What to do in Rocky Mountain National Park - 21 Fun Ideas
Are you ready to explore one of the most rugged and beautiful landscapes in all of America? Rocky Mountain National Park is like no other place, boasting stunning mountain panoramas, vast stretches of sky-reaching peaks, winding trails that can take you up and down through a wide variety of terrain, an abundant array of outdoor activities for adventurers from every walk of life - there's something here for everyone. Whether you are seeking thrills or relaxation on your visit to Rocky Mountain National Park, we have gathered 18 incredible ideas for what to do while exploring this magnificent landscape!
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Rocky Mountain National Park is nestled in the north-central region of Colorado, in the United States. It straddles the Continental Divide and is flanked by the towns of Estes Park to the east and Grand Lake to the west. Known for its picturesque landscapes and vast wilderness, this park is a gem in the heart of Colorado.
Getting to Rocky Mountain National Park is straightforward, regardless of where your journey begins. If you're flying in, Denver International Airport is the closest major airport, approximately a two-hour drive from the park. Car rentals are available at the airport, and the scenic drive will take you straight through the heart of Colorado's natural splendor.
For those driving from Denver, take the US-36 W from Boulder to Estes Park, which is the eastern gateway to the park. From the west, you would access the park via US-34 E through Grand Lake. Do remember to check road conditions, especially during the winter months, as weather can significantly impact travel. Public transportation options are limited, but the park operates a free shuttle service during the summer months, providing easy access to many of the park's key attractions.
Denver, CO to Rocky Mountain National Park: 66 mi | 1 hr 21 min | Google Maps
What is Rocky Mountain National Park famous for?
Rocky Mountain National Park is renowned for its unparalleled natural beauty, encompassing majestic mountain ranges, verdant forests, tranquil lakes, and abundant wildlife. It's home to over 60 peaks towering over 12,000 feet, including the stunning Longs Peak, which stands as the park's highest at an altitude of 14,259 feet. The park is also famous for the Trail Ridge Road, the highest paved through-road in the United States, offering breathtaking views and access to diverse ecosystems. Its diverse flora and fauna, including elks, black bears, and over 280 recorded bird species, make it a paradise for wildlife enthusiasts. With a network of over 355 miles of hiking trails that cater to all skill levels, Rocky Mountain National Park is a dream destination for nature lovers and outdoor adventurers.
How big is the park?
Rocky Mountain National Park is vast, encompassing a staggering area of 415 square miles or 265,769 acres. The park's elevation ranges from about 7,500 feet to over 14,000 feet at the top of Longs Peak, offering a diverse and dramatic landscape that's ripe for exploration.
Best time of year to visit the park
Rocky Mountain National Park offers a unique and exhilarating experience throughout the year, each season presenting its own charm and attractions. In spring, witness the park's flora burst into life, painting the landscape with vibrant hues and attracting a plethora of bird species. This is an ideal time for birdwatching and nature photography. Summer, the most popular season, welcomes hikers and campers with clear skies and warm temperatures, perfect for exploring higher elevations and alpine lakes. Autumn ushers in a spectacular display of fall foliage, setting the park ablaze with shades of gold and russet. It's also the season for elk rut—an annual event where elks engage in a stunning display of dominance. Winter transforms the park into a snowy wonderland, ideal for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and wildlife viewing as animals forage for food. Regardless of the time of year, Rocky Mountain National Park promises unforgettable experiences for every visitor.
Where to stay when visiting Rocky Mountain National Park
Choosing where to stay during your visit to Rocky Mountain National Park can significantly shape your experience. If you're yearning for a full immersion in nature, camping in one of the park's designated campgrounds might be your best choice. Imagine waking up to the chirping of birds, cooking meals over a campfire, and gazing at the starry sky free from city light pollution. It's a truly authentic way to experience the wilderness and serenity of the park, making memories that will last a lifetime.
On the other hand, if comfort and convenience are your priorities after a long day of hiking and exploring, there are several hotels and lodges in and around the park. Staying in a hotel means you'll have access to amenities like comfortable beds, private bathrooms, and often a restaurant, which can be a welcome luxury after a day of adventure. Hotels also offer the advantage of proximity to local towns, giving you the flexibility to explore local dining, shopping, and cultural experiences.
Ultimately, whether you opt for camping under the stars or enjoying the comfort of a hotel, you'll be in the perfect location to enjoy all the wonders that Rocky Mountain National Park has to offer.
An affordable option for families, this property provides cabin and lodge room rentals, hiking trails, and a variety of outdoor activities. It's nestled in the mountains and provides easy access to the national park.
YMCA of the Rockies: 2515 Tunnel Rd, Estes Park, CO 80511 | Google Maps
Located on the western side of the park in Grand Lake, this historic lodge offers rustic cabins and rooms along the river. The onsite restaurant offers a fine dining experience with a view.
The Historic Rapids Lodge and Restaurant: 210 Rapids Ln, Grand Lake, CO 80447 | Google Maps
Camping inside the park
For those looking to truly immerse themselves in the wilderness, camping inside Rocky Mountain National Park provides an unforgettable experience. The park hosts five different campgrounds, each with its unique charm and features.
Nestled in a pine forest with sweeping views of the surrounding mountains, Moraine Park is the largest campground in the park and operates year-round. It's an ideal base camp for hikers looking to explore the park's trail system.
Moraine Park Campground: 1000 US-36, Estes Park, CO 80517 | Google Maps
Situated on the park's west side, Timber Creek is the only campground on the west side of the park and is adjacent to the Colorado River. It's first come, first served and ideal for those looking to explore the park's less congested side.
Timber Creek Campground: Trail Ridge Rd, Grand Lake, CO 80447 | Google Maps
Dedicated to tent camping, Longs Peak campground is located at the trailhead to its namesake peak. It's perfect for those looking to summit the park's highest mountain.
Longs Peak Campground: Longs Peak Rd, Allenspark, CO 80510 | Google Maps
Each campground offers basic amenities such as picnic tables, fire grates, restrooms, and access to water. However, it's important to remember that there are no electric, water, or sewer hookups in the park's campgrounds, and cell service may be limited or unavailable. Always remember to follow the park's Leave No Trace principles to help preserve its natural beauty for generations to come.
Wildlife in Colorado
Rocky Mountain National Park serves as a sanctuary for a diverse range of wildlife, offering visitors a chance to witness these creatures in their natural habitat. Herds of elk are a common sight, often seen grazing in meadows or resting under the shade of tall pine trees. The park is also home to mule deer and moose, which are most frequently observed near bodies of water. Smaller mammals, such as squirrels, chipmunks, and beavers, can be spotted darting through the underbrush or along the banks of rivers and lakes. Birdwatchers will be thrilled to know that the park harbors over 280 species of birds, including majestic birds of prey like the bald eagle and the peregrine falcon. And while sightings are infrequent, the park is also a refuge for black bears and mountain lions, reminders of the wild heart of this incredible landscape.
Are dogs allowed in Rocky Mountain National Park?
Dogs are indeed allowed in Rocky Mountain National Park, but there are some important restrictions to keep in mind. While dogs are permitted in campgrounds, picnic areas, and along roadsides, they are not allowed on trails, tundra, and meadows. They must be kept on a leash no longer than six feet at all times and cannot be left unattended. It's crucial to respect these rules not only for the safety and enjoyment of other visitors but also for the well-being of the park's wildlife and delicate ecosystems. For those wishing to explore trails with their four-legged friends, nearby Roosevelt National Forest offers dog-friendly hiking options.
18 Best Things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park
Hiking is arguably the most popular activity in Rocky Mountain National Park, with a vast network of trails providing a variety of experiences for all skill levels. Whether you're looking for a leisurely stroll around a serene lake, a challenging climb to a towering peak, or a multi-day backpacking adventure, the park's trails offer something for everyone. The scenic beauty of the park, from sweeping vistas to intimate encounters with wildlife, is best experienced on foot. Don't miss the chance to explore the park's incredible diversity of ecosystems, each with its unique set of flora and fauna.
With over 300 miles of trails, Rocky Mountain National Park is a hiker’s paradise. From easy nature walks to strenuous peak climbs, there are trails for all levels and abilities. Explore the park’s alpine meadows, scenic lakes, and rugged peaks while taking in the stunning views of the surrounding landscape.
Rocky Mountain National Park is home to a wide variety of wildlife including elk, bighorn sheep, moose, deer, marmots, and more. Keep your eyes peeled for these animals while hiking or driving around the park and you may be lucky enough to spot one!
Always remember to maintain safe distances from all wildlife in Rocky Mountain National Park. These animals are wild and can be unpredictable, so for their safety and yours, let them exist without interference. Use binoculars or telephoto lenses to observe and photograph wildlife from a distance. Never feed the animals as it can harm their health and alter natural behaviors. Respect the park's fauna by admiring them from afar.
There are five campgrounds located within Rocky Mountain National Park that offer basic amenities such as restrooms and picnic tables. Pitch your tent among the pines or stay in one of the park’s backcountry campsites for an even more rustic experience.
Campgrounds in Rocky Mountain National Park
Aspenglen Campground: Located near the Fall River entrance, this campground is known for its amazing views and easy access to trails. It offers 52 campsites.
Glacier Basin Campground: Situated at an elevation of 8,500 feet, this campground provides a stunning view of the Rockies. It has 150 campsites.
Moraine Park Campground: Nestled in a beautiful meadow rich with wildlife, Moraine Park offers 244 campsites and is open year-round.
Timber Creek Campground: The only campground on the west side of the park, Timber Creek is dog-friendly and has 98 campsites.
Longs Peak Campground: At an elevation of 9,500 feet, this tents-only campground has 26 campsites and is the closest campground to the Longs Peak trailhead.
Fishing in Rocky Mountain National Park is another popular activity, offering both relaxation and excitement to anglers. The park boasts numerous rivers and lakes populated with various fish species, including trout. Whether you're a seasoned angler seeking a challenge or a beginner looking to cast your first line, the park's diverse water bodies provide ample opportunities. It's important to note that fishing in the park requires a valid Colorado fishing license, and the park adheres to Colorado's fishing regulations. Always make sure to familiarize yourself with the rules before setting out on your fishing adventure.x
Saddle up and explore Rocky Mountain National Park on horseback! The park offers guided horseback tours that will take you through some of its most beautiful areas while providing an up-close look at its abundant wildlife. These tours are great for families, couples, and solo travelers alike. If you prefer a more independent ride, there are also designated trails within the park that allow horseback riding.
Driving through Rocky Mountain National Park is an experience in itself, with each turn in the road revealing new natural wonders. The park offers two main scenic drives, each with its unique features.
Trail Ridge Road
Often referred to as the "highway to the sky," Trail Ridge Road is the highest continuous paved road in the United States, climbing to over 12,000 feet in elevation. The drive takes you through various ecosystems, from lush meadows and aspen groves at lower elevations to the harsh yet beautiful alpine tundra above the treeline. Along this 48-mile drive, you'll encounter panoramic views of the Rockies, wildflower-filled meadows, and possible sightings of wildlife like elk and bighorn sheep. The road is typically open from late May to mid-October, weather permitting.
Old Fall River Road
Old Fall River Road is a one way, 11-mile gravel road is a more adventurous scenic route through Rocky Mountain National Park, leading travelers from Horseshoe Park to the Alpine Visitor Center. Unlike Trail Ridge Road, Old Fall River Road is unpaved, allowing you to engage with the park's wilderness in a more intimate way. The journey offers views of the Fall River, cascading waterfalls, and vast meadows. It also provides access to the trailhead for Chasm Falls, one of the park's must-see waterfalls. Old Fall River Road is usually open from early July to late September.
Each scenic drive offers different perspectives of the park's diverse landscapes, making them must-do activities in Rocky Mountain National Park. Remember that due to the park's high elevation, weather conditions can change rapidly, so it's always best to check road conditions before setting out.
Put on a pair of snowshoes and explore Rocky Mountain National Park by snowshoeing during wintertime! With over 60 miles of trails designated specifically for snowshoeing, this is one activity you won't want to miss out on during your visit here! Don't forget to go prepared with the right gear to keep you safe and warm while out on the trail.
Skiing & snowboarding
Experience the thrill of winter sports in the majestic setting of Rocky Mountain National Park. The park itself doesn't operate any ski resorts, but it opens its doors to backcountry skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts seeking a more secluded and adventurous experience. Remember, though, backcountry skiing and snowboarding in the park aren't for the faint-hearted. It requires excellent skills and knowledge of avalanche safety. Always be prepared and make sure to check the avalanche forecast before heading out.
If you prefer groomed slopes and resort amenities, there are several great ski resorts located near the park.
A little further away but well worth the drive, Loveland offers high-altitude skiing and snowboarding with stunning panoramic views.
Loveland Ski Area: I-70, Dillon, CO 80435 | Google Maps
With these options, Rocky Mountain National Park and its surroundings truly become a winter wonderland for every skiing and snowboarding enthusiast.
Pack a lunch and find yourself a secluded spot in Rocky Mountain National Park where you can sit back and relax while enjoying some delicious food with stunning views as far as the eye can see!
Picnic tables can be found at various locations throughout Rocky Mountain National Park, offering a delightful space for a meal amidst stunning natural beauty. Some of these areas include:
Hollowell Park: A less-visited picnic spot, it offers tranquility and several picnic tables. This is the trailhead for a few less-travelled trails, making it an ideal location for those desiring a peaceful picnic.
Sprague Lake: At an elevation of 8,700 feet, Sprague Lake provides accessible picnic areas and spectacular views of the surrounding mountains.
Upper Beaver Meadows: This location is known for its serene setting and wildlife viewing opportunities. It has several picnic tables and is easily accessible from the park's entrance.
Endovalley Picnic Area: Close to the Fall River Entrance, Endovalley is a popular picnic site with plenty of tables, restrooms, and magnificent views of the Old Fall River Road.
Lily Lake: Located near Estes Park, it offers several picnic tables and breathtaking views of Longs Peak.
Remember, picnic areas can get filled quickly during peak times, so plan to arrive early. Also, be mindful of the wildlife and remember to pack out all your trash.
Immerse yourself in the celestial wonders of the night sky at Rocky Mountain National Park. Thanks to the park's high elevation and remote location, away from city light pollution, it offers some of the darkest skies, perfect for stargazing. On a clear night, you can observe the milky way, planets, meteor showers, and even some deep sky objects with the naked eye. The park also occasionally hosts night sky programs led by park rangers, offering a chance to learn more about our universe and view the stars through high-quality telescopes. Remember to dress warmly, bring a reclining lawn chair or blanket for comfortable viewing, and allow your eyes 20-30 minutes to adjust to the darkness. Do also check the weather forecast before heading out for a night of stargazing. Whether you are an amateur astronomer or just wish to enjoy the simple pleasure of gazing at a starlit sky, stargazing in Rocky Mountain National Park is an experience not to be missed.
Capture some amazing shots while exploring Rocky Mountain National Park's diverse landscapes featuring towering mountains, lush forests, sparkling rivers, wildflower meadows and much more! If you're new to nature photography, be sure to checkout these 10 tips and tricks to help you capture the perfect shot.
Ranger programs & tours
Immerse yourself in the wonders of Rocky Mountain National Park through ranger-led programs and tours. These interactive experiences offer visitors an opportunity to connect with nature in a deeper, more meaningful way and to learn fascinating facts about the park's wildlife, geology, and history.
The park's knowledgeable rangers lead a variety of programs, such as guided hikes, wildlife talks, night sky programs, and campfire talks. Programs vary by season, so be sure to check the Ranger-led Programs page for the most current schedule and details.
Remember, participation in these programs often requires advance registration, so be sure to plan ahead. Whether you're a first-time visitor or a seasoned veteran, ranger-led programs and tours are an excellent way to enhance your visit to the Rocky Mountain National Park.
Visit during late spring/early summer when wildflowers are in bloom throughout many parts of the park – it's truly an amazing sight to behold! You'll find everything from delicate alpine forget-me-nots to vibrant Indian paintbrush dotting the landscape here making it an ideal place for photographers looking for colorful subjects too!
Biking trails & routes
Hop on your bike and explore Rocky Mountains' extensive network of biking trails ranging from easy paved pathways perfect for families with young children all way up to technical single track routes suitable only for experienced riders looking for a good challenge!
Waterfalls & cascades
Don't miss out on seeing some beautiful waterfalls while visiting this national park – there are several cascades located throughout its boundaries ranging from small gurgles hidden away deep within forested valleys right up to thunderous plunges like Alberta Falls located near Bear Lake Road.
For the adventurous at heart, Rocky Mountain National Park also offers winter ice climbing opportunities. Frozen waterfalls and steep cliffs turn into thrilling climbing routes, offering a truly unique way to experience the park's winter beauty. Guides and outfitters in the local area can provide the necessary equipment and safety training. Be sure to check the park's climbing regulations and current conditions before planning your ice climbing adventure. Remember, safety should always be your top priority when engaging in this challenging and potentially dangerous activity.
With over 280 species living in or migrating through this area each year there's plenty of bird watching opportunities here – keep your eyes peeled when exploring around any body of water or meadow areas - you never know what feathered friends you might spot here!
Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado is a great place to explore and discover the beauty of nature as well as the thrilling adventure of outdoor activities. It's home to an abundance of incredible wildlife, breathtaking views, and unforgettable experiences. There is something here for everyone – whether you’re looking for an adventurous hike or a leisurely stroll – this destination has it all. From fishing in alpine lakes and learning about the history of the area to soaking up panoramic views of mountainsides, this park brings its visitors a unique set of fantastic things to do. So if you’re in the mood for some exploration, why not take a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park? Let your curiosity lead you down unexpected paths, and never forget to take time out of your busy day-to-day life so that you can appreciate these special moments. Visit Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado - it will be an experience that will surely stay etched in your memory forever!
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