It’s nearly impossible to narrow it down to a handful of “best-of” trails in the Rockies. But here’s a short list of some incredible trails that are sure to get you itching put on your favorite pair of Feetures! socks, lace up your trail shoes and book your next adventure out West to the Rocky Mountains.
Top 5 Rocky Mountain trails: Loops
There’s nothing better than the aesthetics and simplicity of a circuit. Here are some of the best Rocky Mountain running loops.
Aspen 4 Pass Loop (Maroon Bells Wilderness, Colorado)
This 26 miler tops the charts as the absolute must-do loop in Colorado. Start early and pick a day with crystal clear Colorado blue skies to experience the four incredible mountain passes over 12,000’. Go in late July/early August for peak wildflower season. You’ll start and finish at the most photographed mountainscape in the country!
- High Lonesome Loop (Indian Peaks Wilderness, Colorado)
- Pawnee-Buchanan Pass Loop (Indian Peaks Wilderness, Colorado)
- Ouray Perimeter Trail (Ouray, Colorado)
- Paint Brush Canyon-Cascade Canyon Loop / Teton Crest Trail (Teton National Park, Wyoming)
Top 5 Rocky Mountain trails: Out-and-Back trails
How often do you completely forget to stop and turn around and enjoy the views behind you when you’re out on the trails? Out-and-back routes give us a chance savour the landscape in every direction.
Chasm Lake (Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado)
The best way to enjoy a dramatic view of the Diamond, the granite east-facing wall of Longs Peak, is from Chasm Lake. Over the course of this 8 mile out-and-back trail, you’ll meander through evergreen forests, discover the striking shape of krummholz (twisted wood) as you approach treeline, and you’ll jump rocks over Peacock Lake and Columbine Falls before finally arriving at the edge of this stunning alpine lake.
- Highline Trail (Glacier National Park, Montana)
- Bridge of Heaven Trail (Uncompahgre National Forest, Colorado)
- Cirque of the Towers (Wind River Range, Wyoming)
- Island Lake (San Juans, Colorado)
Top 5 Rocky Mountain trails: Point-to-Point trails
The logistics of a point-to-point route might be a little tricky but the reward is well worth the effort not to mention the satisfaction of running from A to B!
Ten Mile Traverse (Frisco to Breckenridge, Colorado)
This classic ridge traverse starts in the town of Frisco and drops down into the ski area in Breckenridge via the high Tenmile Range. You’ll hit 10 peaks, the first 4 of which aren’t the highest but are the rockiest! Get ready for some tough scrambling followed by gorgeous high-altitude single track trail running under a bright blue Colorado sky.
- Bridger Ridge Traverse (Bozeman, Montana)
- Colorado Trail (Denver to Durango, Colorado)
- Mesa Trail (Boulder, Colorado)
- Imogene Pass (Ouray to Telluride, Colorado)
Top 5 Rocky Mountain trail tips:
Up, up and up! You’ll be plenty warm and breaking a sweat in no time on these Rocky Mountain trails. Here are a few trail conditions to keep in mind when planning your outing in the Rockies.
The number one thing to consider in the Rockies is the high elevation. Many trails start at 5000-6000ft above sea level and peak over passes or summits at 10,000-14,000ft. Drink lots of water and take it easy. And most importantly, turn around and head back downhill if the elevation is getting to your head.
Four seasons in one day is business as usual in the Rockies. Start early and know when to cut your outing short or plan to hunker down when the inevitable summer lightning and hail storm rolls through up high. But for the most part, blue skies prevail in the Rockies. So enjoy the crystal clear views as far as the eye can see!
Spend any amount of time in the Rockies and you’re sure to spot a furry creature or another! Marmots and pikas will whistle at you as soon as you break above treeline. Stay very still and you might be able to spot the masters of camouflage -- the ptarmigans -- along the high alpine tundra. If you start very early in the morning, you’re likely to see an impressive bull moose hanging around a marshy meadow or alpine lake -- but make sure to give him a very wide berth! Autumn is a perfect time to hear elk bugling and run into a black bear foraging for her final meal before winter. Bring your binoculars so you can enjoy them from a safe distance.
The Rockies feature everything from soft pine forest trails down low to rocky boulder fields and exposed ridges up high which quickly turn your run into a scramble. Don’t be surprised if a 5 mile “run” in the Rockies takes 2 hours!
The season for trail running in the mountains is short. In early summer you’ll have to deal with route finding as the trails will still be covered in snow in sections. Mid-summer the snow melt will cause flooding and create some tricky creek crossings but all that water brings the most incredible wildflowers in the late-summer. Enjoy the glistening Aspen trees turn gold in early fall before you get ready for winter to rear its head in October.
Top 5 Rocky Mountain gear recommendations:
I’m all about traveling light but don’t set out on the trails without these 5 pieces of gear! With the weather and terrain changing ‘round every corner you’re going to be glad you brought these items on your adventure.
Always, always, always bring a detailed topographical map. Not all trail junctions are marked on a mountain and if the weather rolls in or a moose stands in your way you’ll want to figure out the next best alternative route options. You’ll be kicking yourself if the only map you have is a photo on your iPhone of the trail map posted at the trail head!
Water filter / pump
With alpine lakes and creeks a-plenty, there’s no need to lug around gallons and gallons of water in your pack but you’ll definitely want to keep hydrated in the thin air. Fill your water bottles up with the most delicious purified mountain water whenever you come across a clear fast moving water source. The Sawyer water filter/pump is my favorite: it’s inexpensive, small, light and easy to use.
Wind-proof / Water-resistant Jacket
The hot high-altitude sun might be a scorcher but it can snow further up the trail at a moment’s notice. Bring a packable lightweight jacket and you’ll be safe and comfortable when the wind kicks up on the ridge or the clouds decide to dump some hail on you for no reason!
There’s no shade above treeline! Protect your eyeballs with a pair of polarized sunglasses and slap some SPF on those rosy cheeks.
My go-to mountain socks are the Elite Merino+ Ultra Light Quarters. You’re bound to get your feet wet in a creek crossing -- keep them blister free and warm! In addition to the socks on my feet, I always carry an extra pair of socks in my pack. In a pinch they can work as a bandage, sling, ice pack or mittens!
Now get out there and enjoy the mountains!