If you’ve thought about traveling to Rocky Mountain National Park, chances are you think you’ll only have time to explore a fraction of the park. Alas! One way to check off some of the best hikes in the Colorado Rockies is by linking them on a multi-day backpacking trip.
Backpacking in Rocky Mountain National Park offers the visitor a tremendously unique perspective and experience because a majority of the park’s visitors only have time for single-day outings. Options for routes abound and the best adventure for each group will vary from one visit to another, depending on such factors as: season, number of days, region of the park, and desired difficulty. All of these questions are up to you, the traveler. Luckily, the best backpacking in Rocky Mountain is as diverse as the visitors.
North Inlet is a great Rocky Mountain backpacking trip for the adventurer looking for a quick weekend getaway. The mileage per day is low, and the elevation gain moderate. The total out-and-back distance is 19.8 miles with 2,314 feet of elevation gain from the trailhead. Most do this route in two to three days. Highlights include tumbling waterfalls, clear alpine lakes for swimming, endless meadows, all surrounded by the towering, jagged Rockies – most of which are over 14,000 feet.
The Tonahutu Loop combines the majority of the North Inlet trail with with one of the more well-known trails in the Americas: the Continental Divide. If you are interested in backpacking the Continental Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park, the Tonahutu loop trail is a great place to start! The loop starts at the same trailhead of the North Inlet trailhead near the Kawuneeche Visitor Center. With the loop being over 26 miles, and plenty of options for spur hikes, this backpacking loop is usually done in 3 to 5 days. There is over 3,900 feet of elevation gain and options for more gain if you want to summit Flattop Mountain!
The East Inlet trail is similar to the North Inlet trail when considering mileage and elevation gain, but its greatest difference is the off-trail sections that the hiker encounters, which are higher in elevation as they approach the more difficult-to-get-to lakes, such as fourth and fifth lakes. If you’re looking for some alpine lake swimming, this is the route for you. With only 18.5 miles and a total of 3,600 feet of elevation gain, this backpacking route can be done in 3 to 3 days.
This loop trail is short on the mileage, but all of the potential side hikes make the distance and difficulty of the trip extremely variable. This itinerary is, at its base, an epic circuit hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. The short loop mileage can be supplemented by long side hikes such as Long’s Peak, the scenic and rugged Glacier Gorge, Chasm Lake, and the famous Estes Cone. At the very least, this backpacking loop is only 16 miles with 2,500 feet of elevation gain. Depending on what you’re looking for and how much time you have, take anywhere from 3 to 6 days to explore the Rockies on this route.
In addition the the multitude of backpacking route options in Rocky Mountain National Park, there are many great day hiking routes to explore. Get out and enjoy them on your own or consider taking a fully guided camping trip that’s not quite as strenuous as these backpacking options. REI’s 6-day hiking & camping trip is a great option to immerse yourself in the Colorado wilderness without carrying all of your own gear on your back.