15 Best Hiking Trails in Estes Park, Colorado

Pep Dekker

Updated on:

The state of Colorado is well-renowned for its hiking trails and beautiful, natural scenery. 

In particular, the hiking trails of Estes Park offer a range of outdoor experiences for individuals, groups, families, and pet owners. 

We know that choosing a hiking trail that suits both your experience level and interests may feel overwhelming, so we’ve created this guide for the 15 best hiking trails in Estes Park, Colorado! 

Whether you’re a thrill seeker looking for a challenging hike, a family wanting an outdoor experience to do with the kids, or a solo adventurer embarking on your first-ever hike, this guide should give you ample details to inform your next hiking decision.

Let’s get started!

Popular Hiking Trails in Estes Park

There are many opportunities for hiking in Estes Park, offering a combination of mountain, lake, and waterfall scenes. 

Additionally, most of the trails exist inside Rocky Mountain National Park, although there are some worth including that are just outside the bounds of the park. 

Take note of the outer trails if you’re bringing a pet! We will be sure to mention if a trail is pet-friendly. 

Emerald Lake Trail

To begin, Emerald Lake is a highly popular trail that provides moderate difficulty all around. 

This trail is located at Bear Lake, which provides beautiful, water-centric views. The total distance from start to finish is 3.6 miles, which should take about 1.5 hours at an average pace. 

This hike is perfect for a group of friends of differing skill levels who want to bond in the outdoors. 

Importantly, this trail is not pet-friendly due to wildlife concerns. However, more pet-friendly trails will be mentioned in this article as we explore other hiking trails in Estes Park. 

Dream Lake Trail

The Dream Lake Trail is aptly named, containing lake views that are enveloped in the Rocky Mountains. 

The length of this trail is about 2 miles roundtrip and it’s considered to be moderate in difficulty. 

This trail may suit more adventurous or older kids and their families, as the length is not overwhelming but still provides a small challenge. 

Note: Pets are not allowed at this location. Horse-friendly. 

Alberta Falls Trail

Alberta Falls Trail is located at Glacier Gorge and is about 1.6 miles in length. 

Spend 45 minutes soaking in the fresh air and spectacular views of Alberta Falls! Alberta Falls Trail is another moderate-intensity hike but is on the shorter side for smaller children or those wanting a faster experience. 

Overall, the waterfall views at Alberta Falls are highly sought after!

Note: Pets are not allowed at this location. Horse-friendly. 

The Loch Lake Trail

The Loch Lake Trail (also known as The Loch) is also located at Glacier Gorge. This trail is easy to see and well-defined, which adds to its accessibility. 

However, it is approximately 6 miles long, which can offer a few hours of hiking in the Rocky Mountain area. 

Although this trail is considered to be moderate, it is wise to make sure that you (and your hike-mates) have enough endurance for a longer hike. If you’re unsure, plan a break at the 3-mile mark for some refreshments and relaxation in nature!

Note: Pets are not allowed at this location. Horse-friendly. 

Sandbeach Lake

Next, Sandbeach Lake is an 8.4-mile pine-filled hike that ends at Mt. Meeker. This hike includes a challenging ascent that may require a trekking pole or walking assistance, depending on the skill level of the hiker. 

The Sandbeach Lake trailhead is located at Wild Basin and peaks at about 2,000 feet above sea level. It is recommended that you pack food, wear comfortable shoes, and take breaks as needed during this trek!

Note: Pets are not allowed at this location. Not horse-friendly. 

Deer Mountain Trail

Located at Deer Ridge Junction where U.S. Highways 34 and 36 meet, Deer Mountain is a wonderful trail that should be on your list of summits to see. 

The length of the Deer Mountain Trail is 6 miles and is perfect for a group of friends who hike as a pastime. 

Twin Sisters Peak Trail

Twin Sisters Peak Trail is a rugged, but worthwhile trail that is about 7.5 miles in length. 

This trail is more suitable for experienced hikers, as it is rated one of the most challenging hikes by Estes Park. 

Note: Pets are not allowed at this location. Not horse-friendly. 

Gem Lake Trail

Gem Lake Trail is up next! This hiking experience is very steep, but the beauty of the spring-fed lake that greets you at the end will assuredly make the trek well worth it. 

This hike is 3.2 miles long, so it can be accomplished in a shorter amount of time than others on this list. However, make sure that you (and your hiking partner) are up for an incline. 

Note: Pets are not allowed at this location. Not horse-friendly. 

Cub Lake Trail

Cub Lake Trail is a scenic ride until the end of the hike. This trail is located at Fern Lake and is 4.6 miles long. 

Cub Lake trail is moderate in difficulty, so this may be appropriate for older kids and less experienced hikers. Hikers should expect to finish the Cub Lake Loop in around 2.5 hours. Keep your eye out for cubs on the way!

Note: Pets are not allowed at this location. Not horse-friendly. 

Ute Trail

Get ready to experience a diverse landscape including tundra, meadows, and forest. 

Since this trail is so inclusive, it is also 13 miles long. Ute Trail is located at Upper Beaver Meadows with a maximum altitude of 3,025 feet. 

Note: Pets are not allowed at this location. Not horse-friendly. 

Lily Mountain Trail

Next up is Lily Mountain Trail. This is the first trail that is pet-friendly! 

Lily Mountain Trail is found on CO Highway 7, approximately 6 miles south of Estes Park. Overall, Lily Mountain Trail is a challenging trail that includes a wonderful summit. 

Note: Not horse-friendly. 

Nymph Lake

Here’s another one for the outdoorsy families out there. 

Nymph Lake is accessed from Bear Lake and is 1 mile in length. This is a perfect hike for families of younger and older children. 

If you complete this hike early enough in the day, you’ll be set up to do other activities as well! There is also no concern of altitude sickness, as its highest point is 225 feet. 

Fern Lake Trail

Fern Lake has got it all: waterfalls, mountain views, and a steep final push at the end. 

This hike is meant for experienced hikers or those with horses looking to get into nature for a challenging 7.5-mile experience. The Fern Lake Trail can be accessed through Moraine Park.

Note: Pets are not allowed at this location. 

Homestead Meadows

If you’re a history buff, you may love Homestead Meadows

This trail is accessed through Hermit Park and points directly to the homesteads that existed between 1889 to 1923. This is also another trail that you can bring your pet to! 

This hike may be well-liked by the family, but there is an entry fee associated. The length is just under 7 miles and is meant for average hikers. 

Note: Not horse-friendly. 

Sky Pond via Glacier Gorge Trail

Amidst a boulder field that leads to a special lake, Sky Pond is a must-do hike. To access this hiking experience, you have to begin at Glacier Gorge Trail. Sky Pond is almost 10 miles long, so make sure to pack ample snacks and water. 

Note: Pets are not allowed at this location. Not horse-friendly. 

Tips for Hiking in Estes Park

Hiking in Estes Park is a fun activity for people of all ages and abilities. However, here are some important tips to know before embarking on your next hiking adventure:

1. Check the weather and start early to avoid afternoon storms

The weather can really make or break a hiking experience! 

Consider your ideal weather situation: do you prefer to hike in the cold or to get a sweat on in the heat? Do you have an insulated bottle that can keep your water cold if it’s hot outside? How about rain/humidity? 

Check the weather regularly (including the day of) and be adaptable to sudden changes. Additionally, it’s advisable to start your hike earlier in the morning to avoid midday heat and any approaching storms. 

2. Wear layered clothing, sturdy hiking boots, and bring rain gear

To accommodate for weather conditions, dressing appropriately for a hike is essential. 

Your hiking outfit should include layered clothing, comfortable (but sturdy) hiking boots, and rain gear in case of inclement weather. 

Another item of clothing that you may want to have is a backpack. When choosing a backpack, pick one that is lightweight and contains many pockets for different items. Remember, you will have to carry it throughout your hike!

3. Always carry water, snacks, and essential items like a first-aid kit

Speaking of items that go in backpacks, make sure to pack plenty of water and snacks for your hike! 

Think about the foods that typically give you the most energy for exercising, such as granola bars or protein-filled snacks, and pack a few options for the road. 

Also, in the event of an injury or emergency, pack a first aid kit that includes bandages, gauze, antimicrobial solvents, and some medications (such as ibuprofen or an EpiPen). 

4. Stick to marked trails and respect trail closures or posted signs

It can be tempting to create your own trail or ignore “closed” signs, but these activities can put your safety at risk. 

Before heading to your trail, check out the Estes Park website to note any trail closures or changes. 

5. Be alert for wildlife, maintain a safe distance, and avoid feeding them

The types of wildlife you may expect to encounter (depending on the time of year) are elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep, black bears, mountain cats, and sheep. 

While these animals add to the magic of nature, it’s wise to refrain from engaging with them. 

Also, take note of mating or calving seasons (fall and spring), as animals can be more defensive during these times. 

Estes Park has issued a list of safety tips when it comes to viewing wildlife on all trails. 

The bottom line: always keep your wits about you as you walk through the homes of thousands of animals during your hike!

6. Follow Leave No Trace principles to protect the environment

As just mentioned, Estes Park is the home to countless animals, as well as being a beloved national park. 

If you choose to hike at any of its trails, leave the spaces as you found them! This includes taking all trash and belongings with you as you leave. 

7. Familiarize yourself with altitude acclimatization if from lower elevations

Acclimatizing is important if you’re planning to go on a hike with increasing altitudes. 

According to Mountain Hardwear, the most effective way to acclimatize is to be slow and intentional as you increase in trail height. 

8. Always have a map or trail guide, even if using a GPS

Even though trails can have obvious signage and marked areas, always have an additional source of navigation with you in case you get lost. 

In addition to GPS, it is suggested that you bring paper maps/trail guides to use in case service is lost during the hike.

9. Inform someone of your planned route and expected return time

Although unlikely, getting lost in nature can happen. Make sure that someone on the outside knows that you’ve planned to hike, especially if you’re going alone. 

They will be able to notify the park or other authorities to look for you if you have not returned by the expected time. 

10. Understand local regulations, permits, and trailhead parking rules

If you’re hiking during summertime, consider riding the hiker shuttle that departs from Estes Visitor Center to the parking lot. Trailhead parking can be difficult, particularly during busy seasons. 

Lastly, it is beneficial to read up on the Estes Park rules and regulations before planning your hike to ensure that you’re keeping the trails a safe and enjoyable place for everyone. Happy hiking!


  • Pep Dekker

    Hey. I’m Pep, Paige's husband, and dad to Juliana, Lucille and Maxine. I'm founder and writer here at EstesPark.com. I've been living full-time in Estes Park for 3 years now and been visting the Estes Valley for 8. I'm a seasoned traveller, and all around expert on all things Estes Park, Colorado and I'm excited to share all that I've learned with you.