The Ultimate Guide To Rocky Mountain National Park

The Ultimate Guide To Rocky Mountain National Park

Colorado
The Ultimate Guide To Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park , a close encounter with wilderness and nature!

Rocky Mountain National Park is home to several soaring mountain peaks, gorgeous waterfalls, crystal clear lakes, and abundant wildlife!

Rocky Mountain National Park, in northcentral Colorado, is a paradise for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. The park is easily accessible from Denver, Colorado, with its east entrances located about 70 miles from Denver city limits.

Rocky Mountain National Park is located at a very high elevation, ranging approximately between 7800 feet – 14,00 feet, so winter weather conditions are harsh in the park, limiting sightseeing, camping, and hiking opportunities to fall and summer months. However, in winter Rocky Mountain National Park is a popular skiing and snowshoeing destination in the US!

Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the highest national parks in the US and a great place to see the continental divide!

Rocky Mountain National Park, mostly known for its spectacular views of the mountain ranges, waterfalls, and lakes, is also home to several hiking trails and offers camping within the park.

You can spend as little as one day in Rocky Mountain National Park and still see a lot via driving the two scenic drives in the park – Trail Ridge Road and the Old Fall River Road. On the other hand, there’re so many hiking trails leading to beautiful lakes and waterfalls, even five days are not enough to see them all!

Here is my ultimate guide to Rocky Mountain National Park, featuring must-see places, attractions map, suggested itinerary, hiking trails, campgrounds, hotels, and restaurants in Rocky Mountain National Park.

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Planning Your Trip To Rocky Mountain National Park

Planning Your Trip to Rocky Mountain National Park

Fall & Summer are the peak seasons for sightseeing and hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park!

Best Time To Visit Rocky Mountain National Park: If your primary purpose is sightseeing, hiking, or camping in Rocky Mountain National Park, you must visit the park outside the winter months. But if you’re looking for some winter outdoor fun activities, including snowshoeing, skiing, and sledding, Rocky Mountain National Park is a great choice in winter too. There is abundant wildlife in the park, and no matter what season you go, chances are you will spot some wildlife in the park.

Rocky Mountain National Park Operating Hours & Seasons: The park is open all year round, summer and fall being the peak season for hiking and camping. If you’re planning to camp in Rocky Mountain National Park, I highly recommend making campsite reservations in advance. Some part of the park stays open during winter and is a popular skiing and snowshoeing destination in the US.

Weather & Altitude In Rocky Mountain National Park: Weather can change very quickly in Colorado, and at such a high elevation in Rocky Mountain National Park, storms and sudden drop in temperatures are usual. So, I highly recommend checking the weather forecast before starting your hike or camping in Rocky Mountain.

Altitude is another crucial thing to keep in mind when visiting Rocky Mountain National Park. The park is located at a very high altitude, and the higher the elevation, the lower the oxygen levels, which can cause altitude sickness. The symptoms may vary but may include shortness of breath, headaches, dizziness, etc. If you feel uncomfortable while hiking or driving up the mountain, you must immediately descend down.

Staying hydrated, avoiding alcohol, and gradually increasing the altitude to allow your body to acclimatize are some measures to deal with altitude sickness in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Getting To Rocky Mountain National Park: Rocky Mountain National Park’s east entrances are located 70 miles from Denver City. Denver International Airport is the closest major airport near the park. You will find more details about getting to Rocky Mountain National Park, including flights, train, bus, and shuttle services, in the following sections.

Transportation & Parking Inside Rocky Mountain National Park: There’re parking lots at trailheads and viewing areas. However, during the peak seasons, the park gets quite crowded, and it might be difficult to find parking near the popular spots in the park. So, the park offers a free shuttle service, mid-May through mid-October, on the eastern side of the park, picking up visitors from the visitor centers and Park & Ride stops and transferring to trailheads and viewing areas. There are three main shuttle routes in Rocky Mountain National Park:

  • Hiker Express Route: Taking visitors from Estes Park visitor center to the Park & Ride stop inside the park. This is an excellent choice if you’re lodging in Estes Park during your visit to Rocky Mountain. You can leave your car behind and use this shuttle to get to the park’s Park & Ride stop, from where you can take connecting shuttles to different parts of the park.
  • Bear Lake Route: Starting at Park & Ride stop, taking visitors further down south of the park to Bierstadt Lake Trailhead, Glacier Gorge Trailhead, and Bear Lake.
  • Moraine Park Route: Starting at Park & Ride stop, taking visitors to trailheads located north and northwest of the park, including Sprague Lake/Glacier Creek Stables, Hollowell Park, Tuxedo Park, Moraine Park Campground, Cub Lake Trailhead, and Fern Lake Bus Stop.

Lodging Near Rocky Mountain National Park: The park is accessible from the east and the west side, and you will find lodging options on both sides. However, the east side, Estes Park, is more prevalent among visitors, and for good reasons, the east side has more lodging and dining options than the west side. But the west entrance, Grand Lake, is a gorgeous lake town with several rustic and local lodging options, the right choice if you’re looking for a more tranquil place to stay. You will find my recommendations on lodging and dining options near Rocky Mountain National Park in the later section of the post.

Rocky Mountain National Park Tours: Gray Line, Aspire Tours, and a few other companies offer guided tours of Rocky Mountain National Park starting from Denver or Boulder. You could also drive to Estes Park and then do one of the guided tours provided by the Rocky Mountain Conservancy.

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Getting To Rocky Mountain National Park

Getting To Rocky Mountain National Park

Flights To Rocky Mountain National Park

Airports Near Rocky Mountain National Park: The Denver International Airport (DEN), Denver, Colorado, is the closest and the major airport near Rocky Mountain National Park. There are a few other domestic and regional airports, including Cheyenne Regional Airport (CYS), Cheyenne, in Wyoming, 92 miles to Rocky Mountain National Park, and Colorado Springs Airport (COS), Colorado Springs, Colorado, 145 miles from Rocky Mountain.

However, Denver International Airport (DEN), Denver, Colorado, is located within 70 miles from the park’s east entrances, and with several major airlines servicing the airport, it’s the best airport to get to Rocky Mountain National Park. The drive to the west entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park in Grand Lake is a slightly longer drive from Denver International Airport, 125 miles, but still, it’s the closest and best airport near the park.

Train & Bus Services To Rocky Mountain National Park

Train Services To Rocky Mountain National Park: While there’re no direct train services to Rocky Mountain National Park, you could take an Amtrak train to the closest possible Amtrack station near the east or west entrance of the park and then hire a taxi or rent a car to get to Rocky Mountain National Park. 

  • Amtrak Stations Near The East Entrances / Estes Park: Union Station in Denver is the closest Amtrak station to the park’s east entrances. From here, you could take a Greyhound or Bustang bus, rent a car or hire a cab to get to Rocky Mountain National Park.
  • Amtrak Stations Near The West Entrance / Grand Lake: Fraser/Winter Park (WIP) and Granby (GRA) are the two Amtrak stations located close to Rocky Mountain’s west entrance. Both stations are relatively close to the park, within 30 miles, but has no public transportation to the park, and you would need to hire a cab to get to the park/Grand Lake.

Bus Services To Rocky Mountain National Park: Like Amtrak train services, Greyhound also connects several US cities to many Colorado cities, from where you can take a local bus service or hire a cab to get to Rocky Mountain National Park.

Gray Line, Aspire Tours, and a few other companies also offer guided tours of Rocky Mountain National Park from a few major cities in Colorado, including Denver and Boulder.

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Things To Do In Rocky Mountain National Park

Things To Do In Rocky Mountain National Park Map

Rocky Mountain National Park Attractions Map

Rocky Mountain National Park Entrances

Rocky Mountain National Park’s east entrances are located just 70 miles from Denver, Colorado, and are the most popular among visitors. There is also a west entrance to the park, which I highly recommend if you’re planning to spend a good amount of time in Rocky Mountain National Park.

There are four entrances to Rocky Mountain National Park, three on the east and one on the west side of the park.

East Entrances

Beaver Meadows Entrance: Located on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park in the town of Estes Park, the Beaver Meadows Entrance is the most popular entrance to the park and the only one that’s open throughout the year. Beaver Meadows Visitor Center Address: 1000 US-36, Estes Park, CO 80517

Fall River Entrance: This is another east entrance of the park, located just 5 miles from Estes Park and 8 miles from Beaver Meadows Entrance. The Fall River Entrance is an excellent choice during the peak seasons when the Beaver Meadows Entrance gets very busy. The Fall River Entrance is also located close to the two scenic drives in Rocky Mountain National Park – Trail Ridge Road and Old Fall River Road. However, the Fall River Entrance and visitor center are open only during the summer months. Fall River Entrance Visitor Center Address: US-34, Estes Park, CO 80517.

Wild Basin Entrance: The third and the least popular east entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park, the Wild Basin Entrance is located 16 miles south of Estes Park. The Wild Basin Entrance is another excellent choice during the peak season and the easiest way to get to the Ouzel Hiking Trail, one of the most popular hikes leading to three waterfalls in the park. However, the Wild Basin Entrance is seasonal with no onsite visitor center, and some part of the road is unpaved. Wild Basin Entrance Address: Located between Meeker and Allenspark, Co Hwy 115, Allenspark, CO 80510.

West Entrance

Grand Lake Entrance: The only west entrance in Rocky Mountain National Park, Grand Lake Entrance is located in the charming lake town of Grand Lake. Tucked in the heart of the mountains with a gorgeous lake and rustic locally owned stores, restaurants, and bread and breakfasts, the Grand Lake Entrance is a great choice to begin your Rocky Mountain National Park trip and also a great base if you’re planning to spend a few days in the park. The Grand Lake Entrance is open all year and has a visitor center, the Kawuneeche Visitor Center, located at 16018 US-34, Grand Lake, CO 80447.

East entrances are more popular as they are close to Denver and provide easy access to major attractions in the park. However, the less known west entrance is a hidden gem of Rocky Mountain National Park!

Rocky Mountain National Park Visitor Centers

There’re four visitor centers in Rocky Mountain National Park, three located near the park entrances, and the Alpine Visitor Center located along the Trail Ridge Road.

Beaver Meadows Visitor Center: Located on the east side of the park, near Beaver Meadows entrance. Open all year round.

Fall River Visitor Center: Located on the east, near Fall River entrance, and is open outside the winter months.

Kawuneeche Visitor Center: The only visitor center on the west side of the park, located near Grand Lake, is open all year round. However, timing and days vary in the winter months.

Alpine Visitor Center: Located on Trail Ridge Road, and open seasonally, May end through October.

Rocky Mountain National Park also has a few other discovery centers and information booths in the park, including Moraine Park Discovery Center located near Moraine Park, Sheep Lakes Information Station located in Horseshoe Park, and Holzwarth Historic Site located on Trail Ridge Road near Kawuneeche Visitor Center.

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Scenic Drives In Rocky Mountain National Park

Scenic Drives In Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park is home to two scenic mountain drives, Trail Ridge Road & Old Fall River Road!

The Trail Ridge Road, 48 miles long two-lanes paved road, runs east to west of the park, starting at Estes Park and ending at Grand Lake. The Old Fall River Road, the oldest auto road in Rocky Mountain, is a shorter 11 miles long one-way dirt road that starts at Horseshoe Park, near Fall River Entrance, and ends at Fall River Pass, near Alpine Visitor Center.

Both scenic drives in Rocky Mountain National Park, The Trail Ridge Road and Old Fall River Road, offer breathtaking views, have trails and viewing areas letting explore the wilderness in the park, and several opportunities to spot wildlife in the park. These scenic drives are the stars of Rocky Mountain and a must-do when visiting the park. In fact, if you’re visiting Rocky Mountain National Park just for a day or two, you should simply stick to these two scenic drives in the park.

However, these scenic drives are seasonal, open outside the winter season, when there’s no snow, and driving conditions are safe in the park. Below, I have more details about both the scenic drives in Rocky Mountain National Park, with maps and stops along the road.

Trail Ridge Road

Trail Ridge Road Map | Rocky Mountain National Park

Trail Ridge Road Map

One of the most scenic Byways in the US, Trail Ridge Road is also the US’s highest continuous paved road.

Spanning east to west of Rocky Mountain National Park, the Trail Ridge Road is a two-lane 48-mile long scenic drive that starts at Estes Park, east of the park, and ends at the Grand Lake, west of Rocky Mountain National Park. Most of the drive along the Trail Ridge Road is at a high elevation, above 10,000 feet, and it reaches the highest elevation at 12,183 feet just past the Lava Cliffs Overlook. The Trail Ridge Road also passes through the Continental Divide at Milner Pass.

Trail Ridge Road has a few hairpin-turns but it’s an easy drive with several vista points along the route. The sweeping views of the mountains, the varying landscape of the valley, and several opportunities to view wildlife in the park make the Trail Ridge Road one of the most famous scenic drives in the US and a must-do in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Stops & Overlooks Along The Trail Ridge Road: There are fifteen stops along the Trail Ridge Road, including three visitor centers and twelve vista points, each offering a unique view of Rocky Mountain National Park.

The Trail Ridge Road is a two-lane paved road, so you could either begin your drive in the east of the park at Estes Park or from the west side at Grand Lake. I have listed the stops and overlooks along the Trail Ridge Road, sequentially, starting from Estes Park, and if you start from the west side, you will come across these vista points in reverse order.

  • Beaver Meadows Visitor Center / Estes Park: Located on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park in the town of Estes Park, the Beaver Meadows Entrance is the most popular entrance to the park. You could either begin your Trail Ridge Road drive from Beaver Meadows Visitor Center or Fall River Visitor Center, located 8 miles north of Beaver Meadows Visitor Center. Fall River Visitor Center is located close to Trail Ridge Road and an excellent choice to begin your scenic drive during Fall and Summer when the Beaver Meadows entrance gets busy.
  • Deer Ridge Junction: This will be the first or last stop based on which side you start your drive. The Deer Ridge Junction is the gateway to Horseshoe Park, Upper Beaver Meadows, and Bear Lake Road, and also the starting point of the popular Deer Mountain hiking trail in Rocky Mountain National Park.
  • Hidden Valley: Hidden Valley was once a ski area in the park, but now only used for sledding in winter months, and during summer and fall, it’s a nice place to stop and enjoy the views of the beautiful surrounding valleys.
  • Many Parks Curve Overlook: Sitting on the rim of a turn with a proper viewing platform with guardrails, Many Parks Curve Overlook offers sweeping views of the glacier-carved valleys of Horseshoe Park, Moraine Park, and Estes Park and tall mountain peaks of Deer Mountain, and Longs Peak.
  • Rainbow Curve Overlook: Covering a wide outer edge of the road, the Rainbow Curve Overlook has a viewing platform with a low stone fence and offers beautiful views of Horseshoe Park, Hidden Valley, Alluvial Fan, Fall River, Beaver Ponds, and several mountain peaks.
  • Rock Cut: Literally, this part of the Trail Ridge Road was cut into the rocks! The Rock Cut area offers stunning views of Longs Peak, Hayden Gorge, and Never Summer Mountain Range and is also home to the Tundra Communities Trailhead. The Tundra Communities Trail is a short one-mile loop passing through some unique rock formations and beautiful valley views.
  • Lava Cliffs Overlook: The Lava Cliffs Overlook, located at 12,080 feet, is home to lava rocks shaped by volcanic activities in the area. Also, right after Lava Cliffs Overlook, at an elevation of 12,183 feet, lies the highest point on the Trail Ridge Road.
  • Gore Range Overlook: This is the best vantage point to see Gorge Range and Never Summer Mountains along the Trail Ridge Road.
  • Alpine Visitor Center: The Alpine Visitor Center is the highest elevation National Park Service’s visitor center in the US. The visitor center’s viewing area offers sweeping views of Fall River Cirque, Continental Divide, and Never Summer Mountains. The visitor center is a great mid-way stop on Trail Ridge Road where you could take a break, use restrooms, and grab a bite in the restaurant.
  • Medicine Bow Curve: The Never Summer Mountain Range in Rocky Mountain was previously called the Medicine Bow Mountain Range. However, unlike the name of the mountain range, the name of the overlook was never changed. The Medicine Bow Curve offers the best view of the Never Summer Mountain Range in the park.
  • Forest Canyon Overlook: A short five-minute walk from parking to the Forest Canyon Overlook offers stunning views of the mountain ranges and lush valleys.
  • Milner Pass: The Milner Pass is located on the Continental Divide, with a sign identifying the Continental Divide’s exact location. There’re several misconceptions about the Continental Divide, but in simple terms, the continental divide determines the natural flow of water. If you pour water on the continental divide, the water’s natural course on the west side will travel towards the Pacific Ocean, and the water on the east side will go to the Atlantic Ocean. The Milner Pass is also home to the gorgeous Poudre Lake.
  • Farview Curve Viewpoint: Encompassing the outer edge of the road with a low stone wall, the Farview Curve Viewpoint offers great views of Kawuneeche Valley, Colorado River and also a great place to spot wildlife in the park.
  • Holzwarth Historic Site: The Holzwarth Historic Site preserves the remnants of Holzwarth Ranch and Holzwarth Trout Lodge. You could tour the buildings to experience the early days of tourism and lodging in Rocky Mountain National Park.
  • Kawuneeche Visitor Center: The last or the first stop on your Trail Ridge Road drive based on where you start your trip, the Kawuneeche Visitor Center is the only visitor center on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. The Kawuneeche Visitor Center has a store and restrooms and is a good place to stop and stretch before heading back to the park’s east side or exiting the park from the west side.

Old Fall River Road

Old Fall River Road Map | Rocky Mountain National Park

Old Fall River Road Map

Old Fall River Road is the first scenic auto route in Rocky Mountain National Park, and hence the name “Old” Fall River Road!

Unlike the relatively newly constructed Trail Ridge Road, the Old Fall River Road in Rocky Mountain is an unpaved one-way dirt road that offers an off the beaten path experience in Rocky Mountain National Park. The Old Fall River Road is a nature auto-trail winding up Mount Chapin’s slopes, passing through dense pine forests, unique rock formations, and Chasm Falls.

The Old Fall River Road, 11 miles long one-way dirt road, starts at Horseshoe Park, near Fall River Entrance, and ends at Fall River Pass, near Alpine Visitor Center. The Old Fall River Road is a seasonal road, open outside the winter months, is open to all vehicles except trailers and large recreational vehicles. Though it’s a gravel road, it’s safe for most vehicles, but there are no guardrails along the road and the viewing platforms.

Stops & Overlooks Along The Old Fall River Road: There’re not many stops and overlooks along the Old Fall River Road when compared to the Trail Ridge Road, but you will still find few unique rock formations, glacial lakes, and a waterfall along the Old Fall River Road.

Old Fall River Road is a one-way road, so you will come across the following points as you drive up the Old Fall River Road from Horseshoe Park.

  • Horseshoe Park: You can enter the park either from the Beaver Meadows Entrance or Fall River Entrance and then drive to Horseshoe Park, GPS Coordinates: Lat: 40.4054, Long: -105.6251, where you enter the Endovalley Road. Soon you will cross Alluvial Fan and then reach the historic one-way section of the Old Fall River Road.
  • Chasm Falls: This is the most popular stop on Old Fall River Road, a gorgeous 25-feet waterfall accessible via a short trail.
  • Chiquita Creek Trailhead: The Old Fall River Road is also the starting point of a couple of popular hikes in Rocky Mountains National Park. One of them being the Chiquita Creek Trailhead, which leads to the summit of Mt. Chiquita. However, if you’re not planning to hike, you can simply enjoy the views from the car.
  • Willow Park: Next, you would come across Willow Park, an open meadow amid the mountain peaks known for beautiful views and is a popular place to see wildlife in the park.
  • Chapin Creek Trailhead: This is another popular trailhead located on the Old Fall River Road, popular among the hikers attempting to climb to the summit of Mt. Chapin.
  • Fall River Cirque: Next, you will notice a semi-circular amphitheater-shaped glacial valley shaped by the Fall River Glacier right before reaching Alpine Visitor Center. This is the Fall River Cirque, the starting point and the home of the Fall River Glacier that carved the Fall River Valley.
  • Alpine Visitor Center: The last stop on Old Fall River Road is the Alpine Visitor Center. The Alpine Visitor Center is the highest elevation National Park Service’s visitor center in the US. The visitor center’s viewing area offers sweeping views of Fall River Cirque, Continental Divide, and Never Summer Mountains.
  • The Old Fall River Road ends at the Alpine Visitor Center, and from here, you could then either take the Trail Ridge Road and head back to the east entrance of the park or head towards the west entrance of the park.

Selecting The Best Scenic Drive For Your Rocky Mountain Trip

  • Trail Ridge Road takes about half a day / 3-4 hours.
  • Old Fall River Road takes about 2 hours.
  • If you have time for only one scenic drive, I would recommend the Trail Ridge Road drive.
  • If you’re staying longer, I highly recommend doing both the scenic drives in Rocky Mountain National Park.
  • It’s possible to do both the scenic drives in a single day if you dedicate the entire day just for the park’s scenic drives.

Recommended Route For Doing Both The Scenic Drives On The Same Day

  • Start on the east side of the park, continue on Trail Ridge Road till Deer Ridge Junction, from there drive to Horseshoe Park, which is the starting point of the one-way Old Fall River Road drive. GPS Coordinates: Lat: 40.4054, Long: -105.6251.
  • End your Old Fall River Road drive at Alpine Visitor Center, then join Trail Ridge Road and travel towards the west end of the park stopping at overlooks along the road.
  • End your Trail Ridge Road drive at Kawuneeche Visitor Center and head back to the park’s east side following the Trail Ridge Road.
  • On your way back, stop at the rest of the overlooks on Trail Ridge Road that you missed due to the Old Fall River Road diversion you took at the Deer Ridge Junction.
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Hiking In Rocky Mountain National Park

Hiking Trails in Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park is home to many gorgeous lakes, waterfalls, towering peaks, but are accessible only via hike!

There is a lot to see in Rocky Mountain National Park beside the two scenic drives, including blue-green crystal clear mountain lakes, gorgeous cascading waterfalls, and tall peaks offering breathtaking views! However, the lakes and waterfalls are tucked away in the valley’s deeper sections and can be reached only by hiking into the canyon.

Rocky Mountain National Park has more than 350 miles of hiking trails and is a paradise for hikers & mountain climbers! However, Rocky Mountain National Park is at a very high altitude. Even experienced hikers may run into issues while hiking at such high altitudes where oxygen level drops and dehydration increases with the gain in elevation. Special care should be taken while selecting a hiking trail in the park, and also essential to know how to deal with Altitude Sickness while hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park.

It’s essential to select a hiking trail in Rocky Mountain based on your fitness and experience level.

I have grouped all popular hiking trails in Rocky Mountain National Park by type – Lake Hiking Trails, Waterfall Hiking Trails, & Peak Hiking Trails. I have also organized them by the difficulty levels – Easy, Moderately Strenuous & Highly Strenuous.

Rocky Mountain Lake Hiking Trails

Lake Hiking Trails Rocky Mountain National Park Hiking Trails Map

Bear Lake: The Bear Lake region is the starting point of several popular hiking trails in Rocky Mountain National Park. The hike to Bear Lake is one of the shortest and most popular hikes starting at Bear Lake Trailhead, but the trail continues onto Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, Emerald Lake, and Lake Haiyaha.

  • Trailhead: Bear Lake Trailhead
  • Distance: 0.6 Miles Roundtrip
  • Time: 30 Minutes

Sprague Lake: Surrounding Sprague Lake, the trail is relatively flat and comfortable, with several overlooks offering gorgeous views of the lake along with the Continental Divide and Hallett Peak. It is also a popular place to view wildlife in the park.

  • Trailhead: Sprague Lake Trailhead
  • Distance: 0.5 Miles Roundtrip
  • Time: 30 Minutes

Lily Lake: Lined with benches and picnic tables, the Lily Lake trail is very popular among families with kids.

  • Trailhead: Lily Lake Trailhead
  • Distance: 0.8 Miles Roundtrip
  • Time: 1 Hour

Dream Lake: Starting at the Bear Lake Trailhead, the Dream Lake trail leads to a beautiful lake with Hallet Peak rising in the background. 

  • Trailhead: Bear Lake Trailhead
  • Distance: 2.2 Miles Roundtrip
  • Time: 1-2 Hours

The Pool: The Pool is where the Fern Creek, starting at the Fern Falls, meets the Big Thompson River. This confluence forms a turbulent water body, which is known as the Pool. The Pool is also a trail junction for Cub Lake Trail and Fern Lake Trail, which branches out from The Pool area. The Cub Lake and the Fern Lakes are beautiful, and it’s a good idea to go beyond The Pool and hike either of these two trails when visiting the Pool.

  • Trailhead: Fern Lake Trailhead
  • Distance: 3.4 Miles Roundtrip
  • Time: 2 Hours

Fern Lake: On the Fern Lake hike, you will have to go past The Pool and see the Fern Falls before reaching the gorgeous Fern Lake.

  • Trailhead: Fern Lake Trailhead
  • Distance: 7.8 Miles Roundtrip
  • Time: 3-4 Hours

Cub Lake: Another favorite Lake Trails in Rocky Mountain, the Cub Lake trail leads to the Cub Lake tucked between the valleys, covered with lily pads. If you’re using the park shuttle and don’t have to return to your car, you could continue onto The Pool or Fern Lake Trail.

  • Trailhead: Cub Lake Trailhead / Moraine Park
  • Distance: 4.8 Miles Roundtrip
  • Time: 2-3 Hours

The Loch: The hike leads to the beautiful and pristine valley of lakes, tucked between the peaks of the Continental Divide. You will also have a chance to see the Alberta Falls, a popular waterfall hike in Rocky Mountain on this trail.

  • Trailhead: Glacier Gorge Trailhead
  • Distance: 5.4 Miles Roundtrip
  • Time: 3-4 Hours

Odessa Lake: The hike through the varying landscape of Rocky Mountain leads to the beautiful Odessa Lake surrounded by towering peaks. You could also hike to Odessa Lake from the Fern Lake Trailhead.

  • Trailhead: Bear Lake Trailhead
  • Distance: 8.8 Miles Roundtrip
  • Time: 8-9 Hours

Mills Lake: The hike leads to the beautiful Mills Lake, an alpine lake named after the naturalist and Rocky Mountain National Park’s founder, Enos Mills. From Mills Lake, you can continue your hike to Black Lake, which is an additional 1.7 miles highly strenuous hike.

  • Trailhead: Glacier Gorge Trailhead
  • Distance: 5.3 Miles Roundtrip
  • Time: 3-4 Hours

Lake Haiyaha: This trail leads to the unique Lake Haiyaha, also known as the lake of many rocks, as Lake Haiyaha’s shoreline is lined by giant granite boulders.

  • Trailhead: Bear Lake Trailhead
  • Distance: 4.2 Miles Roundtrip
  • Time: 2-3 Hours

Gem Lake: Fed by snow and rainwater, the Gem Lake is a shallow pond amid giant granite boulders.

  • Trailhead: Lumpy Ridge Trailhead
  • Distance: 4 Miles Roundtrip
  • Time: 2-3 Hours

Emerald Lake: Another beautiful lake starting at the Bear Lake Trailhead, surrounded by lush valleys filled with wildflowers.

  • Trailhead: Bear Lake Trailhead
  • Distance: 3.6 Miles Roundtrip
  • Time: 2-3 Hours

Bierstadt Lake: Beautiful lake in a ridge left behind by passing glaciers, Bierstadt Lake is a shallow pond holding rain and snow water surrounded by a lush valley of wildflowers.

  • Trailhead: Bierstadt Lake
  • Distance: 2.8 Miles Roundtrip
  • Time: 2-3 Hours

Chasm Lake: The hike to Chasm Lake is quite exhausting, but the views of the alpine lake with the backdrop of Longs Peak are gratifying.

  • Trailhead: Glacier George Junction
  • Distance: 8.6 Miles Roundtrip
  • Time: 4-5 Hours

Ypsilon Lake: This is a strenuous hike to a beautiful lake located on Ypsilon Mountain and Mount Chiquita’s eastern slopes.

  • Trailhead: Lawn Lake Trailhead
  • Distance: 9 Miles Roundtrip
  • Time: 5-6 Hours

Rocky Mountain Waterfall Hiking Trails

Waterfall Hiking Trails | Rocky Mountain National Park Hiking Trails Map

Chasm Falls: One of the most easily accessible waterfalls in the park and the most popular stop on the Old Fall River Road drive, Chasm Falls is a 25 feet waterfall accessible via a short trail.

  • Trailhead: Old Fall River Road
  • Distance: 0.2 Miles Roundtrip
  • Time: 30 Minutes

Copeland Falls: The Copeland Falls is the first waterfall on the Wild Basin Trailhead and easily accessible. Many people continue their hike from here to Ousel Falls, which is a moderately strenuous hike.

  • Trailhead: Wild Basin Trailhead
  • Distance: 0.6 Miles Roundtrip
  • Time: 1 Hour

Adams Falls: The Adams Falls hike is the shortest and the easiest on the west side of Rocky Mountain, near Grand Lake.

  • Trailhead: East Inlet Trail
  • Distance: 0.6 Miles Roundtrip
  • Time: 1 Hour

Alberta Falls: One of the most popular waterfall hike starting at the Glacier George Junction, the 30 feet Alberta Falls is located just 0.8 miles from the parking lot.

  • Trailhead: Glacier George Junction
  • Distance: 1.6 Miles Roundtrip
  • Time: 1-2 Hours

Ouzel Falls: The hike to Ouzel Falls begins from the Wild Basin Trailhead, located in the southeastern corner of Rocky Mountain National Park. On the way to this beautiful 40 feet waterfall, you will also see Copeland Falls and Calypso Cascades.

  • Trailhead: Wild Basin Trailhead
  • Distance: 5.4 Miles Roundtrip
  • Time: 2-3 Hours

Cascade Falls: The Cascade Falls trailhead is located on the west side of the park, near Grand Lake. The Cascade Falls, as the name suggests, is a cascading waterfall situated amid a lush valley.

  • Trailhead: North Inlet Trailhead
  • Distance: 6.8 Miles Roundtrip
  • Time: 4-5 Hours

Granite Falls: This is a long hike through the park’s varying landscape that leads to a 50 feet waterfall cascading through granite slabs. The trail’s elevation gain is moderate, but due to the distance and time required to hike this trail, I have classified it as a Highly Strenuous hike.

  • Trailhead: Green Mountain Trailhead
  • Distance: 10.4 Miles Roundtrip
  • Time: 6-7 Hours

Peak/Summit Hiking Trails In Rocky Mountain

Summit Hiking Trails In Rocky Mountain National Park

Most summit hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park are steep and strenuous!

Alpine Ridge Trail: The only mountain hike in Rocky Mountain that can be classified as easy. The hike to the summit is short but steep, but at the end of the trek, you will be rewarded with spectacular views of Mt. Chapin, Mt. Chiquita, Ypsilon Mountain, and Never Summer Mountains. 
  • Trailhead: Alpine Visitor Center
  • Distance: 0.6 Miles Roundtrip
  • Time: 1 Hour

Deer Mountain: Known for its panoramic views, hiking to Deer Mountain is a popular activity in the park. The moderately strenuous hike leads to the summit of Deer Mountain and offers great views of Longs Peak, Moraine Park, and Estes Park

  • Trailhead: Deer Ridge Junction
  • Distance: 6.2 Miles Roundtrip
  • Time: 5-6 Hours

Chasm Lake: The hike to Chasm Lake is quite exhausting, but the hike leads to a beautiful alpine lake with Longs Peak rising in the background, which is the highest peak in the park.

  • Trailhead: Glacier George Junction
  • Distance: 8.6 Miles Roundtrip
  • Time: 4-5 Hours

Twin Sisters Peak: The Twin Sisters Peak offers spectacular views of Longs Peak and Continental Divide, but the hike is quite demanding and includes hiking through steep rocky terrains in the park.

  • Trailhead: Twin Sisters Trailhead
  • Distance: 7.4 Miles Roundtrip
  • Time: 4-5 Hours

Flattop Mountain/Continental Divide: The hike starts at Bear Lake Trailhead, offers excellent views of Hallet Peak, Tyndall Glacier, and an opportunity to stand on top of the Continental Divide. However, this is one of the most strenuous hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

  • Trailhead: Bear Lake Trailhead
  • Distance: 8.8 Miles Roundtrip
  • Time: 6-7 Hours

Estes Cone: The hike leads to a unique cone-shaped mountain and offers gorgeous views of Longs Peak and the Continental Divide.

  • Trailhead: Longs Peak Trailhead
  • Distance: 6.5 Miles Roundtrip
  • Time: 5-6 Hours

Mt. Ida: A very strenuous hike leads to the summit of Mt. Ida and is known for its panoramic views of several mountain ranges and beautiful turquoise mountain lakes. 

  • Trailhead: Poudre Lake Trailhead
  • Distance: 9.6 Miles Roundtrip
  • Time: 7-8 Hours
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Lodging & Dining In Rocky Mountain National Park

Lodging & Dining In Rocky Mountain National Park

Campgrounds In Rocky Mountain National Park

Camping is a very popular activity in Rocky Mountain National Park, especially during the summer and fall months. There are five main campgrounds, out of which four are seasonal and one open year-round. Mid-June through August is the peak camping season in Rocky Mountain National Park, and reserving campsites online on recreation.gov is a good idea. However, not all campsites in Rocky Mountain can be booked online, and a few are allocated only on a first-come-first-served basis.

There’re five campgrounds in Rocky Mountain National Park, out of which four are seasonal, and one campground is open year-round!

Moraine Park Campground: This is the only campground in Rocky Mountain that’s open year-round. Moraine Park Campground is located near Beaver Meadows Entrance on the park’s east side. This is the most popular campground in the park with 244 campsites, but cannot be reserved online and are only allocated on a first-come-first-served basis.

Aspenglen Campground: Seasonal, open May – September, located near Fall River Entrance, on the east side of the park. There are 52 campsites and can be reserved online.

Glacier Basin Campground: Seasonal, open May – September, located on Bear Lake Road. There are 150 campsites that can be reserved online.

Longs Peak Campground: Seasonal, June – September, located south of Estes Park on the east side of the park, and is relatively at a high altitude. There are 26 campsites in Longs Peak campground and are allocated on a first-come-first-served basis.

Timber Creek Campground: Seasonal, open May – October. Located on the west side of the park near Grand Lake. Has 98 non-reservable campsites, allocated on a first-come-first-served basis.

Backcountry Camping: Rocky Mountain National Park has several sites offering wilderness camping. The backcountry camping sites are spread all over the park, and you can find the entire list and details about each backcountry campsite on the National Park Sevice website.

Hotels & Lodges In Rocky Mountain National Park

There’re no hotels or lodges within Rocky Mountain National Park, and if you’re not camping in the park, your best lodging choices are either hotels and lodges on the east side of the park, near Estes Park, or on the west side, near Grand Lake.

The East side of the park, near Estes Park, due to its proximity from Denver, easy access to the two scenic drives in the park, and several hotels and motels, is more prevalent among visitors. However, near Grand Lake, with several locally owned bread and breakfasts, the west side is also a great choice if you’re looking to say in a more rustic and tranquil location.

Lodging On The East Side Of Rocky Mountain National Park

The Estes Park Resort: Located just a few miles from Rocky Mountain National Park, in Estes Park, with great views, onsite dining, spa, and indoor pools, The Estes Park Resort is my first choice when it comes to lodging on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park. 

Della Terra Mountain Chateau: Located right next to the Fall River Entrance, Della Terra Mountain Chateau is a boutique hotel with exemplary decor and service in Rocky Mountain National Park.

The Stanley Hotel: Staying in The Stanley Hotel is an experience in itself! Located in Estes Park, just a few miles from Rocky Mountain, a victorian style building with several lodging options ranging from historic rooms to modern apartment-suites is a great place to stay near the park. However, the fact that Stephen King got his inspiration for his bestselling horror story, The Shining, here at The Stanley Hotel and several strange activities reported by guests makes it an exciting place to stay in Rocky Mountain.

Lodging On The West Side Of Rocky Mountain National Park

Grand Lake Lodge: Located on the west side of the park, in Grand Lake, the Grand Lake Lodge offers excellent views, rustic cabins, and onsite dining.

Gateway Inn: The Gateway Inn with beautifully decorated cabins with handmade log furniture, onsite dining, and great views, is another great choice to stay on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Western Riviera Lakeside Lodging: Located right next to Grand Lake in a beautiful setting, Western Riviera Lakeside Lodging offers several lodging options, including lakeside cabins, penthouses, and a tree house.

Restaurants In Rocky Mountain National Park

Dining choices are thin inside the park but overwhelming on the east and west side of the park!

Dining Inside Rocky Mountain National Park: The Trail Ridge Store’s cafe is the only restaurant inside the park. However, it’s seasonal, open May through September, and has limited dining choices.

Dining Options On The East Side Of The Park: There’re several choices on the park’s east side in Estes Park, including several chain restaurants and a few great local restaurants. You can find the entire list of restaurants on the Estes Park website, but here are some of my favorites – Peppers Mexican Grill, Twin Owls Steakhouse, and Cascades Restaurant at the Stanley Hotel.

Dining Options On The West Side Of The Park: The west side of Rocky Mountain National Park in Grand Lake is home to several rustic, locally-owned restaurants with some great food and views. You will find the complete list on the Grand Lake website, but here are a few of my favorites – you can’t miss Sagebrush BBQ & Grill, The Historic Rapids Restaurant has good food and some great views.

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Rocky Mountain National Park Trip Itinerary

Rocky Mountain National Park Suggested Trip Itinerary

Rocky Mountain National Park is unique in a way that you could see a lot in one day just by driving the scenic mountain roads in the park, and on the other hand, you could also spend a couple of weeks exploring several lakes, peaks, and waterfalls in the park.

I have organized my Rocky Mountain National Park trip itinerary and my recommendations based on the number of days you plan to spend in the park. Also, I have crate my Rocky Mountain National Park itineraries for the summer months, as winters in Rocky Mountain are less sightseeing and more of skiing and sledding.

1 Day Rocky Mountain National Park Trip Itinerary: If you’re visiting Rocky Mountain National Park just for a day, your best option to see most of the park is by driving through the Trail Ridge Road, a scenic mountain drive.

  • Enter the park from Fall River Entrance in the east.
  • Drive the Trail Ridge Road stopping at the overlooks along the route.

2 Day Rocky Mountain National Park Trip Itinerary: If you have two days in the park, I would recommend doing both the scenic drives in the park Trail Ridge Road & Old Fall River Road on the first day and a couple of easy hikes on your second day.

  • Day 1 – Old Fall River Road and Trail Ridge Road.
  • Day 2 – Hike a couple of easy trails in the park to a waterfall or a lake.

3 Day Rocky Mountain National Park Trip Itinerary: Same as the 2-day itinerary, plus a moderate hike to a summit in the park.

  • Day 1 – Old Fall River Road and Trail Ridge Road.
  • Day 2 – Hike a couple of easy trails in the park to a waterfall or a lake.
  • Day 3 – Hike an easy/moderate trail to one of the summits in the park.

4 Or More Days In Rocky Mountain National Park: If you’re staying four or more days in the park, definitely drive both the scenic drives, hike some of the more challenging trails in the park, and visit Grand Lake on the west side of the park.

  • Day 1 – Old Fall River Road and Trail Ridge Road.
  • Day 2 – Hike a couple of easy trails in the park to a waterfall or a lake.
  • Day 3 – Hike an easy/moderate trail to one of the summits in the park.
  • Day 4 – Visit Grand Lake on the west side of the park.
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Rocky Mountain National ParkI hope you enjoyed reading the post, The Ultimate Guide To Rocky Mountain National Park, and I hope this will help you plan your perfect trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. Rocky Mountain is my favorite and one of the best attractions in Colorado.

Happy feeding your soul!
Shreyashi

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