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!

Hike up Old Fall River Road to Chasm Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park

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.

Old Fall River Road is currently closed to traffic, but signage indicates that dogs are allowed on leash and two way biking is also permitted.

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.

from below Chasm Falls
Chasm Falls
looking up Chasm Falls
Chasm Falls from viewing deck (taken on previous trip)

Helpful Links:

Old Fall River Road – National Park Service site

Best Waterfall Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Road Status – National Park Service site

More Dog Friendly Hikes Near Estes Park, Colorado

Rent our Cabin

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!

*this post contains affiliate links.

Thank you for following along on our adventures!

Alpine Ridge Trail

The drive up to the Alpine Ridge Trail is an adventure. If you begin on the East side of Rocky Mountain National Park, you have the choice of driving up Old Fall River Road or Trail Ridge Road. Both routes are inside of Rocky Mountain National Park, so you need to purchase a park pass.

Old Fall River Road

We opted for the Old Fall River Road route where you can go one-way, and that is up. The road begins near the Endovalley picnic area and leads to the Alpine Visitor Center and the Alpine Ridge Trail. The gravel road is eleven miles long. You can expect tight turns and slow speeds. (The speed limit is only 15 mph.) The road is open seasonally and can close at any time for poor weather conditions. It’s a good idea to check the National Park Service’s Road Status Report before heading up. You can avoid crowds and afternoon storms by starting early.

Chasm Falls

One of the highlights along the road is Chasm Falls which is hidden from view. There is a small pull-out with enough room for a handful of cars to park. The trail leading down to the viewing deck is short and steep. If you can find a spot, Chasm Falls is worth stopping for. I included it as one of our best waterfall hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Chasm Falls off of Old Fall River Road

above tree line

Old Fall River Road takes you above the tree line. The views from this road are spectacular. Many times on our journey we have spotted elk. Eventually you connect to the parking lot of the Alpine Visitors Center where parking is competitive.

Alpine visitors center

The Alpine Visitors Center is a great place to use the restroom, shop for souvenirs, take pictures, grab a snack, and ask park rangers any questions you have about the tundra. It’s usually noticeably colder and windier at this altitude, so we add on a layer of clothing before walking around.

If you are looking for a fun and inexpensive activity/souvenir, my girls enjoyed picking out postcards for their friends back home at the gift shop. There is a post office in downtown Estes Park where you can purchase stamps and send them.

Alpine Ridge Trail

alpine ridge trail by alpine visitor center in rocky mountain national park

I’ve always noticed people hiking up the Alpine Ridge trail, but this was the first time we decided to make the hike up. It helped that we had a warm day with low winds.

trail ridge road leads to alpine visitor center and alpine ridge trail in rocky mountain national park

The hike is only .3 miles each way. Concrete stairs climb to the top. You start at high elevation and end up at even higher elevation, so even the short distance is a cardio challenge. My 4-year-old was able to make it on her own, but my 2-year-old got to ride on her Dad’s shoulders. I appreciate that the National Park Service places educational signage along the trail to help explain what you are looking at, why you are out of breath, and what they are doing to protect the natural environment surrounding us.

old fall river road leads to alpine visitors center

From this perspective, you can see Old Fall River road winding up the mountain.

wildflowers in rocky mountain national park tundra

The wildflowers were blooming on the tundra which is a delicate landscape. This area is roped off to encourage crowds to stay on the path.

views from alpine visitor center and alpine ridge trail

There were several groupings of large rocks that my girls enjoyed climbing on.

elevation is 12,005 feet above sea level on alpine ridge trail

The elevation at the top is 12,005 ft. above sea level. You can see for miles! I’m happy we took the time to take the small trek up the trail. It was something our whole family enjoyed. If you like this tundra hike, I also recommend reading our post on the Ute Trail.

Trail Ridge Road

We took Trail Ridge Road back down the mountain towards Estes Park. This trail is far less rustic than Old Fall River Road. We enjoyed views of the mountains and spotting a herd of elk playing in the snow.

Estes Park Summer Bucket List

My Dad always said planning a trip is sometimes more fun than the actual vacation itself. I don’t know if that’s always the case, but I love to research fun, new activities to do on our famiy’s trips to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park. I never run out of options because there is so much to do in this quaint mountain town and in the nearby National Park. Here are some of the top things on our Estes Park Summer Bucket List in 2017:

Eat an ice cream cone at Hayley’s

The delicious smell of waffle cones wafts out the door as you enter our favorite ice cream shop. It’s tiny inside so we choose our favorite flavor and take it outside on a stroll down the river walk. Hayley’s is located at 102 W. Elkhorn Avenue in downtown Estes Park, Colorado.

Best Icecream in Estes Park, Colorado

Pikas in the Park

What’s cuter than a pika? nothing! I’m so excited to participate in this new scavenger hunt activity. Just download an activity guide at visitestespark.com and start looking for 12 bronze pika sculptures in downtown Estes Park.

Be a Junior Ranger

We will head to the Fall River Visitor Center to pickup the Junior Ranger packet for kids 5 and under (they have packets designed for older kids too). The visitor center is open from 9am-5pm every day during the summer. You can pick up packets at any of the park’s visitor centers. Here is a link for more information about Rocky Mountain National Park visitors centers locations and hours. You can find more information about their Junior Park Ranger program here.

Bonus: While we are at the Fall River Visitor Center, we will enjoy a delicious breakfast and spectacular views at the attached Trailhead Restaurant. After dining, we will let our toddler play at the little playground right outside to burn off some endless energy.

rocky mountain national park visitor center playground area

Go on a boat ride

We want to spend some time on the water. Last year we rented a pontoon boat for a half hour ride on Lake Estes. This short amount of time was perfect for our little one’s first boat ride. Lake Estes is beautiful, conveniently located and rentals are fairly inexpensive. The marina website has rental information listed.

Another option is to drive over Trail Ridge Road to get to Grand Lake. The drive could take an hour or two depending on traffic. The boat rentals seem to cost a little more on this side of the mountain and I haven’t found rental options for under an hour. But, it’s always fun to try something new and we could easily make this a full day trip with stops along Trail Ridge Road and visiting attractions in the town of Grand Lake, CO. Two marinas we are considering renting boats from are Trail Ridge Marina  or Grand Lake Marina.

Rent Boat at Lake Estes Marina

Enjoy a Rocky Mountain waterfall

There are many amazing waterfalls in Rocky Mountain National Park. This year Chasm Falls is on the top of my list. The falls are located right off of  Old Fall River Road, a one-way gravel road which travels all the way up to an elevation of 11,796 ft at the Alpine Visitors Center. The road is scenic and enjoyed at a leisurely pace (15 miles per hour speed limit). It’s a good idea to check park Road Status Reports before heading up.

Gaze at the stars

One of the best things about being further away from the city is being able to see stars light up the night sky. We are excited to attend a “Stories Behind the Moon & the Stars” program at the Moraine Valley Visitor Center in Rocky Mountain National Park. The events will take place around 8:00 on Fridays June 30, July 7, August 4 and August 11 in 2017. You can learn more at angelsabove.org

Hike to a mountain lake 

It’s hard to pick a favorite mountain lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, but this year we are going to attempt a family hike to Mills Lake. The roundtrip journey is roughly six miles. We can start at the Bear Lake trailhead and pass by Alberta Falls on our way up.

Mills Lake RMNP

Watch fireworks

We are going to grab some lawn chairs and watch a spectacular fireworks show over Lake Estes on July 4th. The event begins at 9:30PM.

What are you looking forward to this summer? I’d love to hear about your bucket list!