With its expansive glacier-carved valleys, easily accessible tundra, abundant wildlife and thunderous waterfalls, Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the American West's must-see places. The drive over Trail Ridge Road alone is worthy of any mountain-lover's bucket list.
However, at 265,000 acres in size, the park also harbors thousands of quiet, off-the-beaten path places that most visitors don't know about. In fact, the western side of the park in Grand County is noticeably quieter than the more frequently visited eastern side.
On the eastern shore of Grand Lake lies the ever-popular trail to Adams Falls. For hikers seeking more solitude — and a calf-burning workout — head seven miles up the East Inlet Trail to Lake Verna and Spirit Lake. Surrounded by forest and crowned by a distant yet imposing granite wall, these jewel-like lakes offer an unparalleled scenic reward.
Access: Strenuous hiking. 7 miles one way, roughly 2,000 feet in elevation gain.
For a quiet picnic among aspens and pine, head to Summerland Park just northeast of Grand Lake. Here, open meadows and stands of willow along North Inlet Creek offer great habitat for moose, elk, deer and several species of wildflowers.
Access: Drive-in 1.7 miles to trailhead and park.
This short, accessible walking path through the open meadows of the Kawuneeche Valley is best enjoyed around sunset in the summer, when birds, moose and elk are most active (and day-trippers are long gone). Just short of a mile, the path is wheelchair accessible and is clearly marked on Trail Ridge Road.
Access: Easy hiking. 3/4 mile loop, with minimal elevation gain.
Photo Credit: National Park Service
For those willing to put in the effort, the hike up Baker Gulch to Parika Lake will leave an indelible memory. Elk, moose, black bear and even bobcats call this quiet valley home (the first two are frequently spotted, the latter two make their presence known with tracks on the trail). Located in the Never Summer Wilderness, Parika Lake offers an unusual view of Longs Peak some 20 miles away. Note: The trailhead is in the park, but the path leaves the park boundaries and enters National Forest land in short order.
Access: Strenuous hiking. 5 miles one way, roughly 2,500 feet in elevation gain.
Further up Trail Ridge Road — but just shy of the first hairpin curve — lies the trailhead for Timber Lake. Climbing steadily through the forest, the hiking trail leads visitors to an open alpine basin underneath 12,889-foot Mount Ida. Several backcountry camping sites are available (inquire with the National Park Service) making this a wonderful place to witness a summertime meteor shower.
Access: Fairly strenuous hiking. 4.6 miles one way, roughly 2,000 feet in elevation gain.
Hiking to Lulu City — an abandoned ghost town — is one of the most fascinating activities in the park. First established in 1879, the mining settlement boomed for a short time before it was abandoned just five years later. Hikers can see ancient cabins, old foundations and read interpretive signage. As you climb to it, you may be astonished to learn that the humble creek it follows is actually the Colorado River. This trail eventually leads to the mighty river's headwaters, near Poudre Pass.
Access: Moderate hiking. 3.7 miles one way, roughly 600 feet in elevation gain.
In 2015, our beloved Rocky Mountain National Park turned 100 years old. To celebrate, we gathered our favorite 100 activities and things to do that make our side of the park so special. Whether you've never been to the park or you return year after year, you're sure to find some new reasons to love Rocky Mountain National Park.Read More
The highest continual highway in the United States, Trail Ridge Road reaches a maximum elevation of 12,183 feet. And from all 48 miles the road stretches, you'll have spectacular views of Rocky Mountain National Park. Whether you embark upon your Trail Ridge Road adventure from Grand Lake or Estes Park, there are some must-see stops you should make along the way.Read More
With so much to see and do in Rocky Mountain National Park, you could spend your entire summer here. But just in case you can't get away for that long, we've put together our favorite ways to experience the park in just a week. On Rocky Mountain National Park's western side, Grand County's 5 towns range in elevation from 7,313 feet in Kremmling to 9,052 feet in Winter Park. Even if you're from the Mile…Read More