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Digbydog Mar 10th, 2011 06:13 AM

Favorite Hikes at Rocky Mt. NP
We will be in Estes Park for 2 nights and Grand Lake for 1 night in mid-June. Given that we will have limited time, I would love to find out which hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park are Fodorites' favorites. We will have our 13 year old son with us so are probably looking for hikes of 6 miles or less.

Nelson Mar 13th, 2011 10:57 AM

For mid-June trails above 9500 feet might still have some snow cover, so I would consider lower trails where flowers will be blooming and the trails should be dry.

For the Estes Park side a favorite is the Cub Lake Loop and/or Fern Lake. These can be combined if you want. The loop is exactly six miles with little elevation gain so perfect if you are just arriving form a lower elevation. Another option is Hallowell Park area, which is less crowded. Good chance to see deer and elk on both of these trails.

On the Grand Lake side there are various short loops that can be worked out using the Onahu, Tonahutu and/or Green Mountain trailheads. Or consider walking up the Colorado River Trail towards Lulu City as far as you feel like going.

All of these trails should be great at mid-June. Good chance to see the uncommon Calypso Orchid flowering.

Let me know if you want any more details. Have a great time.

louistraveler5 Mar 14th, 2011 07:50 AM

My husband & I LOVE Estes Park! We have made a yearly trip for the past 4 years.

We love the hikes at the Bear Lake Trailhead. From Estes Park, go to the Beaver Meadows Entrance into Rocky Mtn NP then take Bear Lake Road which will lead you to the trailhead. From the trailhead, you can hike to such lakes as Nymph Lake, Dream Lake,Emerald Lake, etc:

Have a good time!

Digbydog Mar 14th, 2011 11:25 AM

Thank you both very much for your replies!

Louistraveler5--the hikes at the Bear Lake trailhead look wonderful. I know that trailhead gets busy early. Did you use the shuttle or did you park there?

Nelson--what is the parking like for Cub Lake/Fern Lake?

Nelson Mar 14th, 2011 02:33 PM


The hikes at Bear Lake are fabulous. I didn't send you up there due to possible snow at mid-June, but definitely worth going up there to have a look. One fantastic loop of about 6 miles is Bear Lake - Nymph Lake - Dream Lake - Lake Haiyaha - Glacier Gorge Trail - Alberta Falls - Bear Lake. If you are using the shuttle you can end the trip at Glacier Gorge instead of hoofing it back up to Bear Lake.

As you can see I like loop trails (there are tons of options especially if you make use of the shuttle), but just hiking up and back to the lakes suggested by louistraveler5 is great.

Parking at Cub or Fern Lake trail heads is limited. There are various pullouts along the road that offer parking, but options are get there early (or late), use the shuttle, or take a chance on your luck. It often works out.

BTW, the Cub Lake loop goes past The Pool. You can see that on the map that louistraveler5 linked to.

louistraveler5 Mar 15th, 2011 07:42 AM


Our last two trips to Estes Park were in October 2009 & August 2010.

Our October 2009 trip is when we discovered Bear Lake Road. We were there in mid-Oct so the trailhead was very sparse. Nelson stated he/she didn't direct you to Bear Lake because of possible snow; our hikes in mid-Oct had snow on the ground but the trail is completely's not packed with snow to make it impassable. When we had almost completed the hike it started lightly snowing and it was a magical moment!

Our August 2010 trip, we went the 4th-7th. We should have expected the town & national park to be busy because it was peak summertime but it did catch us by surprise. We had never been in the summer. The town was bustling with so many people, there was a long line to get into the Rocky Mtn NP and the Bear Lake trailhead was packed full! We had big plans to do a lot of the hikes at Bear Lake but each day the lot was full and each day afternoon showers would roll throughout the park. On our last day of this trip we made one last attempt at the Bear Lake trailhead. *There is a sign along Bear Lake Road that will tell you if the lot is full...continue on even if it states full...when you arrive at the parking lot there is a park ranger that stops you to let you know the fullness of the lot and you can circle the lot before returning back...if someone is leaving you can get their spot.* We had lucky timing on our last day because someone was leaving when we circled the lot, we got the parking spot and we got to do the hikes! The parking lots for the shuttle buses were full during our weekend in August.

I have never been to Estes Park in June and that is the beginning of summer season so I would think it won't be as busy as August. During August, many people may be taking that "last" trip before kids go back to school.

One side note about my husband & I: we are not early birds. We like to sleep in, eat breakfast then head into the park. We didn't get to the park entrance until 10:30-11am. During the summer, that is not the best time. The park ranger at Bear Lake told us the lot was full by 8am! Not being early birds was our downfall!

Digbydog Mar 15th, 2011 11:14 AM

Thank you so much for your lengthy replies. They were very helpful! Thankfully, we are early birds so maybe we will luck out on the parking situation, although Nelson's idea of ending the hike at Glacier Gorge is a good one.

Nelson Mar 16th, 2011 05:56 AM


If you decide to try that loop up at Bear Lake, consider doing it in the opposite direction than I posted above: park your car at Bear Lake, take the shuttle down to Glacier Gorge, then start hiking towards Alberta Falls. The advantage is you finish with a long gradual descent and arrive at your car instead of having to wait for the shuttle. Parking at Glacier Gorge is difficult. It can fill by 7:00 AM since it is a popular trail head for climbers getting an early start.

The could still be winter snow pack on sections of the trail. Hard to predict now. Your son might think postholing through it is great fun, but the rest of us consider it hard work!

Digbydog Mar 16th, 2011 10:34 AM

Thanks for the extra info Nelson! Finishing with a long descent sounds better than the reverse. I wouldn't have thought of snow on the trails, so I'm glad you mentioned it. What is postholing?

Nelson Mar 16th, 2011 03:30 PM

Postholing is when you are walking on snow and the surface layer collapses under your weight. Getting your foot out of the resultant hole can take a lot of effort, especially at 10,000 feet elevation!

It is likely that the popular trails around Bear Lake will be packed down enough so you don't have to worry about this, but one never knows. Kids do seem to enjoy it.

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