Discover The Best Things to Do in Rocky Mountain National Park for an Unforgettable Visit

Discover The Best Things to Do in Rocky Mountain National Park for an Unforgettable Visit


Nestled in the heart of Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park is a treasure trove of natural beauty and outdoor adventures.

Spanning over 415 square miles, this iconic park is a haven for nature enthusiasts.

It offers breathtaking Colorado landscapes, diverse wildlife, and countless recreational activities.

Whether you’re an avid hiker, a wildlife watcher, or simply someone who loves to soak in stunning vistas, Rocky Mountain National Park has something for everyone.

Visiting the park is not just about ticking off a destination on your travel list; it’s about experiencing the raw beauty and tranquility that only nature can provide.

What makes Rocky Mountain National Park special is its incredible diversity.

From the lush meadows and dense forests of the lower elevations to the rugged, snow-capped peaks of the Continental Divide, the park offers a variety of ecosystems teeming with wildlife.

You’ll have the chance to see elk grazing in Moraine Park, bighorn sheep scaling the rocky cliffs, and perhaps even a moose wandering near one of the many lakes.

Whether you’re visiting during the vibrant summer months, the golden hues of fall, or the serene winter wonderland, Rocky Mountain National Park never fails to captivate its visitors.

So, lace up your hiking boots, grab your camera, and get ready to explore one of the most remarkable natural parks in the United States.

Book your flight with Skyscanner to Colorado and hike the breathtaking Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous paved road in North America.

Hiking Adventures


Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park is an adventure like no other.

With over 355 miles of hiking trails, there’s a path for every type of hiker, from casual walkers to seasoned mountaineers. 

Top Hiking Trails 

Rocky Mountain National Park offers a myriad of hiking trails that cater to all levels of hikers, each providing its own unique experience.

Some of the top trails include Bear Lake, Dream Lake, and Longs Peak, each offering breathtaking scenery and a memorable hiking adventure.

Bear Lake:

This trail is perfect for those looking for a short, scenic hike.

The Bear Lake loop is just 0.6 miles long and provides stunning views of the lake surrounded by towering peaks.

It’s an excellent choice for families and those wanting a leisurely stroll in nature.

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Dream Lake:

For a slightly more challenging hike, visit Dream Lake.

This 2.2-mile round trip trail guides you through stunning alpine terrain and offers hikers the peaceful beauty of Dream Lake.

It’s an excellent hike for those wanting to explore the park’s higher elevations without taking on a difficult climb.

Longs Peak:

If you’re ready for a real adventure, Longs Peak is the trail for you.

Standing at 14,259 feet, it’s one of Colorado’s famous “fourteeners.” 

This hike is not for the faint of heart, as it involves a strenuous 14-16 mile round trip with significant elevation gain.

However, the panoramic views from the summit are unparalleled and worth every step.

👉Find the best flights to Colorado on Skyscanner and enjoy wildlife viewing at Bear Lake, where elk and moose are frequent sights.

Best Times To Hike

Loch Vale Approach - Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

The best times to hike in Rocky Mountain National Park are late spring through early fall.

During these months, the trails are generally free of snow, and the weather is more predictable.

However, it’s important to be prepared for sudden changes in weather, as mountain conditions can be unpredictable.

Early mornings are typically the best time to start your hike to avoid afternoon thunderstorms and to enjoy cooler temperatures.

Tips for a successful hike

  • Start Early: Begin your hike early in the morning to avoid crowds and afternoon storms.
  • Stay Hydrated: Carry plenty of water and drink regularly to stay hydrated.
  • Dress in Layers: Weather can change quickly in the mountains, so dress in layers that can be added or removed as needed.
  • Know Your Limits: Choose a hike that matches your fitness level and experience.
  • Leave No Trace: Follow the Leave No Trace principles to help preserve the park’s natural beauty for future visitors.

With these tips in mind, you’re ready to embark on a hiking adventure in Rocky Mountain National Park that you’ll never forget.

👉Book a cabin near Bear Lake to wake up to wildlife right outside your window and immediate trail access.

Wildlife Watching


Rocky Mountain National Park is a haven for wildlife enthusiasts.

It offers a chance to see a variety of animals in their natural habitat.

Among the most commonly spotted animals are elk, bighorn sheep, and mule deer.

Elk are abundant, especially during the fall rutting season when you can hear their distinctive bugling calls.

Bighorn sheep are often seen navigating the park’s rocky cliffs with ease, particularly around the Sheep Lakes area.

Mule deer are also prevalent throughout the park, easily identified by their large ears and graceful movements.

👉Use Skyscanner to plan your visit for a challenging climb up Longs Peak, offering rewarding views from the summit.

Moraine Park:

Moraine Park is renowned for its vast meadows and rich wildlife, making it an excellent location for hiking and wildlife observation.

The meadows are inhabited by large herds of elk, especially noticeable during the fall rutting season.

Moraine Park features several trails that offer options for both short walks and longer hikes, all of which provide breathtaking views of the nearby mountains.he nearby mountains.

Sprague Lake:

This tranquil lake is a popular spot for leisurely walks and breathtaking photography.

The 0.8-mile loop around Sprague Lake provides a flat, easily accessible path with picturesque views of the lake and the surrounding mountains.

It’s the perfect place for a peaceful walk, observing wildlife, and capturing the park’s beauty.

👉Find a hotel near the base of Longs Peak for convenient starts to early morning climbs and restful recovery afterward.

Emerald Lake:

For those looking for a slightly more challenging hike, the trail to Emerald Lake is a must.

This 3.6-mile round trip hike takes you past Nymph Lake and Dream Lake, culminating in the breathtaking sight of Emerald Lake nestled beneath towering peaks.

The trail offers diverse landscapes and is especially beautiful in the summer and fall.

Best Places and Times for Wildlife Spotting

Moose in Water, Rocky Mountain National Park

The best places to spot wildlife in Rocky Mountain National Park are Moraine Park, Horseshoe Park, and the meadows along the Trail Ridge Road.

Moraine Park is known for its large elk herds, especially in the early morning and late evening.

Horseshoe Park is another prime location, offering opportunities to see not only elk but also a variety of bird species.

The meadows along Trail Ridge Road provide excellent viewing spots for bighorn sheep and mule deer, particularly during the summer months when the animals are most active.

To maximize your chances of spotting wildlife, it’s best to head out early in the morning or late in the evening when animals are most active.

In the fall, you can witness the spectacular rutting season for elk, while the spring and summer months offer opportunities to see a wide variety of species grazing and moving through the park.

👉Secure your flight with Skyscanner and explore the serene Sprague Lake, ideal for easy hikes and picnics with mountain backdrops.

Safety Tips for Observing Wildlife

Badger vs. Coyote!

While observing wildlife is an exciting activity, it’s essential to do so safely and responsibly. Here are some safety tips to keep in mind:

  • Maintain a Safe Distance: Always keep a safe distance from wildlife. Use binoculars or a zoom lens to get a closer look without disturbing the animals.
  • Never Feed Wildlife: Feeding animals can be harmful to them and dangerous for you. It can also lead to aggressive behavior.
  • Stay Quiet and Still: Sudden movements and loud noises can startle animals. Stay quiet and move slowly to avoid causing stress to the wildlife.
  • Observe Posted Signs and Guidelines: Follow all park regulations and guidelines for wildlife viewing to ensure your safety and the well-being of the animals.
  • Be Bear Aware: If you’re hiking in areas where bears are present, carry bear spray and know how to use it. Make noise to avoid surprising a bear, and store food properly.

By following these tips, you can enjoy the incredible wildlife of Rocky Mountain National Park while ensuring a safe and respectful experience for both you and the animals.

👉Choose a lakeside retreat near Sprague Lake for relaxing evenings and leisurely morning walks by the water.

Scenic Drives

Trail Ridge Road in March

Exploring Rocky Mountain National Park by car offers a unique and breathtaking perspective of its stunning landscapes.

Two of the most iconic scenic drives in the park are Trail Ridge Road and Old Fall River Road.

Trail Ridge Road:

Trail Ridge Road is famously known as the “Highway to the Sky.”

It is the highest continuous paved road in North America, reaching elevations of over 12,000 feet.

This 48-mile road runs through the park from Estes Park to Grand Lake, providing breathtaking views of the Rocky Mountains, alpine tundra, and lush valleys.

It’s a must-see for anyone visiting the park.

Old Fall River Road:

For a more adventurous drive, Old Fall River Road offers a historic and scenic journey.

This one-way gravel road starts near the Fall River Entrance and climbs to the Alpine Visitor Center.

Open from July to September, it provides a more intimate and rugged experience compared to Trail Ridge Road.

With numerous switchbacks and close-up views of the park’s diverse landscapes, it’s a great option for those seeking a different driving experience.

👉Fly into Colorado with Skyscanner and experience horseback riding through scenic trails with guided tours available in the park.

Key Viewpoints and Photo Spots

Colorado - Rocky Mountain National Park: Forest Canyon Overlook

Both Trail Ridge Road and Old Fall River Road feature numerous viewpoints and photo spots that are perfect for capturing the park’s beauty.

  • Many Parks Curve: Located along Trail Ridge Road, this viewpoint offers stunning views of the park’s east side, including the Mummy Range and Estes Valley.
  • Forest Canyon Overlook: Another highlight on Trail Ridge Road, this overlook provides expansive views of Forest Canyon, with opportunities to spot wildlife and admire the surrounding peaks.
  • Alpine Visitor Center: At the summit of Trail Ridge Road, this visitor center offers breathtaking views of the alpine tundra and surrounding mountains.
  • Chasm Falls: Along Old Fall River Road, this scenic waterfall is a perfect spot for photos, especially in the early morning light.
  • Rock Cut: A popular viewpoint on Trail Ridge Road, offering dramatic views of the surrounding peaks and valleys, perfect for sunrise or sunset photography.

What to Expect on These Drives

Colorado - Rocky Mountain National Park: Milner Pass - Old Fall River Roadway

Driving Trail Ridge Road and Old Fall River Road is an unforgettable experience, but there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Weather Conditions: Weather can change rapidly at high elevations, so be prepared for sudden drops in temperature and unexpected storms. Check the weather forecast before starting your drive.
  • Road Conditions: Trail Ridge Road is paved and suitable for all vehicles, but Old Fall River Road is narrow, winding, and gravel. It’s best suited for vehicles with good ground clearance.
  • Seasonal Closures: Trail Ridge Road is typically open from late May to mid-October, while Old Fall River Road is open from July to September. Always check for current road conditions and closures before your trip.
  • Wildlife Encounters: Both roads offer excellent opportunities to see wildlife, but remember to keep a safe distance and never feed the animals.
  • Altitude Effects: The high elevations can cause altitude sickness. Stay hydrated, take it slow, and be aware of the symptoms of altitude sickness.

With these tips in mind, you’re ready to embark on a scenic drive through Rocky Mountain National Park, capturing unforgettable views and experiencing the park’s majestic beauty from the comfort of your vehicle.

👉Secure accommodations with on-site horseback riding to fully immerse yourself in the Rocky Mountain experience.

Winter Activities

Views of the snowy Alpine Tundra

Rocky Mountain National Park transforms into a winter wonderland, offering a wide array of activities for visitors to enjoy during the colder months.

Snowshoeing is one of the most popular winter sports in the park, providing a unique way to explore the snow-covered landscapes.

Whether you’re a seasoned snowshoer or trying it for the first time, the park offers trails for all skill levels.

For those looking for more excitement, cross-country skiing, ice climbing, and winter hiking are also fantastic options to experience the park’s winter beauty.

Best Areas for Winter Activities

Mills Lake, Winter

The park offers several prime locations for winter activities, each providing stunning views and a peaceful ambiance.

  • Bear Lake: This area is a favorite for snowshoeing and winter hiking. The Bear Lake Loop is relatively easy and offers beautiful views of the frozen lake and surrounding peaks.
  • Moraine Park: Known for its expansive meadows, Moraine Park is ideal for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, with open spaces and gentle terrain.
  • Hidden Valley: Once a ski resort, Hidden Valley is now a designated area for sledding and snow play. It’s perfect for families and those looking to enjoy some winter fun.
  • Glacier Gorge: For more experienced snowshoers and winter hikers, Glacier Gorge offers challenging trails with rewarding views of frozen waterfalls and alpine scenery.
  • Sprague Lake: Another excellent spot for snowshoeing, Sprague Lake provides a serene setting with relatively flat terrain, making it suitable for beginners.

👉Book through Skyscanner for a trip to engage in fly fishing in the park’s pristine streams and rivers, abundant with trout.

What to Bring for Winter Adventures

Preparing for winter activities in Rocky Mountain National Park requires some essential gear and precautions to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience:

  • Warm Clothing: Dress in layers to stay warm and regulate your body temperature. Include a moisture-wicking base layer, insulating mid-layer, and a waterproof outer layer.
  • Proper Footwear: Wear insulated, waterproof boots with good traction. Snowshoes or crampons are essential for navigating snowy and icy trails.
  • Safety Gear: Carry a map, compass, and GPS device. A headlamp or flashlight is crucial as daylight hours are shorter in winter.
  • Hydration and Snacks: Bring plenty of water and high-energy snacks to stay hydrated and fueled during your activities.
  • Sun Protection: Even in winter, UV rays can be strong. Wear sunglasses and apply sunscreen to protect against sunburn.
  • Emergency Kit: Pack an emergency kit with essentials like a first aid kit, fire-starting tools, and an emergency blanket.
  • Trekking Poles: Useful for stability on uneven and snowy terrain, especially when snowshoeing or hiking.

By being well-prepared and choosing the right locations, you can fully enjoy the winter activities Rocky Mountain National Park has to offer.

Whether you’re snowshoeing through peaceful forests or sledding with the family, the park’s winter landscape provides endless opportunities for adventure and enjoyment.

👉Opt for a riverside lodge to enjoy the sound of flowing water and prime fishing spots just steps away.

Day Trips and Nearby Areas

Outside Estes Park

Rocky Mountain National Park is bordered by two delightful towns that are perfect for day trips: Estes Park on the east side and Grand Lake on the west side.

Each town offers a unique experience and a variety of attractions that complement your visit to the park.

Stanley Hotel: History and Tours

The Stanley Hotel (rear view)

The Stanley Hotel, located near Rocky Mountain National Park in the town of Estes Park, is a historic landmark built in 1909.

It is best known for inspiring Stephen King’s novel “The Shining.”

The hotel features elegant architecture and beautifully maintained grounds, offering visitors a glimpse into its luxurious past.

Guided tours are available for those interested in learning about the hotel’s rich history, its haunted reputation, and to enjoy the stunning views of the surrounding mountains.

Whether you’re a history buff or a fan of the paranormal, the Stanley Hotel is a must-see attraction.

Alpine: Alpine Visitor Center and Its Significance

Alpine Visitor Center

The Alpine Visitor Center, located at an elevation of 11,796 feet, is the highest visitor center in the National Park Service.

It can be reached via Trail Ridge Road and offers stunning panoramic views of the alpine tundra and the Rocky Mountains.

The center features educational exhibits about the unique high-altitude environment, the flora and fauna of the area, and the geological history of the Rockies.

It’s a fantastic place to learn about the park’s ecology, take in the breathtaking scenery, and enjoy a short hike on the nearby trails.

The Alpine Visitor Center is typically open from late May to mid-October, depending on weather conditions.

👉With Skyscanner, reach Colorado and take a guided wildflower tour in summer, showcasing the park’s vibrant floral displays.

Estes Park:

This charming town serves as the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park’s east side.

Estes Park provides a wide range of activities and attractions, including the renowned Stanley Hotel, local shops, and restaurants.

Visitors can enjoy a leisurely stroll along the Riverwalk, take in breathtaking views from the Estes Park Aerial Tramway, and learn at the Estes Park Museum.

The town also hosts numerous festivals and events throughout the year, creating a vibrant and lively atmosphere for visitors.

Grand Lake:

Colorado - Grand Lake

Grand Lake is located near the park’s west entrance and is known for its beautiful namesake lake, which is the largest natural body of water in Colorado.

The town offers opportunities for boating, fishing, and kayaking on Grand Lake, as well as hiking and biking trails in the surrounding area.

Grand Lake’s charming boardwalk is lined with unique shops, cafes, and galleries.

Additionally, the town provides access to the Kawuneeche Visitor Center, which offers information and exhibits about the park’s west side.

👉Discover a quaint bed and breakfast near wildflower trails for a charming stay during the colorful bloom season.

Attractions and Activities Outside the Park

Beyond the park’s boundaries, there are numerous attractions and activities that add to the experience of visiting Rocky Mountain National Park.

  • Roosevelt National Forest: Adjacent to the park, this forest offers additional hiking, camping, and fishing opportunities. It’s a great place to explore if you’re looking for less crowded trails and scenic spots.
  • Lake Estes: Located in Estes Park, this lake offers paddleboarding, kayaking, and fishing. The surrounding trail is perfect for walking or biking, providing beautiful views of the water and mountains.
  • Never Summer Mountains: Situated near Grand Lake, these mountains are part of the Never Summer Wilderness and offer rugged hiking and stunning vistas. The area is ideal for those seeking solitude and adventure.
  • Trail Ridge Road Scenic Byway: While this road is within the park, it connects Estes Park and Grand Lake and offers a scenic drive that can be enjoyed as part of a day trip. The byway features numerous pull-offs for taking in the breathtaking views and wildlife spotting.

👉Find your flight to Colorado on Skyscanner and snowshoe or cross-country ski in the park’s winter wonderland.

Recommendations for Combining Visits

To make the most of your trip to Rocky Mountain National Park and its surrounding areas, consider these recommendations for combining visits:

  • Day Trip Combination: Start your day early in Estes Park, explore the town and its attractions, then head into Rocky Mountain National Park via the east entrance. After enjoying the park’s highlights, drive along Trail Ridge Road to Grand Lake, stopping at viewpoints along the way. Spend the afternoon exploring Grand Lake before heading back.
  • Extended Stay: If you have more time, spend a couple of days in Estes Park and another couple of days in Grand Lake. This allows you to fully explore each town and take advantage of all the activities they offer.
  • Seasonal Visits: Plan your visit based on the season. For example, visit Estes Park in the fall to experience the elk rut and autumn colors, and Grand Lake in the summer for water activities and wildflower hikes.

When you include these nearby areas in your trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, you’ll enjoy a more diverse and enriching experience.

Whether you’re discovering the delightful towns of Estes Park and Grand Lake or exploring the surrounding forests and mountains, there are plenty of adventures waiting for you.

👉Select a winter resort offering guided snowshoeing and skiing tours to make the most of the snowy months.

Planning Your Visit

Surreal Sunrise at Rocky Mountain National Park

To manage the high number of visitors and preserve the natural beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park, the National Park Service has implemented a timed entry permit system.

This system requires visitors to reserve a time slot for entering the park, ensuring a more enjoyable experience with less crowding.

To obtain a timed entry permit, follow these steps:

  1. Visit the Official Website: Go to the Rocky Mountain National Park section on the National Park Service website or
  2. Select Your Dates and Times: Choose the date and time of your visit. Permits are released on a rolling basis, so it’s best to book as early as possible, especially during peak seasons.
  3. Make Your Reservation: Complete the reservation process and pay the associated fee. Keep a digital or printed copy of your permit to show at the park entrance.
  4. Plan Ahead: Note that the timed entry system applies to both the Bear Lake Road Corridor and the rest of the park, so plan your activities accordingly.

👉Book your flight with Skyscanner to Colorado and hike the breathtaking Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous paved road in North America.

Visitor Center: Information and Resources Available

Rocky Mountain National Park has several visitor centers that provide valuable information and resources to help you make the most of your visit.

  • Beaver Meadows Visitor Center: Located near the main entrance in Estes Park, this center offers exhibits, maps, and park information. Rangers are available to answer questions and provide recommendations.
  • Alpine Visitor Center: Situated at a high elevation along Trail Ridge Road, this center offers exhibits about the alpine environment, a gift shop, and spectacular views.
  • Fall River Visitor Center: Also near the Estes Park entrance, this center features interactive exhibits, a bookstore, and information about the park’s natural and cultural history.
  • Kawuneeche Visitor Center: Located near the Grand Lake entrance, this center provides exhibits, maps, and information about the park’s west side.

Campgrounds and Lodging: Best Places to Stay Inside and Outside the Park

Old Forest Inn campsite, Rocky Mountain National Park

Whether you prefer camping under the stars or the comfort of a cozy lodge, there are plenty of options for accommodation both inside and outside Rocky Mountain National Park.

Inside the Park:

  • Moraine Park Campground: One of the most popular campgrounds, offering beautiful views and easy access to hiking trails.
  • Glacier Basin Campground: Perfect for those looking to stay near Bear Lake and its surrounding trails.
  • Aspenglen Campground: A quieter option with fewer sites, located near the Fall River entrance.

Outside the Park:

  • Estes Park: The town offers a variety of lodging options, from historic hotels like the Stanley Hotel to charming bed-and-breakfasts and modern motels. Estes Park also has numerous vacation rentals and cabins.
  • Grand Lake: This town provides lakeside cabins, lodges, and campgrounds, offering a serene setting and easy access to the park’s west side.

👉Stay in a cozy mountain lodge close to Trail Ridge Road for easy access to high-altitude hiking and stunning vistas.

Official National Park Service: Using the NPS Resources for Planning

The National Park Service (NPS) provides a wealth of resources to help you plan your visit to Rocky Mountain National Park. Here’s how to make the most of these resources:

  • Official Website: The NPS website offers comprehensive information about the park, including maps, trail guides, weather updates, and safety tips. It’s an essential tool for planning your trip.
  • Ranger Programs: Check the website or visitor centers for information about ranger-led programs and activities, such as guided hikes, wildlife talks, and educational presentations.
  • Mobile App: Download the official NPS app for real-time information, interactive maps, and alerts about park conditions.
  • Social Media: Follow Rocky Mountain National Park on social media platforms for updates, tips, and inspiring photos to help you prepare for your visit.

By utilizing these NPS resources, you can ensure a well-informed and enjoyable trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, making the most of your time in this beautiful natural wonder.

👉Find the best flights to Colorado on Skyscanner and enjoy wildlife viewing at Bear Lake, where elk and moose are frequent sights.


Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park offers an unforgettable experience for nature lovers, adventure seekers, and anyone looking to immerse themselves in the beauty of the great outdoors.

Whether you’re planning a day trip to explore Estes Park and Grand Lake, or looking to spend a few days camping and hiking, Rocky Mountain National Park has it all.

With its diverse landscapes, rich history, and abundance of activities, it’s a perfect destination for your next adventure.

Now is the perfect time to plan your trip and create memories that will last a lifetime.

Start planning your trip today and experience the wonder and beauty of one of the most visited national parks in the United States.

👉Book a cabin near Bear Lake to wake up to wildlife right outside your window and immediate trail access.

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