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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
We just got back from a wonderful trip to Estes Park, Colorado and Rocky Mountain National Park. The national park had been closed to help stop the spread of Covid-19. Even though the park is now open, operations will be different this year. One of the biggest differences is visitors must obtain a time-entry permit through Recreation.gov. We purchased a season pass to the national park, and will also pay $2.00/day as a reservation fee. Here is a link to Frequently Asked Questions about Rocky Mountain National Park’s new timed entry system which will start June 4, 2020.
Another change in the park is signage directing visitors to stay 6 feet apart from other groups. When distancing isn’t possible, wear a face covering. Taking a mask off and on was a little cumbersome on the trails, so I’m thinking about ordering us neck gaiters or buffs like this one. That way we can wear them around our necks, and just quickly pull them up when we pass by fellow hikers.
old fall river road
Old Fall River road is a gravel road that travels one-way up to the Alpine Visitor Center. Because of extreme weather conditions at this altitude, the road is typically only available to drive up from July through September (in 2019, the road opened July 12).
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.
Old Fall River Road begins near the Endovalley Picnic area. When we were visiting, this area was closed so we parked just past the Alluvial Fan. The road between the Alluvial Fan and Fall River Road is approximately 1 mile. We enjoyed the mountain views and towering aspen trees along the way.
Did I mention that Old Fall River Road heads up to the alpine tundra? That means it’s basically straight uphill.
For your effort, you are rewarded with some great views.
You will also see several waterfalls on your way including under bridges you cross and flowing down the mountainside.
You will hear Chasm Falls before you see it. This is one of my favorite waterfalls in the whole park. We ended our hike by exploring the lower/middle area of the falls which was a mile from where the gravel road began. There is a viewing platform near the top of the falls which is located an extra quarter mile up the road. Our total hike was 4 miles long, which is right about our family’s limit when hiking with our girls (ages 3 and 5).
This was our first time hiking to Chasm Falls. In the past we stopped by for a quick photo while driving up to the Alpine Visitor Center. The extra effort and time gave us a new appreciation for Chasm Falls as a true destination in the park, and not just a stopping point along the way.
We haven’t been able to rent our cabin for the past few months to comply with accommodation orders in the state of Colorado. Starting this week, we are ready to rent! If you are looking for a relaxing place to stay in Estes Park this summer, we hope you consider booking at Solitude Cabins. Also consider following Solitude Cabins on facebook. The management team does a great job at sharing pictures and promotions.
If you are looking for a great place to stay on the West side of Rocky Mountain National Park, I’m happy to share recommendations. Thanks!