Hiking near Rocky Mountain National Park

If you plan on hiking near Rocky Mountain National Park, try these short, easy to moderate hikes - Monarch Lake, Ute Pass, and Gem Lake.

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.

Monarch Lake

Monarch Lake Colorado - 4 mile easy hiking trail around the lake.

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

Monarch Lake trail in Colorado.


Ute Pass/Peak

Overlook along the Ute Pass or Ute Peak trail.

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.

Wildflowers along the Ute Pass Trail in Arapahoe National Forest

Gem Lake

Gem Lake trail

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

Paul Bunyan's boot on the Gem Lake trail


Does your family hike on vacation?

If you’ve been to or live in Colorado, what’s your favorite trail?

6 Comment

  1. Emily says: Reply

    That’s what I love about Colorado. You have any kind of hike for any kind of person. I’m actually not a huge hiking person, but if it’s under 4 miles, I do like it better!
    Emily recently posted…How Busy People Can Move HappyMy Profile

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      Yes, so many trail options! I love that about Montana too.

  2. My boyfriend and I are going to Colorado in September and looking to do a ton of hiking, so this is perfect! I for sure am adding these to the list of places we want to check out:)

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      Awesome! Check out some of the trails that connect to these too, if you’re looking for longer hikes. 🙂

  3. Awesome! I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed your trip! I work at YMCA of the Rockies, which is a beautiful place for families to come and stay, and bordered on three sides by RMNP. (Shameless advertisement. I’m not paid to advertise for them, I promise.)
    Recently, I did Ousel falls, which is inside the park. I can’t believe the amount of traffic the park has had this year–the parking lots literally couldn’t hold the capacity of guests who wanted to hike the trail!
    It’s cool to learn about some hikes that aren’t actually in the park. I’ll definitely have to bookmark your blog!
    Joyce @ The Hungry Caterpillar recently posted…Berries n’ Cream Cornmeal Teacake (gluten-free, low-FODMAP)My Profile

    1. Hannah says: Reply

      We looked at the YMCA, but they weren’t accepting reservations yet when we planned the trip!

      We went to the park mid-week and most of the parking lots were pretty packed! I think outside of the parks is the way to go during tourist season.

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.