Fall in Rocky Mountain National Park

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.

Fall Festivals

The city of Estes Park has events taking place throughout the fall including the Elk Fest and the Pumpkins & Pilsners Festival. (more)

Haunted tours

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.

Aspen lined tree leading to Alberta Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park
Trail leading to Alberta Falls
October snow - walking along Estes Park Riverwalk
October snow – walking along Estes Park Riverwalk
Golden aspens in Rocky Mountain National Park
Golden aspens
Fall in Rocky Mountain National Park looking towards Hallett Peak
Views looking towards Hallett Peak
Elk in Estes Park, Colorado
Elk in downtown Estes Park
Elk Rut season in Rocky Mountain National Park
Elk Rut Season
Fall Hike to Gem Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park
Hike to Gem Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park
View of Longs Peak on a crisp October morning
View of Longs Peak
Autumn views in Rocky Mountain National Park
Autumn views in Rocky Mountain National Park
Sprague Lake
Sprague Lake
Sunrise from Mary's Lake resort in Estes Park, CO
Autumn sunrise from Mary’s Lake resort in Estes Park, CO
Historic Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado
Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado

Kayaking Lake Estes

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)

Lake Estes marina outfitted us with child-sized life jackets and paddles

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.

We rented 2-person kayaks for an hour at Lake Estes Marina.

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.

Kayaking on Lake Estes

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.

Serene Family-Friendly Walk Around Lake Irene in Rocky Mountain National Park

Lake Irene is located off of Trail Ridge Road approximately 5 miles south of the Alpine Visitors Center. This peaceful lake is one of our favorite spots in Rocky Mountain National Park to eat a picnic lunch.

Amenities include a small parking lot, restrooms, and several picnic tables.

Lake Irene is located off of Trail Ridge Road approximately 5 miles south of the Alpine Visitors Center.

You can take an easy stroll around the lake.

Lake Irene Overlook trail

A little beyond the lake you will find signage pointing to an overlook.

Lake Irene Overlook

From the overlook, you can see a meadow with mountains in the distance. I’ll admit that this view isn’t the most spectacular you will find in Rocky Mountain National Park, but the competition here is world-class.

Quiet place within rocky mountain national park

The area is lush and green.

Lake Irene offers family-friendly hiking destination

Although the trail is not accessible for wheelchairs or strollers, the short hike does not gain much elevation. Our preschooler was able to walk most of the .8 mile distance on her own.

the trail around Lake Irene is surrounded by pine trees

With some help from Dad.

Kids cross over wooden bridges on the trail that goes around Lake Irene

Our two-year-old also enjoyed walking for portions of the trail. For our young family, Lake Irene offers a serene spot to enjoy lunch and just enough adventure to ensure the whole family is having a fun and memorable experience.

Lake Irene is located on the West side of RMNP. Here are some additional posts that feature destinations in this section of the park:

4 Great Reasons to Visit Grand Lake, Colorado with Kids

A Perfect Picnic at Coyote Valley

Peaceful Hike to East Meadow in Rocky Mountain National Park

Highlight Hike: Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park

My husband Eric and I were thrilled to have the opportunity to go on a more challenging hike during our last trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. His amazing sister not only offered to watch the girls for the morning, but also sat through hours of us deliberating about which hike we would choose. There are so many hikes that have been on our wish-list, it was difficult to decide. We finally agreed to attempt Sky Pond because we had hiked to Timberline Falls in the past, but for weather-related reasons, had never made it beyond the falls.

Alberta Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park
Alberta Falls is less than a mile from Bear Lake trailhead

We woke up early to get to the park by 6:00am. We found a parking spot at Bear Lake and began our hike towards Alberta Falls which is one of the most popular destinations in RMNP.

Trail leading up to The Loch

We continued on the trail past the falls towards The Loch.

The Loch

We arrived at The Loch, a peaceful lake surrounded by pine trees and filled with beautiful trout. We followed along the right bank. This is a popular destination, so it was nice to be there early and have it largely to ourselves.

Trail past the Loch

Beyond The Loch you pass over a mountain stream. This is a relatively flat section of the trail.

Timberline Falls in the distance
Timberline Falls in the distance

Soon the hike becomes more challenging as you quickly gain elevation heading towards Timerline Falls. In this section we spotted female elk and a marmot.

Timberline Falls cascades

We arrived at Timberline Falls, a breathtaking waterfall with sweeping views.

View from Timberline Falls
Trail to Sky Pond goes up Timberline Falls

The first time I saw the sign pointing to Sky Pond, I thought it must be a mistake. I didn’t expect to hike up a running waterfall.

We got some good advice from Erik Stensland’s hiking guide to climb ‘up the gash in the rock’ and ‘don’t worry about getting wet; just go slowly.’ This proved to be a helpful tip, and even though our feet got fairly wet, it made for a manageable scramble.

Lake of Glass

After we made it up the waterfall, the path continued on to the Lake of Glass.

Past Lake of Glass

I found it a little difficult to see the trail between this lake and Sky Pond, but the scenery around us was nothing short of spectacular.

Above Timberline Falls on trail to Sky Pond
approaching Sky Pond
wildflowers blooming in Rocky Mountain National Park
wildflowers blooming
Sharktooth spires tower over Sky Pond
Sharkstooth spires
Sky Pond hike in Rocky Mountain National Park
Sky Pond

When we finally made it to Sky Pond, I was very excited to rest and eat a snack before heading back. However, it was hard to fully soak in the beauty as I was feeling anxious, knowing that the way back down the waterfall would be more challenging than the way up.

It wasn’t graceful – I mostly slid on my backside so that I could see the foot holds ahead of me. Once safely down, the adrenaline (and relief!) left us feeling invigorated, so we decided to extend our adventure.

Lake Haiyaha

Instead of heading back the way we came, at the Loch/Mills Lake trail junction, we followed a loop trail to Lake Haiyaha, which is a beautiful green color and is studded with boulders. This section of trail was quiet and peaceful, but it was longer and more challenging than I expected, adding to the total elevation gain of the hike. (We climbed a total of approx. 2,200 ft.)

Nymph Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

After enjoying Lake Haiyaha, we continued down the mountain. The route gave us a glimpse of Dream Lake before rejoining the busier trail down to Nymph Lake, which was covered in beautiful pond lilies. From there it was a short walk back to the Bear Lake trailhead.

Hike route up to Sky Pond and down by Lake Haiyaha.

Eric wore a Garmin watch that tracked our hike from the Bear Lake trailhead to Sky Pond and back down via the alternative route by Lake Haiyaha. The total distance of our hike was just over 10.5 miles long.

This is now one of my all time favorite hikes. Not only did we get to see some of the most beautiful lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park, we also got to climb through a waterfall, an experience I’ll never forget!