Top 7 Things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park was my very first National Park experience. It was also my first time to the mountains in the summer. I couldn’t believe what I had been missing out on all those years! Until that point, I always thought I was a beach girl at heart but that trip changed my mind completely. The mountains were my new love that I don’t think I will ever get over.
A little bit about Rocky Mountain National Park. RMNP sits a couple miles from the little, mountain town of Estes Park. Yes, tourism has increased the crowds in Estes Park but I still find it just as charming. The Big Thompson River flows through the middle of town with little shops and restaurants dotted throughout. The iconic Stanley Hotel, stand prestigiously at the top of the hill staring down on Estes. To me, RMNP is picture perfect at every stop. The rocks, trees, sky, mountains all look stunning in every photo and you don’t even have to work hard to get the shot. On top of that, you can expect wildlife to be everywhere. RMNP and Estes Park hold a special place in my heart and I want to share my Top 7 things to do there…
#1 Take a Drive on Trail Ridge Road
Towering pines and meadows make way for big sweeping views at every turn. But, the highest continuous paved road in the United States is not for the faint of heart. This two-lane road is bumper to bumper with thousand foot drops offs and limited shoulder space. But it’s all worth it to take in the spectacular views and see herds of bull elk, bison, bear, and moose! For a great half day adventure, start in RMNP and travel west on Trail Ridge Road, after a few miles, veer right on the seasonal, one-way Fall River Road to see some excellent waterfalls. Back on Trail Ridge Road, you will pass through tundra fields and I highly suggest to go take a hike at this point. The plants and flowers are beautiful and if you’re lucky you will spot a mountain goat or mule elk! Take TRR all the way to Grand Lake. Grab a bite to eat, rent a boat or enjoy a local art fair. Every time you drive this road you will see an evolving landscape and have a new experience so don’t limit yourself to one trip!
Moose spotting on Trail Ridge Road outside of Grand Lake
#2 Spectacular views on Fern Lake Road
Driving down Fern Lake Road on the way to Moraine Park Campground is one of my favorite spots in RMNP. The valley floor has a river snaking through, that attracts both fly fisherman and wildlife alike. Morning and dusk are the perfect times to view animals gathering at the water’s edge or viewing the sunset behind the mountains. You can also head to the end of the road and hike the Fern Lake Trail. Location: 40.356876, -105.602923
#3 Eat breakfast & drink mimosas at Claire’s on the Park
Claire’s is a locally known breakfast joint that has a killer mimosa and two for one deal! Enjoy the views of Estes Park and chow down on a yummy eggs benny.
#4 Camp in Moraine Park Campground
Moraine Park is my favorite campground in RMNP. You will likely need reservations far in advance, even though they have over 200 camping spots! Views on the outer, south side of the park have breathtaking mountain views from you tent door. A sweet, little old man comes every night from 5-8pm selling firewood and ice cream. The best part is you can walk down to one of my favorite spots in the park, the valley on Fern Lake Road! View Moraine campsite images here. Make your reservations here.
#5 Enjoy the scenic views from Big Thompson Canyon Road
Whether it’s the quaint, historic cottages, towering rocky mountain bluffs or Big Thompson River itself, this short road trip is a must see on your trip to RMNP. Take Highway 34 (Big Thompson Canyon Road) East of Estes Park. Location: 40.380837, -105.475465
#6 Walk the grounds at the Stanley Hotel and take a tour if you’re brave enough!
Known to be the inspiration for the horror film, The Shining and the set for Dumb and Dumber, The Stanley Hotel is majestic in its own right. The historic building, which was built in 1909, is nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. You can’t miss it when you drive into Estes Park and you wouldn’t want to either! Grab a drink at the infamous bar where Dumb and Dumber was filmed, take a haunted tour, visit the in-house psychic or just walk the grounds and take in the views. And if you are there during July 4th, you can park in the field at the hotel and watch the fireworks over the mountain tops! Insider tip: make a reservation the day before to get free parking at the hotel. Otherwise, it’s $10 to park.
#7 Take a hike, obviously!
Any trip to RMNP couldn’t be complete without a hike, no matter what your skill level. There are views to be enjoyed at every turn, even if you want to take a hike 50 feet from your car or hike for days across the Rockies. Two of my favorite moderate hikes are Emerald Lake and Bluebird Lake Trail.
Distance / 3.5 miles RT
Elevation Gain / 650 ft. climb
Route Type / Out and Back
Rating / Easy
Trailhead / Bear Lake
Lake starts at Bear Lake Trailhead and is 3.5 miles roundtrip and passes 5 stunning lakes!
Distance / 12.5 miles RT
Elevation Gain / 2,490 ft. climb
Route Type / Out and Back
Rating / Moderate
Trailhead / Wild Basin
Bluebird Lake Trail is 12.6 miles roundtrip and it follows a creek on the way up, passes Ouzel Falls, Ouzel Lake and ends an alpine lake. This hike offers several attractions along the way, including Copeland Falls, Calypso Cascades, Ouzel Falls and Ouzel Lake.
Ute Trail / 4 miles RT / 405 ft. climb / Easy / Trailhead: Multiple spots on Trail Ridge Road
Distance / Variable
Elevation Gain / 405 ft. climb
Route Type / Out and Back
Rating / Easy
Trailhead / Multiple Spots on Trail Ridge Road
You can get on the Ute Trail off of Trail Ridge Road. It is a drastic change of enviornment when you are at that high of an altitiute. You will be hiking in tundra fields with no trees where you can take in the expansive views and alpine tundra scenery without having to do a lot of climbing. Trekking entirely above tree line you’ll have panoramic views along the entire route. This relatively flat hike but trying to figure out where the Ute Trail is located can be a little confusing. One section runs from the Alpine Visitor Center at Fall River Pass down to Milner Pass near Poudre Lake. The other section, completely unconnected, begins from the Ute Crossing Trailhead located roughly 9.9 miles west of Deer Ridge Junction (Highways 34 and 36) on Trail Ridge Road (or 2 miles west of Rainbow Curve). This hike begins from a very small parking area with enough room for only four vehicles (there’s another small parking area about a quarter-of-a-mile further up the road). With the exception of an historical information kiosk, the trailhead is unmarked.
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