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If you’re looking for the best things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park, you’re in the right place.
Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Colorado, located right near Estes Park. The park is home to some of the most beautiful scenery in the country, as well as a wide variety of activities for visitors to enjoy.
We’ve lived in Colorado for a few years and absolutely love visiting RMNP any chance that we can because we love it so much. Pro tip: visit early in the morning (I’m talking like 4-5 a.m.) to avoid the crowds because this is one of the most visited parks in the USA.
Whether you’re looking for a challenging hike, a peaceful drive, or just some viewpoints, there’s something for everyone in Rocky Mountain National Park. Here are some of the best things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park!
Drive Trail Ridge Road
For those who aren’t scared of heights or want to get good views without having to do a hard hike, one of the best things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park is to drive Trail Ridge Road. This road takes you up in the mountains through some of the park’s most scenic viewpoints.
There are also many incredible hiking trails up here, and along the way, you’ll look out and see lakes, mountains, and even some wildlife.
Now, this isn’t a drive for those who don’t like heights, as there are no guard rails on this road. However, we’ve found that everyone does drive pretty slow and safely, especially because everyone is looking out at the view as they go.
Keep in mind that this road is open seasonally, usually between May and October, but it depends on the season. A longer winter season means the road will open later.
Walk around Bear Lake
Bear Lake is one of the most popular destinations in Rocky Mountain National Park, and for good reason. The lake is surrounded by towering mountains and offers a variety of activities for visitors to enjoy.
This is also one of the easiest hikes in Rocky Mountain, so it’s usually always busy. People who are only visiting the park for a day always visit this spot because it allows them to see some great views without having to go on a full-day hike. It’s a spot you’ll want to visit early in the morning.
Walking around Bear Lake is a must-do for anyone visiting the park. The easy, flat trail encircling the lake isaround a mile long and provides stunning views of the lake and the surrounding mountains. The trail is perfect for a leisurely stroll and can be done in any season.
No matter what time of year you visit, Bear Lake is sure to offer a memorable experience. So put on your hiking shoes and explore all that this beautiful spot has to offer!
Look for wildlife
No matter the time of year, Rocky Mountain is actually one of the best spots to see wildlife. The park is home to many different animals ranging from deer to elk and everything in between. There are plenty of opportunities to spot these animals in their natural habitat.
We’ve often stumbled across them whilst driving throughout the park, especially as you go up towards Trail Ridge Road. However, we have also seen some animals directly on the trails in front of us while we are hiking.
Whenever you see an animal, be sure to be respectful and keep your distance. Don’t disturb them and don’t try to feed them, either. You can take a photo, but do it from a distance without encroaching on their space.
See Alberta Falls
Another of the great hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park is Alberta Falls. Many people actually head right at the trailhead here to go to Emerald Lake (more on that later), so it’s normally not as busy as that trail.
The trailhead for Alberta Falls is located at the end of Bear Lake Road. The trail is well-marked and easy to follow. The first part of the trail winds through a forested area with aspen and evergreen trees. There’s not a whole lot of elevation, but it is pretty up and down along the trail, so it’s not super flat.
Alberta Falls is a beautiful waterfall that tumbles over a wall of boulders. The best time to visit the falls is in the early summer when the water flow is at its peak. However, the falls are still beautiful later in the season.
We actually love it in the winter because there’s never anyone there, and the water looks awesome when it’s frozen.
Attend a ranger program
There are a variety of ranger programs at Rocky Mountain National Park, which will allow you to learn more about the wildlife, habitat, and history of the park.
The ranger programs are hosted all over the park, too, so even if you enter on the Grand Lake side, there’s normally a ranger over there who will offer some type of fun talk that you can attend. Plus, the rangers are always so excited to answer any other questions that you may have during your visit.
Look for the stars
Whenever you visit any national park, one of the best things to do is stargaze, and the same is true in Rocky Mountain National. The park has little to no light pollution, so it’s so easy to see the stars at night once the sun goes down.
Find a great spot to stargaze anywhere in the park. You can head to an easy spot like Bear Lake or even Sprague Lake or go all the way up to a spot like Emerald Lake if you want to. No matter where you go, the stars can pretty much be seen anywhere in the park.
Have a picnic
There’s something about a picnic that’s just so fun, and there are spots throughout Rocky Mountain National Park where you can have one.
Do some research ahead of time to find the perfect spot for your group. You’ll want to consider factors like proximity to parking and hiking trails, as well as whether you want a scenic overlook or a more secluded spot. You can also check out one of the park maps to find a spot with picnic tables.
Be sure also to pack food that won’t spoil in the heat, like sandwiches, fruit, and veggie wraps. And don’t forget the drinks! Water is always a good idea, but iced tea or lemonade can be nice on a hot day.
Snap a photo at Forest Canyon Overlook
Forest Canyon Overlook is one of the best places to visit in Rocky Mountain National Park. The overlook provides stunning views of the mountains and is a great place to take photos. It’s off Trail Ridge Road, and you can just park and walk over to it.
This spot is most breathtaking at sunset when the pink, purple, and orange colors of the sky start to become a beautiful backdrop to the stunning mountains.
Day hike up to Sky Pond
Sky Pond is one of the most popular hiking destinations in Rocky Mountain National Park. The trail to Sky Pond is not the easiest, but the views are great. It’s around 10 miles in total, making it a full-day hike, but you should start earlier in the day.
There are also around 1700 feet of elevation gain, so you definitely have to prepare if you aren’t used to the elevation throughout Colorado. Take your time, be wary of altitude sickness, and drink lots of water throughout the hike.
Have a bite to eat at the Alpine Visitor Center
While there are many visitor centers throughout the park, the Alpine Visitor Center is the best one. Here, you can learn about the park through exhibits while also taking in the view. Seriously, from the shop here, you can look out at the mountains from above!
The great thing about this visitor center is that there is also a restaurant, so you can grab either some lunch or even a coffee and then sit by the windows to take in the view. You can also do small hikes around the visitor center.
Plus, this is the highest visitor center in the USA!
See the view at Sprague Lake
Sprague Lake is a must-see when visiting Rocky Mountain National Park. This serene body of water is surrounded by towering mountains and lush forests, making it the perfect place to enjoy the great outdoors.
There’s an easy hike that goes around the perimeter of the park so you can take in the view while getting some exercise. In the winter months, this lake completely freezes over, and everyone walks across the water.
No matter how you spend your time at Sprague Lake, you’re sure to have a memorable experience. This is one of the best things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park to appreciate the natural beauty of Colorado truly.
Visit Holzwarth Historic Site
You could also stop by the Holzwarth Historic Site which is a spot where you can hike and also visit some old historic cabins. It’s one of the more overlooked places in RMNP, so it’s a great spot to visit if you want to avoid crowds and you love history.
Many people also refer to this area as Never Summer Ranch, and it has an interesting history that you can learn more about when you visit. The area is open year-round, but you can only go inside the cabins outside of the winter months.
Marvel at the blue waters of Lake Haiyaha
One of the best things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park is to visit Lake Haiyaha. This lake is located off the trail to Emerald Lake, and it’s a great place to enjoy the scenery and wildlife. It’s a fairly peaceful hike until you turn off at Dream Lake, and then it starts to go straight up as you gain lots of elevation.
The hike takes you along the edge of a mountain as you can look out and see Rocky Mountain National Park from above, and you can look out and see both Bear and Nymph Lake in the distance. It’s definitely not for those who don’t like heights.
Keep going, and you’ll get to a boulder field where you will be rewarded with blue waters that will take your breath away. It’s usually way less busy than Bear Lake.
Drive up Old Fall River Road
If you’re up for it, another scenic drive in Rocky Mountain is Old Fall River Road. It opened back in 1920 and isn’t paved, and it’s also one-way, so you really have to take your time going up this road. It eventually connects all the way up to Trail Ridge Road, which you can use to get back down the mountain.
With a 16% grade and a road that’s only about 15 feet wide, this isn’t the easiest drive. However, the views along the way are breathtaking, and it can be a great way to enjoy the beauty of Rocky Mountain without driving on the busy Trail Ridge Road.
Catch the sunrise at Emerald Lake
Even though it’s one of the most popular hikes in the park (and the state of Colorado), consider hiking up to see the sunrise at Emerald Lake. It’s surrounded by towering peaks and is incredibly beautiful, especially when the sun reflects off it.
Start the hike early in the morning, even if it’s in the dark, so you can make it up there in time. It usually only takes us about an hour to an hour and a half to get to the top, depending on how many times we stop along the way.
If you’re looking to really get away from it all and enjoy some time in nature, then camping in Rocky Mountain National Park is a great option. There are many campsites available in the park, so you’re sure to find one that’s perfect for you.
In the summer months, it can be hard to get a camp spot, so be sure to plan this well in advance if that’s your goal. The cost per night is different depending on the time of year, and as you may imagine, it’s cheaper to camp in the winter months.
Camping in the park allows you to also get a head start on the hikes in the morning!
Hike up the famous 14er, Long’s Peak
Last but not least, one of the best activities in RMNP is to hike up to Long’s Peak.
Long’s Peak is the tallest mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park (it’s a 14er) and one of the most popular hiking destinations in Colorado. The hike to the summit is a challenging one, but the views from the top are more than worth it.
This means that you need to be prepared for a full day of hiking. Make sure you have plenty of food and water and pack some extra layers in case the weather changes. It’s best to start early in the morning because the mountain is prone to storms in the afternoon.
The trail is a strenuous one. There is a lot of elevation gain, and parts of the trail are steep and rocky. This hike is not for beginners. If you’re not sure if you’re up for it, consider doing a shorter hike in the park first to get a feel for the terrain.
This post was all about the best things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park!
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- How to Hike to Lake Haiyaha Rocky Mountain National Park
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