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Fall in Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the best times to visit fantastic landmarks! With the season arriving early, fall is a time of change all around the park – the weather fluctuates from frost to warmth, temperatures drop and rise back to 80, colors melt from bright to brown, plants dry up while others still bloom, and animals migrate or gather.
When visiting to see Rocky Mountain National Park fall colors, make sure to bring a camera or have a full phone battery to capture the mesmerizing changing colors. Also, don’t forget layers of warm clothing to feel prepared as the weather transitions from summer to winter.
Let’s plan your perfect RMNP Fall itinerary!
Why Visit Rocky Mountain National Park in Fall?
Fall in Rocky Mountain National Park is a great time to visit because of its prime wildlife watching, peak leaf-peeping season, and perfect weather variation of brisk mornings, sunny afternoons, and cozy nights. In addition, it is almost guaranteed that you will spot a deer, elk, or moose in the park due to the fall mating season.
Rocky Mountain National Park weather can be unpredictable, with snowfall, but you will enjoy clear blue skies and dry weather most of the time. When visiting Rocky Mountain National Park in October and September there are highs up to 69 degrees Fahrenheit, but lows can get down in the mid 20s, to be prepared.
RMNP is one of the most popular, having, on average, 4 million people visit in one year. However, the fall months experience fewer crowds, and with fewer people, you have a greater chance to experience solitude and peace within the park.
RMNP Fall Packing List
Packing correctly for Rocky Mountain National Park in fall is essential. Here are the must-haves for your list.
Bring a large water bottle(s) or hydration pack with you on your trip to RMNP. Drinking plenty of water to combat not only the sun and high elevation but also the dry air that quickly evaporates hidden sweat.
Our favorite water bottle of all time is our 32 oz Hydro Flask. It literally keeps our water so cold throughout the day, and we haven’t found another bottle that’s lived up to it.
Yes, even in the late fall, you can still get sunburnt. So make sure to bring extra protection even for the cloudier days. Spf, sun hats, and sunglasses are all a good idea, especially when journeying out for a long day in the sun.
A good pair of hiking boots allows you to explore farther than you might have with an alternative shoe like sandals or sneakers. If you buy a new pair of hiking boots, make sure to break them in before you go hiking in the fall in Rocky Mountain National Park.
We both have hiking boots from the North Face that we bought at an outlet and love them. We actually both have men’s ones, too, because we preferred the color and fit. Here’s a pair similar to the ones that I have and love!
Be sure to pack a warm sweatshirt or pullover for when the sun sets and cooler air drifts in. After sunset, the temperature drops quickly; don’t be surprised. Come prepared for the chilly mornings and cold evenings.
Afternoon rain storms may roll in when hiking or camping, taking over a lovely day. Although, luckily, the rain will pass quickly, bring a jacket to come prepared for the quick afternoon showers.
We both use and love just the classic rain jackets from Columbia because they’re packable and come in tons of colors. Here’s a link to the women’s one that we have as well as a link to the men’s version.
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Best Activities to See Fall Foliage in Rocky Mountain National Park
Hike to Emerald Lake
Due to its peak season popularity, Emerald Lake is among the best fall hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. 3.5 miles roundtrip, this easy hike features an alpine lake, outstanding fall foliage views, and pretty fall flowers. Around 1.8 miles in, hikers will reach Emerald Lake, a jewel in the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park.
Hallett Peak, the dominating feature right in front of you, spans 10,110 feet in elevation, and off to the right, the jagged spires you will see of 12,324-foot is Flattop Mountain. Across the lake, you’ll hear the sound of a waterfall rushing down between the two mountains sourced from the Tyndall Glacier.
Emerald Lake is one of the must-see lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park and is a must-see if you’re only visiting there for a short period of time.
Drive Trail Ridge Road
Trail Ridge Road spans the entire park from east to west and links the towns of Estes Park and Grand Lake together. The most popular drive inside the park, Trail Ridge Road fall colors, offers aerial views of the park below you.
Known as the “Highway to the Sky,” the road winds through numerous 12,000-foot peaks and fall in Rocky Mountain National Park’s best views. Check the park’s website for closures with snowfall, usually closing in mid-October.
Hike to Lake Haiyaha
Lake Haiyaha is another favorite fall hike because of the additional incredible views along the route with Bear Lake, Nymph Lake, and Bierstadt Lake. This moderate trip is 4.2 miles and begins from the Bear Lake Trailhead.
When you arrive at Lake Haiyaha, you can see the shoreline is quite rugged, with large boulders surrounding the entire lake. Straight across the lake, you will find 12,486-foot Otis Peak on your left and 12,713-foot Hallett Peak to your right. In between the two mountains is Chaos Canyon, an appropriate name.
Peak fishing takes place through mid-October in Rocky Mountain National Park. Tourist crowds have dissipated, and you will find spectacular-colored foliage and near-perfect conditions.
In order to fish in Rocky Mountain National Park, anyone over the age of 16 years will need to have a valid Colorado fishing license. Many great fishing spots can be found in the park, including Dream Lake, Glacier Creek, Roaring River, and Upper Thompson River.
A picnic in the fall at Rocky Mountain National Park will seem like a scene from a painting. Composed of jaw-dropping views of the changing season, perfect outdoor lunch weather, and shady spots to sit under the trees.
Take in all the sights and sounds while you dine amidst the beauty of nature. The most prominent picnic spots in RMNP near Estes Park are Endo Valley, Sprague Lake, Hollowell Park, Upper Beaver Meadows, and the tremendous west areas to enjoy food, including the Colorado River, the Beaver Ponds, and Coyote Valley.
Visit Sprague Lake
Sprague Lake offers a beautiful wheelchair and child-accessible stroll, great for hikers of all abilities with no actual elevation increase. The 0.5-mile loop has several benches and lookouts over the lake to stop and reflect on the beautiful fall scenery.
A must-see spot, hikers will enjoy panoramic views of the Continental Divide, including Half Mountain, Thatchtop Mountain, Taylor Peak, Otis Peak, Hallett Peak, Flattop Mountain, and Notchtop Mountain.
During the fall, Sprague Lake is one of the better spots in Rocky Mountain National Park to view the aspen trees changing on the distant mountains and the beautiful mirrored reflection on the lake.
With no hotel or housing found inside the park, the best place to rest your head is on the ground (with a pillow!) Sleeping under the stars will ensure you get the best, consistent view of the changing fall foliage.
RMNP is home to five campgrounds, three reservable and two operating on a first-come, first-served basis – Aspenglen, Glacier Basin, Moraine Park, Timber Creek, and Longs Peak. Highly recommended, reservations can be made between one day and six months in advance.
Tips for Visiting During Fall in Rocky Mountain National Park
Get a Timed Entry Pass or Get There Early to Avoid Crowds
Between May 27 and October 10 of this year, a timed entry permit is required in order to enter the park, so plan your trip wisely! You can make your online reservation by clicking here.
Timed Entry Permits timing ranges from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m with two reservation types available; get there right when your permit opens to avoid larger crowds.
With extreme elevation changes, park temperatures can fluctuate over 35 degrees in one day, especially in the changing season. Make sure to pack light layers to strip off in the daytime and other heavier items that will keep you insulated in the cooler evenings.
Once the sun goes down, you will want that heavy jacket and winter hat as the temperature drops, especially if you go towards the end of fall when the winter weather has crept in.
Hike in the Morning
To get the most out of your time of fall in Rocky Mountain National Park, plan your hikes in the morning. This way, you can catch the mountain sunrise, be the first to spot wildlife and get on the trail before everyone else.
If you’re seeking true solitude, consider leaving even earlier. Four a.m. will sound painful, but it is an incomparable feeling to view the first drops of sunlight over the treeline and surrounding peaks.
Download a Star App
Rocky Mountain National Park is home to dark skies, great for stargazing – You may be able to see up to 15,000 stars in the sky in comparison to 500 in an urban city.
With a star app like SkyView, you’ll be able to identify some of the formations you may never have seen before coming from an urban environment. In addition, the app enables you to remember stars by pointing your phone at them.
Bring Binoculars on Day Trips
Don’t miss gazing at the intricate views or elk and moose grazing in a nearby meadow. Please bring along a good pair of binoculars to see it all.
Make sure to research the different types of binoculars, for they vary by use and accessibility. You don’t want to end up with a cheap pair or a pair too heavy to hike with.
Where to Stay Near Rocky Mountain National Park
Stoney River Lodge – $
Stoney River Lodge, located on the Big Thompson River, offers pet-friendly affordable cabins big enough for the whole family. The resort includes ten units just east of Estes Park and can easily access mountain-fishing waters.
The Estes Park Resort – $$
The only lodging available on Lake Estes, The Estes Park Resort, is known as “the natural gateway to the Rocky Mountains.” The resort includes an outdoor deck on Lake Estes and fire pits by the lakeside, showcasing both mountains and lake views.
The Stanley Hotel – $$$
The historic Stanley hotel was made famous by its inspiration for the popular Steven King novel, The Shining. High up and perched above the town of Estes Park, guests enjoy sweeping views of area mountains, town, and the property’s beautiful grounds.
Final Thoughts: Fall in Rocky Mountain National Park
Fall in Rocky Mountain National Park is a truly spectacular time of year. A time when the aspens begin to change, turning mountainsides into gold when the air is crisp and refreshing but not too cold, and the wildlife begins their descent from the alpine.
It is a breathtaking time to be in the park and offers a peaceful time to explore in a new way.
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