I’ve gathered some of my favorite pictures taken during the beautiful autumn months in Rocky Mountain National Park. Fall is one of the best times to visit Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park to witness the golden aspens, enjoy the crisp-cool weather, and experience the elk rut.
The city of Estes Park has events taking place throughout the fall including the Elk Fest and the Pumpkins & Pilsners Festival. (more)
The Halloween season is the perfect time to visit one of Estes Park’s most famous landmarks, the historic Stanley Hotel. The hotel offers a variety of tours, including a guided night tour where you can explore the setting that inspired Steven King’s book, The Shining. (kids must be 8+)
Crowds in Rocky mountain National park
I’m not alone in my love for fall in Rocky Mountain National Park. I recently saw a statistic from the National Park Service that said 7 of the top 10 busiest days last year occurred on September weekends.
Fall weather and road conditions
Going back through our fall pictures, I remembered that we have seen quite a lot of snow even in early October. The contrast of the bright yellow aspens with the pure white snow is striking, but snow can affect road conditions. If you are planning to drive up Trail Ridge Road, you can find information on road conditions and closures here.
The hike to Bierstadt Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park is one of our family’s favorite hikes. On our most recent trip, we parked at the Bierstadt Lake trailhead at 8,850 ft. in elevation.
The trail to Bierstadt Lake is 1.4 miles each way. You can add on extra mileage by walking around the lake, which we recommend to get the best views of Flattop Mountain and Hallett Peak.
One of the benefits of walking at a toddler’s pace is the chance to notice extra details I might miss when walking on my own – like these berries and pretty wildflowers.
You could see the first signs of autumn. These aspens will turn golden yellow in just a few weeks.
The trail up to the lake gains 566 ft. of elevation along several switchbacks.
Wide open views of the surrounding mountains make the climb worth the effort.
We could also see Sprague Lake in the distance. It appeared to be glowing in the morning sunlight.
At just over a mile, the trail levels out and heads back into the forest.
Trail signage points out that there are several paths to get to Bierstadt Lake. Alternative routes include the Park & Ride (1.9 miles/way) and Bear Lake (1.9 miles/way). If you decide to walk around the lake, make note of the direction you came from. With so many trails, it can get confusing.
Bierstadt Lake is beautiful and peaceful. It’s an ideal spot to take a moment to enjoy the mountain views.
In a former post I ‘complained’ about the ducks, but they weren’t as pesky this time.
After we enjoyed a snack at the lake, we headed back down the mountain the way we came. I was very proud of both girls for walking a majority of the trail on their own. I was also proud of myself and my husband for having patience when they wanted to stop and draw pictures in the dirt.
At the very end of the hike, we saw an enormous moose walking through the forest. We were surprised, excited, and a little nervous. We picked up the girls and backed away so the moose didn’t feel threated by our presence. He eventually crossed the parking lot and street. I guessed he might be headed towards Sprague Lake, which is a spot we’ve spotted moose on a prior trip.
Our family discovered a new outdoor activity that we can do together in Estes Park, Colorado – kayaking! When we pulled up to Lake Estes Marina, we didn’t know what to expect. Would our girls jump into the lake? Would they whine the entire time?
We decided to give it a shot and rented out two 2-person kayaks for an hour. A half hour option is also available.
If kayaking isn’t your idea of fun, the marina also rents out pontoon boats, fishing boats, and stand-up paddle boards. Pedal carts and bikes can be rented out as well. There is a 3.75 mile walking and biking path around Lake Estes which connects to downtown. (Lake Estes Marina: hours and pricing)
The marina outfitted us with child-sized life jackets and paddles. I think the paddle was one of the keys to our success because it gave our 4.5-year-old a job to do, as well as an excuse to splash around.
When we first launched the boat, our 2.5-year-old wanted to sit on my lap, but the marina staff told us she had to sit on her own. I was happy (and a little surprised) she listened to them and fearlessly sat in the front of the kayak.
We’ve spotted elk countless times in Estes Park, but seeing them in the water while we were paddling around the lake was exciting.
After our boating adventure, we dried off by playing at the playground located next to the marina. There are several picnic tables too, so we grabbed one to eat a snack at.
Kayaking + playground + picnic was definitely a winning combination for our family. We all enjoyed our time at Lake Estes, and we are glad that we pushed ourselves a bit to try out a new sport.
Have you tried any new sports or activities as a family this summer? I’d love some more ideas.
The drive up to the Alpine Ridge Trail is an adventure. If you begin on the East side of Rocky Mountain National Park, you have the choice of driving up Old Fall River Road or Trail Ridge Road. Both routes are inside of Rocky Mountain National Park, so you need to purchase a park pass.
Old Fall River Road
We opted for the Old Fall River Road route where you can go one-way, and that is up. The road begins near the Endovalley picnic area and leads to the Alpine Visitor Center and the Alpine Ridge Trail. The gravel road is eleven miles long. You can expect tight turns and slow speeds. (The speed limit is only 15 mph.) The road is open seasonally and can close at any time for poor weather conditions. It’s a good idea to check the National Park Service’s Road Status Report before heading up. You can avoid crowds and afternoon storms by starting early.
One of the highlights along the road is Chasm Falls which is hidden from view. There is a small pull-out with enough room for a handful of cars to park. The trail leading down to the viewing deck is short and steep. If you can find a spot, Chasm Falls is worth stopping for. I included it as one of our best waterfall hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.
above tree line
Old Fall River Road takes you above the tree line. The views from this road are spectacular. Many times on our journey we have spotted elk. Eventually you connect to the parking lot of the Alpine Visitors Center where parking is competitive.
Alpine visitors center
The Alpine Visitors Center is a great place to use the restroom, shop for souvenirs, take pictures, grab a snack, and ask park rangers any questions you have about the tundra. It’s usually noticeably colder and windier at this altitude, so we add on a layer of clothing before walking around.
If you are looking for a fun and inexpensive activity/souvenir, my girls enjoyed picking out postcards for their friends back home at the gift shop. There is a post office in downtown Estes Park where you can purchase stamps and send them.
Alpine Ridge Trail
I’ve always noticed people hiking up the Alpine Ridge trail, but this was the first time we decided to make the hike up. It helped that we had a warm day with low winds.
The hike is only .3 miles each way. Concrete stairs climb to the top. You start at high elevation and end up at even higher elevation, so even the short distance is a cardio challenge. My 4-year-old was able to make it on her own, but my 2-year-old got to ride on her Dad’s shoulders. I appreciate that the National Park Service places educational signage along the trail to help explain what you are looking at, why you are out of breath, and what they are doing to protect the natural environment surrounding us.
From this perspective, you can see Old Fall River road winding up the mountain.
The wildflowers were blooming on the tundra which is a delicate landscape. This area is roped off to encourage crowds to stay on the path.
There were several groupings of large rocks that my girls enjoyed climbing on.
The elevation at the top is 12,005 ft. above sea level. You can see for miles! I’m happy we took the time to take the small trek up the trail. It was something our whole family enjoyed. If you like this tundra hike, I also recommend reading our post on the Ute Trail.
Trail Ridge Road
We took Trail Ridge Road back down the mountain towards Estes Park. This trail is far less rustic than Old Fall River Road. We enjoyed views of the mountains and spotting a herd of elk playing in the snow.