Rocky Mountain National Park – Spotting Wildlife at Sheep Lakes

One of the highlights of our trips to Rocky Mountain National Park is spotting wildlife. During our most recent visit, we were lucky to see both bighorn sheep and moose at Sheep Lakes which is located in Horseshoe Park.

sheep lakes

According to the national park’s website, Rocky Mountain National Park is home to approximately 350 bighorn sheep. Sheep Lakes is a great place to see bighorn sheep from May through the middle of August. There is a parking lot where you can safely pull off the road to view the animals who frequent the area. This is not a hiking destination, visitors are required to give the animals plenty of space to make sure both animals and humans stay safe. Many times park rangers will be stationed at the parking lot to direct traffic and answer visitor questions.

The park has a ‘Bighorn Crossing Zone’ in Horseshoe Park during spring and summer months. This means if you are driving, you will need to stop and wait for the sheep to pass.

Bighorn Crossing Zone – taken on previous trip to Rocky Mountain National Park from inside car

Bighorn sheep are attracted to Sheep Lakes because it is a natural salt lick that provides the animals with needed minerals.

We spotted the bighorn sheep at Sheep Lakes on the first day that the park opened to visitors after the shutdown for COVID-19. We came back later in the week to see if we could see the sheep again, and were surprised to see a pair of moose instead.

Bull moose can weigh up to 1,500 pounds and run as fast as 35 miles per hour.

Helpful links and resources

We’ve seen moose on both sides of Rocky Mountain National Park. On the East side of the the park we’ve spotted them at Sheep Lakes, Bierstadt Lake trail, Cub Lake trail, and Sprague Lake. On the West side of Rocky Mountain National Park, we’ve spotted moose in the Kawuneeche Valley and in the East Meadow. I’ve shared posts from all these hikes below. I’ve also included the National Park web pages where I found the moose and sheep facts for this post.

Family Hike to Bierstadt Lake Plus An Unexpected Moose Sighting

Moose Spotting Makes for a Memerable Morning Hike Around Sprague Lake

Peaceful Hike to East Meadow in Rocky Mountain National Park

Cub Lake Trail – a Wildlife Hotspot in Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain Animal Game

Wildlife viewing – National Park service website

Bighorn Sheep – National Park service website

Moose – National Park service website

Hike to Arch Rocks and The Pool in Rocky Mountain National Park

The hike to The Pool in Rocky Mountain National Park is one of our favorite early season hikes. It’s lower starting elevation (8,150 ft) typically means there is less snow than other areas of the park.

The hike begins at the Fern Lake trail head. There is a small non-paved parking area. The road is narrow for two-way vehicle traffic. There is shuttle service and some additional parking .8 miles away from the trail head.

On our late-May hike we enjoyed spotting spring wildflowers, a busy humming bird, and a garter snake.

Arch rocks

40 foot vertical rocks called Arch Rocks are a main attraction along the way to The Pool. The rocks are 1.2 miles from the trail head.

Arch Rocks

big thompson river

Walking along the Big Thompson River is another highlight of this hike.

The Pool

A wooden bridge crosses over the river. This video shows the water gathering and powerfully flowing into the Big Thompson River. The Pool is 1.7 miles from the Fern Lake trail head. If you turn around at this point, the hike is a total of 3.4 miles. On this trip, we chose to turn around at this point.

Love loop hikes? From The Pool you can split off towards Cub Lake and head back around to the Cub Lake trail head. The final section of the hike between the Cub Lake trail head and the Fern Lake trail head is on a connecting road. This loop is 6 miles.

Fern Falls

Fern Falls

Another option to continue the hike is to make your way up to Fern Falls. To hike to the waterfall, you will add approximately 1 mile each way. Most of this section is uphill. If you are up for the challenge, the waterfall is worth the effort!

Fantastic Family Hike to Fern Falls

Fern Falls with a Fussy Baby

fern lake

The name sake of this trail is Fern Lake, which is 3.8 miles from the trail head. It has spectacular views of Notch Top mountain.

Fern Lake

The Fern Lake trail head is a launching point to many memorable destinations in Rocky Mountain National Park including Arch Rocks, The Pool, Fern Falls and Fern Lake.

on my mind: Ticks in Rocky Mountain National park

Well, it happened! After five years of living tick free, we found several ticks on my daughter during our most recent trip to Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park, Colorado. We were playing in some areas that had tall grass, so it’s not very surprising, but I just wanted to take this opportunity to remind everyone who is out enjoying the great outdoors to be checking themselves and their kids. Here is some additional information about ticks found in RMNP.

Make your reservations now: Trail Ridge Road is Open

Trail Ridge Road is a scenic highway that connects Estes Park, Colorado to Grand Lake, Colorado. The road is located within Rocky Mountain National Park, so a park pass and time-entry permit are required to travel on this scenic roadway which will take you above tree-line and into the alpine tundra. Trail Ridge Road opened on June 4, 2020. Here is an article from Estes Park News about the annual ribbon cutting celebration.

New! Visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park can obtain a time-entry permit through Recreation.gov

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!

A Respectful Return to Estes Park, Colorado

Memorial Day 2018

There is good news coming from Colorful Colorado this week. Rocky Mountain National Park is scheduling a phased reopening starting on May 27th. We are thrilled to start planning a trip to visit the national park and stay in our cabin in Estes Park.

One of the reasons we are eager to visit soon is to check on our cabin and make sure it’s in great shape for renters this summer. We have a few minor things to fix. Most of our vacation will be spent at our cabin. I’m looking forward to sipping coffee on our back deck and reading books by the fireplace.

We also want to do our part to support local business owners who have been hit hard by the shut down. We plan to order carry out from some of our favorite restaurants, and I’m eager to try out a few new (to us) restaurants as well. Bird & Jim is on the top of my list. We also know that Estes Park will feel different. Face coverings are required for everyone over 2-years-old in downtown Estes Park through June 10 and the number of shoppers allowed in stores will be limited.

We are eager to return to the mountains

Within National Parks is room – glorious room – room in which to find ourselves, in which to think and hope, to dream and plan, to rest and resolve.

Enos Mills, ‘Father of Rocky Mountain National Park’

Of course the biggest draw is hiking in the mountains. We are closely watching what type of permits/registration we need to gain access to Rocky Mountain National Park. We know that RMNP operations will not be running like normal. Shuttles will be limited on the number of passengers that can ride. Camping is limited. Daily visitors to the park will be capped. Here is an article from Estes Park News with more details.

Along with reading all of the official news and guidelines, we’ve been trying to get a sense for how local full-time residents of Estes Park are feeling about the openings. Like everywhere, there are a lot of mixed opinions on the best ways to safely move forward. Besides our own health and safety, my biggest concern is to be respectful to everyone in town and in the national park.

congatulations to our favorite estes park photographer!

We recently put up our tent in our living room for an in-door camp out. Our daughters loved sleeping in the tent and they even had amazing mountain views thanks to our favorite landscape photographer, Erik Stensland.

Stensland recently won a Benjamin Franklin Award from the Independent Book Publishers Association for his essential hiking guide for Rocky Mountain National Park. We love his guide and his art. You can read more about the prestigious award on his site.

Indoor camping with Images of RMNP views

on my mind:road trip Essentials

A while back, I wrote a post about How to Survive a Long Family Road Trip. As we start travel again this summer, I’m interested to see how our old tips and tricks hold up. I know I’ll be very focused on sanitation during restroom breaks and we will generally avoid going into restaurants, hotels, and visitor centers (at least for now).

Thanks for following along our adventures!