Lunch with a View: 5 Great Spots to Enjoy a Picnic in Rocky Mountain National Park This Fall

It’s officially fall! I can’t think of a better way to take in the splendor of the autumn colors than a picnic in Rocky Mountain National Park. There are over 25 picnicking areas listed on the National Park’s website. Here are some of our favorites:

Upper beaver meadows

The Upper Beaver Meadows area is a new find for us this year. It is quickly becoming one of our favorite picnic spots because it seems less crowded than other areas of the park, has gorgeous views, and fun rocks for our kids to climb around. There are 10 picnic tables available. There is also a vault toilet (which seems important to point out to my fellow potty trainers).

Upper Beaver Meadows picnic
Upper Beaver Meadows picnic area

You can read more about Upper Beaver Meadows hiking trails here.

Lily Lake

Views of Longs Peak and Estes Cone reflect off the water of Lily Lake. Lily Lake is one of my favorite spots to practice photography. You can take a stroll around the lake and enjoy a picnic at one of the 4 picnic tables. An additional 12 tables are available for group rental a quarter mile down the trail. The group picnic spot feels more secluded. There is a vault toilet in the parking area.

Lily Lake in the autumn, Rocky Mountain National Park
Lily Lake in the autumn

Lily Lake is one of the spots we visit most often, here is one of our oldest posts about Lily Lake and here is a post I wrote last month.

sprague lake

If I had to choose just one picnic spot, I’d recommend Sprague Lake. The views of the golden aspens and continental divide can’t be beat. We often see people bird-watching and fishing in this lake. We’ve also spotted a moose here. Plus, there are 27 picnic spots and several benches by the lake where you could eat your lunch right on the water. There are summer flush toilets/winter vault toilets in the parking area.

Sprague Lake in the fall. Rocky Mountain National Park top destinations
Sprague Lake

Want to know more about Sprague Lake? I posted about it here.

coyote valley

My first few choices were on the East side of Rocky Mountain National Park near the town of Estes Park, Colorado. Coyote Valley is on the West side of the park. Coyote Valley has a family-friendly hiking trail along the Colorado River in the Kawuneeche Valley. This is a great place to spot wildlife. There are 7 picnic tables available. There are no toilets.

picnics in rocky mountain national park
Coyote Valley picnic

Read more about the Coyote Valley here.

lake irene

Lake Irene is located off of Trailridge Road on the West side of Rocky Mountain National Park. The lake is mostly surrounded with evergreen trees, so the fall colors won’t be as visible. However, if you are going on a scenic drive and are looking for a peaceful place to stop, this is an ideal spot. There are 8 picnic tables. There is also a vault toilet near the parking lot.

Lake Irene Rocky Mountain National Park
Lake Irene

We recently enjoyed a hike around Lake Irene. You can read all about it here.

building your ITINERARY

Some of our most popular posts include 1 day itineraries of what to do in Rocky Mountain National Park. What I appreciate most about these top picnic destinations is the ability to ‘park and play’. By this I mean, once you get to your destination you can add on a hike, bird-watching, fishing, photography, scenic drive, or other outdoor recreational activity to transform a simple picnic into an enjoyable half-day adventure.

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

Peaceful Hike to East Meadow in Rocky Mountain National Park

On our most recent visit to Rocky Mountain National Park, we did something that we’ve wanted to do for a long time – we staid a night on the West side of the park near Grandby and Grand Lake, Colorado. (Up until now, we’ve always staid in Estes Park, which is on the East side of RMNP.)

We spent our time in Grand Lake splashing in the largest natural lake in Colorado, eating pizza at White Buffalo, and hiking to East Meadow where we spotted a moose.

East Meadow and Adams Fall hike in Rocky Mountain National Park's West side.

The hike to East Meadow begins at the East Inlet trailhead at 8,390 ft in elevation. From here you can see Grand Lake in the distance.

Adams Falls and East Meadow Hike is near Grand Lake, Colorado

One of the reasons we chose this destination is because our daughters (ages 4 and 2) can hike most of it on their own. The total distance is close to 3 miles round trip.

Adams Falls hike in Rocky mountain national park is a kid-friendly, family-friendly hike

We followed the East Inlet trail for .3 miles to Adams Falls where there is a viewing deck. The waterfall is a popular destination for park visitors, but once we passed the falls, the trail became much less crowded.

Adams Falls is a top destination on the West Side of Rocky Mountain National Park
Click here to watch more of the waterfall.

After enjoying the waterfall, we climbed the path to the side of the falls to meet back up to the East Inlet trail. This is a steeper section of the trail where we held on tight to our children’s hands.

Adams Falls hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

We followed trail signage towards Lone Pine Lake. The trail levels as you walk through a pine forest.

Adams Falls and East Meadow hike is an easy hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

Soon we arrived at an open meadow where families were fishing and playing in the stream.

East Meadow is a good spot for fishing in Rocky Mountain National Park

One of my favorite things about hiking in July are the colorful wildflowers. My least favorite are the mosquitoes. I always forget to bring bug spray.

Wildflowers bloom off the trail leading to East Meadow

Even pesky mosquitoes didn’t stop us. We continued on to East Meadow which was beautiful – the contrast between the wide open blue skies and the lush, green meadow was striking.

A river snakes through the East Meadow. East Meadow is a great place to spot wildlife including moose in Rocky Mountain National Park
Click here to see a full view of the meadow. Did you see the moose?

We spotted a mother deer and her twin fawns several times on our hike.

Deer are seen on the way to East Meadow in Rocky Mountain National Park

Perhaps they were curious what our two girls were singing as they walked along the trail.

East Meadow is a family friendly hike in Rocky Mountain National Park

The hike to the East Meadow featured waterfalls, mountain streams, moose, deer, wildflowers, and boulders for our girls to climb. This was the perfect hike to start our family vacation.

Additional Articles about Rocky Mountain’s West Side:

Crossing the Divide—Bear Lake to Grand Lake Traverse

4 Great Reasons to Visit Grand Lake, Colorado with Kids

A Perfect Picnic at Coyote Valley

4th of July Weekend in Estes Park, Colorado

I can’t believe that next week we will be celebrating 4th of July! If you are heading to Estes Park, Colorado, I looked back through our ‘archives’ to see what we’ve done on this holiday weekend over the past several years.

From firework displays to waterfall hikes, we’ve always had a blast. A lot of people complain about the crowds this time of year, but the key is just getting up early. We aim to get into the park before 7:00am. I also have a few suggestions for trails that are typically less crowded.

4th of July in Estes Park Colorado

FIREWORKS HIKE

We took an evening hike starting at the Lumpy Ridge trail head up to a spot that looks over Lake Estes to watch Estes Park’s annual fireworks show at 9:30pm. After the spectacular display, we hiked back down the trail with a large group of people who had the same idea. It was magical to see the trail lit up by headlamps. My preschooler thought it was the coolest thing because she got to stay up WAY past her bedtime. It was one of the most memorable 4th of July’s we’ve had (ever).

Estes Park Fireworks Show

Hike in the Wild basin

The Wild Basin area of Rocky Mountain National Park is located approximately 19 miles south of Estes Park on highway 7. The Wild Basin area is more remote than other areas of the park. There is not shuttle service to this area. Even though it is more remote, you will still need to arrive early to find a parking spot, but we’ve been lucky to find spots there even on 4th of July weekend several times.

Once you turn off the highway, drive down narrow dirt roads to get to the Wild Basin trail head. You can walk to Copeland Falls (.3 miles/way) and Calypso Cascades (1.8 miles/way) which are some of our favorite family-friendly waterfall hikes.

Less Busy Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

The Pool is another hike we’ve enjoyed over the 4th of July weekend. This trail is located in the Moraine Valley area of RMNP. I love that you can shorten the hike by stopping at Arch Rocks or extend it by going on to Fern Falls. I wrote more details in this post.

Alluvial Fan

The Alluvial Fan is a “waterfall” (created by the lawn lake flood in 1982) located right off Old Fall River Road near Horseshoe Park in Rocky Mountain National Park. This is a fun spot to explore. I recommend packing a picnic because there are several picnic spots nearby.

Alluvial Fan

Lake Estes

A walking trail goes around Lake Estes and leads to downtown Estes Park. There is a playground, picnic spots, fishing, and boat rental. You can learn more about the fees, hours, and rentals on their website.

Trail Ridge Road & Grand Lake, Colorado

As I write this post (June 26, 2019) Trail Ridge road is closed because of a late-season snow storm. The scenic highway that connects the East and West sides of Rocky Mountain National Park is typically open this time of year and will hopefully re-open in time for the holiday. Visitors can call 970 586-1222 to get updated information.

You can spend a full day on Trail Ridge Road if you stop at the many outlooks to take pictures and spot wildlife. The Alpine Visitors Center is awesome for lunch, bathroom breaks, shopping, and breathtaking views!

We enjoy going all the way over to Grand Lake, Colorado to walk along the shore of the largest natural lake in Colorado, play on the playground, and eat ice cream while strolling around the scenic mountain town. I wrote more about Grand Lake here.

Trail Ridge Road Open for Season? or is Trail Ridge Road Closed?

Additional POSTS to HELP Plan Your 4th of July Trip to Rocky Mountain National Park

Waterfalls, Wildflowers, Weather and Wine – Why I love the Rocky Mountains in July

A Trail Less Traveled

Get the Most Out of Your Rocky Mountain Vacation by Avoiding Crowds, Bugs and Car Sick Kiddos