With over 4,500,000 annual visitors alone to its namesake national park in the U.S. and the mountain parks in Canada being the most visited out of all of the country's national parks, it's fairly safe to say that the Rocky Mountains are one of the top hiking destinations in North America. With 100 major peaks over 12,000 feet, 62 of which are over 13,000 feet, and Colorado boasting 58, the most of any state, over 14,000 feet, the Rockies are a mountain-lovers paradise.
Whether you're wanting to go for a hike at some of the more popular parks, such as Rocky Mountain NP in the U.S. or Banff in Canada, or one of the other branches, like Grand Teton NP in Wyoming or the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness in Montana, we've compiled a list of some of the best, most challenging and scenic backpacking trails along this natural wonder.
FYI, each hike is covered in a lot more detail as part of our Hike of the Week articles. Simply click through your favorite to learn more about it and get help planning your trip.
Featured Photo: Dawn (photo by Jeff Wallace)
Maroon Bells/Four Pass Loop - Located about 10 miles southwest of Aspen, this challenging hike across four 12,000+ foot passes will give you a run for your money to experience the breathtaking scenery. At 27-miles long, this hike will take you about 3 or 4 days, depending on your pace and how much time you would like to spend enjoying it. July through September is the best time to visit, although you can encounter beautiful fields of wildflowers earlier than this at the cost of more difficult stream crossings. Fall is an especially spectacular time to visit with the contrasting colors of the pines and aspens. (Click on the hike names for more in-depth reports on the trails.)
Gore and Deluge Lake - For a short trip out in the Rockies near Vail, Colorado, check out the Gore and Deluge Lake Trail. We recommend 3-days and 2-nights for this 14-mile trail to really enjoy it and because of the difficulty the elevation gain can present (over 3,000 feet). Relax lakeside at each respective body of water each night after taking in the sights of beautiful wildflower meadows and wildlife viewing. Be sure to take some lightweight fishing gear as well as Gore Creek and both of the lakes are said to be good for fishing.
Titcomb Basin - For a great Rocky Mountain hike in Wyoming, head to the wild Wind River Range. This 4-day out-and-back hike is rated as moderate to difficult with an elevation gain of 3,000 feet. Like many of the other hikes on this list, the best time to visit is July-September. Aside from the amazing views of the surrounding peaks, you'll also find great fishing in the lakes, plenty of water sources, and ample wildlife viewing opportunities.
The Beaten Path - For another immersion away from the crowds of Rocky Mountain NP, head to the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness in Montana. This 26-mile point-to-point trail could be done in 2 days, but you'll likely want to spend at least 3 days. The Beaten Path is a mostly moderate trail with a few difficult sections. While you won't be climbing any major peaks, the Beaten Path is a water lover's dream with 16 lakes along the way and off short side trails. (Don't forget to bring your fishing gear and a license!) You'll enjoy the shade of evergreens for the majority of your trek as well as wildflower meadows and waterfalls.
Teton Crest Trail - If you're looking for a lengthier journey in the Rocky Mountain wilderness, head to Grand Teton NP in Montana. This 39-mile, well-established point-to-point trail is a challenge for sure as you traverse up peaks and passes and back down through lush valleys throughout much of the length of the park. The views can't be beat, though, especially the one from String Lake surrounded by pines and jagged cliffs rising behind. There is no shortage of alpine lakes, streams, and lupine-filled meadows either.
Glacier North Circle - Head to iconic Glacier NP for another unforgettable hike in the U.S. Rockies of Montana. The Glacier North Circle loop trail is an epic 52-mile hike through the wilderness around the Continental Divide. Due to its popularity as being one of the best hikes in North America, if not the world, there are plenty of designated campsites along the route. With an elevation gain of 10,000+ feet, this loop is recommended for experienced hikers only. Due to the length and strenuous nature of this hike, you'll probably want to make a week out of this adventure past lakes, waterfalls, towering mountain peaks, and plenty of wildlife.
Continental Divide Loop - With an elevation gain of nearly 5,000 feet and the highest point of the trail topping out near 12,300 feet, the 54-mile Continental Divide Loop is not for the faint of heart or beginner backpacker. 6 days are recommended for this arduous, but memorable trek. Be sure to take extra time to explore the many side trails to notable landmarks, such as Adams Falls near the trailhead. From meandering mountain meadows to sections of hard-to-find trail, this loop offers a little bit of everything as you traverse up and over the famous Continental Divide, past alpine lakes, and abundant pine and aspen woodlands.
The Rockwall - Located in Kootenay National Park, this difficult 33.5-mile point-to-point trail takes 4-5 days to complete. The Rockwall Trail has a little bit of everything, including mountain views, alpine meadows, a waterfall, and a lake. You will also make your way over four different mountain passes. The highlight of the trail, though, is, of course, the massive rockwall formation that towers 3,000 feet above you. The Rockwall Trail also has five campgrounds along the way, including bear lockers and tent pads at each site, making for a somewhat luxurious backcountry experience.
Skyline Trail - For a relatively easier, multi-day hike in the Canadian Rockies, head to the country's second-most visited national park to the Skyline Trail. Located in Jasper NP, this 27.7-mile point-to-point trail will take 2-4 days to complete, depending on where you start. With the unpredictable nature of the weather, the peak hiking season is on the short side, between July and September, but the panoramic views above the treeline are well-worth it. You will also find numerous lakes, streams, and campgrounds along the way, making stocking up on water easy.
Sunshine Village to Mount Assiniboine - If you're looking for a world-class trail with some of the best views of the Canadian Rockies without exerting yourself too much, Sunshine Village to Mt.Assiniboine may be just what you're looking for. This 33-mile point-to-point trek is recommended over at least a 5-day time period, if not longer, to appreciate all of the scenery the area has to offer. Due to its popularity, the trail is well-maintained and you can find plenty of tent sites along the way as well as huts and even a lodge. There are plenty of side trails to do some day-hikes on if you decide to spend some extra time exploring the area. (The Mount Assiniboine and Lake Magog area come highly recommended for this.) The panoramic views of the Rockies rising sharply up behind a multitude of alpine lakes and forests can't be beat.
Whether you go hiking in the Rockies of the U.S. or Canada, you are sure to experience some of the most spectacular views the world has to offer. Have you been on any of these hikes? What other great Rocky Mountain trails would you add to our list? Let us know in the comments section below!