The Best Of The Rockies: 7 Incredible Adventures In Rocky Mountain National Park

Get into the mountains.

By: Eric Schuette
March 21, 2016

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Rocky Mountain National Park, or Rocky as it is affectionately known, is one of the most stunning of all the national parks. Rocky is perhaps best known for having the highest continuous paved road in the United States, Trail Ridge road. Trail ridge road was built in 1932 and has since left countless visitors breathless, not only because of the views, but because it rises to 12,183 feet. However, there is much more to Rocky than Trail Ridge road, there are over 300 miles of trails in the 265,761 acre park. Rocky’s trails take visitors through forests, meadows, along meandering streams, to the shores of alpine lakes, and onto lofty mountain summits. They are all wonderful and worth exploring but that article would be a little too long, so here are 7 must-do adventures in Rocky Mountain National Park.

1. Summit Longs Peak

Photo: Eric Schuette

Long’s Peak, with its 1,200 foot diamond, is the monarch of the front range. It is the northernmost 14er in the Rockies and is simply one of the coolest mountains anywhere. There are dozens of routes up Long’s, most of which are technical. The keyhole route, which is only rated class 3 when dry (usually by July but check with the park for current conditions), hosts up to 100’s of hikers a day eager to stand on the summit. If the conditions are bad or you are not feeling the class 3 sections; it is very popular to go as far as the ‘keyhole’, have a snack, and head down. If you do hike Long’s, be prepared for a long but very rewarding day! Learn more.

2. Backpack to Lion and Snowbank Lakes

Photo: Sidney Bush

The Wild Basin area is one of the more remote, rugged, and beautiful areas in the park. Wild Basin is located along the southern boundary of Rocky and requires long approaches with lots of elevation gain to access. The rewards for those that do are pretty amazing and well worth the effort. Lion and Snowbank Lakes are two of the many alpine lakes worth exploring in the area. There are only a couple of backpack sites in Wild Basin and they usually fill early so unless you make reservations in April, expect these to be day hikes. Learn more.

3. Hike to Verna, Spirit, Fourth, and Fifth Lakes

Photo: Eric Schuette

The west side of the park is much less visited than the east, but that doesn’t mean it is any less spectacular. The approaches are longer but the rewards are just as amazing. The hike from the east portal all the way to Fifth Lakes is an incredible adventure from low meadows to high alpine basins and lakes. The scenery only gets more impressive as you hike and is particularly impressive from Lake Verna through Fifth Lake. There are several backcountry sites along the trail that allow for more time to explore this beautiful area. Learn more.

4. Hike Mt. Ida

Photo: Jon King

Mt. Ida is the tallest peak on the ridge that defines the central part of the park. Anyone who has driven Trail Ridge Road has looked across forest canyon to the gorge lakes and the mountains towering above, it is there you will find Mt. Ida. Mt. Ida is most easily accessed from the western side of the park at Milner Pass. In the summer this area is beautiful but also frequented by thunderstorms and lightning, one of the biggest dangers in the park. There are no quick places to return to tree line if needed so be aware of the weather. This is also a popular place for bighorn sheep that frequent the area, so keep an eye out. Learn more.

5. Hike to Chasm Lake

Photo: Eric Schuette

Chasm Lake is at the base of the diamond, which is the 1,000 foot east face of Long’s Peak. There are probably no more impressive cirques in Colorado than the one chasm lake resides in. During the summer it is a very popular hiking destination, which you will understand when you visit. In the winter it crosses an avalanche-prone slope so extreme caution is needed, although in the right conditions it is a magical place. Learn more.

6. Hike above Black Lake to an Alpine Paradise

Photo: Crystan Brindle

The cirque above Black Lake and Glacier Gorge is one of the most amazing locations in the park. There are several beautiful alpine lakes, one of the best wildflower displays in the park, and access to some of the coolest alpine climbing routes in the state. Green Lake has a use trail to it from Black Lake but Blue and Frozen are a little more off the beaten path. Climbing routes up Arrowhead, Spearhead, Pagoda, and McHenry’s peak have something to offer any intrepid mountaineer. Please be careful, the area is sensitive and responsible travel is essential to keeping this area pristine. Learn more.

7. Hike The Mummy Kill (a.k.a. Mummy Mania)

Photo: Eric Schuette

The Mummy Range is much less explored than other areas but contains some of the most spectacular scenery anywhere in the park, which is saying something in Rocky. Although many of the mountains and lakes are worthy destinations in their own right, the Mummy Mania is a way to link many of the mountains together in one push. For those that are incredibly fit and looking for a beautiful challenge, this is a great way to explore the mummy range. Learn more.

Cover photo: Eric Schuette

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Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.