Moraine Park Loop Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park - Day Hikes Near Denver

June 5, 2016 Comments (0) 4-6 miles, About 90 Min, Easy, fall colors, hikes near estes park, Meadows, Rocky Mountain National Park

Moraine Park Loop Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

The Moraine Park Loop encircles the golden meadows of Moraine Park in Rocky Mountain National Park. The morning mists rising from the Big Thompson River, and herds of grazing elk make for an enchanted landscape. In the evening, the setting sun brings shadows and light play to the valley floor. All of this is against the backdrop of the distant snowcapped peaks of the Rocky Mountains. Explore the full Moraine Park Loop hike profile below for trail map, driving directions, and all the details you need to enjoy this adventure in Rocky Mountain National Park.


Trail Snapshot: Moraine Park Loop in Rocky Mountain National Park

  • Hike Distance: 5.5 miles
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Duration: Approx 3 hrs
  • Trail Type: Loop
  • Starting Elevation: 8128′
  • Elevation Gain: +90′
  • Seasons: Spring through Fall, Winter Snowshoeing
  • Dogs: Dogs Prohibited in RMNP
  • Hike Trail Map: Click for a Map of Moraine Park Loop RMNP
  • Denver Drive Time: 1 hr 30 min
  • Driving Directions to Moraine Park Discovery Center: Click for Google Map
  • Town Nearest Hike: Estes Park, Colorado
  • Beauty: Mountain views, meadows, river, wildlife: Abert’s squirrel, elk, deer, moose, duck, bear, mountain goat; wildflowers.
  • Activities: Picnicking, hiking trails, snowshoeing, horseback riding, backcountry camping (with a permit)
  • Fee: Park Pass Required


Waypoints Along the Moraine Park Loop

A. 0.0 miles : Moraine Park Discovery Center
B. 0.6 miles : Moraine Park Trailhead
C. 0.8 miles : Trail through the Lateral Moraine Trail
D. 1.7 miles : Lateral Moraine Trail and Moraine Service Road intersection
E. 2.1 miles : Head west through the Lateral Moraine Trail
F. 2.9 miles : Lateral Moraine Trail – Cub Lake intersection
G. 3.4 miles : Cub Lake Trailhead
H. 4.1 miles : Continue east through Fern Lake Road
I. 4.5 miles : To Moraine Park Road
J. 5.3 miles : Back at Moraine Park Discovery Center

Parking & Trailhead Information for Moraine Park Loop

The Moraine Park Loop can be accessed from several different small parking areas such as the Cub Lake Trailhead and the Fern Lake Bus Stop, but the largest parking lot in the area is found at the Moraine Park Discovery Center. It’s a great place to learn about the history and habitat of the area before or after your hike. Those staying at the Moraine Park Campground in RMNP can access this loop of trails by walking down the campground road, or via some short connector trails that come off the south end of the campground. Please only use well-worn trails, and don’t cut across the fields from the campground, as this causes a lot of disruption and damage to the landscape.

The Hike: Moraine Park Loop Trail in RMNP

This 5.3 mile loop begins at the Moraine Park Discovery Center and follows a clockwise route around the outer rim of Moraine Park. Though Moraine Park is a centerpiece of Rocky Mountain National Park, drawing thousands every year to watch the bull elk bugle and battle over rights to their harem of cows, the loop hike is not very well marked. However, much of this loop hike is an oft-used route for horseback rides guided by the local YMCA camp. Segments of this loop run along the dirt and asphalt roads at the rim of the meadows. Because of this, it’s recommended to 1) Be very aware of cars. While the speed limit is low, drivers are often distracted by the views and wildlife, and 2) Look for paths in the meadow alongside the road. These will be safer routes than walking the roads. 3) When walking along the roads, please walk against traffic and walk in single file along the roads.

02-Moraine-Park-Rocky-Mountain-National-Park

The hike begins at a high point, looking down upon Moraine Park from the discovery center, and the trail can be picked up just to the east of Bear Lake road. By zooming in on the google map provided above, hikers should be able to discern a trail that runs roughly alongside the road. This is the safest option. The next segment, the South Moraine Trail, can be picked up by crossing Bear Lake Road and heading west on South Moraine Road.



The South Moraine Trail travels across the foot of the moraine for which this area is named. A moraine is a deposit left by either the side or foot of a glacier (imagine the piles of dirt left by an excavator as it cuts a path through the earth). This segment of the loop is a favorite for its views and partial shade.

After approximately 2 miles on the South Lateral Moraine Trail, hikers will encounter a junction with the Cub Lake Trail. To continue on the Moraine Park Loop, the correct direction is right/north on the Cub Lake Trail. After crossing the Big Thompson River, the stream that snakes it’s way through Moraine Park, the trail will come out at the Cub Lake Trailhead. Here, the loop continues right/east along Fern Lake road. Again, it’s best to travel on any well-worn paths alongside the road when possible.


01-Moraine-Park-Rocky-Mountain-National-Park


Fern Lake Road will terminate at Moraine Park Road. Here, the loop continues right/east back to the Moraine Park Discovery Center. An alternative route that avoids walking along Moraine Park Road is to cut through Moraine Park on an established trail back down to the southeast corner of Moraine Park. Here, hikers can cross Bear Lake Road and take the same trail they used at the beginning and return to the Moraine Park Discovery Center.

Tips & Resources for Hiking to Moraine Park Loop in Rocky Mountain National Park

  • Arrive Early for Parking: It is advisable to arrive early to avoid entry lines and to find suitable parking.
  • Wildlife: Keep your distance from the Elk. While they are very used to humans, cows may be protecting calves, and bull elk can be aggressive during certain seasons. It’s always best to view wildlife at a distance in our National Parks.
  • The Fences: You’ll notice fences along the route, and some gates you may pass through. These have been established because of the very high populations of elk in the park, which has in turn had a negative impact on the vegetation. These are here to help reestablish overbrowsed habitat.
  • Trail Map: Trail Map for Moraine Park Loop in RMNP
  • Packing List: Always pack the 10 Essentials. Download our Hiking Guide to get list and dayhiking packing checklist.
  • Colorado Road Conditions: Colorado Road Conditions
  • After the Hike: Mountain Home Café


Weather

Estes Park, CO
70°
partly cloudy
41% humidity
wind: 11mph E
H 72 • L 43
70°
Sun
75°
Mon
74°
Tue

Map & Driving Directions


Click for Driving Directions



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *