Complete Guide to the Avalanche Lake Hike in Glacier National Park

Nestled on the west side of Glacier National Park is one of the most beautiful hikes in the country: Avalanche Lake, sitting pretty at an elevation of 3,905 feet.

This Montana park draws over two million visitors a year, most of them being hikers and outdoor enthusiasts.

Avalanche Lake is known for its impressive beauty and is rated one of the top attractions in the whole park. It’s a must-see when you are visiting Glacier National Park.

Keep reading to find out what you need to know about the Avalanche Lake hike before you go!

PLANNING YOUR AVALANCHE LAKE HIKE AT-A-GLANCE:

Mileage: 5.9 miles roundtrip

Elevation Gain: 757 feet

Difficulty: Moderate

Getting Around: Most poeple who travel to Glacier National Park use a car, whether that's their own personal car or a rental from a nearby airport. There is also a shuttle that stops at Avalanche, you can read more here.

Gear: Be prepared for all manner of weather on this hike! You'll want layers that can adjust to variable temperatures, waterproof layers (like this rain jacket), proper hiking boots (I love my Ahnu boots), and you'll probably want some trekking poles to help you on the descent.

Need To Know: If you plan to visit multiple national parks in a year, the America the Beautiful Pass will save you a bundle! It costs $80 for an annual pass (for an entire vehicle traveling together) to all US national parks and federally managed site. 

You also need a separate ticket to access Going-to-the-Sun Road. This is different than your general entry into Glacier National Park.

How To Get to Avalanche Lake

Photo Credit: Leah Bilquist

Note: Access to Avalanche Lake is only possible via Going-to-the-Sun Road via the West Entrance of the park, which requires a separate ticket to enter.

Once you enter the park, you will drive towards Apgar Campground. You will begin to see signs for Going-to-the-Sun-Road. Make a right onto Going-to-the-Sun-Road and begin your drive towards the trailhead.

You will first pass Lake McDonald on your left. Once you get to the end of Lake McDonald, you will be a little over nine miles from the trailhead.

You will then see signs for Avalanche Lake. Keep in mind, the main parking area holds about ten cars and is normally full, unless you get lucky and see a hiker leaving the parking lot.

It is recommended to loop around and wait for someone to leave if there is no availability. Popular times are 8:00 AM, 10:00 AM, and 12:00 PM.

There is additional parking about a half-mile north of the trailhead where another five to ten cars can be parked.

You can walk the road back to the trailhead if you find a spot there. This will add mileage to your trip, but it is well worth it once you see the beauty of the lake.

Keep in mind the reservation system is currently in place at Glacier National Park. You will not be able to access this trailhead unless you have a Going-to-the-Sun-Road entry ticket.

History of Avalanche Lake

You are probably wondering how Avalanche Lake got its name… well, you’re looking at it!

The lake’s turquoise blue waters are due to the abundance of avalanches that fall down the Sperry Glacier, the mountain that sits behind the lake.

Avalanche Lake got its name in 1895 from Dr. Lyman Sperry, who is the namesake of Sperry Glacier. The glacier itself provides the water for the lake, from its constant avalanches.

Dr. Lyman was in awe of how many avalanches he witnessed during his short time visiting the lake — hence its name.

Avalanche Lake is also unique because it is one of the few lakes of its size that still has fish in it! It is rare to have fish in the area due to its size and elevation. Yellowstone cutthroat trout are the most popular fish found here in the lake.

The lake itself is a mile and a half long with a depth of 54 feet in some sections, which is an impressive depth for its relatively smaller size.

The Avalanche Lake Hike: Step by Step

Photo Credit: Leah Bilquist

Hiking to Avalanche Lake via the Trail of the Cedars is an unforgettable trek! The reason it is so distinctive is that it is two top-rated hikes in one.

First, you will begin your hike at the start of Trail of the Cedars, which is 0.9 miles long.

This hike starts you out in a wooded forest filled with green trees and mossy rocks. There is a wooden boardwalk that goes through the woodland which you will follow along.

Wildlife such as deer and moose walk the trail freely here and are commonly spotted. The sound of flowing rivers will surround you. Small cascading waterfalls line the trail.

You will even pass over a wooden bridge that provides astonishing views of the bright blue waterfalls!

Photo Credit: Leah Bilquist

This part of the hike is for all skill levels and is even wheelchair-friendly due to the boardwalk.

The trail lives up to its name: you will be surrounded by enormous cedar trees throughout your whole walk! The Trail of the Cedars hike is recommended on very sunny or hot days due to the amount of shade the cedars provide.

Surround yourself in the majestic wilderness while enjoying a much-needed hike in Glacier National Park that will bring you back to nature.

Halfway through the Trail of the Cedars is the start of the Avalanche Lake Trail. Avalanche Lake is two miles from Trail of the Cedars, with an additional two miles back.

This makes the hike in total around 5.9 miles with a 757-foot elevation gain, since you only do half of the Trail of Cedars’ length. This trail is rated as moderate and can be quite the workout, especially on hot summer days.

As soon as you follow the signs to the left on Trail of the Cedars, you will begin your ascent to Avalanche Lake.

The first part of the hike is completely uphill on a dirt trail. There are large wooden steps built into the trail in certain sections, making it an intense workout!

Stop and enjoy the views during this uphill battle whenever you need to catch your breath. You will be surrounded by icy blue rivers and vibrant green mossy trees. It is a very peaceful hike with background sounds of birds chirping and running water over the rocks!

Once you get about a mile and a half up, the trail begins to level out, making the last half mile pure excitement. You will continue your way through the trees until you spot a crystal blue image in the distance, peeking through the trees.

Another wooden boardwalk appears and you will follow that to the lake. The trees will part and the incredible Avalanche Lake will sit before you: a tranquil oasis of clear water merging with turquoise blue water.

Photo Credit: Leah Bilquist

The stunning mountains behind the lake showcase rivers flowing down the sides. A lush green forest fills the surrounding areas. When the sun hits just right, you can see the snow still sitting on the top of the peak. It’s an absolutely scenic and beautiful visual.

Most hikers spend their day here on the sandy beaches of Avalanche Lake. Visitors take off their shoes and soak their feet in the cold glacier water.

Some even become brave enough to swim in it, which is allowed but not commonly seen due to how cold the water is, even in the heart of the summer!

It is recommended to bring lunch and a small blanket to sit on, as this is a remarkable spot to have a bucket list picnic. Hikers lounge out on the beach and enjoy the views.

The hike can be crowded, but there is enough room for everyone to have their space at the beach.

If you want a less crowded area, continue on the boardwalk for ten minutes to reach the other side of the lake. This side is rumored to be just as beautiful with fewer people around!

If you are lucky enough, you can even find your own secluded beach on this side. A lot of people think that the main entrance is the only stop off of the lake, but the trail continues all the way around. I would recommend spending some time at both beaches for optimal views.

When you are ready, begin your descent back down another two miles following the same route you used earlier. The wooden steps are high in some parts, making it a bit strenuous on the knees.

If you have knee issues, plan on bringing a brace or using a walking stick for the hike back down.

Once you reach the bottom of Avalanche Lake Trailhead, you will continue on the Trail of the Cedars to the left. This will eventually loop the Trail of the Cedars trail and provide some new scenery.

The trail ends in half of a mile and brings you back out to the parking lot where you started.

Final Things to Know About the Avalanche Lake Hike

Photo Credit: Leah Bilquist

Due to its popularity, this hike to Avalanche Lake can get very crowded!

Just take your time and use hiker etiquette. If you’re descending the trail, step aside and give space to the people climbing up.

Also do not go off-trail and be respectful of the marked trail signs…. yes, even (and especially) for photos!

If you encounter wildlife, give them enough space and do not approach. Glacier National Park is grizzly bear country, so always be bear aware. You may want to bring bear spray or bear bells.

The hike itself can take anywhere from two to three hours depending on your level of fitness. Add on an additional two hours to spend at the lake. Plan for a total of five hours to fully enjoy this gorgeous day hike!

Remember to pack a delicious lunch and yummy snacks to eat at the top. Most importantly, bring extra water. It may be cooler at the lake with a slight breeze but your body needs additional water for those hot summer days.

If you don’t want to bring a lot of water, you may want to bring a filtering water bottle like the Grayl so you can fill up on delicious glacier water that is filtered so as to be safe to drink!

***

There is a reason why Glacier National Park has gained so much popularity over the past three years. Avalanche Lake shows the secret as to why: a mix between glaciers, waterfalls, and a lush forest makes the beauty surreal.

After driving all over this park, the Avalanche Lake hike took my breath away the most, becoming one of my favorite hikes of all time. 

If you have one day or five hours in this park, drop everything else and hike the famous Avalanche Lake: a view that is often only seen on computer screensavers will come to life before your eyes.

Lace up your hiking boots and visit this Montana hotspot — Avalanche Lake is waiting for you to visit!

9 Fun Things to Do in Rocky Mountain National Park in Winter

Rocky Mountain National Park is a winter wonderland located outside the adorable mountain town of Estes Park, Colorado.

The park is 415 square miles and only a two-hour drive from Denver, Colorado, making it an excellent day trip from Denver or an easy addition to your Denver itinerary.

Rocky Mountain is known for its snowy winters and massive peaks. Snow normally begins in late October and ends well into the middle of May.

This pattern attracts ski bums and winter enthusiasts to the area each year. Ice climbing, cross country skiing, and winter hiking are the most sought-after activities here, in this national park that is known for being a winter playground with stunning views of the snow-capped Rocky Mountains.

The activities are limitless and this guide to visiting Rocky Mountain National Park in winter will help you navigate them all!

Rocky Mountains Winter Packing List

Landscape view of Rocky Mountains National Park in Colorado with trees in the foreground and mountains in the background.

Locals joke that you need to pack for every season when visiting or hiking in Colorado… well, that joke is actually true!

Sometimes you might start your hike with the weather being sixty degrees and sunny, but as you climb, the higher your elevation is, putting yourself in more extreme weather situations.

The temperature can drop to single digits, with added wind chills on top of it. Layers, layers, and even more layers are the key to staying warm!

Your first layer should be your base layer. Merino wool is known to keep you the warmest and is very comfortable and breathable — we suggest these ones by Merino.tech (leggings + top layer), which use 100% merino wool from farms in New Zealand.

Your middle layer is your insulation layer, which helps you retain body heat. Using fleece (like this one from North Face) as your middle layer is highly recommended and extra comfortable.

Your outer layer is your final layer and where you will be spending most of your money. Heavy winter jackets with protective layers and a hood are preferred — I also use North Face for this layer, in particular, their insulated Metropolis parka (which I’ve had for 15 years and loved!).

In Colorado, you want to make sure you have a reliable windshield in your outer layer, as the wind chill above the treeline or mountains cuts you totally differently. If you also get caught in a snow or rainstorm, this will help keep you dry and protect your other layers.

It is okay if you do not wear all three layers at the start of your adventure — just have them available, as the higher you get, the colder it will get.

That is why it is recommended to have all of these options in your backpack, so you can easily add or remove layers, depending on the weather.

Happy family with arms around each other enjoying beautiful mountain view on winter hiking trip in Rocky Mountain National Park.

A warm winter hat and insulated, waterproof gloves are a must-have. Use fabrics that will not get soggy when wet.

Multiple pairs of socks (preferably wool socks) should always be in your backpack. This is important in case you step into a heavy snowpack or puddle when hiking.

Your socks could become frozen, risking hypothermia or frostbite. Having multiple pairs of socks you can layer up with if you get wet or extra cold is key. It is an extremely lightweight but important hiking hack for winter.

Always remember that when it comes to playing in the winter snow, you must prepare for the worst while hoping for the best. Being over-prepared could save your life — or others around you.

Microspikes and/or snowshoes (depending on the amount of snow on the ground) are needed when attempting any winter hiking.

Microspikes help keep your grip with chains or small spikes that slip over your hiking boots. They help you stay grounded on icy trails and will prevent you from falling. I used and loved these Yaktrax while hiking in Arctic Norway.

They are a lifesaver and it is rare to spot hikers without them! There is nothing worse than losing traction and sliding down an icy mountain.

In addition, after a heavy snowfall, you will need snowshoes. The mountains get pounded with multiple feet of snow and it takes a while for it to become packed down.

In these conditions, one wrong step could have you post-holing, covering your body in the snow!

Snowshoes will keep you above the soft snow instead of having you fall through it out.

Most of the time, you will start off with microspikes until you reach a higher elevation. That is when you swap them out for the snowshoes. They are a dynamic duo for winter mountain hiking and will make your life ten times easier!

Most hiking trails are not even accessible without them. It is ideal to always bring them with you, even if you think you won’t need them.

Snowshoes can be expensive — you can get a cheap-ish pair on Amazon, or invest in a heavier-duty pair from REI — so many people choose to rent a pair in Estes Park if they don’t plan to hike in the snow frequently.

Avalanche Awareness

Sign reading "avalanche area: no stopping or standing next two miles" with snow in the background

According to reports from the CAIC, Colorado Avalanche Information Center, there are over two thousand avalanches in Colorado every season.

It’s important to be avalanche-aware whenever you head out into the winter backcountry.

If you see an avalanche heading towards you, do not try to run away from it. The best thing you can do is move to the side, grab something sturdy, and hold one arm up.

If you have one arm up and get buried, the rescue team will be able to locate you faster, increasing your chances for survival. 

Even though getting caught in an avalanche is slim, it is very important to be prepared!

Having an avalanche transceiver (and more importantly, knowing how to use it) may save your life.

If you stick to more traversed areas of the park, this is likely not necessary, but if you want to go into the backcountry, it is essential.

You are probably wondering how avalanches even start. Simply put, an avalanche occurs when a layer of snow collapses and slides downhill.

There are four factors that cause this natural wonder: a steep slope, heavy snow cover, a layer of snow that is weak, and of course (as all the movies have shown!) a trigger.

Backcountry skiers, snowboarders, and snowmobilers are the biggest cause of avalanches, due to the vibrations from machinery and boards. Some other causes are earthquakes or even rain and wind combined with heavy snowfall.

Warming temperatures can be a common factor, causing the melted snow to become heavier.

The CAIC has a map on their website that shows the Rocky Mountain Range, including Rocky Mountain National Park.

It is updated every day in the winter months to display what level of threat is in the area: 1 being the lowest and 5, extreme, being the most dangerous.

It is highly recommended to make this website your winter tool before any outdoor activities in the Rocky Mountains. You can view the conditions map here

Winter Road Closures

Snow Covered Trail Ridge Road in  Rocky Mountain National Park in winter before the closed part of the season starts

Trail Ridge Road is 48 miles with an elevation of 12,183 feet at its highest point.

It is one of the most talked-about and famous roads in all of Colorado, and a popular Colorado scenic drive, drawing over 900,000 visitors each month in the summer.

This drive is not for the faint of heart and can be downright terrifying to most people! This is caused by the lack of guard rails and very steep drop-off.

In the summer, you can take the road from Estes Park which is the east entrance of the park, all the way to Grand Lake, which is the west entrance of the park, allowing you to visit both of these Rocky Mountain towns.

Driving the road is allowed in the summer months, depending on when the snowfall declines. It normally reopens around late May to mid-June. 

Don’t worry, you can still explore it during the winter months, but only by foot and by ski! 

The road is plowed up the viewpoint section of Many Parks Curve; cars are not allowed past this point.

Trail Ridge Road is the only road that officially shuts down every winter from October until Memorial Day weekend. The other roads in the park are very well maintained, even after heavy snowfall.

All of the roads are paved and plowed throughout the park, keeping winter visits popular and safe to visitors.

Winter Weather in Rocky Mountain National Park

People walking on the frozen surface of Dream Lake in winter on a sunny day in Colorado

Weather can be tricky at Rocky Mountain National Park in winter!

Colorado is known for its 300 days of sunshine and also snowy destinations, an odd combination for knowing what to expect.

Weather can — and does — quickly change from fifty and sunny to blizzard conditions frequently!

Checking the weather before your departure is always recommended. Being prepared for all weather conditions is a must.

Snow typically begins falling in October and doesn’t stop until late April to mid-May., but keep in mind that every year is different. 

You can call the Rocky Mountain National Park information line at 970-586-1206 for the latest conditions and snow reports.

Things to Do in Rocky Mountain National Park in Winter

Ice climb the frozen waterfalls.

Ice climbing is a hard but popular mountaineering activity in Colorado. This fun winter activity includes climbing frozen waterfalls or large rocks covered with ice.

Luckily, Rocky Mountain National Park is home to a remote and scenic ice climbing area, making it a bucket list winter destination for ice climbers.

In the Wild Basin area of the park, you’ll find Hidden Falls, located twelve miles south of Estes Park near the Longs Peak Trailhead.

There will be signs for the horse trail about one hundred yards from the ranger station: that is where the trailhead begins.

If you are interested in ice climbing but don’t know where to start, we’ve got you covered!

This waterfall freezes in mid-winter, drawing skilled climbers to the region. The trail to Hidden Falls can get very snowy and icy at times. It is recommended to be prepared and have the correct equipment before taking on this challenge.

The American Alpine Institute provides technical climbing education to new students.

This mountaineering school offers courses in ice climbing, rock climbing, glacier skills, and more. They even have an Introduction class to Alpine Ice Climbing, a six-day course led in different locations all around the country.

Whether you want to take on the hobby long-term or just try it out, they are there to ensure you are doing it safely. Check out their courses on their website here.

No time for a long course? The Kent Mountain Adventure Center in Estes Park offers one-day intro classes that get you started on ice climbing.

Have winter fun in the Hidden Valley Snow Park.

Once a ski resort in the 1950s until the 1990s, Hidden Valley was a popular spot for locals to ski and snowboard.

Initially, chair lifts were not available at the resort, causing the skiers to hike up the runs and ski down. Later, lifts were built, creating a full ski experience.

However, the National Park Service eventually closed the slopes in the early 1990s.

Today, the lifts are gone and it has become a backcountry skiing and snowboarding destination. The runs are narrow, allowing skiers to alternate turns down the slope.

In order to get there, enter from the Estes Park entrance and drive to the Hidden Valley picnic area. You will see signs for parking, and a lot of people getting ready to enjoy the area!

If snow tubing is more your speed, then Hidden Valley has got you covered. The bunny hill from the old ski resort is now used for sledding and tubing!

After heavy snowstorms, families and large groups flock to this area. Be sure to bring your own tubes and sleds (or rent them in Estes Park before entering Rocky Mountain National Park) as there are no rentals inside the park!

Children riding on an inflatable snow tube in Rocky Mountain national park in winter

Go cross-country skiing.

Cross-country skiing is a fun sport that involves gliding across the snow while getting a fantastic workout.

Cross-country skiing requires skiers to use a back and forth motion with their legs, as if they are running with skis on. No wonder it’s such a good workout!

In Rocky Mountain National Park in winter, Trail Ridge Road closes to vehicles, allowing cross-country skiers to use the road as their playground, with a stunning workout view at 12,000 feet in the air.

The road is a steady uphill climb on the way up — which makes it even more enjoyable coming back!

Cross-country skiing is a great winter activity in Colorado, and there are lots of options to choose from in RMNP in winter.

If Trail Ridge Road is a little out of your league, you can try Glacier Basin Campground Loop: a beginner-friendly 2.7-mile loop through a forest with stunning views of the surrounding lake!

Tackle some winter hikes.

Dream Lake – Easy

One of the most photographed locations in Rocky Mountain National Park is the famous Dream Lake.

The name fits the scenery and this spot is perhaps even more stunning in the winter! The snow falls around the crevices in the mountain, creating a dreamscape of a winter wonderland.

In cold temperatures — typically by around January — the lake freezes over and is covered with snow, allowing you to walk out to the middle of the lake for that perfect photo opportunity! Note: Be sure to ask a park ranger if the lake is safely frozen over before embarking on this hike

The hike itself is rated as easy and only two miles long. Due to the high elevation of the park, the elevation gain of 426 can be moderate for those sensitive to uphill gain.

Either way, seeing this view in person is worth the extra effort!

You even pass Nymph Lake on your hike back to Bear Lake parking lot, which is another gorgeous place to extend your hike if you want more winter scenery.

Keep in mind that the Bear Lake Parking lot fills up relatively quickly in both the winter and summer months. It is important to get there early as the park rangers will close the road off once it fills up!

The snowy landscape of a frozen-over Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park in winter in Colorado

Emerald Lake – Moderate

About a mile after Dream Lake is Emerald Lake, making it a great addition to your winter hike in Rocky Mountain National Park if you want to get some extra mileage in with even more gorgeous views!

The trail is 3.2 miles and starts at the Bear Lake parking lot, similar to the previous hike mentioned. Once you get to Dream Lake, you will continue north on the trail around the shore of the lake, bringing you through a very lush pine forest.

You will then arrive at Emerald Lake, where you will be able to see the views of Flattop Mountain! The views become even more breathtaking around sunrise and sunset.

Emerald lake in rocky mountains national park, CO in winter with frozen ice sheet on the lake and snow

Sky Pond via Glacier Gorge Trail – Hard

This is a winter hike that is rated as hard but makes it on most visitors’ bucket lists — only tackle it if you are an experienced winter hiker!

Making it to Sky Pond in the winter months is a great achievement for hikers: this 9.4-mile trek through the snow and ice is only recommended to be taken on by hikers with some experience.

If you’ve never hiked in the winter before, stick to one of the previous two hikes, and add this to your Rocky Mountain National Park winter bucket list for future years!

Start at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead parking lot, then begin your journey through the snowy forest.

Eventually, you will reach Loch Lake, which is normally frozen over in the winter months. You can either walk on the lake or around it, depending on how thick the ice is (you may want to ask a ranger before embarking on this hike).

From there, continue on until you reach Lake of Glass. You may think your hike is almost over once you reach this lake, but it is not!

You will then have to climb the falls to the top where Sky Pond is. This can be especially difficult in the winter, but it is doable. It is important to go slow and make sure you have proper hand and footing.

Due to the slipperiness of the icy rocks, it is important that you bring your microspikes!

This hike may be difficult, but the views are breathtaking for the whole 9.4 miles. Be sure to pack some lunch and enjoy it at Sky Pond before heading back.

Hiking Trail to a Frozen Lake Beneath "The Spearhead" in Glacier Gorge, Rocky Mountain National Park

Long’s Peak – Extremely Difficult

This is a Colorado 14er that is rated dangerous and sometimes deadly — so only undertake this with sufficient experience.

Be sure to follow all safety guidelines, let people know where you are going, and have an GPS-enabled SOS device on you such as the Garmin InReach Mini, which can send out an alert in case you get injured or lost without cell reception (which you will most definitely not have out on this hike!).

For the uninitiated, a 14er is a mountain peak that sits at 14,000 feet or more. Colorado has 58 of them located all over the state.

For those trying to tackle all 58 of Colorado’s 14ers, Long’s is a staple in Rocky Mountain National Park, one that is only encouraged to be taken on by mountaineers who are properly trained — especially in the winter.

20,000 people come to Rocky Mountain every year in an attempt to summit this mountain, but only half of those climbers make it to the top and back down. It is rumored to be the most tried and failed fourteener in the state!

Unfortunately, there have been 58 people who have died while trying to complete this hike since the year 2000, so it is not without its risks (hence our suggestion for a SOS safety device).

The difficulty is due to the distance of 14.8 miles and the scramble at the top. The hike turns into a climb accompanied by very steep drop-offs.

One wrong move can become fatal, so experience in climbing is a must. Since the distance is so long, most hikers get an overnight camping permit to break it up. This can also be dangerous due to the quickly changing weather, especially in the winter months.

Long’s Peak is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and it takes most people that long to accomplish it. Even though it can be scary, it is a beautiful peak and a good goal to have for those who take it seriously.

View of Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Go snowshoeing.

Hiking trails become snowshoeing trails in the winter in Colorado, and Rocky Mountain National Park in winter has plenty of trails to bring them on!

It is common to see the above trails filled with snowshoers in the winter. After heavy snowstorms, hiking the trail without them becomes impossible.

Sometimes the snow is too fresh and can be as high as your chest! The snowshoes allow you to stay above the powder, keeping you safe from falling through.

If you are visiting the area you can rent snowshoes at local mountain shops in the town of Estes Park, Colorado for the day.

Explore the cute mountain town of Estes Park.

The east entrance of Estes Park is the most popular entry point in the winter season.

Since Trail Ridge Road connects you to the west entrance, and it is closed in the winter, there are not many winter activities available on that side of the park.

As a result, the already bustling Estes Park gets even more lively in the winter, as it’s the primary access point into the park.

In the winter, Estes Park resembles a picturesque snowy postcard, filled with mountain views and wildlife. Moose are commonly spotted roaming the streets downtown and outside lodging facilities!

Restaurants and shops line the streets of their quaint downtown area to enjoy after your action-packed day.

Estes Park downtown in winter with plowed streets and the city covered in snow

Enjoy accommodations in the area such as cozy winter cabins or their spooky Stanley Hotel.

The Stanley Hotel is famous in the area, known for its haunting encounters. Author Stephen King stayed at the hotel, which inspired his book and (that was later turned into the famous movie) The Shining.

You can even tour the Stanley Hotel during the day if staying overnight is out of your comfort zone!

Local ranches and farms offer horseback riding activities, even in the winter.

You will drive through the downtown area of this town when leaving and entering Rocky Mountain National Park.

Even if you’re just passing through, it is a convenient place to grab snacks or gear prior to spending the day in the park.

End your adventure by spending some time at Lake Estes, a 185-acre lake with views of Rocky Mountain National Park from afar.

It’s also a great place to visit in the holiday season when the lights are up all over town!

Rocky Mountain National Park Tips

With endless winter activities and stunning views, Rocky Mountain National Park is a winter lover’s paradise!

Making sure you have the proper equipment and gear for winter activities is beyond important in Colorado. A well-stocked hiking backpack will be your best friend in these adventures!

There is a $25 vehicle entrance fee into the park, but if you are planning on visiting multiple times over the course of the winter or multiple national parks, I suggest you buy an America the Beautiful Pass.

It’s just $80 for an annual pass (good for one entire vehicle!) for all the national parks and 2,000+ federally-managed sites!

Buy your America the Beautiful pass online at REI!

Finally, Rocky Mountain National Park is requiring reservations from May 28 to October 11, with their new timed entry permit system. If you are visiting in that time frame you will need to make a reservation online.

It is not stated if they will be extended into the winter months as of yet, but be prepared for that to be a possibility.

The Rocky Mountains are waiting for you to explore their snowy peaks. Come see this real-life winter wonderland for yourself.

The 12 Best Hikes in Golden, Colorado (Picked By a Local!)

Dakota Ridge near Golden Colorado a beautiful hiking area

Golden is one of Colorado’s underrated mountain towns — and it should be your next stop for a great hike near Denver!

A former gold rush town that sits at  5,629 feet, Golden is located at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.

Historically, it was the capital of the Colorado Territory from 1862 to 1867; it is the ancestral home of the Núu-agha-tʉvʉ-pʉ̱ (Ute) and Cheyenne Indigenous peoples.

Currently, it is known for being the home to the infamous Coors Brewery and the Colorado School of Mines.

The hiking in Golden is a hiker’s playground, offering a whopping 70 trails, ranging from easy to moderate.

Whether you want to take a leisurely stroll or push yourself, there is a trail for every adventurer. Here are some of the best hikes in Golden, Colorado!

The Best Hikes in Golden, Colorado

South Table Mountain Trail

Beautiful spring landscape in South Table Mountain Park, Golden, Colorado

Mileage: 2 miles

Elevation Gain: 482 feet

A shorter hike in Golden is South Table Mountain, a two-mile loop that starts at the edge of downtown.

The hike brings you to the top of Castle Rock, a popular landmark in Golden that you can view from all over the area!

This spot is recommended for sunset hiking in Golden and the breathtaking views you’ll find there. The trail is a bit steep going up, but the scenery makes it worth it.

North Table Mountain

Sunset hitting different rock formations on a hike on North Table Mountain Golden Colorado

Mileage: 8.3 miles

Elevation Gain: 1,125 feet

If you are looking for a longer workout, hiking North Table Mountain and Rim Rock Loop will be a better pick for you!

This mountain is known for its mountain biking, but it is also great for hikers in Golden looking for a challenge.

The trailhead starts at Tony Grampsas Memorial Sports Complex – Golden Bike Park. Be aware and share the trail with the cyclists!

The 360-degree views at the top make the distance well worth it! You can even spot Coors Brewery on your way to the top.

Chimney Gulch Trail from Highway 6

Views of Rocky Mountain foothills near Golden Colorado on the Chimney Gulch Trail on a sunny, cloudless day

Mileage: 6.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 1,755 feet

This is an out-and-back trail in Golden that brings you to the top of Lookout Mountain, one of the most popular mountain roads in the area!

You will be crossing Lookout Mountain Road a few times during this hike, and it is important to be alert for cars and cyclists when crossing.

The hike is rated as moderate but it does have a higher elevation gain.

To get to the trailhead drive up W 6th Ave, towards Lookout Mountain. This scenic spot will show you all of Golden and even Denver in the distance!

Terry Park at Clear Creek

Landscape in the fall at Clear Creek with fall foliage and a mountain in the distance with the letter M

Mileage: 1.6 miles

Elevation Gain: 65 feet

This is one of the easiest hikes in Golden; in fact, it is a more of a nice stroll through the town!

Terry Park at Clear Creek is a shorter route with very minimal elevation gain. We recommend it for all skill levels, and it is great for families.

It is a paved path along Clear Creek, which is a branch of the South Platte River, making it the perfect option for winter hiking as well.

In December, you can see the town lit up with holiday lights! Marvel at statues and trees surrounding downtown Golden on this relaxing path.

Mt Galbraith Park

Scenic view of Golden, Colorado from the top of Mt. Galbraith trail

Mileage: 4.0 miles

Elevation Gain: 928 feet

Located off of Golden Gate Canyon Road is Mt Galbraith Park, a Golden hiking area with over five miles of gorgeous trails.

Mt Galbraith Loop via Cedar Gulch Trail is the most popular in the park, a 4-mile loop that circles the top of the peak. Certain parts of the hike do become narrow, so keep that in mind when planning this hike.

There is a dirt parking lot right off the main road at the trailheadm making this trail is a great option for those living in Denver.

Get a break from the city life and soak in those mountain views, while getting a good workout among this scenic spot known for its unique rock formations.

Golden Gate Canyon State Park – Racoon Trail

yellow aspen trees in the fall in golden colorado

Mileage: 3.4 miles

Elevation Gain: 754 feet

When summer begins to turn to fall, Colorado becomes an even more picturesque landscape!

The aspen trees turn from green to golden in early September in Colorado, as the leaves began to change colors at higher elevations.

In Golden, the colorful aspens normally turn yellow in early October, though this is depending on the year.

Golden Gate Canyon State Park is rated one of the top places in the state to view this once-a-year event!

Hike through the golden aspens on Racoon Trail, located in the northern part of the park. This is a scenic loop that is a little over three miles with moderate elevation gain.

Parking can be limited near the trailhead, particularly during the fall, so it is recommended to get an early start!

If parking is unavailable, you can use other lots in the park for added mileage.

Keep in mind, this is a state park. That means there is a $10 entrance fee, unless you have a State Park Pass. 

Beaver Brook Trail

View from Beaver Brook Trail in the Colorado Rocky Mountains

Mileage: 13.4 miles

Elevation Gain: 3,297 feet

Those looking for a challenge can take on this difficult hike in Golden!

Unlike most trails, the elevation gain is mostly on the way back, making it a unique challenge for experienced hikers.

The trail starts in Golden and eventually drops you down near Clear Creek. After a few miles through the forest, you eventually drop even further out to Chief Hosa.

It is important to make sure you have enough energy and fuel for the climb back to the trailhead! Packing high-energy snacks like nuts and protein bars is a smart idea.

Take your time on this one and soak up the views of the canyon throughout the trail. It is tough, but it is worth it!

Apex & Enchanted Forest Loop

City of Golden, Colorado as seen from the Lookout Mountain Road also known as the Lariat Loop Scenic Byway

Mileage: 5.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 1,234 feet

Apex Open Space Park is located only a few minutes from downtown Golden. Follow Lookout Mountain Rd to the trailhead.

Note this park has unique rules to help mountain bikers and hikers share the road. Even calendar dates (for example, the 2nd, 4th, etc.) are reserved for bikes only, no hikers or equestrians.

Odd calendar dates (ex: 1st, 3rd, etc.) are reserved for hikers and equestrians only, no bikes.

This is a perfect summer hiking destination in Golden, since half of the trail is in the sun and the other half in the shade.

Enjoy the colorful wildflowers along the dirt path in the spring and early summer!

Clear Creek Trail

Path along Clear Creek in Golden Colorado

Mileage: 20.1 miles

Elevation Gain:  226 feet

This is a great option If you are looking to improve on distance hiking, without massive elevation changes.

This long trail starts off of US-6 west of downtown Golden. The trail follows the twenty miles of Clear Creek all the way from Golden to Adams City.

Along the hike, pass the Colorado Railroad Museum, the adorable Prospect Park, and the Lowell Ponds Wildlife Area. 

This is a unique hike that actually runs opposite of the mountains towards the city. The path is paved and is ideal for biking or cycling.

Hikers recommend this during the winter months for a long walk along the river. Of course, you can just do a small portion of this hike if the full 20 miles aren’t for you!

Golden Open Space Trail

Open space hike in Colorado in winter or fall

Mileage: 2.6 miles

Elevation Gain: 101 feet

Park on the left side of Tony Grampas park and follow the sign for the bike park.

This short and sweet trail brings you by the Golden High Country Archers Range and the Golden Bike Park. Bring your dog since there is a dog park you will be passing as well!

You even walk through local neighborhoods, all while getting in those hilly views. The dirt path is mostly shaded taking you through the forest, while the other half is out in the sun through the neighborhood, offering you a little bit of everything.

Mother Cabrini Shrine

Many steps leading up to the shrine with views of Golden Colorado around it

Mileage: 0.4 miles

Elevation Gain: 173 feet

This hike in Golden leads you to a shrine to Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, known as Mother Cabrini, where you can hi up to the 22-foot statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Mother Cabrini found this property in 1902. It was used as a summer camp for the Queen of Heaven Orphanage. The purpose was to provide outdoor activities to the girls at the orphanage.

It was built in 1954 at the highest point of the site. You can now trek up the 373-step stairway that leads you to the statue. This is a short but sweet hike that is very historic to the area.

Dakota Ridge Trail

Beautiful Spring Hike at Dakota Ridge in Denver, Colorado, with red rocks amphitheater visible

Mileage: 5.4 miles

Elevation Gain: 1,099 feet

Located right off Highway 70 west is North Dinosaur Open Space Park, a great place for a hike near Golden.

This hike starts you uphill and then drops you down, making it another uphill journey on the way back.

Follow the ridge between Red Rocks Amphitheatre and Green Mountain. You can do the trail in either direction!

This is a fun workout that makes you feel as if you are hiking in the sky once you reach the top. Enjoy the scenery of the famous Red Rocks Amphitheater — it’s simply stunning!

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The foothills near Golden, Colorado are a convenient option for those looking for a day hike only 25minutes outside of downtown Denver.

Take an easier stroll downtown for those looking for an easy and relaxing day, or for those seeking a challenge, head into the mountains for that steep uphill climb!

Since most of these trails are in the foothills, be aware of rattlesnake activity, which are commonly reported from early spring through mid-fall. Always watch the path and never pick up large rocks where they could be hiding.

In the winter months, take advantage of the snow-capped mountain vistas, but be sure to pack and dress appropriately for the weather.

Golden, Colorado has a hike for every season and every skill level. Lace up your boots and head into the foothills. Afterward, take advantage of the delicious dining options downtown. You earned it!