Rocky Mountain High
June 6, 2009 9:39 AM   Subscribe

I am going to Rocky Mountain National Park the 2nd week of July for a few days. What are your favorite hiking trails, and other sights, in the park?

Although I am 56 years old, I am in pretty good hiking shape, so length and elevation change aren't an issue. I like hikes through the forest and/or summit climbs to scenic vistas. For those who have been, or live nearby, what trails did you enjoy most? What else should I know about?
posted by netbros to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
There's a chance I will be going there in July, too. GORP and this site is as far as I got in my research, so far.
Yeah, you could have googled these yourself and I hope you get better, more experienced info, too.
posted by readery at 10:26 AM on June 6, 2009

I'll throw in a quick recommendation for Gem Lake, a pretty quick, easy hike past some interesting rock formations to a quaint little tarn. It's on the edge of the park, so it's less crowded and you don't need to pay admission. More of a "locals only" sort of hike, but also it looks out over the town, instead of the park, which may or may not be your thing.
posted by 7segment at 10:33 AM on June 6, 2009

Oddly enough, I'll be in that area the first week of July also. RMNP is tops. What I would recommend and what everyone ends up doing is simply driving the length of Trail Ridge Road. There are numerous short (2 miles +/-) trails right off of that road that lead into absolutely stunning views.

Even if you're in good shape you'll still need a day or so to acclimate to the altitude so remember to take it easy on high trails until you've found your wind.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:22 AM on June 6, 2009

I'll be in the Vail area for a few days before I go to RMNP. So hopefully I will have the altitude adjustment thing taken care of by then. I did the Trail Ridge Road about 25 years ago and enjoyed it very much. I'm sure we will travel it again this time. Hoping to get off the beaten path a bit as well.
posted by netbros at 12:42 PM on June 6, 2009

The summit of Hallett Peak offers a wonderful view and is demanding without being explicitly challenging in the way that the Longs Peak summit hike is. On the way you'll scale Flattop Mountain, walk across a flat, open tundra prairie (with lots of peeping pikas!), and do a final scramble up the pile of small rocks that makes up the summit. You'll then be able to look down on Dream, Nymph and Bear Lake (Emerald Lake, which has a great view of Hallett's western, craggy face, is I think obscured by the way the mountain juts out westward) as well as Estes Valley and the beautiful Moraine Park that greets you as you drive in via the main entrance.

Loch Vale has always struck me as the most scenic lake in the park, and if you decide to continue to Sky Pond, your journey will resemble that of this man (minus the bone-crushing struggle - it's not too hard).

If you don't want to undergo the considerable effort of climbing Longs Peak, hiking to Chasm Lake gives you the benefit of a lot of the views you'd encounter - if you want to take advantage of the East face of Longs being lit by the early morning Alpenglow, start at the Longs Peak trailhead no later than 5 AM (a bonus is that you get to see the night lights of the outskirts of Denver from the trail above treeline - it's a bit mindblowing). The view will be stunning. The whole trail is pretty dramatic as far as it goes.

Anyway, enjoy! RMNP is one of my favorite places in the world.
posted by invitapriore at 2:07 PM on June 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

invitapriore gives good advice. I'd encourage you to get up at the butt-crack-of-before-the-dawn some morning and join the approach of rock climbers getting a wicked early start on Sharkstooth, Le Petit Grepon or other alpine gnarliness. Get up to the Bear Creek Parking Lot (or do you have to shuttle bus up here now--it has been a long time) and hike towards sky pond or Hallet's Peak in the black just before day break. It will be crisp and there won't be very many people. You will watch the sky get a smidge lighter as you ascend and when you can't stand it any more (your fingers are numb) the first rays will flit over the mountains behind you and glow the mountainsides before you and you'll know it will be warming you, too, soon enough. Mornings in the alpine world are glorious. By the time all the yahoos start packing the trails and turning trailridge road into gridlock you will be on your way back strolling down the hill and saying good mornings to the tourists trekking up in their brilliant disarray.

Also, if you are going to have some time in Estes Park don't forget about the smidge of RMNP to the north called Lumpy Ridge (also Mummy Ridge)...there are some beautiful lower level hikes here. Crazy awesome rock cliffs, too.

Always try to get an early start...get off any peaks by noon if possible (frequent afternoon lightning) and always bring a rain jacket (even when the sky is most bluebird on your drive to the trailhead), weather changes in seconds, not minutes up there. Sunscreen (closer to the sun, yo) and lots of water, yada, yada

Have a philly cheesesteak at Chicago's Best and eat at Sweet Basilicas, too.

Have a great time.
posted by fieldtrip at 8:15 PM on June 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Thanks all for the tips. I will follow-up when I get back from the trip.
posted by netbros at 4:49 PM on June 10, 2009

Just got back from the trip. I took invitapriore's advice and hiked up the Long's Peak trail to Chasm Lake. It was awesome. Started about 7:00AM, so beat most of the crowd, but the Long's Peakers were still ahead of us. Ran into a lot more people who were going up as we were coming back down than there were on our way up.

Got to the lake just before 11:00, had a picnic at the top and stayed about an hour. Would have stayed longer but it started getting pretty windy and cloudy. Didn't want to get caught there if a storm moved in. Fortunately, we stayed dry on the way back down. Only took 2 1/2 hours on the way down.

The timing was great. Mid-July is peak wildflower season in Colorado. We saw columbine, purple fringe, Indian paint brush, many colors of cinquefoil and blue bells. Plenty of yellow-bellied marmots running around too. The only complaint I had the whole day was all the horse crap on the trail. They were packing building supplies up to the top to replace the rescue shelter that got wiped out by an avalanche.

Pictures later.
posted by netbros at 8:30 PM on July 20, 2009

Here's a photo gallery and brief trail log I put together of my trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. [self link obviously]
posted by netbros at 8:20 AM on July 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

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