Estes Park offers the best hiking, bar none, in all of Colorado. Rocky Mountain National Park offers some 300 miles of trails from low lying meadows to alpine jaunts high above treeline.

Estes is a year-round hiking destination, though you will likely want to rent snow shoes during the winter months (or even hire a local outfitting company to take you on a backcountry ski tour) to the deeper areas of the park from October to April.

The best book out there is The Complete Hiking Guide written by long time local Lisa Foster. It was so popular its first run went out of print nearly immediately and it took several years to be able to find it again.

Below are our hand-selected favorites, organized from mild to strenuous, but be sure to check out’s Estes Park section for a crowd-sourced hiking guide. During the winter, you’ll likely need microspikes, snowshoes and other gear, which you can rent from our friends at the Estes Park Mountain Shop at (97o) 586-6548. They also have the best up-to-date information on trail conditions. 

Most of these hikes can be done year-round, but see details below.

Bear Lake – At the end of Bear Lake Road, beautiful year round, and the essential jumping off point for adventures in the National Park. If you want to keep it super easy, just cruise the mostly paved path around Bear Lake (leaves from the parking lot) taking in huge views of Hallet Peak and the rest of the Continental Divide.

However, you can also take many of the other hikes from Bear Lake, as its trail networks to many of the Park’s most alluring hikes, snowshoe trips, backcountry ski tours, and backpacking trips. 

You absolutely need to be there early in the summer (like, 7am) or you need to be prepared to park at the rideshare lot on Bear Lake Road and take the shuttle up. It gets a lot of traffic so the snow will likely be packed down in the winter, though microspikes would be helpful because it can get icy. 

All Trails:–2
Distance: 0.7 miles
Elevation Gain: 42 feet
Difficulty: 1/10

Emerald Lake – Every visitor to Estes should hike to Emerald Lake, accessible from the Bear Lake trailhead. The hike is about an hour and a half, and winds through a number of other lakes (Dream, Nymph, etc) before arriving in a glacial alpine cirque with the huge face of Hallet Peak rocketing nearly straight out of the water.

Plan to be at the trail head around 7am in the summertime, or else you’ll need to take the Park ‘n Ride bus due to traffic. From November to April, you’ll need to rent snowshoes, microspikes or backcountry skis (it’s a fantastic destination for the beginner off-piste skier).

All Trails:
Distance: 3.1 miles
Elevation Gain: 708 feet
Difficulty: 3/10

Gem Lake – Relatively moderate 3.4-mile hike to the shores of the tiny Gem Lake, in a big granite basin on Lumpy Ridge. Interesting rock formations along the way. Most of the time you have a great view across the Estes Valley of Longs Peak.

Gem Lake sits at the lower elevations so it’s generally accessible year round without any special equipment, though some spots may be icy in the winter after storms. Once at Gem Lake you can continue all the way around Lumpy Ridge for a long, long loop, or come straight back. 

All Trails:
Distance: 3.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 990 feet
Difficulty: 3/10

Sky Pond – About 8 miles round trip to one of the most stunning glacial lakes in Colorado. Very different than the hike to Chasm Lake or Twin Sisters because you don’t spend much time above tree line, but once you arrive, you’ll be greeted with incredible views of a bunch of 1,000-foot granite spires towering above you.

The trail is relatively flat for the distance, and only steeper in a few sections, so while it can be a long day out for those who aren’t yet acclimated, it’s fairly easy. Doable in the winter with snowshoes, best with backcountry skis, and perfect from mid-May to mid-October.

All Trails:
Distance: 8.1 miles
Elevation Gain: 1765 feet
Difficulty: 6/10

Twin Sisters Trail – We love this hike! It’s a great way to avoid the hustle and bustle of the “Park Proper” during the high season, and it’s as good or better than anything inside the Park. The 7-mile out-and-back trail to the top of Twin Sisters winds its way though a beautiful pine forest to a wild summit usually shared with resident bighorn sheep. 

Twin Sisters sits on US Forest Service Land bordering the National Park, so it’s a little less popular than its brethren a few miles away, but the views are amazing. You’ll see Longs Peak, the entire Continental Divide, and on a clear summer day you can see the entire Front Range from Fort Collins to Denver.

Winter conditions can vary, but it gets a LOT of wind. Snow tends to quickly blow away, leaving behind packed snow and ice toward the summit. Recommend microspikes, but rarely snowshoes.

All Trails:
Distance: 7.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 2516
Difficulty: 7/10

Pawnee Pass – Estes gets ridiculously busy, but south of town lies the Roosevelt National Forest, which is every bit as gorgeous but way less crowded than Rocky Mountain National Park. The Long Lake Trailhead is the staging ground for one of my favorite hikes, Pawnee Pass, which passes lakes and streams and ends up high above treeline on the Continental Divide with views to the east and west of the Rockies.

There’s nothing particularly unique about this hike — no weird rock formations, no crazy peaks rising dramatically from some lake — but it’s just breathtakingly gorgeous the entire way. Moose encounters are not uncommon. 

Note that the trailhead is a 45 minute drive from Estes Park, in the Indian Peaks Wilderness which borders Rocky Mountain National Park. It begins in the Brainard Lake Recreation Area (there’s a $12 fee, and it’s cash only). Also, dogs are welcome. 

All Trails:
Distance: 8.9 miles
Elevation Gain: 2103 feet
Difficulty: 7.5/10

Chasm Lake – One of the most beautiful hikes in the park, though 9.4 miles long and strenuous, and at higher elevations. Luckily, and because of this, it’s less busy. The journey begins at the Longs Peak Trailhead about 10 miles out of town and wanders through a pine forest, through the alpine tundra, and eventually to Chasm Lake at the base of Longs Peak.

The destination is completely surreal. The vertical Diamond face of Longs juts out of the nearby glacier, with the summit looming several thousand feet straight above. This is one of our favorite places in the National Park.

We highly recommended starting this hike fairly early in the morning so you can return below treeline before the summer thunderstorms roll in at 2pm. You can hike this in winter (microspikes required, snowshoes sometimes necessary), but you will likely endure gale-force, freezing winds ripping off Longs. That said, more and more people are doing it each winter. 

All Trails:
Distance: 9.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 2601 feet
Difficulty: 8/10 

Longs Peak – If you’re looking to bag a 14,000-foot peak, Longs should be at the top of your list. It is a long, 15-mile round trip hike with nearly a mile of elevation gain, but it’s one of the more accessible 14ers in Colorado, and worth every drop of sweat. You’ll start in a pine forest, ascend through the alpine tundra, hit the boulderfield (literally a field of flat boulders that you walk across) and the unusual rock formations of The Keyhole, scramble up the back side of Longs, and summit.

It is an adventure and a serious undertaking, so be prepared. You can read more at the All Trails link below, plus this helpful trip report, this page from the National Park Service, and this guide from SummitPost

Estes has strong winds at altitude, plus predictable mid-afternoon thunder and lightning storms that roll in during the summer months around 2pm — which means it’s highly advisable to be safely below treeline by then. For this reason, and depending entirely on your fitness level, you’ll need to leave the parking lot between 3 and 7am.

The hike is doable but extremely serious in the winter, and you will need significant winter/snow experience, ice axes, crampons, other appropriate gear, and be prepared for arctic conditions with sub-zero temps and gale force winds.

All Trails:
Distance: 14.8 miles
Elevation Gain: 5039 feet
Difficulty: 10/10


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