Colorado’s extensive trails draw millions of visitors every year. Rocky Mountain National Park alone sees over 4.5 million visitors each year. Because of this there are some destinations that feel more like an amusement park than a wilderness area. If hiking is what you love but you want to feel like you are discovering something never before seen, check out these hikes. Not only are these trails lightly traveled but they all reward the adventurous hiker with lakes, waterfalls or both.

Since these trails are less traveled they may be harder to access due to road and trail conditions. Many trails are closed during the winter. Be sure to check trail conditions and closures before heading out.

1. Forsythe Canyon

Round-trip Distance: 2.2 miles
Trailhead: Forsythe Canyon – Lincoln National Forest
Difficulty: Easy

This short hike starts just outside of Boulder. The ideal time to visit is spring when snowmelt from the mountains creates waterfalls off Forsythe Creek which follows the trail. Once you reach your destination — Gross Reservoir — there are plenty of activities to keep you busy. Water activities are allowed so long as you stay on top of the water  i.e. no swimming. Camping is free and doesn’t require reservations.

 2. Rainbow Lakes

Indian Peaks Wilderness. Photo via thinkstock

Round-trip Distance: 2.6 miles
Trailhead: Rainbow Lakes – Indian Peaks Wilderness
Difficulty: Easy

The Indian Peaks — named after several Native American tribes — has become one of the most visited wilderness areas thanks to its close proximity to Denver. One hike in the area is Rainbow Lakes. It is the perfect spot for families and easy day-hikers or backpackers. The main trail sees heavier traffic but this area is prime for anyone who likes to explore a bit off the beaten path. There is a total of nine lakes in the area. Social trails link the lakes as the official trail doesn’t reach them all. There is camping in the area but a fee and permit are required.

 3. Lake Isabelle

Photo by Brendan Bombaci via Flickr creative commons.

Round-trip Distance: 4.5 miles
Trailhead: Long Lake – Indian Peaks Wilderness
Difficulty: Easy

The trail to Lake Isabelle offers incredible views of the peaks and ridges in the Indian Peaks Wilderness. One ridge along the trail is the Niwot Ridge — designated as an International Biosphere Reserve for Arctic and Alpine Research by the United Nations. Watch for cairns in a small boulder field on the approach to the lake. Head into nearby Nederland after to refuel at Wild Mountain Smokehouse & Brewery.

 4. West Creek Falls

West Creek Falls. Photo by Chloe Dascoli.

Round-trip Distance: 4.8 miles
Trailhead: Cow Creek – Rocky Mountain National Park
Difficulty: Moderate

Neighboring Gem Lake overshadows this hidden jewel. But the trick with West Creek Falls is to arrive early enough to get a spot in the limited dirt road street parking. The trail is a fairly steady climb and boasts incredible views of the Estes Valley. Keep an eye out for the wild animals that roam the area. Deer and wild turkeys are especially known to live in the area.

5. Forgotten Valley

Panorama Point at Golden Gate Canyon State Park. Photo by Sarah Stapley

Round-trip Distance: 6.1 miles
Trailhead: Burro – Golden Gate Canyon State Park
Difficulty: Easy

Take a step back in time to the Tallman Ranch home to four generations of the Swedish-American family. The hike itself is family-friendly with a fairly flat trail and great views. When you reach the ranch built in 1876 by Anders Tallman spend some time fishing in the trout pond in front of the home or relax in the swings on the porch.

6. Bridal Veil Falls

Photo by John B. Kalla via Flickr Creative Commons.

Round-trip Distance: 6.2 miles
Trailhead: Cow Creek – Rocky Mountain National Park
Difficulty: Moderate

Bridal Veil Falls is off the same trailhead as West Creek Falls — the two trails diverge less than a quarter mile from the start. The trail is a great option for beginning trail runners as it is fairly mild. Grassy fields along the trail are known for the wildflowers that grow during the summer months. In the last mile to the falls enjoy a shaded walk through a dense forest.

7. Chasm Lake

Photo by Chloe Dascoli

Round-trip Distance: 8.5 miles
Trailhead: Longs Peak – Rocky Mountain National Park
Difficulty: Moderate

Chasm Lake rests at the base of the Diamond — the sheer cliff of Long’s Peak’s east face. The lake can be seen from the trail that leads to the summit of the mountain. Hikers reach timberline only an hour into the hike. If you leave before dawn you’re likely to see frost still coating the needles on the last few trees. On the final approach the trail dips — an ideal shot for photographers.

8. Columbine Falls

Chasm Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park via Thinkstock

Round-trip Distance: 8.5 miles
Trailhead: Longs Peak – Rocky Mountain National Park
Difficulty: Moderate

If you’re in the mood for a serious trek you can knock off three destinations in one day. If you aren’t quite ready to conquer a 14er at least two can be checked off as Columbine Falls runs just below Chasm Lake. See the falls from the Chasm Lake trail or get up close with some scrambling.

9. Finch Lake +  Calypso Cascades

Calypso cascades in Rocky Mountains National Park, Colorado in summer via Thinkstock.

Round-trip Distance: 8.6 miles
Trailhead: Finch Lake – Rocky Mountain National Park
Difficulty: Moderate

At Wild Basin the main draw is Copeland Falls and Calypso Cascades. Park just before you reach their trailhead for a hike few people have seen. The climb to Finch Lake is steady until the approach when the trail descends. The lake is surrounded by a dense forest of ponderosa pine. The water is cold but it is a welcome refreshment for tired feet. If you want to stay the night there are a couple campgrounds around the lake just make sure to get a permit beforehand.

10. Ypsilon Lake

Photo by Chloe Dascoli

Round-trip Distance: 9 miles
Trailhead: Lawn Lake – Rocky Mountain National Park
Difficulty: Moderate

The Alluvial Fan — a natural phenomenon created by a flood — is one of the easiest and most beautiful destinations to reach in the national park. If you want to see the falls from a different perspective take the Lawn Lake trail up to Ypsilon Lake. The trail is surrounded by deep and eerie woods. It’s likely the only other people you’ll see are backpackers so take a bear bell or a friend for added comfort.

11. Ribbon Falls

Photo by Jamie Palmesano

Round-trip Distance: 9.6 miles
Trailhead: Glacier Gorge – Rocky Mountain National Park
Difficulty: Hard

The trail to Ribbon Falls starts at one of the most crowded spots in Rocky Mountain National Park Glacier Gorge. Parking here is difficult to impossible after about 10 a.m. Arrive early though and the trail is all yours. The route to Ribbon Falls passes Alberta Falls, Mills Lake, Jewel Lake and plenty of off-shoots to other destinations. The falls may not be as impressive as other falls in the park but it will be yours to enjoy in peace as few people make it that far.

12. Black Lake

Photo by Chloe Dascoli

Round-trip Distance: 9.8 miles
Trailhead: Glacier Gorge – Rocky Mountain National Park
Difficulty: Hard

Knock out two hidden hikes in one day by continuing another two-tenths of a mile past Ribbon Falls to Black Lake. Regardless of the time of day you will likely have the lake all to yourself. There is a lot to explore around the lake as well. Find your way around to the opposite side of the lake where the trail continues up a rocky slope. Eat a snack on a boulder next to another waterfall or continue climbing to reach a ledge at the base McHenry’s Peak with perfect views of the Keyboard of the Winds.

 13. Ouzel Lake

Photo by Derick Adame courtesy of Flickr Creative commons.

Round-trip Distance: 10.2 miles
Trailhead: Wild Basin – Rocky Mountain National Park
Difficulty: Moderate

Wild Basin — arguably one of the most beautiful spots in the Rocky Mountain National Park area — is less crowded than Glacier Gorge. Though still a top destination, most hikers will stop at Calypso Cascades. The trail to Ouzel Lake passes a total of three waterfalls including Calypso, Copeland Falls and Ouzel Falls. Enjoy the lush foliage thanks to the creek and abundance of falls that run along the trail.

14. Bluebird Lake

Photo by Chloe Dascoli

Round-trip Distance: 12.6 miles
Trailhead: Wild Basin – Rocky Mountain National Park
Difficulty: Hard

For a longer hike continue past Ouzel Lake to Bluebird Lake. Most of the trail is mild but save up your energy. The last mile or so climbs steeply and scrambling is required. The climb is well worth the reward. Surrounding the lake are Ouzel Peak, Mount Copeland and Mahana Peak. You’ll probably be alone so drop your pack and soak in the serenity of the scene.

 15. Thunder Lake

Photo by Chloe Dascoli

Round-trip Distance: 11.6 miles
Trailhead: Wild Basin – Rocky Mountain National Park
Difficulty: Hard

The Thunder Lake trail starts at the same place as Ouzel Lake and Bluebird Lake. Staying on the main trail though adds almost another two miles to the round-trip mileage. So just past the Pine Ridge Backcountry Campsite and before Calypso Cascades take the spur trail. This trail isn’t as well tended or traveled so it makes this hike a bit more of an adventure.

One Response

  1. Aaron Bojan

    A great article, I have hike several of these amazing trail, the rest I cannot wait to explore and discover for myself. Thank you Chloe for highlighting these exiting adventures.


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