Old Fall River road is a gravel road that travels one-way from the Endovalley Picnic Area all the way up to the Alpine Visitor Center in Rocky Mountain National Park. Because of extreme weather conditions at this altitude, the road is typically only available to drive up during the summer months. In 2021, it is scheduled to close to vehicles beginning October 4 according to the national park’s website.
Driving up Old Fall River Road can feel treacherous because it is so narrow. Plus, once you start, you can’t turn back. However, the drive is slow paced (in fact the speed limit is 15 miles per hour). There are stunning views on the way up to the Alpine Visitor Center. Don’t miss Chasm Falls which I wrote about here.
Rocky mountain national park wildlife
We spotted wildlife on the tundra including fuzzy marmots basking in the morning sunlight. We noticed an unmarked trail on the final stretch of the drive and decided to pull over and explore.
Our kids who are ages 4 and 6 were able to hike this on their own. We all loved our new discovery! There is another short hike that leaves from the Alpine Visitor Center called the Alpine Ridge Trail. We’ve enjoyed that trail in the past, but I liked this one even more because it’s much less popular.
Getting back to Estes Park
After visiting the Alpine Visitor Center, you can travel back down the mountain towards Estes Park on Trail Ridge Road.
Okay, it’s not actually our honeymoon -we’ve been married for nine years (go us!) and we will have our kids with us on our upcoming trip to Estes Park, Colorado. However, we have an awesome sister willing to watch our kids so that my husband and I can go on a hike together. This is really rare for us, so we are thrilled.
The last time we went on what I call a ‘honeymoon hike’ was in July of 2019. On that trip we climbed through Timberlane Falls to get to the spectacular Sky Pond.
Sky Pond will be hard to beat. The hikes we are considering for our next adventure include Black Lake, Sandbeach Lake, Chasm Lake and Mt. Ida.
Mills Lake is one of my favorite hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park and it is on the way to Black Lake which makes this destination very appealing. Beyond Mills Lake we would pass by Jewel Lake and Ribbon Falls. The hike is right under 10 miles in length which is ideal for me. My husband is happy to hike up to 20 miles, so we will need to compromise on the length. The biggest negative is that the hike is located within the Bear Lake corridor which is the most popular area of Rocky Mountain National Park. Timed-entry permits are required for entry between 5am to 6pm in this area. The permits go fast, so we haven’t been able to obtain one yet. That means I need to wake up really early to get there before 5am, or we can hope to get one of the limited permits that are held for purchase the day prior at 5 p.m. through recreation.gov.
‘Bring your beach towel, sunscreen, and a good book, as this is a great place to enjoy both the mountains and the beach well away from the busy crowds to be found elsewhere.’ says local photographer, Erik Stensland, in his RMNP hiking guide book. Stensland rates this hike as strenuous at 8.7 miles round-trip.
The Sandbeach trailhead is located in the Wild Basin area of Rocky Mountain National Park. This area is typically much less visited than the Bear Lake corridor which means we’d have some flexibility on arrival time. Reservations are required before 9am in this section of the park. I’m a big fan of sleeping, so this is a major benefit for me. My husband doesn’t mind waking up ultra early to reach a peak at dawn. If I want this hike to be our top-choice, I might have to pack a can of local lager for him to sip on this mountain beach. Cheers!
My husband hiked near Chasm Lake this winter. Because of the snowy conditions, he didn’t go the whole way, but he went far enough to know that this hike looks amazing. This 8.8 mile hike is rated 5 out of 5 stars on Alltrails.com. It features a waterfall. Recent hikers called it ‘stunning’, ‘challenging but worth it’, and a ‘quintessential Colorado trail’. Reviewers suggested to bring bug spray and arrive early because the parking lot gets filled early (5am) by hikers going up to Longs Peak.
‘Hands down this is the best hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. The views from the summit are simply epic.’ It’s hard to ignore this recommendation from rockymountaintrails.com. Besides the epic recommendation, another positive for this hike is we wouldn’t need the Bear Lake corridor pass. My only hesitation is the trailhead is at Milner Pass which is a further drive (an hour) from our cabin in Estes Park. However, I bet the early morning drive over Trail Ridge Road would be beautiful. We would want to get an early start because this hike is above tree line. I don’t want to be caught up in an afternoon thunderstorm. Speaking of weather, according to the 10 day forecast we have a 50% change of scattered thunderstorms. We will be keeping our eye on the weather and hope for clear skies.
Besides the hike with my husband, I’m looking forward to adventures with my sister-in-law, having fun with our girls, and even enjoying a little self-pampering during our upcoming trip.
My sister-in-law loves to go shopping, so I’m excited to browse some of the shops along the Riverwalk. Some of my favorite shops include Trenz at the Park, Macdonald Bookshop, and Mary Jane’s.
Our girls (ages 4 and 6) have never played mini-golf, so I think this could be a fun time to try it out. There are several mini-golf spots to choose from in Estes Park. I also want to take them to Penelope’s World Famous Burgers and Fries for a sundae treat.
For ‘me-time’, I’m looking forward to getting my hair cut at Glow Salon and Spa. I also love to catch up on my reading list on vacation. I’m bringing Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate, The Rose Code by Kate Quinn, and Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid.
Today I’m sharing about a recent day trip from Estes Park, Colorado to Grand Lake, Colorado. We typically make this voyage several times each summer because we enjoy it so much.
We always rise early to start our mountain adventures, but this year we have an extra reason to get an early start. Rocky Mountain National Park’s new timed-entry permit system is designed to help regulate traffic. If you get into the park before 9:00 AM or after 3PM, you don’t need to worry about a permit to drive over to Grand Lake. However, you still need a park entry pass. There is more information on the national park’s website.
We traveled over Trail Ridge Road to the Alpine Visitor Center. When we went in early June, the seasonal highway had just opened so the snow was still piled high from a recent storm.
We didn’t realize that the Alpine Visitor Center has reduced hours in the late spring, so we waited around a little bit until they opened the doors at 10:30 AM. (Starting June 13, the doors open at 9:30 AM). At the visitor center we purchased a RMNP animals themed puzzle and some postcards to send to friends and family back home. We also enjoyed a cinnamon roll and hot chocolate in the cafe.
As we continued our drive down Trail Ridge Road towards Grand Lake, Colorado, it was shocking to see the wrath of the 2020 wildfires that burned 30,000 acres of the national park. Even though the fires are no longer roaring, some areas remain dangerous because of higher risks for falling trees, landslides, and flash flooding. Before planning a hike, it’s a good idea to check the National Park’s website for current closed areas (here) and to visit park visitors centers to get the latest trail information.
The fire not only impacted the forest, but also the people who live nearby. An art exhibit called Troublesome Stories: Tales from the wildfire opened in the town of Grand Lake. The gallery is free to the public. You can learn more here.
We were relieved to see that the hike into the East Meadow was open. The hike to East Meadow begins at the East Inlet trailhead at 8,390 ft in elevation. We followed the East Inlet trail for .3 miles to Adams Falls.
Past the falls and into the meadow, we spotted a moose in the distance.
Grand lake colorado restaurants
We spent a little time in the meadow before turning around to head back to the trailhead. We worked up an appetite on our hike and decided to try a new Caribbean restaurant called One Love Rum Kitchen. We were able to get a picnic table outside where we enjoyed our meal. My husband and I enjoyed the flavorful blend of spices that they used to season the food. Our kids prefer basic flavors.
Next, we strolled down to Grand Lake where the girls (ages 4 and 6) enjoyed splashing in the water and playing in sand. This was the highlight of the day for them.
Our last stop was for a scoop of ice cream at Grand Lake Chocolates. Then we started our journey back over Trail Ridge Road to our cabin in Estes Park. The distance between Estes Park and Grand Lake is 46.5 miles and when I googled it this morning, it says it takes an hour and a half. I would plan for at least two hours each way because of traffic and sight-seeing.
It has been a few years since I wrote out a suggested itinerary for Rocky Mountain National Park, so today I’m excited to share a mini itenerary that I think is ideal for families with young children.
Animals in Rocky Mountain National Park
If I’m honest, the person who gets the most excited about spotting animals in Rocky Mountain National Park is me. But our kids enjoy spotting wildlife too, and one of the best places to see wildlife is at Sheep Lakes which is located near the Fall River Entrance Station on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park (by Estes Park, Colorado).
When we visited the park in early June, we spotted more bighorn sheep than we’ve ever seen! We also saw a bull moose, elk, and a coyote in the field. Sometimes traffic on the road has to stop so the animals can safely cross. There is a parking lot where you will see excited visitors practicing their wildlife photography with impressive zoom lenses. Or you can be like me and pull out your iPhone to take a quick photo. Either way, it’s a really cool experience and there are usually park rangers stationed at Sheep Lakes to answer questions and help protect visitors and animals by ensuring no one gets too close. Remember, animals need their space.
Best Hikes in Rocky mountain national park For Families
Right down the road from Sheep Lakes you will find the Alluvial Fan which has always been one of our favorite kid-friendly waterfall hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. Thanks to recent renovations, this destination has become even more accessible and beautiful. According to a recent story in the Denver Post, ‘The trail surface is made of FilterPave, which feels solid underfoot — sort of like a backyard patio floor — but is porous to allow for drainage.’
The National Park’s website describes the Alluvial Fan as ‘a beautiful cascade of water flowing down through a boulder field.’ The Alluvial Fan was created when a dam broke at Lawn Lake in 1892.
3 great ways to add on to this adventure
Before arriving in the national park, consider stopping at the Fall River Visitor Center which is located right off Hwy 36. The visitor center has educational displays about the park and helpful staff to answer questions. The visitor center is attached to a huge gift shop and Trailhead Restaurant. This is a great spot to order breakfast and sit on the back deck that overlooks Deer Mountain. We also appreciate the fenced in playground next to the restaurant. At the Gateway, there is a stable where visitors can go on guided rides into Rocky Mountain National Park. I wrote about my horseback riding experience here.
Another way to add on to an outing to the Alluvial Fan is to bring a picnic lunch to the nearby Endovalley Picnic Area. Picnic lunches are one of our favorite family-friendly activities in Rocky Mountain National Park. We wrote about five more of our favorite picnic spots here.
My last suggestion for an add-on adventure is to drive up Old Fall River Road to the Alpine Visitor Center. This is a narrow, one-way road that starts at the Endovalley Picnic Area and winds all the way up into the tundra at Fall River Pass. Make sure to stop at Chasm Falls on the way up. Since it is one-way, you take Trail Ridge Road back down towards Estes Park. There are many pull-outs to take pictures and trails to go on breathtaking hikes on the tundra. Old Fall River Road is seasonal. It typically is open to vehicles July 4 through September, however even in the summer, it’s always a good idea to check on road and weather conditions before taking this journey.
When the road is closed to vehicle traffic, visitors use the trail for walking, jogging, and biking. Dogs aren’t allowed on trails in RMNP, but since this is a road, it is one of the few places that dogs are welcome to go on a hike with you inside the national park. We wrote about our hike up Old Fall River Road here.