Top 5 Long Day Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park


Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the best national parks for hiking with scenic views and wildlife sighting opportunities.  We spent one week exploring Rocky Mountain National Park, but you could easily spend two weeks there.  Here is the list of our top five long hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

For more Rocky Mountain National Parks hiking tips please see Top 3 Short Day Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park and The Perfect One Week Itinerary for Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park blog posts. 

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1. Sky Pond

8.2 Miles from Glacier Gorge Trailhead, 1,765 feet of Elevation Gain, Out & Back OR 8.4 Miles if you start from Bear Lake Trailhead, Out & Back OR 10 Miles when combined with Mills Lake, Out & Back

Sky Pond
Mills Lake (left), Sky Pond (center) and Loch Lake (right)

This hike offers stunning views at nearly every turn along the trail.  On this hike, you will see plenty of picturesque views including the powerful Alberta Falls, the gorgeous Loch Lake, the beautiful Lake of Glass and lastly the tucked away Sky Pond. To get to Sky Pond, you climb up through a waterfall and scramble for a short distance.  If you only plan to do one long hike in Rocky Mountain National Park, do this one!  Consider adding on hiking to Mills Lake (only adds 1.6 miles Round Trip total) like we did.  See Top 3 Short Day Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park and The Perfect One Week Itinerary for Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park for more information about adding on Mills Lake. 

Views on the trail leading to Sky Pond

Tip: Pack many layers and consider bringing hiking poles and/or crampons.  Throughout our hike, we went from wearing a T-shirt to wearing as many layers as possible (T-shirt + fleece + micropuff fleece + raincoat).  The temperature varied between 40 degrees to 78 degrees depending on where we were and what time it was during the day.  Near the top on this hike, we had to cross some snowfields.  Our hiking boots were sufficient to cross them, cautiously, but they were very icy in some spots. Poles and/or crampons would have been helpful.  Be prepared to do some scrambling at the waterfall after the Loch and before Lake of Glass. 

Combined Mills Lake & Sky Pond Hike in Purple

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. Chasm Lake

8.4 Miles from Longs Peak Trailhead, 2,500 feet of Elevation Gain, Out & Back

Chasm Lake
Views Hiking to Chasm Lake

This hike offers pristine alpine tundra views, helping differentiate from mountain views on other hikes we completed.  Although this hike is nearly all uphill on the hike out, we found the views to be well worth the effort.  Once above the treeline, you get clear views of Longs Peak, giving you greater appreciation for its size than you experience seeing it at other areas of the park.  This hike was definitely a highlight of our time in Rocky Mountain National Park.  

Chasm Lake

Tip: Arrive here early so you can reach your summit, Chasm Lake, and be back below the treeline (about 2.5 miles back from the end of the hike) before noon.  You are at higher risk of getting struck by lightning after noon.  We started this hike just before 6am and completed it by 11am.  

Map to Chasm Lake Hike

3. Cub Lake/Fern Lake/Odessa Lake Loop

12.6 Miles, 2,500 feet of Elevation Gain, Loop/Out & Back

Odessa Lake
Praire Views heading to Cub Lake (left), Fern Lake (middle) and Views from Cub Lake to Fern Lake (right)

This is a modified hiking route that encompasses 3 hiking trails in Rocky Mountain National Park.  This hike, although long, was fast paced because every section of the hike felt quite different.  We started this hike at the Cub Lake Trailhead and the scenery was very open before reaching Cub Lake. Once at Cub Lake, we learned why it is well-known for its beautiful lily pads.  After Cub Lake, you descend along the south of the Big Thompson River to the roaring Pool.  From the Pool, you climb to Fern falls.  By climbing about a mile further, you reach the peaceful Fern Lake and then it is less than a mile more before you reach the pristine Odessa Lake.  

Fern Lake

Tip: Do this trail as a loop.  You have the option to do out & back hikes to all 3 lakes but you get to see a lot more by completing it as a loop.  You do have to walk for about a mile on the unpaved road from the Fern Lake Trailhead to the Cub Lake Trailhead but it is an easy flat walk at the end of a long hike (this mile is included in total mileage of 12.6 miles). 

Cub Lake/Fern Lake/Odessa Lake Loop

4. Lion Lake

12.6-14 Miles, depending on your route from Wild Basin Trailhead, 3,031 feet of Elevation Gain, Out & Back

Lion Lake
View right before reaching Lion Lake

The end point of the trail, Lion Lake, continues to confirm the wonder of Rocky Mountain National Park.  This trail would be ranked higher on our list but there is not a lot to see along this trail and it requires a lot of effort to get to Lion Lake. We added 0.7 miles to our route out to the lake to see Ozuel Falls and break up the hike a bit more. 

View on the hike to Lion Lake near mile 4.5

Tip: Don’t underestimate the challenge of this hike.  The last 2.2 miles of this trail is where you gain the most elevation. It took us almost as long to hike the last 2.2 miles as it took to do the first 5 miles.  We found it very challenging to steeply climb at an elevation of over 11,000 feet, despite being in pretty good shape.  Wisconsin’s lack of mountains, and plethora of dairy products, did not make our mountain climb any easier. 

Lion Lake Trail starts at Wild Basin Trailhead (southeast end of the park)

5. Onahu/Green Mountain Loop to Big Meadows

7.6 miles, 1,300 feet of Elevation Gain, Loop

Big Medows
Views on/to the Onahu Trail

This hike makes our top 5 list because it is very different from the other four on this list. This hike is located on the west side of the park, near the Grand Lake entrance. We saw less than 5 people in total on the trail.  This hike leads to a large meadow, aptly named Big Meadows, where you typically will see elk or moose from afar.  Although we did not see any wildlife in Big Meadows on the day we hiked, we saw 4 moose (2 males, 1 female and 1 calf) and countless Elk (male and female) while driving to this trailhead, making it extra special.  You can also complete this hike as an out and back trail from both the Onahu Trailhead or the Green Mountain Trailhead (more busy of the two) .  Again, we encourage you to hike this trail as a loop to see more variety. 

Onahu/Green Mountain Trail

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 3 Short 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 for more Rocky Mountain National Park hiking information.

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

And remember, Always Have A Trip Planned!

2 Comments

  1. Keith Darnell
    January 9, 2021

    Great site. My wife and I have hiked all of these except Sky Pond. We agree with the assessments. The Mt. Ida trail should probably also make your list. It’s about 11 miles OAB if I recall correctly. The views are better than any other trail we’ve hiked.

    Reply
    1. Always Have A Trip Planned
      January 9, 2021

      Hi Keith, we are glad to hear you like our site content! The Sky Pond hike is beautiful and offers so many views along the way. We highly recommend it! We have not hiked Mt. Ida but sounds like we need to on our next RMNP trip. Thank you for the tip! 🙂

      Reply

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