America's Best Day Hikes: Rockies - Backpacker

America's Best Day Hikes: Rockies

With alpine views, hot springs, wildflowers and wildlife, these hikes in Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana offer the best of the Rockies.
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Democrat-Cameron-Lincoln Loop, CO 7 miles (Difficult)

Tag three Fourteeners along this loop, a high-altitude tour de force. Most of the climbing comes at the start: From the trailhead (near Alma), hike north up a talus-strewn basin for 2,150 vertical feet to the 14,148-foot summit of Mt. Democrat. Then it's a roller coaster of above-treeline hiking as you trace the lofty ridgelines between Mts. Cameron and Lincoln. As of June 2009 Bross remained closed due to private land issues (call The Forest Service at 719-836-2031 for an update).

Season July-September

InfoColorado's Fourteeners, by Gerry Roach

Bears Ears Trail, WY 9 miles (Moderate)

Most trails in the Wind River Range stick to the valleys and forests, but this path quickly reaches a miles-long alpine traverse at 11,000 feet. Here you'll find sweeping views of snaggly spires and peaks, plus pinch-yourself solitude that's exceptional even in this remote range. Start hiking at 9,300 feet and switchback to treeline, then weave through rocks and wildflowers to Adams Pass (turn back here). Trailhead access requires a Wind River Indian Reservation permit (307-332-7207).

Season July-September

Info (307) 332-5460

Mt. Sherman, CO 4 miles (Easy)

An easy Fourteener with great scenery and no crowds? Believe it. This out-and-back starts just 2,000 feet below Sherman's broad 14,036-foot summit (without 4WD, add another two miles and 800 vertical feet). With 4WD, park right below the old Dauntless Mine and hike a rock-strewn roadbed to the ridgeline. Then head northeast along the ridge to Sherman's summit, where the views–including the Park Range and Tarryall Mountains–would amply reward triple the effort.

Season July-September

InfoColorado's Fourteeners, by Gerry Roach

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Conundrum Hot Springs, CO 18 miles (Difficult)

Take a sparkling warm-water pool, place it just so below 14,265-foot Castle Peak, add alpine views and meadows, and you have the paradise known as Conundrum Hot Springs. A place this special is no secret, but you can avoid the mule train of hikers by skipping the standard approach from Aspen; instead, hike in from the Crested Butte side via the Copper Creek Trail, and score even better vistas of the surrounding Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness on the way. After topping out at 13,057-foot Triangle Pass, you'll descend to Conundrum. Do this round-trip late or early in the season for the best chance of solitude.

Season July-October

Info (970) 641-0471

Goldbug Hot Springs, ID 4 miles (Moderate)

Here's a bathtub with a view: Perched some 800 feet above Warm Springs Creek, with steaming cascades trickling in from above and a canyon yawning below, this remarkable 100°F pool has a view of mountains rippling away to the horizon. The round-trip hike skirts sagebrush-covered slopes and climbs nearly 1,000 feet, with most of that gain crunched into the last half-mile. Then, bliss.


Year-round (though you'll want extra traction in winter, when trails are snowpacked and icy)

Info (208) 756-5100



Rustler Gulch, CO 8 miles (Moderate)

Dense fields of flowers–more than 100 species–electrify the meadows of Rustler Gulch and make this the premier petal hike near Crested Butte, itself the unchallenged wildflower capital of Colorado. The round-trip starts off by meandering through aspens and evergreens where monkshood and cow parsnip bloom. After a moderate ascent, the route spills out of the trees into a rainbow of flowers surrounded by jagged pink peaks. The pièce de résistance: an 11,400-foot-high alpine cirque blue with columbines. You'll need an early start to beat the crowds in prime time (late July), but it's worth it.

Season June-September

Info (970) 641-0471

Siyeh Pass, MT 10.3 miles (Moderate)

If there weren't fields of wildflowers, this one-way hike in Glacier National Park would still deliver some of the most stunningly chiseled scenery in the Rockies, with close-up vistas of Mt. Siyeh and Sexton Glacier. Factor in the profusion of blooms that flourishes here starting in July, and it's a life-list day in the mountains. Hike through Preston Park's smorgasbord of petals, cross 8,080-foot Siyeh Pass and a sea of yellow glacier lilies, then descend 3,440 feet to Sunrift Gorge (where you can catch a free shuttle back to the trailhead in July and August).

Season July-September

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Fox Creek Pass, WY 18.4 miles (Difficult)

If you think wildflower hikes always end too soon, this is your dream trail. Allow all day–and pack a headlamp just in case–on this round-trip in Grand Teton National Park. The route up Death Canyon to Fox Creek Pass climbs 3,100 feet and serves up wildflowers the entire way. It crescendoes in a bloom lover's nirvana just below the pass, at nearly 10,000 feet, where shoulder-high purple asters and a Technicolor mix of petals crowd the meadows (late July is usually the best). Then descend along Death Canyon Creek, where bluebells cluster in the shade and golden asters explode on sunny slopes.

Season July-September




Lamar Valley, WY 7 miles (Easy)

For concentration and variety of big-ticket wildlife, Yellowstone National Park's Lamar Valley beats all other spots in the Lower 48: Bears (grizzly and black), wolves, elk, and bison all roam the grasslands surrounding the Lamar River. For the best viewing, follow the well-maintained Lamar River Trail 3.5 miles south from the trailhead (then turn back).

Season Year-round for wolves and bison, spring for bears, winter for elk

Swiftcurrent Pass, MT 15 miles (Difficult)

This one-way route in Glacier National Park–which traces the Continental Divide and then a glacial stream–should be on every hiker's life-list. It crosses fields of glacier lilies (grizzlies love the bulbs) and steep terrain favored by bighorn sheep and mountain goats (left). From Logan Pass trailhead, take the Highline Trail and connect to Swiftcurrent Pass, then descend through Many Glacier Valley, past turquoise icemelt pools.

Season July-September

Best Scramble

Castle Peak, ID 12 miles (Difficult)
Fair trade: The rock is notoriously loose on the way up, but the view is famously jaw-dropping on top. To reach this peak in the White Cloud range, follow the Washington Creek and Chamberlain Creek Trails for five miles, reaching the Chamberlain Lakes at 9,200 feet. Then scramble (carefully!) up talus for 2,615 vertical feet to the summit, where you'll overlook 25 lakes and the genuinely sawlike Serrate Ridge. Pack trekking poles for the descent via the same route.

Season July-October

Info (208) 774-3000



Specimen Mountain, CO

This easy two-miler in Rocky Mountain National Park almost guarantees a bighorn sheep sighting; they're attracted to the area's natural mineral lick.

Sacajawea Peak, MT

Climb the highest peak in the Bridger Range on this round-trip route. Trail 534 to the 9,665-foot summit gains 2,000 feet in 2.5 miles and comes with mesmerizing alpine views.

Info (406) 522-2520

Shower Bath Hot Springs, ID

Hike six rugged miles into the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, where steaming water showers over an 80-foot cliff and collects in crystalline soaking pools.

Info (208) 879-4100

Mt. Goliath, CO

This wildflower-rich 3.3-miler is so lush with summer blooms that the Denver Botanical Garden sponsors hikes here. Info (303) 567-3000

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