Rocky Mountain National Park offers a wide variety of spectacular hikes, and the Ute Trail is perhaps the most scenic of them all. From the Alpine Visitor’s Center, at an altitude of 11,796, and the Milner Pass, at 10,759 feet, hikers are treated to colorful vistas as far as the eye can see.
Trail length: 4.2 miles (one way) / Difficulty: Easy
Park at the Alpine Visitor’s Center (if you can) and hike the mostly downhill trail to Milner Pass. We had a driver pick us up at Milner Pass and drive us back to the Alpine Visitor’s Center to retrieve our car. The Visitor’s Center can be extremely crowded, especially on the weekends and holidays. Arrive as early as you can in the day, or pray for some good luck on busier days if you show up later.
The trail experience
This nearly 1,000-foot descent is an easy, yet incredibly scenic, trek across the high altitudes of the Rocky Mountain National Park. Nearly half of the trek is over the windswept treeless tundra. Dress in layers and be prepared to shed or add clothing along the hike. It was 47 degrees when we started this hike, almost at midday, on September 4th, 2016. We definitely felt the chill.
Even at altitudes of over 11,000 feet, we did not find oxygen to be a problem for us because the trail was mostly downhill.
The first half of this trail is a panoramic photographer’s dream. Hikers walk through colorful fields of grasses and flowers amid monster mountain peaks and even a small lake or two along the way (pictured below). You are completely exposed to the elements during this portion of the journey.
The second half buries hikers in a thick forest, twisting around trees and across babbling brooks. Although the trail is well maintained, the trail stays wet for long periods of time in the forest. Wear appropriate shoes and be prepared for a muddy walk in places after a rain.
Adventurous hikers might consider beginning the Ute Trail at Milner Pass and ascending to the Alpine Visitor’s Center (the opposite direction of our hike). Note that this hike is very difficult, especially at the beginning, as the trail ascends rapidly into the dense forest.