Lake. The barron alpine tundra views on this hike vastly contrasted the other hikes we completed on this trip. Chasm Lake is not a hike to miss while visiting Rocky Mountain National Park. This trail took us about 5 hours to complete with breaks.
Please see Top 5 Long Day Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park for more information on this trail. After completing this hike, we grilled out and relaxed on the porch before preparing to leave the next day. You could alternatively leave late this evening but leaving the next morning is certainly more relaxing (which is what we opted to do).
We hope this itinerary helps you plan a hiking trip to Rocky Mountain National Park.
For more information on hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park, please see Top 5 Long Day Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park and Top 3 Short Day Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. Please also see Rocky Mountain National Park Website for more information on this park.
Anything you would add to our itinerary? We would love to hear your feedback and questions. Please leave us a comment.
And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned!