More than 350 miles of trail beckons hikers of any skill level — from the novice to the savviest of trekkers — in Rocky Mountain National Park. Some trails are easy loops around lakes while others require all-day adventures deep into the wilderness to summit a remote peak. Outside of Rocky Mountain National Park, trails can also be found within the town of EstesPark, in Larimer County open spaces and in Roosevelt National Forest.
Here are three trails that offer plenty of photo opportunities as well as a wide range of experiences for a summer vacation in Estes Park.
Lily Lake (Easy)
Located on the south side of Rocky Mountain National Park on Colorado Highway 7 between Estes Park and Wild Basin, this scenic alpine lake offers a flat, accessible 0.8-mile trail around its perimeter. If you are looking for a more strenuous trail, several moderate and difficult hikes start out from Lily Lake, including Twin Sisters, Lily Ridge, Storm Pass and a longer trek to Estes Cone.
The views at Lily Lake can be stunning at sunrise or sunset with Longs Peak and Mount Meeker standing tall above the forest south of the lake.
Birds, including hummingbirds and ducks, are abundant here in the summer and an occasional moose may be spotted feeding in the nearby willows. Lily Lake is the only place to see Colorado’s state amphibian, the western tiger salamander, in Rocky Mountain National Park. Look for them moving along the bottom of the lake near the shore, especially in early summer.
To access Lily Lake, drive south from Estes Park on Colorado Highway 7 for about six miles. The parking lot for Lily Lake is on the right side of the road across from the Seven Keys Lodge. Additional parking is located on the east side of the highway.
A Park Access timed entry reservation is required to access Lily Lake from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. from May 26 to October 22, 2023.
Dream Lake (Moderate)
Probably one of, if not the most popular trails in Rocky Mountain National Park, is the hike to Dream Lake but for a very viable reason. Towering Hallett Peak rises dramatically above the western edge of Dream Lake, flanked by Flattop Mountain, which doesn’t look very flat from this perspective. This backdrop with Dream Lake in the foreground makes for the idyllic Rocky Mountain National Park photograph.
This 2.2-mile easy-to-moderate roundtrip hike, depending on your fitness level, is ideal for sunrise when the air is still cool and the first rays of light hit the top of Hallett Peak to bathe it in warm alpenglow light. The cool mornings also tend to lack wind, giving hikers a chance to enjoy a reflection of Hallett Peak on the surface of the lake.
Although the elevation is high — starting at 9,449 feet — for those not used to the thinner air, the trail only climbs about 500 feet between the trailhead and Dream Lake.
Along the way, hikers can enjoy views of Longs Peak to the south and Nymph Lake to the east.
To access Dream Lake, enter the park at the Beaver Meadows entrance station and make thefirst left after the station. After passing through a second station, continue on Bear Lake Roadto the end at Bear Lake. The trailhead is located near the ranger station at the west end of theparking lot. Follow the trail to the left (to the right leads to Bear Lake) and then to the right atthe next junction on the trail.
A Park Access Plus timed entry reservation, which provides access to the Bear Lake Corridor where the trailhead to Dream Lake is located, is required to access the trail from 5 a.m. to 6p.m. from May 26 to October 22, 2023.
Sky Pond (Difficult)
Also a popular trail in the park for its beauty and diversity along the trail, it is, however, not for the faint of heart. Sky Pond sits at an elevation of 10,877 feet and the trail to reach the small alpine lake that sits below the towering Cathedral Spires passes two waterfalls, but at the third cascade, hikers must scramble up the waterfall to reach the pond.
In addition to the waterfalls, the 8.4-mile out-and-back trail that climbs 1,750 feet passes Alberta Falls, The Loch, Timberline Falls and Glass Lake. Each is worthy of their own time to take in the beauty of their respective areas.
Don’t give into the begging marmots along the trail; they can be convincing but do not crumble under their pleas for handouts or allow them to take a peek into your resting backpack.
To access Sky Pond, enter the park at the Beaver Meadows entrance station and make the first left after the station. After passing through a second station, continue on Bear Lake Road for about 8 miles to the Glacier Gorge parking lot. It will be the small lot on the left side of the road between the parking lots for Bierstadt and Bear lakes. The trail starts just behind the information kiosk.
This parking lot fills quickly each morning, especially during the summer, so plan on arriving very early and hike on a weekday if possible.
A Park Access Plus timed entry reservation, which provides access to the Bear Lake Corridor where the trailhead to Sky Pond is located, is required to access the trail from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. from May 26 to October 22, 2023.
All of these trails require a daily entrance fee for Rocky Mountain National Park, or a federal interagency pass may be used.
For more information about visiting Rocky Mountain National Park in the summer, visit NPS.gov.
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