Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) is rightfully known for its challenging and potentially dangerous treks through the mountain range for which the park is named. But not every beautiful trail through this park is a high adventure track for experiencing hikers only. And for those lovers of water among us, there are also beautiful trails that features montane lakes of exceptional beauty. In particular, I’d like to give you a glimpse into two easy lake hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. Both are great for folks of all abilities and can be very family friendly as well. Gem Lake is a more challenging, upwards trek through the forest to a small, mountain lake. And Lily Lake is a short, flat hike that will take your around the body of water, with plenty of breathtaking views to be had on your stroll.

Let’s open the door to RMNP and see if these hikes are right for you.

Picking Your Easy Lake Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

At a glance, these two hikes are pretty different from one another, so it shouldn’t be all that hard to pick which one fits your needs. Alternatively, we did both in one afternoon and if you have the stamina for that, it’s a great day out in the park.

easy lake hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Lily Lake (c) ABR 2022

Lily Lake is the shorter and easier of these hikes. There isn’t much elevation change, and you will have an easy stroll around the water. This is a busier area, however, with a smaller parking lot that is partially shared with trailheads across the highway. This can make parking a challenge and we had to cross the highway from our car, which I am not fond of. That being said, this is the better trail for an easy family hike, or for those friends among you who aren’t looking for a huff and puff up a mountain. This is a very accessible in terms of hiking skill level.

Gem Lake is a bit longer of a trek and it is more challenging of these two easy lake hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park because there is some elevation change from the trailhead to the lake itself. In fact, while this trail isn’t horribly hard, it is a pretty steady upwards hike. This is a wilder feeling area, and it has a pretty substantial parking lot that is more out of the way than Lily Lake. There is a bathroom here and when we visited, there were also volunteers at the trailhead. This is a doable family hike for families with kids that are used to hiking upwards.

Gem Lake Trail

easy lake hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Gam Lake Trail (c) ABR 2022

There are several trails that leave from the Gem Lake trailhead, and in fact, the Gem Lake trail travels on past the lake. So, you have some options for longer and more challenging treks from this location if that is something you are interested in. However, this guide will only be covering the walk up to Gem Lake. This is a pretty straight forward trek, as you will just follow the actual Gem Lake trail up to the lake and then you will turn around and hike back to where you started. It is about 1.7 miles from the trailhead to the lake, so the round-trip journey is 3.2 miles.

At the trailhead, if there are volunteers, check in with them and see how the trail conditions are. Use the bathroom and make sure that your gear is ready – bring food, water, and proper clothing. It’s always advisable to prepare for some inclement weather in RMNP. When we did this trail, it ended up raining on us on the way home, although it was pretty sunny when we set out. Weather can change suddenly out here in the high mountains.

easy lake hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Gem Lake Trail (c) ABR 2022

From the trailhead, you will be heading upwards for the entire hike. It is fairly gentle and steady, but I did find it somewhat challenging and I was pretty tired at the top. The trail is well established and fairly wide, and there are sections of stairs along the way up. Most of the way is shaded by the forest, but offer some breaks for photo ops with the mountains in the distance.

You will continue working your way up and up until you come right up on the lake. You will know it when you see it. It’s a small, but striking body of water tucked up on the mountains. At this point, take some time to have a picnic and then head back down.

easy lake hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Gem Lake (c) ABR 2022

While this trail is relatively easy for the RMNP, do expect this to have some challenge to it. It is a hike with elevation gain throughout, as I’ve mentioned. This trail is the harder of the two easy lake hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Need to Know Information

Trail length: 3.5 miles

Elevation gain: 1,054 feet

Bathrooms at trailhead? Yes

Entrance Fee? $30 a day for a vehicle (check if entrance reservations are also needed)

4WD needed for access? No

Lily Lake Trail

easy lake hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Lily Lake (c) ABR 2022

Lily Lake Trail is more easily accessible from the main highway. Although as I mentioned previously, there is more limited parking here. This is a very popular spot, because this is a hike that people of any skill level can do. And it is beautiful.

The trail itself is pretty straight forward – you will follow the track around the lake. You can turn around at any point, of course, but the whole trail is a loop. So, you will end where you started at the trailhead.

Because this trail isn’t particularly long, I would highly recommend taking your time and enjoying all the elements of the alpine environment. There are so many beautiful plants to be found around this lake. And if you are able to visit when there aren’t lots of people, you might see some wildlife as well. (Please, don’t pick any wildflowers that you find or approach wildlife). Even if you visit in the quieter months, the lake and landscape itself is so exceptional. Every angle is worthy of a painting.

Lily Lake can be hiked in the winter (weather allowing). It is short and flat and the trail is easy to follow. This is a hike for just about everyone from among these easy lake hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

easy lake hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Lily Lake Trail (c) ABR 2022

Need to Know Information

Trail length: 0.8 miles

Elevation gain: 17 feet

Bathrooms at trailhead? Unknown

Entrance Fee? $30 a day for a vehicle (check if entrance reservations are also needed)

4WD needed for access? No

Accessibility: This trail is rated as Accessible in the summer by Erik Stensland’s Hiking Rocky Mountain National Park guidebook.

Safety in Rocky Mountain National Park

easy lake hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Lily Lake trail (c) ABR 2022

I usually try to post a section on safety in all of my hiking guides, because hiking is a dangerous sport, and you are the only person who can keep yourself safe. For trails labelled as “easy,” I feel even more encouraged to remind people to be safe. Yes, these trails may be shorter and less technical than other RMCP trails, but that doesn’t mean that you can set off without the respect or caution that you generally should when going out into nature.

When it comes to RMNP, there are a couple of extra things that it is good to consider, even for these easy lake hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. First, all hikes in this national park are at a higher altitude than you are likely used to – unless you live at higher altitudes! This means that hiking is a bit harder than you might be expecting at the park, because there is a little less oxygen in the air than most places. You might hike slower or need to turn around when you wouldn’t normally need to. Depending on your health situation, you might also want to do some research to make sure that this won’t impact you negatively.

Additionally, the weather in RMNP can be a little wonky and dangerous. Storms can sweep in quickly. And even when you are on trails like Gem and Lily Lake, you need to keep an eye on the situation. Lightning, blinding snow, temperature drops, and flooding are just some of the reasons it isn’t good to be on the trail in inclement weather. So, be sure to check the weather before you leave, for the location where you will be hiking. Also, go prepared with layers, so that you can stay warm as conditions change.

Planning Your Trip to Rocky Mountain National Park

easy lake hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

(c) ABR 2022

Going to RMNP is a little harder than it used to be, sadly. Depending on when you visit, you will need to check to see if a reservation is necessary.

As of 2023, there will be another pilot for the timed entry system. Due to this, from May 26 – October 22, 2023 you will need a reservation to enter the park. To learn more anytime, visit the National Park’s official website.

Unfortunately, these reservations don’t guarantee you parking. So, another important thing to have ready for your trip are alternative trails that you are interested in exploring. You never know when you might not be able to park at your choice spot.

As frustrating as these systems can be, keep in mind that this is being done due to overcrowding. The hope is that the park will be a better experience if people are asked to enter at different times. If you can’t get a reservation, there are loads of other hiking opportunities in the surrounding areas.

Stop By Estes Park

easy lake hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

(c) ABR 2022

Estes Park is known for a couple things, (1) being the gateway to RMNP, and (2) being home to the famous Stanley Hotel. Whether you are visiting the National Park for a nice day trip or for a night of more, Estes Park is a great community to check out.

When we went and visited Gem and Lily Lake, we stopped in Estes Park for lunch and to wait out the rain. We found a great little breakfast spot. Where we were able to enjoy a good meal, while also sitting out on a covered porch to fully take in the beauty of the rain.

Estes Park is also home to plenty of shopping, lodging, and more places to eat. It has a variety of attractions for those of your group who might not be as excited about hiking, or for any of us when we need a break from the trail.

Quick Tips for Layering

As you may know, I am from central Arizona. So, for a very long time, I didn’t need to know how to layer for the trail. Now that I have moved to Colorado, and I want to continue hiking in the winter, I have to learn how to stay warm on the trail. I am still not an expert by any means. But I recently learned that I had been layering with the wrong gear. So if you are like me and are starting out with your winter hiking on easy lake hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park…

…here are some quick tips for a cold but otherwise good weather day. Your base layer should not be cotton. This is because you will likely sweat on the trail, and this can make you cold if your clothing doesn’t wick your sweat or stay warm when wet. I currently have a base layer of merino wool. My mid layer is a warm fleece from REI, and I carry a puffy just in case. For a top layer, I carry a water proof wind breaker.

Finally, I learned from those more experienced than I to either, start wearing a little less layers than you might think (but carrying them with you in case). Or being willing to stop to remove layers if you get too hot. It’s important for you to not overheat on the trail as this will also make you sweat and get your clothes wet.

Looking for more to do in Colorado?

Of course, Colorado is an amazing place to hike. If you are looking for another great family trek near Denver, check out Mount Falcon.

And if you are looking for an adventure in the city, our first guide to Denver is your ticket.

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