There’s no question that Rocky Mountain National Park offers some of the best hiking trails in the state of Colorado but for first time hikers it can be a bit overwhelming trying to navigate where to begin. As an avid hiker (and parent!), I’ve compiled three of my favorite hikes for beginners that still want to experience the best that Rocky Mountain National Park has to offer.
Cub Lake is a fantastic trail for novice hikers as it offers all of the diversity of some of the more advanced hikes -- views, creeks, a lake and tons of wildlife -- without the incline or the distance. Although rated as “Moderate,” this 4.8 mile out and back trail is perfect for even the smallest hikers, with lots to see and plenty of excitement around every corner.
This trail begins off the main road to the Fern Lake trail. Don’t confuse the two! Arrive early as parking can be a struggle and you might end up walking a mile or two just to make it to the trailhead if you arrive too late in the day.
The trail to Cub Lake starts wandering through an incredible meadow full of wildlife. Keep an eye out for marmots, elk, moose, and in the spring season, be on the lookout for all of the baby ducks and turkeys! As you round the corner to your first slight incline you will come upon a series of small ponds that are frequently visited by moose early in the day (If you haven’t heard… a bull moose isn’t something to be messed with, so take caution.) Take a break on one of the many large boulders to enjoy the view before heading on to the next part of your journey. From there you will be taken on a minimal incline up to Cub Lake. Along the way you will cross a number of small creeks and streams before finishing your journey at the lake.
Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lake
Located along the Bear Lake series of trails, this hike is perfect for anyone looking for breathtaking views and plenty of places to stop and enjoy a quiet moment along the trail. Also rated as “Moderate,” this 3.1 mile out and back hike didn’t slow down my four year old one bit.
Almost immediately as you begin your hike you will come upon Nymph lake, this beauty sits on your left hand side. Covered in lilies and shallow enough to walk across, this lake is another perfect spot to stop and take in your surroundings.
Further up the trail is Dream Lake, a slightly larger lake with crystal clear waters and lush trees surrounding it. In the winter, the lake will be covered in a thick coat of ice. You might see other hikers sitting or meditating around the lake, and there’s no question why. This lake really is a tranquil dream for anyone looking to escape the sounds of the outside world.
Your hike will dead end into the third and final lake located along the trail -- Emerald. There’s no question where this stunning lake gets its name. Surrounded on three sides by snow capped mountains, Emerald Lake offers hikers clear, emerald colored water painted with the reflection of the surrounding mountains. Stop and stick your feet in the chilly water as you watch the local chipmunks run from boulder to boulder. In the early spring you might even see backcountry skiers making their way down the mountain.
Looking for something a little less involved but just as beautiful? Check out Alluvial Fan. Located near the front entrance on the north Estes Park side of Rocky Mountain National park, this 0.5 mile hike is perfect for any age or skill level. From the trailhead, you will walk half a mile up a (very) slight incline until you reach an open meadow, split down the middle by an enormous and stunning waterfall.
Play on the rocks or take your chances at climbing to the top of the falls. Little ones can dip their toes in the shallows while more experienced hikers can scale the boulders to get closer to the mist. No matter what your skill level or hiking experience, Alluvial Fan is a ‘must-see’ for any Rocky Mountain National Park visitor.