Our Top 10 Overnight Backpacking Trips in Rocky Mountain National Park
Looking for the best short overnight backpacking trips in Colorado? At Kirks Mountain Adventures, we are no stranger to Rocky Mountain National Park backpacking trips. In fact, we have been guiding them for almost 20 years! Whether your group is looking for a guided overnight backpacking trip, or are just looking for some recommendations of the best places to go backpacking in Rocky Mountain National Park, we can help!
Here are some of our favorite backcountry sites that can be conquered as a one-night, two-day overnight backpacking trip!
1. Fern, Odessa, and Spruce Lake
There is likely not a location in the National Park that we have not escorted more guided backpacking trips to than Fern Lake. With exceptional views, excellent fishing, and abundant day trip opportunities from base camp, there is nothing not to love about Fern Lake. The hike to the Fern Lake site is roughly 4 miles, which can easily be done in the morning. After setting up camp, backpackers have the opportunity to explore the lake, or hike an additional mile in either direction to explore either Odessa Lake or Spruce Lake, which each receive a lot less foot traffic.
2. Emerald Lake
Starting from the Bear Lake Trailhead, this relatively easy 3.6-mile hike takes you through alpine meadows and dense forests before reaching the pristine Emerald Lake. Emerald Lake, nestled beneath towering peaks, offers stunning reflections of the surrounding mountains on its tranquil surface. It’s a perfect spot for a peaceful evening surrounded by nature’s wonders. Prepare for awe-inspiring mountain views, serene waters, and a well-maintained trail suitable for backpackers of various skill levels.
3. Finch Lake
Finch Lake is a great 2-day backpacking trip for people making their first Colorado backpacking outing. At 4.5 miles, Finch Lake is a moderate hike, and features a gradual elevation change. What is great about Finch Lake is that it is not nearly as crowded as some of the other hikes in the park. The two Finch Lake sites offer quick stream access to water, and excellent colors during the fall season. If you have no interest in fly fishing, Finch Lake is a quiet spot for you to pitch a tent, as the adsense of fish in the lake attracts no anglers. For those looking for a more ambitious day trip from basecamp at Finch Lake, the gorgeous Pear Lake is another two miles up the trail!
4. Lawn Lake
At 6.2 miles, Lawn Lake is a slightly further trek for overnight backpackers, but easily achievable. The hike to Lawn Lake is beautiful, as the majority of the trail follows Boulder Brook, thick with wildlife and wildflowers. There are multiple backcountry sites that can be reserved along the trail to Lawn, but the best sites are just 150 yards from the edge of the lake, nestled up against rocky cliffs. The fishing in Lawn Lake is some of the best in the entire National Park, and those who aren’t interested in fishing have the opportunity to hike an additional mile to the clear blue waters of Crystal Lake sitting in a cirque above Lawn Lake.
5. Longs Peak Overnight Trip
This trip is not for the faint of heart, but rather for the group looking for the most complete and memorable Colorado backpacking experience that can be found. Longs Peak is arguably Colorado’s most iconic 14er, and the overnight Boulder Field site is one of the highest designated campsites in the state. Well above the treeline, backpackers who visit this backcountry site have the opportunity to pitch a tent right below Longs Peak at nearly 13,000 feet. In the morning, you have the opportunity to take on the most challenging part of the trek, the last two miles to the summit of Longs Peak. Due to the elevation, this trip is typically only possible in late July and August for the average backpacker.
6. Mills Lake
Embark on a 2.8-mile journey from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead through spruce-fir forests and open meadows. Mills Lake, cradled beneath towering peaks, offers stunning vistas and pristine waters. The surrounding boulders provide great spots for relaxation and photography. A shorter but slightly more challenging hike, with exceptional mountain views, and a serene atmosphere by the lake.
7. Lake Haiyaha
Begin your 2.7-mile backpacking trip in Rocky Mountain National Park from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead, passing through scenic landscapes with occasional steep sections. Lake Haiyaha impresses with its rocky shoreline and picturesque setting. Nestled amidst boulders and evergreens, it’s a unique place to spend the night. Some rocky terrain, possible marmot sightings, and a tranquil alpine lake experience.
8. Sky Pond
Set out from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead on a 4.9-mile hike, passing Alberta Falls and traversing diverse terrain. Sky Pond is a stunning glacial basin surrounded by waterfalls and dramatic cliffs. The views are worth the effort, and you might even encounter some snowfields. Varied landscapes, challenging sections, rewarding panoramic views, and a taste of Rocky Mountain grandeur.
9. Granite Falls
Starting from the Green Mountain Trailhead, this 5.1-mile hike takes you along the Big Thompson River, revealing the park’s lush side. Granite Falls is a powerful cascade nestled in a verdant valley. Enjoy the soothing sound of rushing water as you relax in this peaceful setting. A riverside hike, lush vegetation, and the serene ambiance of a secluded waterfall.
10. Black Lake
Begin your 6.2-mile journey at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead, passing through meadows, forests, and rocky terrain.Black Lake is surrounded by dramatic cliffs and offers reflections of the towering peaks. The pristine waters and alpine landscape make it a memorable spot to spend the night. A longer and more challenging hike, diverse landscapes, potential snowfields, and a sense of remote wilderness.
Do I need a permit for overnight backpacking in Rocky Mountain National Park?
It should be noted that for every backcountry site in RMNP, a backcountry permit is required for an overnight stay. These sites will often book up months in advance. If you are going to be backpacking on your own, you will have to first check the RMNP permit reservation system on Recreation.gov. If you are interested in a guided Rocky Mountain National Park backpacking trip, we would be happy to check this list for you after discussing some of your preferred locations with you. In order to get the dates and sites you want, it is always better to call sooner rather than later!