Planning a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park this summer? You need to make a reservation. The reservation will give you a two hour window to enter the park. The new system is designed to cut down on traffic and allow guests to practice social distancing. You can make a reservation on recreation.gov. There is a $2 online reservation fee in addition to the cost of park pass.
Keep in mind that the lines at the park entrances may be long, so for example if your timed entry is between 8:00 am and 10:00 am, I would avoid arriving last minute at 9:45 am. Also remember to print your pass and have it with you.
hiking near estes park, colorado
Visitors to Estes Park who do not have a reservation to Rocky Mountain National Park have several great trail options outside the park boundaries. If you don’t mind paying a fee, we recently hiked Kruger Rock in Hermit Park. The views are amazing!
Free adventures near Estes Park include walking or biking around the Lake Estes loop, climbing Lily Mountain, or hiking the Homer Rouse trail.
favorite hikes in Rocky mountain national park
Sometimes we spend hours debating which hike we should do during our limited time in Rocky Mountain National Park. The reality is, you can’t go wrong. To help make the decision a little easier, I put together a chart (see above) to narrow down the hikes that are best for you based on the number of miles you want to hike, the popularity of the trail, and type of destination such as lake, waterfall or summit.
You will find details about these destinations (and more!) in the following pages:
Sky Pond, Twin Sisters, and Flattop Mountain are some of my favorite hikes in the park, so I included them in my decision chart. I don’t classify these destinations as ‘family hikes’ because they are more strenuous. I recommend them to people looking for a fun challenge.
My list is just the beginning. There are countless adventures in and around Rocky Mountain National Park. I relate to the following quote by Abner Sprague, owner of Sprague Lake Lodge from 1910-1940.
‘If he (the guest) fails to see every nook and corner of the place on one visit, he comes year after year…. Our guests never get tired, the same old urge to visit spots seen more than once brings them back on their next vacation. They go home rested.”
May 3 – 9, 2020 is National Travel and Tourism week. Given our current travel restrictions in the United States, the U.S. Travel Association decided on the theme of ‘the Spirit of Travel cannot be broken.’
Since I heard the theme, I’ve been contemplating what the ‘spirit of travel’ means to me. I ran across this quote from novelist Anita Desai.
“Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.”
That’s it. I feel that a part of me is missing right now. The part of me that likes to travel, explore, find adventure, and plan trips. In a world where I can’t go to the grocery store without a face mask on, it seems silly to miss travel as much as I do. But, I do!
Must-See Attractions in Rocky Mountain National Park
It’s comforting to think the places you love become a part of who you are. In honor of travel week, I put together a list of must-see attractions in Rocky Mountain National Park.
This list includes the places I feel best represent the diverse landscapes of Rocky Mountain National Park. I chose spots that are accessible to most travelers (you don’t have to walk 10 miles to see them). Together, they showcase the dynamic spirit of Rocky Mountain National Park.
Bear Lake is a popular destination in Rocky Mountain National Park. The lake sits at 9,475 ft in elevation. Behind the lake, you can see an open view of Hallett Peak. Our kids love walking the half mile loop around Bear Lake. Starting from the Bear Lake trail head, hikers can access destinations like Dream Lake, Emerald Lake, and Hallett Peak.
You can hike to Alberta Falls from Bear Lake, but the shortest route starts from the Glacier Gorge trail head. The hike to the waterfall is less than a mile. After enjoying the magnificent waterfall, you can continue on to Mills Lake, The Loch, or even Sky Pond.
Moraine Park is one of our favorite places in RMNP to spot herds of elk. The Big Thompson River winds through the valley. Compared to other areas of the park, Moraine Valley is lower in elevation, so we typically choose hikes in this area when we are acclimating to high altitude. I recommend a hike to The Pool which leaves from the Fern Lake trail head or a hike to Cub Lake which starts at the Cub Lake trail head.
Gem Lake Trail
The Gem Lake trail begins at the Lumpy Ridge trail head. This area has unique rock formations that attract skilled rock climbers. This trail offers views of the Estes Valley and Rocky Mountains that are stunning. Another hike we enjoy in the Lumpy Ridge area is the Black Canyon trail.
The Wild Basin of Rocky Mountain National Park feels a bit more rugged. You will find towering trees, vibrant wildflowers, and waterfalls. From the Wild Basin trail head, you can hike to Copeland Falls, Calypso Cascades, and Ouzel Falls.
Trail Ridge Road
Trail Ridge Road is a scenic highway that connects Estes Park, Colorado to Grand Lake, Colorado. Along the way, there are several places to pull off to take in the sweeping views of the tundra. On this road trip, you will reach over 12,000 ft in elevation! The Alpine Visitor Center is a great place to stop for a restroom break, snack, souvenir shopping, and to learn more about the unique landscape.
Adams Falls is located on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park near the town of Grand Lake, Colorado. The hike to Adams Falls is only .3 miles each way. There is a viewing deck for visitors to see the falls from. From this spot, you can continue on to beautiful destinations like the East Meadow.
Longs Peak Viewpoint
Take a drive down Highway 7, and you will come to a vantage point of Longs Peak that is worth stopping to appreciate. At 14,259 feet in elevation, Longs Peak is the highest summit in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the places I am missing most. It is a part of me. Ocean views, mountain town, bustling city, desert landscape… what destination are you missing most? I hope you share in the comments.
Happy Valentine’s Day week! Last February, I wrote a post about 7 Romantic Things to Do in Estes Park. This post was one of our most popular last year, so I wanted to add 7 additional ideas for everyone planning romantic trips out to Estes Park.
Watch the sunrise over the mountains – On Valentine’s Day, the sunrise should take place right at 7:00 am. Kind Coffee, one of our favorite local coffee shops, opens at 6:30 am. Grab a warm cup of your favorite caffeinated beverage, and take a quick stroll in the Centennial Open Space at Knoll-Willows which is located across the street from the historic Stanley Hotel. The space overlooks downtown Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park.
Not a morning person? This is a great spot in the evening too. Read more…
Hike to a frozen waterfall (or climb over a waterfall in the summer) – Taking a break from our hectic lives and spending time out in nature always brings us close as a couple. We recently took a winter hike to Alberta Falls which was frozen over. Sitting in the quiet, we could still hear the water rushing beneath the layers of snow and ice.
If you are looking for a thrilling waterfall hike, I loved our adventure to Sky Pond last summer. My husband and I had to climb through a waterfall together to make it to this dreamy destination. If you think waterfalls are as romantic as I do, here are some more of our favorite waterfall hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Play a board game at a local brewery – We have been thrilled to see the number of breweries expand in Estes Park over the last few years. One of our favorites is Rock Cut. This place feels cozy in the winter and inviting in the summer months. It’s a great place to challenge your significant other to a board game over a pint of local brew.
Go indoor rock climbing – Estes Park Mountain Shop has an indoor rock climbing gym that would make a fun and active winter date. You can find out more details about times and pricing on their website.
Star gaze – One of my favorite romantic times during our vacations in Estes Park, is when we put the kids to bed and sneak out to the back deck where we can enjoy a glass of wine, have a moment to talk, and gaze up at the star-filled night sky. For a closer look at the stars above, Estes Park also has an observatory. Book your spot in advance through angelsabove.org.
Sleep in – The thought of snuggling into a warm, cozy bed and sleeping in without an alarm or children to wake us up, sounds amazing to this mom of two little kids + fur baby. If you are looking for a great place to sleep-in, I hope you check out our place at Solitude Cabins for your next trip to the mountains.
I am not a fan of the cold, so it’s surprising how much I enjoy hiking in the snow. From snowshoeing to a mountain lake with my husband to kick off a New Year, to pulling on yaktraxs for extra traction on a hike to a frozen waterfall with our kids, some of the most memorable hikes we’ve done in Rocky Mountain National Park have been in the snow.
I’ve listed nine of our favorite wintry hikes in Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park along with links to articles that provide additional information. I also recommend checking out the National Park Service’s website for weather conditions, safety tips, and activities you can enjoy during colder months in the park.
At 8,080 ft of elevation there is substantially less snow in Moraine Park compared to areas of the park with higher altitude. The first stretch of the hike is in a valley where there is little protection from blasts of freezing wind, but the scenery is worth bundling up and getting out of your cozy cabin for.
Lily Lake is located 6 miles south of Estes Park on Highway 7, right across the street from Twin Sisters trail head. The elevation is 8,930 ft. The loop trail around the lake is flat with benches available for rest. The Lily Ridge trail takes you up 100 ft in elevation and adds .4 miles to hike. The slight elevation gain is rewarded with wide open views of Twin Sisters, Estes Cone, and Longs Peak
The Centennial Open Space at Knoll-Willows is located across the street from the historic Stanley Hotel. The open space is home to two historic structures. This is a great spot for a quick evening stroll to watch the sunset over downtown Estes Park.
The hike to Alberta Falls begins at the Glacier Gorge trail head which sits at 9,180 ft. in elevation. At this altitude, there can be a lot of snow and ice on the trail. The hike gains 220 ft of elevation and is a little under 1 mile each way.
The seasons in the mountains don’t go along with our calendar. One of the most enjoyable hikes we took last year was around Bear Lake on June 1st. The loop around Bear Lake is a half mile. Bear Lake sits at 9,475 ft of elevation which can take your breathe away if you aren’t acclimated. There are benches placed around the path to enjoy a moment of rest and take in the scenery.
The hike up Deer Mountain is 6.2 miles round-trip. The trail gains just over 1,200 feet of elevation. Along with having great views and being one of the more moderate summit hikes in the park, Deer Mountain is also one of the best year-round options due to it’s proximity to the park entrance (less icy roads to contend with) and the fact that the snow tends to blow off/melt out earlier here than in some of the other popular trail head areas, such as Bear Lake and Glacier Gorge.