Rocky Mountain National Park is a bucket list National Park destination! It is well known for its abundant wildlife, one of the most scenic drives on one of the highest highways in the United States, and breathtaking hiking trails that lead to alpine lakes, waterfalls, and steep mountain peaks. Before you put on your boots, let us take you through some of the best things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park
- Things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park
- Things to Remember when visiting Rocky Mountain National Park
- Facts about Rocky Mountain National Park
- Things to do In Rocky Mountain NP
- Things to do near Rocky Mountain National Park
- Rocky Mountain NP Lodging
- Rocky Mountain NP Camping
- Parks near Rocky Mountain National Park
There are numerous fun things to do in and near Rocky Mountain National Park!
Hikers from all over the globe flock to Rocky Mountain National Park to explore its miles and miles of trails.
Photographers lose their minds with soaring peaks, breathtaking landscapes, and its abundant wildlife.
The park has several ecological zones with each providing opportunities for visitors. The meadows and lower slopes are included in the lowest zone (Montane, from 5,600 to 9,500 feet). Ascend to the subalpine zone (9,000 to 11,000 feet), where you'll find evergreen woods and mountain lakes. The park's highest points are covered with alpine tundra at over 11,000 feet.
Things to Remember when visiting Rocky Mountain National Park
Altitude sickness happens to a person when they go up in elevation too fast and haven't allowed their body the time it needs to adjust to the change in air pressure and lack of oxygen found in higher elevations.
This is easy to accomplish when visiting Rocky Mountain National Park, especially if you fly into Denver, Colorado (the mile high city at 5,430 feet in elevation) from a West Coast destination that is typically a 2.5-hour flight.
You pick up a rental car and an hour and a half later you are sitting at the entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park at over 7500 feet in elevation.
Then perhaps you want to see one of the top destinations, Trail Ridge Road which reaches a staggering 12,183 feet in elevation, well over two miles above sea level!
Although this is easily accomplished in one day, you should look for the early warning signs of elevation sickness including headache, having shortness of breath, feeling your heart rate increasing, feeling like vomiting, and/or have reduced performance, having a hard time thinking/dizziness, and have poor coordination.
Most people simply need to go down in elevation and let their bodies acclimate to the elevation. For those with cardiac or respiratory issues, this could become a medical emergency.
Also keep this in mind, especially if you are the one operating a motor vehicle. The best thing to do is prevent altitude sickness.
The best things you can do to combat altitude sickness are to be in good physical condition, stay hydrated, and simply allow your body the time it needs to acclimate to the altitude.
Maybe your first day should include exploring the town of Estes Park, looking for wildlife, or taking a small easy hike like around Sprague Lake.
I want to emphasize this as my last trip to Rocky Mountain, I traveled with three other people and all four of us experienced altitude sickness on our first day so don't think it can't happen to you.
Weather can be unpredictable
Colorado is said to have warm sunny summers and cold winters. Now at Rocky Mountain National Park, you can experience all four seasons in one day, even in July!
You can also expect 30+ degree temperature changes on one day so the best thing you can do is to plan for every kind of condition possible. This includes rain, snow, cold, and even a pair of sunglasses and shorts for when the sun comes out.
Ticketed day-use entry into the park (May 28-October 11)
If you are visiting between October 12-May 27 or have a camping reservation, a guided trip, or a commercial tour, you will only need to pay the entry fee or have a National Park Pass.
Rocky Mountain National Park has seen unprecedented traffic congestion in recent years without any signs of slowing down. This forced the National Park Service to implement a ticketed entry program to relieve this congestion.
This means that now you must get a Park Pass or pay the entry fee plus obtain a timed ticketed entry pass between May 28 to October 11. You can get the ticketed entry pass at:
Online at recreation.gov
U.S. Callers (877)444-6777
International callers (606)515-6777
Use the Recreation.gov mobile app
Timed Reservations go on sale
- May 2 at 10:00 a.m. (MDT) for reservations to enter the park from May 27-June 30
- June 1 at 10:00 a.m. (MDT) for reservations to enter the park July 1- July 31 and any remaining days that have not been booked for June
- July 1 at 10:00 a.m. (MDT) for reservations to enter the park August 1- August 31 and any remaining days that have not been booked for July
- August 1 at 10:00 a.m. (MDT) for reservations to enter the park September 1- September 30 and any remaining days that have not been booked for August
- September 1 at 10:00 a.m. (MDT) for reservations to enter the park October 1-October 11 and any remaining days that have not been booked for September
The second part to know is that there are two types of ticketed entries.
- Option 1 - Allows access to the park including Bear Lake Road
- option 2 - Allows access to the park but does not allow access to Bear Lake Road
Why is this important? It can determine what you get to see and do in the park. Essentially, option 1 allows access throughout the park. Option 2 restricts access to the Trail Ridge Road Corridor.
If you want to visit areas of the park located along Bear Lake Road like Alberta Falls, Bear Lake, Dream Lake, Sprague Lake, Nymph Lake, Tyndall Glacier, you will need the Option 1 Pass.
Shuttle Bus Services
Beginning May 28, Rocky Mountain National Park offers a free shuttle bus service along the Bear Lake Corridor.
This is extremely helpful as all you will have to do is find a parking spot one time then catch the shuttle to wherever you want to go next along the Bear Lake Corridor.
This will save lots of frustration circling parking lots hoping to land that coveted prize of a parking spot for each trailhead you go to.
Facts about Rocky Mountain National Park
On January 26, 1915, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Rocky Mountain National Park Act creating what is today's America's 9th National Park. This park was classified as one of the world's first Biosphere Reserves by UNESCO in 1976.
It is one of the highest National Parks with a third of the park lying in the Alpine Tundra Ecosystem. This area passes where even trees no longer grow at about 11,500' elevation.
Rocky Mountain National Park has more than sixty granite peaks rising above 12000 ft. high in the sky, exceeding 13000 feet at times.
Longs Peak is Colorado’s 14th tallest mountain peak and the park’s lone fourteener that covers the height of 14,259 ft. It is the most challenging summit for dedicated hikers in Rocky Mountain National Park.
The mighty Colorado River originates from Rocky Mountain National Park as snowmelt from its numerous mountain peaks starts the cycle of life, again and again, each year.
Rocky Mountain National Park is one of America's most popular national parks. Rocky Mountain National Park received 3.3 million visitors in 2020, placing it fourth in terms of tourist numbers.
Things to do In Rocky Mountain NP
Visit Trail Ridge Road
Also known as the “Highway to the Sky,” Trail Ridge Road lives up to its name. There are no words to describe the beauty of this drive!
There's also a very strong possibility you'll see bighorn sheep and elk along the route. The views from the vantage points are breathtaking so make sure to take time and stop and take in the magnificent Rockies!.
This route serves as the starting and ending point for a number of excellent hikes.
Trail Ridge Road is the highest paved through road in the US national park system. This route stretches east to west starting from Estes Park to Grand Lake 48 miles later.
During this drive, you will get to see 11 miles of alpine tundra, which lies above the tree line. The summit reaches a staggering 12,183 feet.
Make sure to stop and visit the Alpine Visitor Center at the summit, after all, it is the highest visitor center in the world!
Shortly after passing the summit, you will see La Poudre Lake. This lake is the beginning of something truly special. Can you guess what?
This is the beginning of the mighty Colorado River!
Shortly afterward, you will cross Milner Pass, where Trail Ridge Road crosses the Continental Divide.
Drive the Old Fall River Road
The Old Fall River Road is a one-way dirt road that was built between 1913 and 1920.
This scenic road begins at the Endovalley Picnic Area and travels 9.4 miles up the south face of Mount Chaplain up to Trail Ridge Road just past the Alpine Visitor Center.
The road is open (dependent upon weather) from early July through September.
Make sure to keep an eye out for Chasm Falls on your way up the mountain.
Did you know that the number one most popular thing for park visitors to do at Rocky Mountain National Park is to go wildlife watching?
This is for good reason as the park boasts over 600 elk in the winter alone and over 350 bighorn sheep too! Visitors can also see mule deer, marmots, black bears, pikas, and moose.
There has also been over 270 species of birds reported in the park over the past 100 years. This means that wildlife can be spotted throughout the park.
Most visitors associate Elk with Rocky Mountain and they are commonly seen between Estes Park and the park's entrance and going up Trail Ridge Road.
Here is a few suggestions to enhance your wildlife viewing:
Most animals are most active around dawn and dusk
Large animals like to be in "edge" environments. An example of this would be where a meadow and tree line meet. This is because animals have food from the grasses but can easily find shelter in the trees.
Bring binoculars or a long camera lens to spot wildlife.
Always watch wildlife from a safe viewing distance
Winter Activities/ Snow Play
Rocky Mountain National Park is a great destination to visit during summer and fall due to its hiking trails. But hikers also love to explore the Rocky Mountains during the winter.
Even if you show up in spring or fall it may just mean time to throw a few snowballs or make a snow angel.
From December to May, the peaks are covered in snow. Thus, you can try plenty of winter activities during this time of year.
Snowshoeing is one of my favorite ways to get out in the winter and explore the great outdoors! Oftentimes it feels like you have the entire park to yourself and nature is just so quiet in the winter.
So why not try your luck at snowshoeing this winter! After all, if you can walk, you can snowshoe.
All you do is attach your feet to snowshoes and start walking. Hiking poles help tremendously with balance and this equipment can be rented in Estes Park if you don't have any yourself.
Don’t forget to check with visitor centers if any free rangers-led snowshoe programs are available.
Did you know that you are welcome to strap on your skis throughout the park? This includes areas of the park like the sub-alpine and alpine tundra regions.
If you have been searching for a way to keep in shape during the winter, look no further! Cross country skiing is also a very good aerobic exercise!
Holzworth Historic Site
Holzwarth Historic Site tells the story of a family's dream in America. How they conquered the rugged mountain life and homesteading in America.
In 1917, the family relocated to the Rockies, where they earned money by chopping ice for refrigeration and manufacturing timber.
The Holzwarth family perceived an increase of tourists with the opening of Fall River Road (now Old Fall River Road) and converted their land to a dude ranch, the Holzwarth Trout Lodge, and the succeeding Never Summer Ranch.
The land was eventually bought by the Nature Conservancy in 1974 and then transferred to the National Park Service.
Today, park visitors can take tours of the historic site from mid-June through Labor Day weekend.
Moraine Park Discovery Center
The Moraine Park Discovery Center is one of the best places in Rocky Mountain National Park to see wildlife.
Housed in a renovated log cabin from the early 1900s, the Discovery Center is packed with displays on Rocky Mountain National Park's natural environment, geology, and animals. It also has an outdoor amphitheater where various speeches and events are held.
The museum's height of around 81,000 feet makes it an unequaled vantage point from which to take in the scenery.
It is open from late spring through fall.
Go For a Hike
Going for a hike is probably the best way to experience Rocky Mountain National Park. After all, there are over 350 miles of jaw-dropping trails to choose from.
You could spend weeks here and never run out of trails to explore. The best part is that there is something for everyone from short, simple strolls around lakes to ridgeline hikes with panoramic views to tough yet spectacular climbs to the highest mountain summits.
The following is a list of some of the greatest trails in RMNP, ranging from short, simple treks to longer, full-day (and very rewarding!!) trips. The distances are all round-trip distances.
Distance: 7/10 mile
Trail Difficulty: easy
Time Required: 1 hour
Bear Lake is a loop trail around Bear Lake. It is extremely popular with travelers for its easiness and beauty, especially in the fall when the aspens turn to gold. The lake is surrounded by spruce, fir, and pine trees, as well as massive granite rocks.
Hikers who walk the complete circuit of Bear Lake will be rewarded with spectacular views of Hallett Peak and Half Mountain.
Distance: 8/10 mile loop trail
Trail difficulty: Easy
Time Required: 30 Minutes
Another beautiful trail with incredible views of the Rockies in the background!
Alpine Ridge Trail
Distance - .6 miles
Trail difficulty - easy
This short trek leads to a spectacular view of Rocky Mountain National Park. You'll not only enjoy spectacular vistas of the Rocky Mountains but there's also a strong possibility you'll spot elk along the route. This trek begins at the Alpine Visitor Center and ends at the Alpine Visitor Center.
Ute Trail to Tombstone Ridge
Distance - 4 miles
Difficulty - easy to moderate
This is a favorite park trek because it's quick and simple. You climb over the alpine tundra for 4 miles, with spectacular vistas of Longs Peak and the Continental Divide.
Nymph, Dream & Emerald Lakes
Distance: 3.6 miles
Trail Difficulty: easy to moderate.
Time Required 2-3 Hours
This is perhaps the best hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. Over a short distance on this trip, you will pass through four magnificent alpine lakes.
It's a terrific trek for families and a great place to start if you've never hiked in the park before.
One of the finest things to do for couples in Rocky Mountain National Park is to take a short hike to Dream Lake, witnessing the breathtaking vantage points. The beauty of the lake never fails to inspire.
However, it is still recommended to catch the sunrise at the lake to avoid the large groups of tourists and take advantage of the solitude.
Located west of the Bear Lake trail land, Dream Lake is a high alpine lake that is surrounded by wildflowers in summer. If you think that the two-mile hike is not enough, you can further continue to Emerald Lake which is another popular sunrise spot.
This trail is a moderate hike that will give you a chance to see three beautiful lakes with a mesmerizing view across the calm and serenity-filled tracks.
Distance: 9.5 miles
Trail Difficulty: strenuous
Time Required: 4-6 Hours
Sky Pond is one of Rocky Mountain National Park's greatest walks for a reason. Waterfalls, alpine lakes, high mountain views, and entertaining river and stream crossings are all part of this hike.
Distance: 9 miles
Trail Difficulty: strenuous.
Time Required: 4 to 6 hours
Hike 9 miles round-trip to a beautiful alpine lake with views of Longs Peak up close. This hike is a must-do for serious hikers.
Distance: 14.5 Miles
Trail Difficulty: Very Difficult
Time Required: up to 12 hours
Longs Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park's lone 14er, rises 14,259 feet above sea level and rewards tourists with breathtaking panoramic vistas of the park. (A 14er is a peak that rises beyond 14,000 feet above sea level.)
While the greatest views are near the summit, breathtaking views can be seen during the majority of the ascent. Because the 15-mile round-trip climb takes between 10 and 15 hours to accomplish, the strenuous hike necessitates extensive planning.
The Keyhole Route, which is broken into six pieces, is the most popular route to the summit. The Keyhole Path is not a hike; the most difficult and hence dangerous part of the route is 1.5 miles between the Keyhole and the peak, which is not marked on the map.
Previous tourists and experienced hikers advise against making summiting the mountain your major aim (so-called "summit fever"). Instead, take it easy on the climb up, and don't get discouraged if the weather isn't ideal for summiting, since pushing your way to the top may be perilous and even fatal.
Past hikers say that ice axes and crampons (ice spikes) may be required to summit the mountain, depending on the weather and season.
Longs Peak Trailhead parking is located off of State Road 7 near the Longs Peak Campground. Hikers do not need to enter the park to use the trailhead, and it is completely free.
The road is usually open from April to November; however, keep in mind that circumstances can be hazardous at any time of year.
Although the trail is marked in places where it is particularly difficult, it is still easy to get lost, so make sure to study or purchase a map ahead of time, as mobile coverage is not always dependable.
Things to do near Rocky Mountain National Park
Saint Catherine's Chapel on the Rock
Monsignor Joseph Bosetti came across a large rock 12 miles directly south of the east entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park in 1916. He looked at this rock and was so inspired by the Bible Verses Matthew 16:18 "Upon this rock, I will build my church" to actually build a church.
Eventually, the church was completed in 1936 but has had its share of natural disasters to contend with lately. First, a massive wildfire in November 2011 and historic flooding in September 2013 have forced the chapel to close its doors as the majority of the retreat center and its surrounding areas were destroyed.
Explore the Gateway city of Estes Park
Estes Park serves as the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park and as a base of operations for many visitors.
It has a wide range of accommodation options for all budgets, from inns and motels to hotels like the Stanley.
The surrounding wilderness is the main draw of Estes Park, and a horseback riding trip is one of the ultimate ways to see it. Climbing and rafting expeditions round out the activities available in and around Estes Park.
The main thoroughfare, Elkhorn Avenue, in Estes Park is lined with pubs and stores.
Brownfield's is a good place to go for inexpensive souvenirs, including T-shirts, blankets, key chains, and koozies.
Visit the traveler-favorite Rock Cut Brewing Company or The Barrel beer garden for a drink. Furthermore, the town has a ton of restaurants that provide a variety of cuisines, from Peppers Mexican Grill's burritos to Antonio's Real New York Pizza & Deli's pizza.
The Big Thompson River runs through town, with a Riverwalk and a variety of riverfront eating places that provide a wonderful backdrop for a peaceful supper or a post-dinner stroll.
Guided tours are a great way to explore the park, especially if you are visiting in the summer and have missed your opportunity on the ticketed day-use entry that is now required in the busy summer months.
You can also get a professional guide that is there to help you make the most of your trip to the park.
Sunrise Tour - This tour is custom designed for you and what you would love to see. Enjoy a guided tour with a local historian and naturalist who will show you the epic beauty of the park.
Sunset and Night photography Tour - Enjoy a guided tour with a photographer who will help with your camera settings, take you to epic spots for photos, and help you get a photo of the Milky Way over the park.
Sunrise photo hike to Dream and Emerald Lake - Hike to some of the most amazing lakes in the park. This guided tour includes photo help, snacks, and a trained guide.
Rocky Mountain NP Lodging
While there are no National Park lodges in Rocky Mountain National Park, there are several lodging options available in Estes Park just a few short miles from the entrance of the park.
One of these options includes a chance to spend the night at the Stanley Hotel. The real question is do you like to be scared? do you believe in the supernatural? If so, the Stanley Hotel will be perfect for you.
This incredibly beautiful hotel is, after all, the most haunted hotel in America! It even caught the attention of Steven King, who got his inspiration for "The Shining" based on this hotel.
Why not take a ghost tour and stay the night here, you will have a story for all your friends and only be 6 miles from the entrance of the park.
Click on the map below to see current rates for hotels and vacation rentals in Estes Park, Colorado near Rocky Mountain NP.
Rocky Mountain NP Camping
There are Rocky Mountain NP Campgrounds but they tend to fill up quickly. If you are unable to get a reservation in the park check out these nearby campgrounds.
Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park -Estes Park, CO
This campground offers lodging, RV and Tent Sites.
Winding River Resort - Grand Lake, CO
This campground offers lodging, RV and Tent Sites
River Run RV Resort - Granby, Co
This campground offers lodging, RV and Tent Sites
Check out all of the campgrounds near Rocky Mountain on Campspot.
Parks near Rocky Mountain National Park
Check out all of the National Parks in Colorado along with neighboring National Parks in Arizona, National Parks in Kansas, Nebraska National Parks, New Mexico National Park, National Parks in Oklahoma, National Parks in Utah, and Wyoming National Parks.