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10 Awesome Hikes on the East Side of Rocky Mountain National Park

The East Side of Rocky Mountain National Park has many amazing hikes just a short drive from Boulder and Denver

By: Michael Fricke + Save to a List

Rocky Mountain National Park is just an hour drive from boulder and an hour and a half from Denver.  I spent this last summer working in the Colorado.  I did a lot of hiking on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park.  These were my favorites:

1.  Flattop Mountain and Hallett Peak

This is my type of hiking.  Everyone you ask will have a different favorite but for my nothing beats hiking above tree line through beautiful tundra with amazing views. It has amazing views of Dream Lake from above on the way up. When you reach the top you get views of the east and west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. If you get to Flattop, do yourself a favor and do the extra little bit up to Hallett Peak.  

2. Sky Pond

This hike has become very popular but is very easy to see why. You pass multiple beautiful lakes and waterfalls along the hike. Alberta Falls, The Loch, Timberline Falls, and Lake of Glass are all passed on the way to Sky Pond making the journey just as beautiful as the destination. Many people think Lake of Glass is Sky Pond. Keep going after you scramble up past Timberline Falls; there is more.

3.  Lion Lake

Want to escape the crowds? Go deep into the Wild Basin. On the way you will pass Calypso Cascades and Ouzel Falls awesome features in themselves. When I hiked to Lion Lake I didn’t see anyone past Ouzel Falls. It was one of my favorite experiences in Rocky Mountain. Keep going after the first one and pass Trio Falls there’s Lion Lake No 2.  

4. Chasm Lake

This is a great hike. Leave from the Long’s Peak Trailhead. Chasm Lake is a beautiful lake with under Long’s Peak. For Chasm Lake you will look up almost a half mile to the top of Long’s but feel oh so close to it. The view looking back at Peacock Pool from Columbine Falls is very nice.

5. Cub Lake Trailhead to Bear Lake

You can hike this either way. Use the shuttle system provided by the park to do a point to point or if you're really up to it you can hike a 16 mile loop (continue from Bear towards Bierstadt Lake and back to Cub). This hike passes Cub Lake, Fern Falls, Fern Lake, Odessa Lake and Lake Helene. It's like a tour of amazing mountain lakes. If you love lakes you'll like this hike.

6. Emerald Lake

The most popular hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. There will be people. There will also be three amazing lakes.  Leave from Bear Lake. You will pass Nymph Lake and Dream Lake on your way to Emerald. In my opinion the lakes get better as you go but some people find Dream to be the best. None of them will disappoint. I’ve heard people describe Emerald Lake as “something straight out of a movie” but I think it’s the other way around, nature like this inspires people to make movies and write stories. Emerald Lake and back is only 3.8 miles. You can make it longer by turning towards Haiyaha to the Loch/Mills Junction and looping back to Bear Lake past Alberta Falls.

7. Sandbeach Lake

Sandbeach Lake is one of my favorite lakes in the park. But the reason this hike is lower on the list for me is because the hike to it isn’t as interesting as the hikes above it. This hike is about the destination. Sandbeach Lake is amazing. It is a pretty large lake compared to some others on the list with mountains behind it from multiple angles and sandy shores. Because it is 4.5 miles from the trailhead with not much to see on the way so it gets less of the touristy crowd than other hikes.

8. Lumpy Ridge Loop

A nice area that is less populated than the main areas of the park is the Lumpy Ridge area. A popular place with climbers, Lumpy Ridge also has some nice hikes. It's doable to do to a large loop starting from the Lumpy Ridge Trailhead towards Gem Lake and heading to Bridal Veil Falls. When you get back on the main trail from Bridal Veil head west and then turn back down toward Lumpy Ridge Trailhead. You will pass many popular climbing areas and have good views looking down towards Estes Park.

9. Black Lake

This is a very good hike but it is the same hike as Sky Pond until the Loch/Mills Junction but on this hike you turn towards Mills Lake. The reason it is lower on the list of hikes I suggest to people is because it is very similar to Sky Pond but I think Sky Pond is better. Sky Pond is getting very popular so if you want a hike similar to Sky Pond with less people then this is the one for you.

10. Rock Cut/Toll Memorial

I know not technically on the East Side but I love this hike. Every time I drove Trail Ridge Road I always stopped and did this half mile. During the summer there is a good chance to see wildlife from the Toll memorial. I’ve seen large herds of elk, marmots, and bighorns. The views from Trail Ridge are amazing. The tundra flowers are beautiful. If you make the drive across Trail Ridge and only have time for one stop, stop here.


We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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