A couple weeks ago we stayed near Rocky Mountain National Park with my family. In the park itself, we drove Trail Ridge Road and did a couple short hikes along the way. We did a lot more hiking near Rocky Mountain National Park, which offers some equally majestic vistas along with a better chance at solitude during the busy summer months. So today I’m skipping the much-reviewed attractions in RMNP and sharing the hikes we did in the nearby area.
Of course, you can find a plethora of good hikes anywhere in the Colorado Rockies; these particular trails are easy to moderately difficult, and 4 miles or shorter. If you’re looking for a longer hike, all these trails connect with others. But if you’re hiking with a big group like my family, we found these shorter hikes to be the ideal length – some people prefer short hikes, some stop to climb every boulder along the trail, and everyone wants to get back to the house with plenty of time for dinner and lounging in the hot tub.
This 4-mile trail in Arapahoe national forest loops around Monarch Lake, gaining and losing about 300 feet of elevation along the way. It’s a reasonably easy trail to start a Colorado vacation with for flatlanders still acclimating to the altitude. The Continental Divide Trail also links with the Monarch Lake Trail, if you’re up for some long-distance hiking. While the trail loops around it, you’re actually out of sight of the lake for a good portion of the hike. No lake views doesn’t mean no views though; you’ll pass through evergreen forest and cross a couple alpine streams.
Trailhead coordinates (put these into Google maps, a GPS, etc. to get driving directions): 40°06’39.1″N 105°44’46.7″W
Nearest towns: Granby and Grand Lake
We came upon the trailhead for Ute Pass while searching for a different trail (which we never found). The entire length of the trail is actually a longer, more strenuous hike that summits Ute Peak; however, after a mile or so of dense forest, the trail opens up to a great overlook. The views from this overlook are worth the climb up the log-strewn trail. I don’t know the exact distance or elevation change to the overlook; let’s just say short but steep.
Note: if you come to the trailhead from the north, as we did, you’ll pass a lot of eyesore mining operations along the way. Don’t panic! You’ll see no sign of the mining once you’re on the trail.
Trailhead coordinates: 39°49’25.7″N 106°06’20.5″W
Nearby towns: Parshall and Hot Sulphur Springs to the north, Silverthorne to the south.
This trail is technically inside RMNP, but I’m counting it because it’s outside the park entrance, so you don’t need a park pass to hike it. It’s right outside Estes Park, and thus also much more heavily trafficked than the other two. While there are some lovely vistas on the hike up, the main draw of this hike for some of my family was the many large rock formations along the trail and around the lake, which are well-suited for bouldering and scrambling up. The trail can get steep, and also has rock steps at places – it gains and loses 1,000 feet of elevation over 3.5 miles roundtrip.
Trailhead: you don’t need coordinates for this one; just search for Lumpy Ridge Trailhead.
Nearby towns: Estes Park
Does your family hike on vacation?
If you’ve been to or live in Colorado, what’s your favorite trail?