Waterfalls Galore in Rocky Mountain National Park’s Wild Basin

Calypso Cascades is a short hike in Rocky Mountain National Park's Wild Basin. Calypso Cascades hike features waterfalls and wild flowers.

We just got back from an amazing week in the mountains. I can’t wait to share all about our experience with the new timed-entry reservation system, how we chose which hikes to go on, and a few tips sprinkled in. This post also features trail details and pictures of Calypso Cascades, one of our favorite spots in Rocky Mountain National Park.

rocky mountain national park timed-entry

Rocky Mountain National Park has a new reservation system. We chose the 6:00 am to 8:00 am entry time for each day of our trip. People can go into the park before 6:00 am and after 5:00 pm without a reservation, so parking can still be limited in popular areas. Overall, the experience was easy and we appreciated that there was less traffic in the park.

wild basin is less crowded

We chose to hike in the Wild Basin for our first hike of the trip because we expected it to be less busy given it’s more remote location. The Wild Basin is located approximately 19 miles south of Estes Park on Highway 7. Once you turn off the highway, the drive turns into a bumpy, narrow dirt road leading towards the Wild Basin trail head. There is no shuttle service in this area of the park. Even though it is typically less busy, the parking lot still filled up around 8:00 am (on a Sunday in July). Luckily, we found a parking space around the corner from the main parking area.

If you are having a hard time deciding which hikes to try in Rocky Mountain National Park, I created a fun chart to help you decide.

wild basin is lower in elevation (8,500 ft)

The elevation is lower in the Wild Basin than other areas of the national park which was helpful for our first day on the trails as we acclimated to the higher altitude.

Waterfalls in the Wild Basin area of Rocky Mountain National Park

wild basin waterfalls

There are several destinations you can reach from the Wild Basin trail head. We decided to hike to Calypso Cascades because it is relatively short at 1.8 miles each way. The trail begins flat and wide with towering pine trees. At .3 miles into the hike, you will pass Copeland Falls. There is signage pointing to the upper and lower falls. There have been several occasions that we stopped right at this point because of weather or tired kids.

Calypso Cascades is a top hike  located in Wild Basin of Rocky Mountain National Park.
Calypso Cascades

But we were having a good day so we continued the hike which begins to steadily gain in elevation. (You climb 780 ft total). There is a picturesque wooden bridge over the cascades which is a wonderful place to take in the scenery or get a family photo. For hikers who want more of a challenge, you can continue on to Ouzel Falls. This time we stopped for a snack after the bridge and headed back down the trail the way we came.

kid carrier for hiking

Our 5-year-old hiked to Calypso Cascades on her own without much trouble or complaints. Our 3-year-old rode in a kid-carrier. We own a Deuter kid carrier like this one which we purchased when our oldest child turned one and a half years old. My husband is the parent who takes on the challenge of carrying our daughter on his shoulders. Carrying an extra 30 pounds up a mountain is tough, but at least the carrier helps distribute the child’s weight so he is more comfortable. My daughter enjoys sitting up high to see the views. A carrier feels safer than carrying a child when they are too tired to walk on their own because it frees up adult hands to catch yourself in case you trip or stumble. Buying our own kid carrier has been a good investment because we have used it for both girls and also shared it with friends and family. However, if you don’t want to buy a kid carrier, you can rent them at Estes Park Mountain Shop.

Kid Carrier for hiking
Make sure to get a kid carrier with a rain roof for unexpected mountain rain storms

pack layers (And Masks) when hiking in the mountains

We enjoyed the cooler mountain temperatures. Many days we started off in sweatshirts or jackets in the morning and took off layers by afternoon when temperatures rose into the 80’s.

We also started our hikes with face masks by the trail head and parking lot, but took them off when we could keep a minimum of six foot distance from fellow hikers. The state of Colorado currently has a face mask mandate for COVID-19.

Wildflowers bloom in the summer months in Rocky Mountain National Park's Wild Basin area

The forest, summer wildflowers, wooden bridges, and waterfalls all make the hike to Calypso Cascades a unique experience.

related posts you might enjoy

Best Waterfall Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Sweeping Mountain Views and Waterfalls – Our Favorite New Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park’s Wild Basin

Family Friendly Waterfall Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park’s Wild Basin

Into the Wild Basin (featuring Ouzel Falls)

*This post contains an affiliate link for kid carrier. Thank you for your support!

Planning Our July Trip to Rocky Mountain National Park

Growing up my Nana claimed that after the 4th of July holiday, summer always flies by. I’m not ready for this summer to be over, so I’m hoping our upcoming trip to Rocky Mountain National Park will slow down time. I can’t wait to relax in the mountains before we have to worry about the uncertainty of the 2020 school year. (Plus, I may be in denial that my oldest is starting kindergarten).

dream hike

I have a long list of hikes I want to attempt during our upcoming trip to the mountains. Dream Lake is at the top of my list. The hike begins at Bear Lake trail head in Rocky Mountain National Park. The first section climbs uphill. Soon you arrive at Nymph Lake which is known for it’s lake lilies. The hike up also includes mountain views and a waterfall.

The total distance is 1.1 miles each way. We’ve hiked to Dream Lake several times as a family, but this will be the first time my 5-year-old daughter will hike it on her own. Other hikes on my wish list include Hollowell Park, Calyspo Cascades in the Wild Basin, and Black Canyon Trail in the Lumpy Ridge area of RMNP.

Rocky Mountain National Park has a new timed entry system. We reserved early morning spots for each day of our trip through recreation.gov. It will be interesting to see how the new system affects traffic in these popular hiking destinations.

Dream Lake Rocky Mountain National Park
Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

dream Drive

I’m also eager to explore the Alpine Tundra. Our plan is to drive up Old Fall River Road and connect to Trail Ridge Road. Potential hikes along our way include the Tundra Community Trail and Poudre Lake.

The views on the tundra are incredible. In the past we’ve hiked the Alpine Ridge Trail and a portion of the Ute Trail. I highly recommend both.

Hiking on the Tundra in Rocky Mountain National Park

dream day trip

Although we will be spending most of our vacation in Estes Park, we want to take a day trip to Grand Lake, Colorado. Potential activities near Grand Lake include renting kayaks or hiking from the East Shore trail head. In the past we’ve enjoyed hiking the East Meadow and Coyote Valley. If you are looking for a place to stay on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park, I recommend checking out this spot in Granby.

Grand Lake Colorado

dream dinner with views

I’m excited to head up into the mountains where we can take advantage of the cooler temperatures. I’m on the lookout for restaurants with patios. Latitude 105 is at the top of my list. I also want to check out Dunraven’s new location near Lake Estes. We’ve listed all our favorite restaurants in Estes Park here.

dream dessert

We are pretty loyal to our favorite ice cream shop in Estes Park. I can’t wait to get a big scoop at Hayley’s!

Best Icecream in Estes Park, Colorado

kid-sized dreams

I asked my girls what they want to do on our trip. They said they want to get hot chocolate at Coffee on the Rocks and pick out a rock at the Red Rose Rock Shop next door.

Rock Shop Estes Park Colorado
Rock Shop in Estes Park, Colorado

finding balance

Beyond all of the fun dreams I have for our trip, I want to be intentional about the way I use my down time. I’m going to challenge myself to take significant breaks from social media feeds and news updates while I’m away, basically a social media detox. I’m going to focus on being in the moment out in nature and spending quality time with my family.

At the same time, I also want to come back with some awesome new content to share here. Last month we saw tremendous growth in traffic. I’m excited to see how many people are visiting and hopefully finding helpful information about Rocky Mountain National Park and Northwest Arkansas. Thank you for following!

Where Should I Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park?

Rocky mountain national park timed entry permit

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.

hike in Hermit Park to Kruger Rock near Estes Park, Colorado

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.

Bierstadt Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

You will find details about these destinations (and more!) in the following pages:

Best Rocky Mountain Hikes Under 2 Miles

Favorite 2-4 Mile Hikes

Favorite Rocky Mountain Hikes for Families: Beyond 4 Miles

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.

On the way to Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park

Articles we’ve written about these destinations:

Sky Pond

Twin Sisters

Flattop Mountain

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.”

Abner Sprague
Moose at Sprague Lake in Rocky Mountains
Sprague Lake

8 Must-See Attractions in Rocky Mountain National Park

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.”

Anita Desai

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

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.

Bear Lake

Alberta Falls

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.

Alberta Falls

Moraine Park

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.

Hike to Cub Lake in RMNP
Moraine Park

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.

Views from Gem Lake trail in Rocky Mountain National Park

Wild Basin

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.

Calypso Cascades

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.

Ute Trail – from Trail Ridge Road

Adams Falls

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.

Adams Falls

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. 

Learn more about Travel and Tourism week here.

Learn more about the destinations mentioned in this article

Bear Lake: Bear Lake, Dream Lake, Hallett Peak

Alberta Falls: Alberta Falls, Mills Lake, Sky Pond

Moraine Park: Moraine Park, Cub Lake, The Pool, Fern Falls

Gem Lake: Gem Lake, Black Canyon Trail

Wild Basin: Copeland Falls, Calypso Cascades and Ouzel Falls, Finch Lake TH

Trail Ridge Road: Alpine Ridge Trail, Ute Trail

Adams Falls: Adams Falls and East Meadow, (video)

Longs Peak: The Keyhole

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.