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8 Awesome hikes on the East Side of Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park hikes are unforgettable - especially on the East Side!

By: Michael Fricke + Save to a List

Rocky Mountain National Park is just an hour's drive from Boulder and an hour and a half from Denver.  I spent this last summer working in Colorado and did a lot of hiking on the park's East Side. These were my favorites:

1. Flattop Mountain and Hallett Peak

A rocky mountain is dotted with snow. There are blue skies with small puffy white clouds.

Distance: 9.73 miles
Elevation: 3,240 feet
Type: Out-and-back

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

Two people with backpacks walk across a snowy area on top of a mountain. There are mountains in the distance and the blue sky is dotted with small, puffy white clouds.

2. Sky Pond

A blue lake is surrounded by evergreen trees and rocky mountains with snow.

Distance: 8.43 miles
Elevation: 1,780 feet
Type: Out-and-back

This hike has become very popular, and it's very easy to see why. You pass multiple beautiful lakes and waterfalls along the way. 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 to this Rocky Mountain National Park hike!

3. Chasm Lake

Greenery and wildflowers dot a hillside with the sun silhouetting a mountain in the distance.

Distance: 8.02 miles
Elevation: 2,500
Type: Out-and-back

Leave from the Long’s Peak Trailhead for this great hike! Chasm Lake is a beautiful lake 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. The view of Peacock Pool from Columbine Falls is beautiful, too.

A rocky mountainside leads to a small alpine lake and a waterfall.

4. Cub Lake Trailhead to Bear Lake

Evergreens surround a lake and a snowy mountain rises into the sky across the water.

Distance: 4.6 miles
Elevation: 645 feet
Type: Out-and-back

You can take this Rocky Mountain Hike either way. Use the park shuttle system 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 route 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.

A lake is dotted with ice and evergreen trees ring the shore. Rocky mountains are dotted with snow in the distance.

5. Emerald Lake

A lake rests in a crater inside a rocky mountain. There is snow and evergreen trees.

Distance: 3.15 miles
Elevation: 650 feet
Type: Out-and-back

This may be the most popular hike in Rocky Mountain National Park, so there will be people. There will also be three amazing lakes. Leave from Bear Lake and pass Nymph Lake and Dream Lake on your way to Emerald. I think the lakes get better as you go, but some people like Dream 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. You can make this route longer by turning towards Haiyaha to the Loch/Mills Junction and looping back to Bear Lake past Alberta Falls.

Three people stand on a snowy path next to a lake surrounded by evergreen trees on a mountainside.

6. Sandbeach Lake

A lake that is half covered in ice is surrounded by pine trees and there is a snowy mountain in the distance.

Distance: 8.56 miles
Elevation: 2,057 feet
Type: Out-and-back

Sandbeach Lake is one of my favorite lakes in the park. But this hike is lower on the list for me because the hike to it isn’t as interesting as the ones above it - It's about the destination. Sandbeach Lake is amazing. It's a large lake compared to others on the list, with mountains behind it and sandy shores. Because it's 4.5 miles from the trailhead with little to see on the way, it gets less of the touristy crowd than other Rocky Mountain National Park hikes.

A lake is covered in ice and the far side shoreline rises up a mountain dotted in evergreen trees.

7. Lumpy Ridge Loop

A small waterfall goes over a rocky wall.

Distance: 3.12 miles
Elevation: 950 feet
Type: Out-and-back

The Lumpy Ridge area is less-populated than the main parts of the park. It's a popular place for climbers and has some nice Rocky Mountain National Park hikes. Get to know this part of the park by making a large loop 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.

8. Black Lake

Rocky mountains surround a small lake with pine trees on the shoreline.

Distance: 9.17 miles
Elevation: 1,400 feet
Type: Out-and-back

This route is the same hike as Sky Pond until the Loch/Mills Junction, but turn towards Mills Lake on this version. I prefer the Sky Pond hike, but Sky Pond is getting very popular, so if you want a hike similar to Sky Pond with fewer people this is the one for you.

A small path winds along a mountainside among green grass and evergreen trees.

Bonus: Rock Cut/Toll Memorial

Patches of snow cover the hillside of a mountain covered in greenery.

Distance: 1.1 miles
Elevation: 131 feet
Type: Out-and-back

I know it's 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, and the tundra flowers are beautiful. If you drive across Trail Ridge and only have time for one stop, stop here.

A herd of animals stand on a snowy area on a large mountain partially covered in grass.

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