Top 3 Short Day Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park


Rocky Mountain National Park is one of our favorite National Parks. It offers endless scenic hiking with plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities. We spent a week exploring Rocky Mountain National Park but you could easily spend two weeks here and not get bored. 

Below is the list of the top three short hikes we recommend hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park.

For more Rocky Mountain National Parks hiking tips, please see Top 5 Long Day Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park and The Perfect One Week Itinerary for Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park.

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1. Emerald Lake

3.6 Miles, 708 feet of Elevation Gain, Out & Back

Emerald Lake Hike

This short hike offers the most reward for your effort with unbeatable views.  On this hike, you will come across 3 different, beautiful lakes: Nymph Lake, Dream Lake and Emerald Lake.  All 3 have picturesque mountains as the backdrop. The best view is at Emerald Lake but Dream Lake is a close second. If you only do one hike in Rocky Mountain National Park, do this one! 

Dream Lake (left), Emerald Lake (right)

Tip: Either hike this trail very early in the morning or later in the afternoon. It tends to be very crowded  because it offers you the best views for the least amount of effort.  Per the Rocky Mountain National Park Rangers we spoke with at the park, the parking lot where this trail starts, Bear Lake, tends to fill up by 8am.  We arrived around 3pm on a Friday in late June and had no trouble parking because most of the morning hikers had finished by then.  Surprisingly, we had the trail mostly to ourselves. 

If the parking lot is full, there is a shuttle you can take to the parking lot from a park and ride within the park but expect the trail to be busy at that time.  We also recommend this as a first hike in Rocky Mountain National Park, especially if you are not acclimated to the elevation (like us), as it is relatively short and with low elevation gain.  

Emerald Lake Trail in Dark Blue

Looking for great hiking boots?  Here are links to the ones we’ve used for 6+ years and highly recommend: Men’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots & Women’s Keen Waterproof Hiking Boots


2. Mills Lake

5.6 Miles Round Trip from Glacier Gorge Trailhead, 750 feet of Elevation Gain, Out & Back OR 5.8 Miles Round Trip from Bear Lake Trailhead, 938 feet of Elevation Gain, Out & Back

Mills Lake Hike

This trail will take you past the stunning Alberta Falls before taking you to the serene Mills Lake.  The hike is fast paced and you will be at Mills Lake before you know it.  We only saw two people while at the lake, making it feel very secluded, and we even spotted two Elk across the lake, making our hike here extra special. 

Tip: This trail can be accessed from either the Glacier Gorge Trailhead or Bear Lake Trailhead.  Leaving from Bear Lake adds 0.2 Miles Round Trip and almost 200 feet of Elevation Gain but the Bear Lake Parking lot is much bigger, allowing you to start a little later.  We arrived at Rocky Mountain National Park by 6:15am and by that time, the small parking lot at Glacier Gorge Trailhead was already completely full.  We hiked this trail in combination with a longer trail, Sky Pond, as it only added 1.2 miles round trip to that hike.  See The Perfect One Week Itinerary for Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park for more details.

Trail to Mills Lake in Purple, Can add onto Sky Pond Hike

3. Bierstadt Lake

3.2 Miles Round Trip from Bierstadt Trailhead/Parking Lot, 626 feet of Elevation Gain, Out & Back

Bierstadt Lake Hike

This trail truly exceeded our expectations.  We were not impressed with the pictures we saw of the lake and trail online but decided to try the trail out as we had a free morning.  To our delight, this lake was GORGEOUS.  On the lake, you could see all the major mountains in the park reflected perfectly.  Had the water not been so still or the lighting not so perfect, we may not have seen the lake in this tranquil state.

Tip: We recommend planning to arrive at the lake between 7am-8am, if you are visiting in June or July, and on a still day in order to get the magical mountain views reflecting on the lake.

Bierstadt Lake Trail Map

We hope this blog post helps you plan your next hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. 

For more Rocky Mountain National Parks hiking tips please see Top 5 Long Day Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park and The Perfect One Week Itinerary for Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park.  Please also see Rocky Mountain National Park Website.

Any other hikes you would add to our list?  We would love to hear your feedback and questions.  Please leave us a comment!

And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned!

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