Three Trails Worth Exploring in Colorado (That Aren’t at Rocky Mountain National Park)

Traveling during the pandemic can bring about some unexpected challenges. In July, I traveled to Colorado with a friend to hike at the Rocky Mountain National Park, but when we arrived at 5am, we quickly learned it wasn’t going to happen.

Due to COVID-19, the national park is limiting hikers and requires that you make a reservation days in advance. People without a reservation aren’t allowed into the park until after 5pm. As a result, we explored three hiking trails outside Rocky Mountain National Park that are definitely worth some attention. Let’s start with the easiest one.

1. Kruger Rock at Estes Park

The Kruger Rock Trail is relatively short with only a two-mile hike to get there. This was the first hike of our trip because it was only a 30 minute drive from the Rocky Mountains. While the hike is short, our bodies had not adjusted to the elevation so we got a little winded, but we simply adjusted our pace and drank some water to ease the challenge. Once you arrive, be prepared to be patient. This is a heavily trafficked trail and everyone wants to see the view.

Roundtrip: 4 miles / Elevation gain: 977 ft.

2. Lake Isabelle

Of the three trails we hiked, this one was the most beautiful every step of the way. Before you get to the stunning Lake Isabelle, you’ll come across waterfalls and wildlife. It’s a peaceful hike and it’s not too hard on the body.

Parking, however, is another story. When you approach the Brainard Lake Recreation Area, you will have to wait in line. The entrance to park only allows cars in at certain times so pick your time, get there early and WAIT IN LINE! It will be tempting to park outside the entrance along the road for free, but I wouldn’t recommend it. It adds four miles (roundtrip) to your hike and you’ll be miserable walking back along a paved road with no pretty scenery.

You’ll have to pay to park, but it’s only $11 cash or check. We parked near Brainard Lake and ended at Lake Isabelle. You can keep going for two more miles to Glacier Lake, which I hear is gorgeous!

If you do this hike, you do NOT want to forget the bug spray, especially if you’re traveling in the evening. The mosquitoes are no joke!

Roundtrip: 4.4 miles (from the Long Lake Trailhead) / Elevation gain: 440 ft.

3. Royal Arch at Chautauqua Park

Don’t let the distance fool you. This was by far the most difficult among the three hikes. It is the only one that at times required us to use all four limbs. We stopped frequently to catch our breath, take a few gulps of water, and check in with each other to decide if we wanted to keep going. If you choose this hike, be prepared for a full body workout and a test of your endurance. You’ll go up & down frequently along the trail and you’ll encounter some steps. Once we reached the top though, the view made it all worth it.

When you arrive at Chautauqua Park, you’ll notice two trails. If you’re facing the mountain, there’s a trail straight ahead and one to your left. You can get to the Royal Arch either way, but if you use the trail straight ahead, it won’t be a straight shot. We often questioned if we were going the right way and asked several people to point us in the right direction before we started to see signs for the Royal Arch. We even backtracked a little. I would suggest using the trail to your left. It may not be as scenic to start, but we came down that way and it appeared to be more of a straight shot.

Round trip: 4 miles / Elevation gain: 1,492 ft.

What are some of your favorite hiking trails?

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