Ute Trail from Alpine Visitor Center in Rocky Mountain National Park

Last week I was feeling sentimental and decided to print pictures from our summer adventures. I was surprised when a package of 143 prints came in the mail. I need to buy a new photo album to fit them all in! I think that is a good problem to have. The summer of 2020 has been challenging, so I am thankful we’ve been able to capture 143 fun moments.

This hike along the Ute Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park contains several of these exceptional summer memories.

Rocky Mountain National Park Ute Trail near Alpine Visitor Center
Hiking on the Ute Trail

Our family entered in Rocky Mountain National Park from the east side of the park near Estes Park during our reserved timed entry window. We drove up Old Fall River Road to the Alpine Visitor Center then parked and walked around to take in the landscape from the viewing deck.

My cousin and his high school age sons came in from the west side of the park near Grand Lake. We were thrilled to meet them for a morning hike.

elk in rocky mountain national park off of trail ridge road
Elk on the mountain side

The trail begins right across from the visitor center (11,796 ft of elevation). Trail Ridge Road can get terribly busy, so we held our kids’ hands while crossing.

This section of the Ute Trail leads down to Poudre Lake and Milner Pass. The hike to Poudre Lake is four miles each way. If you have two cars, you can park one at the Alpine Visitor Center and the other by Poudre Lake to avoid the return trip back up.

wildflowers and mountain views along ute trail in rocky mountain national park. colorado hikes
Mountain Views from the Ute Trail

Instead of juggling cars, we decided to cut the hike short. We followed the trail for approximately one and a half miles until we reached a couple of tarns off the path. We returned the way we came. The return trip was uphill, but it felt doable even with young kids.

I loved every second of this hike. It was fun catching up with my cousin and his kids, the views were unbelievable, the weather was perfect, the wildlife was exciting, and the flowers were beautiful. We even got a rare family photo of all four of us mostly looking at the camera.

similar hikes in Rocky mountain National Park

The Most Underrated Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. Following the Historic Ute Trail.

This post covers another section of the Ute Trail

A Land of Extremes: Tundra Communities Trail in Rocky Mountain Natonal Park


Alpine Ridge Trail

Rocky Mountain National Park Entrance Fee and Other Helpful Things to Know Before You Go

Save the Date! August 25th is the National Park Service’s birthday and that means entrance fees are waived in all U.S. national parks including Rocky Mountain National Park.

Rocky Mountain National Park Entrance Fee

rocky mountain national park entrance fee

Typically, the daily entrance fee for one vehicle is $25. You can buy an annual RMNP pass for $70. Our family buys an ‘America the Beautiful’ annual National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands pass which is $80. This is a great deal for us because we go to Rocky Mountain National Park often, and we also like visiting nearby Indian Peaks Wilderness Area which is managed by the U.S. Forest Service. Seniors, members of the military, and 4th grade students may be eligible for discounts. You can learn more about these and other pass options online on the national park service’s website.

rocky mountain National park timed entry permit

Starting summer 2020, a timed-entry permit is also required to enter Rocky Mountain National Park between the hours of 6:00 am and 5:00 pm. Permits are typically $2 per day and can be obtained on recreation.gov.

rocky mountain national park hours

The national park is open 24 hours per day every day of the year. Some facilities such as the park’s visitor centers have more limited hours. Current hours are 9:30 am to 4:30 pm. Some roads such as Fall River Road and Trail Ridge Road are open seasonally based on weather conditions.

rocky mountain national park trail conditions

Park rangers at the park’s visitors centers and professional local tour guides/rental companies are helpful resources to get an idea of what to expect out on the trails. You can also review trail condition reports on the national park’s website or on alltrails.com.

rocky mountain national park things to do

Our favorite activity in Rocky Mountain National Park is hiking. I wrote a post about how to decide the best hike for you called Where Should I Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park?

Best Day Hikes Rocky Mountain Natrional Park

We also enjoy going on picnics which I wrote about in Lunch with a View: 5 Great Spots to Enjoy a Picnic in Rocky Mountain National Park This Fall.

Keep an eye out for wildlife like moose, deer, bighorn sheep, and elk. Make sure to bring a good camera.

If you are visiting Rocky Mountain National Park during the winter, you can go sledding or snow-shoeing.

Additional activities include fishing, camping, rock climbing, and more! (additional fees, reservations, or permits may be required) No matter how many times we visit, we never run out of things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Hike Hollowell Park in Rocky Mountain National Park

Don’t you love a great backup plan? Our original plan for the day was to hike to Dream Lake, but when we arrived at the Bear Lake parking lot at 7:45 am it was already full. We started driving back down the mountain and found that Glacier Gorge parking was also full and so was Bierdstand Lake. We pulled into the Hollowell Park area hoping we could find a spot. We were relieved to find several parking spaces available.

Hollwell Park in Rocky Mountain National Park

On a previous trip, we hiked to the Mill Creek Basin and turned around to return the way we came. On this occation, we hiked a loop around Mill Creek Basin and then connected back up with the trail to return to the Hollowell Park trailhead.

Hollowell Park map
Photo of National Park Service map taken at trailhead. I highlighted over to show our route.
Mountain Views. Hollowell Park in Rocky Mountain National Park. To Mill Creek Basin. Loop trail
Longs Peak views

Hike to Mill Creek Basin

The first section of the trail takes you through an open valley with views of Longs Peak. This could be a hot section of the trail during summer afternoons, but soon the path wraps around into a wooded area and follows along side Mill Creek.

We enjoyed the solitude this hike offered. Over the course of four miles, we passed less than a dozen fellow hikers.

Towering aspens. Hollowell Park in Rocky Mountain National Park. To Mill Creek Basin. Loop trail

Besides some minor complaints during a couple of the uphill sections on the trail, our 5-year-old walked the trail on her own with a great attitude. Our 3-year-old rode in her kid carrier.

Wildflowers blooming by Mill Creek. Hollowell Park in Rocky Mountain National Park. To Mill Creek Basin. Loop trail

A variety of wildflowers bloomed near Mill Creek and in the open fields.

Crossing Mill Creek. Hollowell Park in Rocky Mountain National Park. To Mill Creek Basin. Loop trail

Wilderness Camping at Mill Creek Basin

Half way through the hike (or 2 miles from the trailhead) we crossed into the Mill Creek Basin. There are two wilderness camping spots available in the Mill Creek Basin. The National Park Service offers a map of all the wilderness campsites in the Bear Lake area including Mill Creek Basin. Additional information about permits and regulations can be found on the national park service’s website.

Hollowell Park in Rocky Mountain National Park. To Mill Creek Basin. Loop trail
Mill Creeek Basin
Hollowell Park in Rocky Mountain National Park. To Mill Creek Basin. Loop trail
Uphill section with narrow trail
Hollowell Park in Rocky Mountain National Park. To Mill Creek Basin. Loop trail
Mountain views
This section of the trail was steep going downhill (if following the direction we came).
Hollowell Park in Rocky Mountain National Park. To Mill Creek Basin. Loop trail

If you are looking for a backup plan hike, a hike that’s less crowded, or a hike with gorgeous wildflowers, I highly recommend giving this loop around Mill Creek Basin a shot. Let me know if you do and what you think!

Want a bigger challenge? This trail connects to several popular destinations in the park including Cub Lake, Bear Lake, and Bierstadt Lake.

Our original post about Hollowell Park is called A Trail Less Traveled: Hollowell Park to Mill Creek Basin in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Featured Hiking gear – Trekking poles

Trekking poles – I wish we would have brought trekking poles for the steep downhill section of this trail through the elm trees. I typically don’t have knee issues, but sometimes hiking downhill is hard on my joints and I think the poles help absorb the extra pressure. Trekking poles also come in handy if there are any snowy patches along the trail.

*contains affiliate link.

Bear Lake Rocky Mountain National Park

I’m working on a list of our favorite winter hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. Looking back through the pictures, I realized that 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.

Bear Lake in the Snow. Rocky Mountain National Park. Colorado

The loop around Bear Lake is one of our favorite hikes under 2 miles. Our preschoolers can usually walk the half mile on their own.

Bear Lake in the Snow. Rocky Mountain National Park. Colorado
This popular spot offers views of Hallett Peak.

We had to hold on to little hands because of the slippery ice and snow on this trip.

Bear Lake in the Snow. Rocky Mountain National Park. Colorado

The air temperature was chilly, but not freezing. The girls happily played in the snow. We were able to capture some of the happy moments.

Bear Lake in the Snow. Rocky Mountain National Park. Colorado

We found a bench that was clear of snow to rest on and take silly photos.

Bear Lake in the Snow. Rocky Mountain National Park. Colorado
Bear Lake in the Snow. Rocky Mountain National Park. Colorado

The icy lake was melting in the sunshine. But, there were still sections along the trail where the snow had piled up high enough that it was challenging to see if we were walking on the trail or not. We had to be careful not to step into the freezing lake on accident.

Bear Lake in the Snow. Rocky Mountain National Park. Colorado

Bear Lake sits at 9,475 ft of elevation. We took a hike the same weekend in Beaver Meadows where the snow had already melted out. It’s amazing how vastly different the conditions can be at higher altitudes.

The conditions also vary significantly year-to-year. At the end of May in 2018, we took a hike from the Bear Lake trailhead and made it further up the mountain to Dream Lake before we encountered a little patch of snow.

If you love the snow, stay tuned for our upcoming post about our favorite snowy hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.