9 Legendary Hiking Excursions in the American Rockies

When it comes to legendary hiking trails, the American Rockies are tough to beat. The greater Rocky Mountains stretch from the southern tip of Colorado all the way to the Canadian border. This vast swath of mountain magic contains some of the best hiking excursions in America, and we are giving you all the juicy details. Here are nine legendary trails to add to your bucket list.

1. The Iconic Thru-Hike: The Colorado Trail, Colorado

If you don’t have six months to spend hiking the Continental Divide Trail (which runs the length of the Rockies), then the Colorado Trail is the adventure for you. The trail starts just outside of Denver and winds its way through 486 miles of mountain scenery until it terminates in the town of Durango on Colorado’s Western Slope. Don’t let the mileage fool you, this is America’s highest thru-hike, with more than 89,000 vertical feet of gain. The entire journey takes most hikers about one month to complete, and most hike it in July when trails are free of snow. However, the Colorado Trail can be broken up into 33 distinct segments if you’d rather tackle it in sections.

2. Feel the Drama at the Cirque of Towers, Wyoming

Start your 18.5-mile journey from the Big Sandy Trailhead outside of Lander, Wyoming. After around six miles, you’ll take the left fork up Jackass Pass. The trail gets rugged from here, requiring you to travel up and over a steep mountain pass, but the rewards are generous. The Cirque of Towers is a dramatic spread of pointy peaks that will take your breath away. This area is popular among climbers, so don’t expect solitude here. However, if you like to drool over slabs of granite piercing the sky, then this is the place to be. This trail is not for the uninitiated, with most of the 2,300-plus vertical feet gained in the last three miles.

3. Gem-Colored Lakes along the Grinnell Glacier Trail, Montana

The scenic and rugged Grinnell Glacier Trail can be done in a day.

Roy Luck

Not into multi-day backpacking trips? Don’t worry, in Montana’s Glacier National Park you’ll be treated to picture-perfect scenery along the Grinnell Glacier Trail. This 10.3-mile moderate hike offers up plenty of picture-perfect scenery without the suffer-fest of grueling elevation gains. Be sure to bring your binoculars, as the Grinnell Glacier Trail is known for wildlife spotting. Sometimes the trail closes due to bear activity, so be sure to check with a ranger first. Take a camera to forever capture the glacial lakes, pack a lunch, and enjoy the beauty of this magical mountain landscape.

4. Follow the Serene Iron Creek to Sawtooth Lake, Idaho

If you’re looking for solitude in the American Rockies, check out the Sawtooth Range of Idaho. Iron Creek to Sawtooth Lake is a stunning 8.5-mile, out-and-back trail up moderate terrain to an alpine lake. Located near Stanley, Idaho, this magnificent hike not only boasts killer views, but is also pup-friendly, so feel free to bring Fido.

5. Backpack the Teton Crest Trail, Wyoming

Arguably the most classic backpacking route of the American Rockies, the Teton Crest Trail is located in Grand Teton National Park and offers hikers the best of the Teton Range. This 25.7-mile point-to-point trail (or 40-mile loop when combined with Death Canyon) takes anywhere between three to five days to complete. Experienced backpackers will revel in the challenge of more than 3,800 feet of gain, but it’s also a fine choice for novices who like a physical challenge or have a few extra days to make the trek. Permits are required for this fantastic slice of mountain paradise and food must be stored in bear-safe canisters.

6. Marvel at the Maroon Bells along the Four Passes Loop, Colorado

Start in Aspen, Colorado, to complete the 27-mile Four Passes Loop.

Lorie Shaull

Link up several different hiking trails for this 27-mile Colorado classic. Very ambitious trail runners can complete this trip in a day, but most opt for a three-night backpacking excursion. The Maroon Bells, located in Aspen, Colorado, are some of the most iconic peaks in all of the Rockies. Travel over four 12,000-plus foot passes and immerse yourself in the Maroon Bells/Snowmass Wilderness Area. Despite the dizzying elevation, this backpacking loop is an excellent moderate loop with picture-perfect scenery. Entry into the wilderness area by vehicle must be done either before 8 am or after 5 pm and requires a $10 entry fee. Otherwise, you can ride the shuttle bus to the Maroon/Snowmass Trailhead. Proper bear protection for your food is required.

7. Get a Full Mountain Panorama along the Cracker Lake Trail, Montana

This 12-mile day hike in the American Rockies may be long, but there isn’t too much elevation gain (1,650 feet), making it a suitable option for an all-day moderate hike with lovely views. Located in Glacier National Park, near Swiftcurrent, Montana, the Cracker Lake Trail features amazing views of the trail’s namesake turquoise-colored alpine lake. The trail curves around the stunning Rocky Mountains of Montana, offering dramatic views, beautiful wildflowers, and plenty of wildlife.

8. Experience the Magic of Sky Pond, Colorado

Located in Rocky Mountain National Park, Sky Pond is one of Colorado’s best-known hikes.

Mark DeVries

Sky Pond is one of the most iconic hikes in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park and deserves a spot on everyone’s bucket list. Hike up 1,765 feet of Rocky Mountain terrain to reach Sky Pond, an alpine lake surrounded by stunning spires of rock. The entire journey is around eight miles and starts at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead. Keep in mind that this hike is best done during the summer months, since a scramble up the side of a waterfall to reach the lake turns into an ice climb, requiring special gear, in winter.

9. Reach a State High Point on Mount Borah, Idaho

The Mount Borah Trail near Mackay, Idaho, gives you the chance to challenge yourself and reach a state high point. The trail makes its way up to the top of Mount Borah, a 12,662-foot-tall peak in the heart of Idaho’s Rocky Mountains. No mountain climb is ever easy, and although you don’t need any special gear, it’s important to be prepared. Expect to scramble over rocks, use your navigation skills, and start early (before the sun comes up) to avoid bad weather. Although this trail is only 7.3 miles long, it gains more than 5,200 feet of elevation. Plan on lots of steep walking, and be sure to bring plenty of water and extra layers. Only experienced mountain hikers should attempt this trail.
These iconic hiking excursions in the American Rockies cover some of the most beautiful mountain scenery in the world. So pack your bags and hit the trail this season to see what lies above the next ridge.
When out on the trail, make sure you have the right gear to keep you comfortable in any weather. Clothing made with 37.5 Technology will help regulate your body temperature, warming you up when you’re cold and cooling you down when you’re hot. Start with a solid base layer, like these options from Rab, which combine natural merino wool and synthetic fibers with 37.5 Technology. They’re perfect for under a backpack and will keep you comfortable on the trail all day long.
Written by Meg Atteberry for Matcha in partnership with 37.5.

Featured image provided by John and Jean Strother