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5 Underrated Trails in Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) is home to some amazing hiking trails, gorgeous alpine views, and wonderful wildlife. It’s also one of the most visited national parks in the world. Don’t let the crowds ruin your visit, though. With more than 235 different hiking paths, there is plenty to see. Skip Bear Lake, Alberta Falls, and Gem Lake and go for one of these also-amazing hikes instead.

5. Mills Lake, Black Lake, and Frozen Lake via Glacier Gorge Trail

Image by Ray Wise

This incredible 11.5-mile out-and-back trail has 2,539 feet of elevation gain and takes you through Glacier Gorge to reach Black Lake, a serene alpine lake surrounded by towering peaks. This hike near Estes Park, Colorado is a fairly challenging hike that takes around six hours.

While not as crowded as some of the more famous lakes in the park, Black Lake offers equally breathtaking views. Enjoy gorgeous stops along the way, like Mills Lake, Jewel Lake, and Ribbon Falls. Another notable stop on this hike is Alberta Falls, which happens less than a mile into the trail. 

As you reach Black Lake, you’ll find yourself nestled among rugged cliffs and surrounded by emerald waters. The lake’s tranquility and breathtaking views are a reward for your hike, an ideal spot for a picturesque picnic.

What distinguishes the Black Lake Trail is its seclusion, which allows for a serene day out. Plus, the quiet increases your chances of encountering wildlife, such as deer and elk. Go May through October for the best experience.

4. Thunder Lake Trail

Image by Andrea Stricklin

This trail offers a quieter alternative to some of the more crowded trails in RMNP. Located in the Wild Basin area of the park, the Thunder Lake Trail leads to Thunder Lake, which is surrounded by a stunning alpine landscape. This 11.7-mile out-and-back trail has an elevation gain of 2,247 feet and is a fairly challenging hike, taking about six hours to complete.

Starting near Allenspark, Colorado, the Thunder Lake Trail lies just below the treeline in an open basin with excellent fishing and numerous backcountry campsites. This trail captivates hikers with its stunning beauty as it meanders through the picturesque Wild Basin. Along the way, you’ll be treated to a visual feast of lush forests, enchanting waterfalls, and tranquil alpine meadows.

If you’re an avid backpacker, Thunder Lake serves as a gateway to more extensive backcountry adventures and longer trails. The easy-access, secluded trail is a great pick to avoid Rocky Mountain National Park crowds. The best times to visit this trail are May through October.

3. Ypsilon Lake Trail

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Located near the Lawn Lake Trailhead, the Ypsilon Lake Trail takes you through lush forests and meadows before arriving at the picturesque Ypsilon Lake with views of Fairchild Mountain and Ypsilon Mountain. Hike near the Roaring River, explore the canyons of Horseshoe Park, and make a stop at Chipmunk Lake along this great backcountry trail.

This 9-mile intense hike brings you to a rugged alpine lake and nearby cliff face with great views of Bighorn Mountain and the Roaring River Valley. You’ll gain over 2,000 of elevation, but the ravine and secluded lakes make this lesser-known hike worth your while. 

2. Little Yellowstone Trail

Image by Frank Knapp

This unique hike is not as popular as some of the others in the park, but it is noteworthy all the same thanks to its unusual geological features. The Little Yellowstone Trail in RMNP is a 12.2-mile out-and-back hike with 1,866 feet of elevation gain that heads through luxurious meadows, Coyote Valley, and passes the LuLu City Historic Site.

The remnants of Lulu City, a once-thriving mining town, evoke the spirit of the late 1800s and offer a glimpse into history. Explore log cabins where miners used to live and check the grass plains for wildlife as you go – you might see an elk, moose, or bear. In the end, you’ll even take in expansive views of the No Summer Mountain Range. 

1. Lily Lake Loop Trail

Image by National Parks Service

While Lily Lake, situated at the headwaters of Fish Creek, is a popular spot for picnicking, the Lily Lake Loop Trail is often overlooked by hikers in favor of more challenging routes. This easy loop trail provides scenic views of Lily Lake, Longs Peak, and the surrounding mountains, making it a great option for a leisurely stroll. This trail, open to any level of hiker, is a great trek for the whole family.

The trail is also partially handicapped accessible. It circles around the lake and nearby wetlands and is conveniently located near Estes Park. Although the lake is natural, a dam was constructed in 1915 to increase its size, which it did, nearly doubling the amount of water.

The Lily Lake Loop Trail encircles the picturesque lake, set against the backdrop of Longs Peak and the surrounding mountains. The northern shore of Lily Lake will provide some outstanding views of Estes Cone, as well as the two highest peaks in Rocky Mountain National Park—Mt. Meeker and Longs Peak. Whether you’re looking for a quick nature escape, a place to observe wildlife, or simply a serene spot to enjoy the mountain scenery, the Lily Lake Loop Trail offers it all with convenient accessibility.

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