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.

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

Great Reasons to Visit Grand Lake, Colorado with Kids

One of my friends recently asked if I would recommend bringing two young kids to Grand Lake, Colorado.

Grand Lake, Colorado

My answer is yes! The mountain town of Grand Lake has a ton to offer families who are seeking outdoor adventures. Grand Lake is located on the West side of Rocky Mountain National Park. If you love water, you will enjoy having Grand Lake, Shadow Mountain Lake, and Lake Granby all within a half hour drive.

Typically when we are visiting Grand Lake, we are coming from Estes Park and have been in the car for a long time. Town Square Park is a beautiful green space with a nice playground. The park is wonderful to burn off the energy from our car ride.

Ice cream in charming downtown Grand Lake, Colorado

Downtown Grand Lake has numerous shops and restaurants to explore. We love grabbing an ice cream cone and walking along the shore of Grand Lake, the largest natural lake in Colorado.

The mountain lakes are wonderful, but I’m also impressed by the colorful displays of flowers around town. It feels very welcoming. Local residents seem to take great pride in their beautiful home.

Grand Lake Colorado is simply beautiful!

grand lake is less busy

Grand Lake is typically less busy than Estes Park, which is located on the East side of the national park. This means you will most likely benefit from shorter lines at the national park entrance and less trouble finding parking spots downtown.

outdoor adventures abound

Outdoor adventures in Grand Lake, Colorado include water recreation such as boating, swimming, sailing, and paddle boarding.

Grand Lake beach

Although there are adventures to be had year-round in Grand Lake, some top attractions are only open seasonally including Trail Ridge Road. The scenic highway typically opens at the end of May depending on the weather. You can learn about road conditions on the National Park’s website.

Hikes Near Grand Lake, Colorado

Some of our favorite family-friendly hiking spots near Grand Lake include:

Coyote Valley
Lake Irene
Adams Falls and East Meadow

If you are looking for a challenge, you can cross over the continental divide from Bear Lake to Grand Lake. You can read about the 18 mile hike here.

more to explore!

There are many hikes, picnic spots, and attractions we haven’t had a chance to explore yet including the Holzwarth Historic Site.

Did you know Rocky Mountain National Park has its own podcast? We listened to an episode titled, “Getting Wild on Rocky’s West Side” which was a great resource for learning more about Holzwarth. Additional resources when planning a trip to Grand Lake include grandlakechamber.com and visitgrandcounty.com.

Grand Lake is great for families
Grand Lake – toddler fun