Your Guide to the Best Rocky Mountain National Park Lake Hikes

Colorado without a doubt has some of the most stunning hiking trails in the whole US. There is something for everyone, but one thing that is evident is the mesmerizing high altitude environment offered in the Rocky Mountain National Park.

Whether you’ve hiked here before or not, you’re in for a treat, and one thing that this area does well is pristine, blue and turquoise alpine lakes. They’re perfect to hike up to, relax after all your hard work, take a swim, paddle or camp up near for the night.

Below, we go through ten of the best Rocky Mountain National Park lake hikes for varying abilities with trail maps, AllTrails alternatives, best time of year, parking information and backpacking suggestions too, giving you everything you need to get out on the trail and enjoy these truly stunning places.

In recent times, the National Park has brought in a Timed Entry Permit System which is in force from May 24 until Mid October. This is a pilot system, so may change, but it has been put in place to help with visitor numbers to the park, trails and trailhead parking lots. You can find more information about this below here.

lakes in rocky mountain national park colorado

Use this map to find the starting locations for the trail heads we’ve outlined below in and around the Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park area.

10 Best Rocky Mountain National Park Lake Hikes for Varying Abilities

We’ve ordered the trails below based on length and difficulty for ease of access. We’ve also tried to outline as many things as you’ll need to know, such as a section of trail that has exposure, when to bring winter gear, if there are any exceptionally steep climbs or scrambles to make the most of these Rocky Mountain National Park lake hikes.

1. Nymph Lake

AllTrails map alternative: Nymph Lake Trail
Difficulty: Moderate – a slow and steady climb but at altitude, you’ll feel it more  
1.2km/1 mile out and back
Elevation: 81m/236ft. ascent/descent

When to do it: This trail is good to hike all year round, but in winter and into early summer, you can expect snow and ice

Other things to know: Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed on this trail. Kayaking, swimming and fishing are allowed  

Parking location: Parking is at Bear Lake Trailhead, which you can find directions to on Google Maps here. The parking lot is relatively small and this is a popular area with plenty of trails, so if possible, try to get the shuttle. Information on this can be found here.

Fees: You will need to pay a National Park entry fee for access to this trail. Alternatively, you can buy an America the Beautiful Pass which gives you a year’s access to all US National Parks. 

Nymph Lake is one of the most beautiful alpine lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park. If you’re into swimming or paddling, it’s a great place for that in the summer months and the views are simply stunning. Though plan your visit right if this is what you want to do, as the lakes stay frozen quite far into the season (this is dependent but should usually be good by mid June).

This is a moderate hike, which gets into a slow and steady climb pretty much straight out of the parking lot. It feels much more like a moderate trail due to the elevation gain – the altitude will hit you if you’re not used to it. So even though this is a short trail and one of the most popular hikes in the area, keep that in mind when planning your visit.

Nymph Lake Colorado

About our walking maps: We like to use Outdooractive which provides visible referencing on page for all our hikes. You can download the hiking route by clicking the map. This opens directly in Outdooractive. They have a free plan that allows you to save maps offline. We also provide AllTrails map alternatives under each interactive map in case this is your preferred method. In all cases, you should make sure you download your map for offline use before heading out on the trail.

2. Bear Lake Loop

AllTrails map alternative: Bear Lake Loop
Easy – well graded trails with very minimal/gentle elevation suitable for adaptive equipment and wheelchairs
Distance: 1.4km/0.7 miles loop
Elevation: 32m/49ft. ascent and descent

When to do it: This trail can be hiked all year round, but in winter there can be snow and ice cover, so check up to date trail conditions to know what kit to bring.

Other things to know: Bear Lake is accessible and can be used by wheelchairs and mobility aids. Though you may need to use all-terrain tires on your equipment. The trail surface is made of natural material which is roughly 4 feet wide along the trail. The steeper sections are minimal, though it is important to keep in mind that the park and trail are at altitude, so proceed accordingly depending on your health condition and needs. Dogs are not allowed on this trail.

Parking location: Bear Lake Trailhead parking can be found here. There are 7 accessible parking spaces in the car park. For others, this car park is quite busy as many trails start off from here. It’s a good idea to take the shuttle if you can, which you can find more details of here.

Fees: You will need to pay the National Park entry fee to hike this trail. Alternatively, you can buy an America the Beautiful Pass for year round entry.

The Bear lakes loop is a great way of seeing all Rocky Mountain National Park has to offer in a more accessible way. This short walk is suitable for most hikers and the trail is suitable for adaptive equipment, too. There is a good path all the way around the lake, which is made of natural materials and wide enough for wheelchairs.

Though you may need all terrain tires to get over any rough sections and to help with traction. There is also very little elevation change in this hike and any uphills are very gentle. More information on accessible parking above in the trail breakdown information.

This is a great way to access the bear lake road corridor and the bear lake area – as you’ll notice further on in this guide to these Rocky Mountain National Park lake hikes, many of the best hikes actually set off from here. This can make the parking area busy, as it is relatively small considering the traffic this area gets, so if possible, get the shuttle bus put on by the National Park Service. More information on that above.

This just under a mile loop can be enjoyed by most people and the views here are just beautiful. It’s amazing what you can see in a short distance and is the perfect place to set up with a picnic and relax.

Bear Lake Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado

3. Dream Lake Trail

AllTrails map alternative: Dream Lake Trail
Moderately challenging route – this hike starts at altitude and whilst the height gain is reasonable, it can be steep at times  
1.8km/2 miles out and back
Elevation: 140m/459ft ascent and descent

When to do it: This trail is open all year round, but in winter you will need snowshoes, spikes or crampons depending on trail conditions

Other things to know: Sadly, you can’t bring dogs on this trail

Parking location: Parking is limited so arrive early if possible. Parking for this hike is Bear Lake Trailhead – map information for parking here. You can also use the shuttle to this trail open in the summer months (for more up to date information, check out the NPS website here.

Fees: You will need to pay to enter the National Park or use an Interagency Pass, such as an America the Beautiful Pass, which you can buy here.

Whilst this is a relatively short hike its classed as moderate because it packs a punch – you’re hiking at just under 10,000ft./3,000 meters. So don’t underestimate it. However, this popular spot is one of the best Rocky Mountain National Park lake hikes.

Bypassing Bear Lake, the first lake you come to is Nymph Lake, which we’ve also written a guide to. From here it’s a steady climb up to Dream lake. This lake is particularly gorgeous toward sunset, and you’ll get some of the best views of the mountains as they’re painted with orange and red light which makes them glow in a pretty incredible way.

If you decide to hike this trail on the first days of the summer season, you can expect some snow and ice on the trail. So always go prepared and bring hiking poles, good hiking boots and winter devices such as spikes, crampons or snowshoes. If you’re hiking in winter, a good head for winter navigation, knowing what to do should conditions worsen and how to travel over significant snow and ice is a must, as well as the right gear.

Dream Lake Colorado

4. Emerald Lake Trail

AllTrails map alternative: Emerald Lake Trail
Difficulty: Moderate – some steep sections at altitude
Distance: 4.4km/3.2 miles out and back
Elevation: 201m/702ft ascent and descent

When to do it: This trail is open year-round, but in winter you will need appropriate gear such as snowshoes

Parking location: Parking is at Bear Lake Trailhead, which you can find the map location for here. There is limited parking available, so if possible try to catch the shuttle bus depending on your visit date. Information about times when the shuttle runs can be found on the NPS website.

Other things to know: Dogs are not allowed on this trail

Fees: You will need to pay a fee to enter the park, as with all hikes in the Rocky Mountain National Park. You can buy a 7-day pass at the entry booth, alternatively, you can buy an America the Beautiful Pass which gets you a year’s access to all National Parks and some other attractions in the US.

If you’re into photography like we are, then hiking this trail is a must because you have spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and rugged terrain which will just mesmerise you. That’s before you’ve even gotten to Emerald Lake. The truth is, whilst Emerald Lake is beautiful, you’ll love everything else you see too. This trail makes for an incredible day in the mountains.

Bear Lake, where this trail starts, is a popular starting point – a lot of trails start from this area, but as you get further into the trail, you will very likely find the crowds thin out. It’s best to hike during the week if you can, but we know that isn’t always possible! If not, it’s a good idea to start early so that when you’re on your way back down, you’re passing hikers ascending.

If you feel like a little detour, you can also add in Lake Haiyaha, which you’ll take a left turn to just before you reach Dream Lake. It’s well worth the visit for the truly stunning water color!

Whilst you can hike this trail year round, as you reach higher elevations in early summer, you’re more likely to encounter snow and icy conditions on trail, So go prepared with traction and a head for winter safety. In winter, you can hike this trail with snowshoes, but we always recommend knowing how to handle winter conditions and having the right gear before heading out. For more information on this, read our winter hiking backpack packing list.

Emerald Lake Colorado

5. Jewel Lake

AllTrails map alternative: Jewel Lake and Mills Lake via Glacier Gorge Trail
Difficulty: Moderate – decent length trail at altitude, some steep sections  
Distance: 10km/6.3 miles out and back
Elevation: 256m/859 ft. ascent and descent

When to do it: This trail is able to be hiked through the year. However if you do hike in winter, or early into the summer season, you will need to bring winter gear such as snowshoes and crampons, and have a good head for winter safety.

Parking location: You’ll park at Glacier Gorge Junction for this hiking trail. Though it’s good to remember this trail can get really busy and the parking lot isn’t huge. You can also take the shuttle provided by the NPS, more information on this, running times and dates here.

Other things to know: There are some good camping spots for backpackers a little further up from the end of where we’ve plotted this trail at Glacier Gorge. More on this below. With all camping in the National Park, you’ll need a Wilderness Permit which can be gotten hold of here. No dogs are allowed on this trail.

Fees: You’ll need to pay the National Park entry fee to hike this trail, or get an interagency pass such as the America the Beautiful Pass.

This is a wonderful trail with so much to see and do. On route up hill, you’ll pass Alberta Falls, which is well worth spending a little time at just to sit and take it all in. The sound of the water is pretty powerful! As you get higher up and closer to Jewel Lake, you’ll then go past Glacier Falls, another amazing waterfall area.

What makes this hike so stunning is once you’re past Glacier Knobs, you’ll start to head into a steep sided valley passing Mills Lake first before reaching Jewel Lake. The towering mountains on either side are pretty spectacular. At Jewel Lake, you’ve got amazing views out to Longs Peak, and you’ll absolutely want to spend some time taking in the views – they’re simply gorgeous.

If you want to turn this into a backpacking trip, you can carry on hiking just a little bit further past Jewel Lake with almost no extra elevation gain to Glacier Gorge camping – the perfect spot to spend some time in the Rocky Mountains away from it all.

6. Odessa Lake via Fern Lake Trail

AllTrails map alternative: Odessa Lake via Bear Lake, Flattop Mountain, and Fern Lake Trail
Difficulty: Moderate – decent length trail with some exposure, lack of shade  
Distance: 12km/8.6 miles out and back
Elevation: 566m/1,991ft. ascent and descent

When to do it: Best hiked in the summer season, from June to October. Though this is trail condition dependent, and it’s best to check in with the NPS beforehand. Though, with the right equipment (snowshoes, crampons and a good knowledge of winter safety) you can hike this trail all year round.

Other things to know: There are numerous backpacking and camping options on this trail. A great spot is Sourdough Campsite if you want to break up your hike. Alternatively, you can camp at Odessa Lake Campsite to get the outbound hike completed in one go. You’ll need a valid Wilderness Permit to camp in the National Park, which you can get from It’s also advised to check out the NPS website to prepare you for your trip and what to expect. Dogs will also need to stay at home from this trail.

Parking location: Your starting point is Bear Lake Trailhead – the Google Maps location is here. It’s important to keep in mind that this is a relatively small parking lot considering the amount of outbound hiking from it, so be prepared. You can also catch the shuttle, more information can be find on when it runs and where here.

Fees: A National Park fee is applicable, which needs to be paid on the entry barrier. Alternatively, you can buy an America the Beautiful Pass for year-round access to this and all other US National Parks.

This wonderful, moderate trail starts off by going past Bear Lake, before heading up steeply out of the valley until you hit the plateaux of the Flat Top Mountain trail. From here you’ve got utterly beautiful views back down to Bear Lake and out further to Nymph Lake. You actually have pretty much panoramic views here, and turn the other way and you’ll see Mount Wuh standing proudly ahead of you. This is a great spot to take a rest and enjoy after the climb before you head on.

As you go further along, you’ll merge with Fern Lake trailhead. If you want something more than a day hike and want to backpack and enjoy it all for longer, Sourdough Campsite, which sits just before Two Rivers Lake is a great spot. Alternatively, you can head all the way up to Odessa Lake for Odessa Lake campsite.

The views of Odessa Lake get pretty stunning as the sun gets lower in the sky toward the end of the day – the mountains turn a pretty vivid shade of orange and red and almost look like the large boulders and rock formations are glowing. It’s a pretty full on hike, but well worth the effort.

7. Chasm Lake

AllTrails map alternative: Chasm Lake
Difficulty: Challenging – serious alpine ascent in high altitude conditions. Some narrow sections of the trail – a good head for heights is needed.
Distance: 13.5km/8 miles out and back
Elevation: 735m/2,552 ft. ascent and descent

When to do it: This hike is best attempted in summer months in better conditions. This is usually from June until October. However seasonable variances can play a part, so it’s best to check in with the NPS before your visit. In early summer, you will likely need snow gear and a good head for winter safety.

Parking location: Long Peaks Trailhead is the best parking location for this hike, Google Maps link to this can be found here. This parking lot can get busy so if possible, arrive early!

Other things to know: Many hikers start this trail really early – about 5am. This is because there is a chance of afternoon thunderstorms breaking out and it’s often advised to get back before the tree line before this happens. Earlier in Summer, when the trail is likely to still have plenty of snow and ice, you’ll also have a safer time on the mountain if you set off early. In the afternoon, the snow will be melting due to sun and cause slippery, hazardous surfaces. This hike is also at serious altitude, so you should make sure you’re well acclimated before attempting and have a good baseline experience with challenging, alpine environments. Dogs must also stay at home and are not allowed on this trail.

Fees: As with all hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park, you need to pay to enter the park. You can either buy a 7 day pass from the entrance booth or you can buy a year valid pass, such as America the Beautiful Pass which gives free entry into all US national parks.

This is a pretty challenging trail – it’s long and at altitude (by the time you reach Chasm Lake, you’re over 11,000ft.) however, if you’re up for it, then you’ll likely love this trail. It has everything that is good about alpine hiking and also involves a scramble to reach the lake near the end (though it is doable – just take your time and think about footing).

Due to the trail’s altitude, it’s best to hike in the summer months, but even so, snow can can linger at higher elevations until much later in the season. In fact, snow can be seen on the trail well into July if the weather holds. Many people will advise starting this trail before 5am in earlier summer so that you’re not descending when the snow starts melting in the sun and becomes slippery.

Some sections of the trail that are fine in summer can become seriously treacherous in winter conditions. We think it’s important to just take current trail conditions into consideration and base this on your own (and a ranger’s) judgement and stay within your limits. However, you should prepare to take winter equipment with you just in case.

That all aside, this hike is full of variety. You start out in the tree line, head out into an alpine tundra and then have these fantastic views out from the ridge back toward Peacock Pool.

Chasm Lake Rocky Mountain National Park

8. Sky Pond via Glacier Gorge Trail

AllTrails map alternative: Sky Pond via Glacier Gorge Trail
Difficulty: Challenging – long distance over alpine terrain
Distance: 14.1km/8.6 miles out and back
Elevation: 542m/1,771ft. ascent and descent

When to do it: You can hike this trail all year round, but due to winter weather, you will likely need crampons, snowshoes or spikes depending on conditions.

Other things to know: Dogs will need to stay at home from this trail. This is also a great trail to backpack. You will need to get hold of a Wilderness Permit in advance to do so. You should also read all other information about preparing for your backpacking trip on the NPS website.

Parking location: You’ll park at Glacier Gorge Junction Trailhead for this hike. Location can be found on Google Maps here. Parking is limited, and we’d recommend taking the shuttle which stops at this trailhead. Information about its running times and locations can be found here.

Fees: You will need to pay a fee to enter the National Park. You can either get a 7 day pass at the booth, or get an America the Beautiful Pass which gives you a one year access pass to all US National Parks. 

This is without a doubt one of the most breathtaking, stunning Rocky Mountain National Park lake hikes. As you climb up, the views just become better and better especially as you reach the high elevations just before Sky Pond.

There are some pretty steep climb sections, but if there was ever a good reason to head up high, its for the views you get when you reach the lake. You also get to take in The Loch, Embryo Lake (with a short detour trail to the left – well worth doing) and Lake of Glass.

Relatively early on in the hike, you’ll head past Alberta Falls, which is incredibly beautiful. However, one of the most spectacular parts of this hike is when you reach Timberline Falls, just as you descend down to Lake of Glass. It’s a steep descent at this point (and back out for the return), but the sound of the water crashing is such a wonderful experience, you won’t mind so much!

Due to the length and altitude of this hike, we think this hike marks very much as a challenging route, however it really does reward you with great views and is just an all round great choice if you’re up for it.

9. Lone Pine Lake via East Inlet Trailhead

AllTrails map alternative: Lone Pine Lake via East Inlet Trail
Challenging – significant distance at altitude 
Distance: 17km/10.3 miles out and back
Elevation: 477m/1,794 ft. ascent and descent

When to do it: It’s best to hike this trail from May to October, though snowfall may still be present in early summer, so plan accordingly and take appropriate winter gear.

Other things to know: There are some great places for backpacking on this trail and to make a couple of days of it. More information on this in the trail description below. You’ll need a Wilderness Permit for backpacking, which you can find out more about here. You’ll also need to leave dogs at home as they’re not allowed on trail.

Parking location: East Inlet Trailhead is your best spot for parking – Google Maps location here.

Fees: You’ll need a valid entry to the National Park, or Interagency Pass. 

Starting off from the parking lot on the edge of Grand Lake, this challenging hike will take you past some of the most stunning scenery and is by far one of the best Rocky Mountain National Park lake hikes. It’s also a great option to see more of the West side of the park. First off, you’ll go past Adams Falls, which is well worth the short loop detour to. This section is an easy hike and if you do want something more low key you could do this section only.

Once you get into the main draw of this hike, there are some steep rocky sections, so we would advise making sure you have good hiking boots that protect you from ankle rolls and hiking poles can be a good addition too. This trail will certainly get your heart pumping. It’s also a good idea to start early as there is a serious risk of afternoon thunderstorms in summer that you’ll want to avoid!

This trail also has some great spots for backpacking too – East Meadow Site is the first campsite you’ll come to along the trail. Lower East Inlet Site is your second. Then fantastically named Cats Lair, Gray Jay Group, and Slick Rock. If you want to head up past your end point at Lone Pine Lake, Solitaire Campsite on the ridge brow has amazing views out over Mount Craig. So there are plenty of spots to choose from!

Lone Pine Lake Colorado

10. Thunder Lake Trail

AllTrails map alternative: Thunder Lake Trail 
Difficulty: Challenging – significant ascent and descent over a longer distance in alpine environment at altitude. 
18.8km/11.7miles out and back
Elevation: 697m/2,247 ft. ascent and descent

When to do it: This trail is generally good to hike from May to October. Trail conditions will determine this and earlier on in the season you can expect significant snow to still be at higher elevations around the lake. Go prepared and take winter traction and have a good head for handling winter conditions.

Other things to know: This is a great area for a backpacking trip with multiple camping spots along the trail. More on this below in the trail description. As with all camping in the National Park, you’ll need a Wilderness Permit, which you can find out more about here. No dogs are allowed on trail.

Parking location: You’ll park at Wild Basin Trailhead for this hiking route. Google Maps location here. Due to heavy snowfall, the 115 up to the parking lot can be closed in winter. To find out if this is the case before your visit, the NPS have handy information on their site about this.

Fees: You’ll need to pay to enter the National Park, or use an interagency card, such as an America the Beautiful Pass.

Thunder Lake trail is slightly less trafficked (though this is marginal) but you can very likely expect to find less people on the trail – great if you prefer a little more solitude. It’s a lovely trail, and whilst it is long, it is slightly less steep than some of the other hikes we’ve highlighted here, so it’s a really great journey up.

It’s not just about the lake though, whilst it is beautiful, there is so much else to see. For example, if you feel like a detour, you can take a left at Pine Ridge campground to head up Wild Basin Trail to Calypso Cascade. You can also do similar up to Ouzel Falls, but do keep in mind each of these does add distance. As the snow melts into summer season, the flow of water here can be pretty powerful and just all encompassing!

You could very easily split this hike easily over a whole weekend if you wanted to stop a couple of times over the course of the trail. Aspen Knoll is a good place for this, just over a third the way into the trail. As is Siskin Campsite. Alternatively, you can also camp up at Thunder Lake, where there are three main sites. You could easily set up camp here and take a further excursion up to Lake of Many Winds above it and all the way up to Boulder Grand Pass for amazing views out over the surrounding mountains and down back to where you’ve just been. Though this is a pretty steep addition, so do keep that in mind!

Planning Your Visit and Things to be Aware of For These Rocky Mountain National Park Lake Hikes

There are certain things you’ll need to be aware of when planning your hike to have the best experience you can in the National Park. We’ve outlined some of the most commonly asked questions and things to consider below to help you plan and get a heads up.

Timed Entry System into the National Park

The Rocky Mountain National Park are running trials of timed entry into the park during peak season times. This is to help with over tourism and congestion. This is a good thing as it means that trailhead parking lots that were overstuffed before will be less so and trails are just more enjoyable for all.

If you plan to visit the park between May 24th and October 20th, you’ll need an advanced, timed entry reservation to be able to drive through the park. This is different for the various areas and is only in force at certain times. For most of the park, you only need a reservation if you want to enter between 9am ant 2pm.

If you want to travel along Bear Lake Road, the timed entry system is from 5am to 6pm daily. Many of the hikes we’ve listed above start from Bear Lake Road, so it’s something to keep in mind and it’s very popular.

Some passes are available in advance. For example, late May passes are available from May 1st. Around 40% of the passes are also available the day before for the next day. All passes can be gotten hold of from For more information on exactly how to get your permit, when you can get it and which one you need, visit the NPS website, where they have exhaustive details on this.

Rocky Mountain National Park Entry sign

What Should You Bring for your Rocky Mountain National Park Hike?

What you bring with you will depend on the kind of hike you do. If you’re hiking in winter, you will need to bring safety gear that is suitable for traction, keeping you warm and layers. If hiking in summer, you will need more water, shade, sunscreen and bug spray.

However, this varies a lot. We would recommend the best thing is to have a solid day hiking checklist – our article on this goes into detail of what you should bring for each season to keep you safe and make your hiking as enjoyable as possible.

One thing to really keep in mind is that any sunscreen that you use should be biodegradable if you plan to swim in any of the mountain lakes on your hike, as they can be harmful to the ecosystems that exist there.

What Other Hikes Are There in the Area?

Rocky Mountain National Park has a lot to see, but this isn’t all there is in the area. In fact, this whole area around Denver is incredibly diverse. From Red Rocks to Mt. Beirdstadt there really is so much to see and do. For more inspiration, be sure to check out our article which rounds up 22 of the best day hikes near Denver.


Due to the fact that you’re going to be hiking a lot around lakes on the trails we’ve outlined in this article, mosquitos can be a real problem in the summer months. Especially if the weather is stormy, the close feel in the air can bring out swarms and you can really pay for it later on in the day.

We’d really recommend bringing suitable bug spray! If you’re planning to swim in any of the lakes, make sure that any of the bug spray you use is biodegradable as it can have a significant impact on the delicate ecosystems that exist here.

rocky mountain national park lake hike

Be Aware of the Altitude

If you’re not a Denver or surrounding resident and you’ve arrived from somewhere much flatter, it’s really important to keep in mind that this whole area around Rocky Mountain National Park is at seriously high altitude. When you arrive in Denver alone, its straight up at 1,609m/5,280ft. above sea level. When heading into the National Park, quite a lot of the trails start from around 9-10,000ft./3,000m and head up from there.

If you’re not used to altitude, this can make you feel light headed, have a headache, feel nauseous and a little disorientated. This can become serious, so it’s a really good idea to read more into altitude and the effects and how to look for the signs of altitude sickness.

If you’re arriving in the area, we’d recommend taking a couple of days if possible to get used to the altitude in somewhere like Denver before heading too far into the park. Your first couple of days, you’ll want to make sure you come down lower again to sleep – so if you’ve been exploring in the park, having your base in Denver makes a good option.

Drink plenty of fluids, if possible – rehydration powders are a good call! Try to limit your caffeine intake for a few days and eat well (as altitude can make you feel less hungry). There are plenty of good options for food in Denver, so this shouldn’t be hard! Just take it steady and look after your body.

Camping and Bear Safety

Backpacking and camping in Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most magical things to do in the area. That sense of peace you allow yourself by getting away from it all is truly a wonderful thing. However, there are some things you’ll need to be aware of if you want to backpack in the park.

Any overnight stays for backpacking need a Wilderness Permit, these need to be picked up in person. There is more information on this and up to date information on the NPS website. You will also need to make sure that any scented items at all are carried in a bear can. This is one of the most important ways you can protect yourself from wildlife and protect them from becoming dependent on humans.

You must also stick to the designated camping areas on the trails, and dispersed camping is not allowed. Only portable stoves can be used, and there are strictly no campfires. This means you’re better taking food suitable for backpacking, we’ve got quite a few guides on backpacking meal recipes and food dehydration tips as well as the best freeze dried meals out there to give you inspiration and enjoy the food you eat whilst backpacking. You will also need to make sure you purify your water before drinking.

using a bear can rocky mountain national park

Leave No Trace

Whatever you do in the National Park, whether it’s a day hike or a backpacking trip, practising Leave No Trace is extremely important. If you’re not familiar with this manifesto, you can find out more information here. However, the main areas can be summarized as:

  1. Plan ahead and be prepared. Know where you’re going and what you’re doing. Make sure you take the right kit with you depending on the season and make sure you have your map downloaded. A hiking compass and knowing how to use is is a good backup too.
  2. Travel and camp sustainably. Stick to camping areas where outlined. Camp on durable surfaces that can withstand it. Stick to trails.
  3. Dispose of your waste in the best way. Pack in and out all waste. If possible and where possible you should take your trash and waste home with you and dispose correctly in your trash cans at home.
  4. Leave only footprints. Do not take items with you from the trail, leave it exactly how you found it. If you’re going to swim in any of the alpine lakes, be sure to use biodegradable sun cream and bug spray to protect the delicate ecosystems to exist there.
  5. Minimize camp fires. Or in the case of Rocky Mountains National Park, there are no camp fires allowed.
  6. Respect wildlife. You will likely encounter wildlife at points on some of these hiking trails, respect them and enjoy watching them from afar.
  7. Consider others. It’s important to keep in mind that your actions can impact others. Keep trails looking as good as possible for other users. If camping, keep noise down at unsociable hours. Generally just being kind and a nice person goes a long way. Also consider your impact on mountain towns too – be nice to locals!

Enjoy Rocky Mountain National Park Lake Hikes

As you can see, there are so many incredible hikes to explore in this beautiful National Park. There really is something for everyone, from easier hikes that allow more accessible views all the way through to tough, demanding trails that will get your blood pumping.

This National Park is absolutely iconic and we think it’s well worth the effort to see what it has to offer. Whether you make a day of it or head out on a backpacking trip, you’ll get to experience some of the most stunning lakes you’re ever likely to see – and we don’t say that lightly. Head out after the start of summer season when the lakes have thawed and the water is just unbelievable. We hope this article has given you some good inspiration for your next Rocky Mountain lake hike.

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