The phrase “family-friendly hike” is up for wide interpretation. Parents lugging full-to-the-brim diaper bags and strollers around on a Rocky Mountain National Park hike might be game for a half-hour jaunt on level ground (Coyote Valley Trail fits the bill). On the flipside, I’m personally aware of a family that climbed Longs Peak with a 6-year-old in tow. Like I said—family friendly: it means different things for different people.
For the purpose of this list, the phrase is defined as holding broad interest and appeal for multi-generational groups—from toddlers to teens, midlifers to active seniors. The following five hikes in Rocky have been proven, time and again, to capture imaginations of all ages.
Nymph Lake and Beyond
Nymph Lake’s appeal lies largely in its decorative pond lilies. In the warm months, scores of verdant leaves float weightlessly alongside brilliant yellow flowers. Any spot along the lake’s edge is great for views, but I recommend parking yourself at the north side of Nymph for the most remarkable vantage point. To arrive at Nymph, drive or catch a shuttle to Bear Lake, and hike approximately half a mile (one-way) along the Emerald Lake Trail. If everyone in your party is pumped to keep going, continue on to Dream Lake (an additional 0.6 miles) and finally Emerald (an additional 0.7 miles) before heading back.
Holzwarth Historic Site
One of the most interesting remnants of early settlement on Rocky’s west side is Holzwarth Historic Site, a well-preserved guest ranch built in the early 20th century. History buffs in particular will enjoy poking around this cluster of guest cabins and outbuildings. Volunteers lead informal tours around the property in summertime, and some of the log structures display historical items of significance. A ranger-led campfire program with songs and stories takes place one night a week in the peak season (bring your own marshmallows to roast). The hike out to Holzwarth is approximately 0.5 miles from the trailhead.
Lily Lake is a people-pleaser for so many reasons: among them, its birds and colorful wildflowers. A 0.8-mile, wheelchair-accessible path winds its way around the lake and is delightful for strolling. Several picnic tables with nature-iffic views dot the shore; snag one of these highly coveted lunch spots if you can. There’s no admission fee to hike around Lily Lake—simply arrive via Highway 7, on the east side of Rocky, and park in one of two lots. They fill quickly, so plan to get there early in the morning or late in the day.
When journeying to a waterfall, I am of the opinion that the build-up on the hike out is almost as good as the gusher itself. I just love listening for those first glorious sounds of rushing water. The easy trek to Alberta Falls—a tumbling, frothy spectacle—delivers on both fronts: the path there, and the main attraction. The tree-lined trail is especially gorgeous in the fall, when the aspen leaves’ pigment changes from green to yellow. Large rocks alongside Alberta are great for sunning or snacking. Your starting point for this 1.6-mile round-trip hike is Glacier Gorge Trailhead. In the summer, the parking lot fills up by 6am, so plan on either rallying your crew at the crack of dawn, or taking the park shuttle.
Tundra Communities Trail
Walking around above treeline is a fascinating experience, no matter your age. On the Tundra Communities Trail (0.6 miles round-trip), pikas and marmots scurry about. The wind often screeches and howls, and plants grip tightly to the earth in order to survive. This partially paved trail features a number of interpretive signs along the way, making for both an educational and scenic outing. To get there, take Trail Ridge Road to the Rock Cut parking area; the path to follow will be obvious. Pack sweaters and jackets for all.