Why we love it: An alpine summit hike with forever views, but requiring less commitment than a fourteener.
When to go: Late spring through early fall, before the snow really begins to fly.
This moderate hike on the eastern edge of Rocky Mountain National Park has the look and feel of a major alpine ascent, including a rocky, windblown 11,428-foot summit with unique views of the Continental Divide. And while the trail is a stout 2,400-foot climb over 3.5 miles that should be tackled early in the day to avoid inclement weather, it’s not as big of a commitment as many higher-elevation peaks.
The trailhead is located on the left a short distance up the dirt road from the parking area. From the start the Twin Sisters Trail climbs steadily through tall lodgepole pines. After about a mile, there is a gap in the trees where you’ll get close-up views of Longs Peak and its sheer east face, known as the Diamond.
Another 0.25 miles up the path, the trail crosses a giant debris flow, one of the largest to occur along the Front Range during the dramatic 2013 floods. A path marked by cairns is now worn into the debris, making it relatively easy to navigate. After crossing the flow, a short series of steep switchbacks returns you to the original trail, which continues to climb beneath stately Douglas firs and bristlecone pines.
At 11,000 feet, the trail breaks out of the trees, then angles up a slope of scree shattered over the millennia by countless freeze-thaw cycles. You’ll likely hear the high-pitched squeaks of pikas and may even spot a few darting amongst the boulders. After navigating several more switchbacks, the trail reaches a windy saddle between the peaks, the higher of which rises to the right. To ascend it, hike past the small stone building and tower, then carefully scramble up to the summit, where you’ll enjoy tremendous views Longs Peak, Lumpy Ridge, and the high peaks in Rocky Mountain National Park, courtesy of this mountain’s isolated location east of the Continental Divide.
After drinking in your fill of the views, retrace your steps down to your car.
Getting there: From Denver, drive north on I-25 to Exit 243. Turn left here to follow CO 66 west for 16 miles to the town of Lyons. Just past 4th Street veer right onto US 36 and follow this for 20 miles to Estes Park. At the junction with CO 7 (Saint Vrain Avenue), turn left and proceed south for 7.2 miles to the signed access road on the left (east). Follow this road 0.35 miles to a gate. Parking is only allowed on the right-hand side.
Logistics: No entry fee is required for this hike. No dogs are allowed on this trail.