Lunch with a View: 5 Great Spots to Enjoy a Picnic in Rocky Mountain National Park This Fall

It’s officially fall! I can’t think of a better way to take in the splendor of the autumn colors than a picnic in Rocky Mountain National Park. There are over 25 picnicking areas listed on the National Park’s website. Here are some of our favorites:

Upper beaver meadows

The Upper Beaver Meadows area is a new find for us this year. It is quickly becoming one of our favorite picnic spots because it seems less crowded than other areas of the park, has gorgeous views, and fun rocks for our kids to climb around. There are 10 picnic tables available. There is also a vault toilet (which seems important to point out to my fellow potty trainers).

Upper Beaver Meadows picnic
Upper Beaver Meadows picnic area

You can read more about Upper Beaver Meadows hiking trails here.

Lily Lake

Views of Longs Peak and Estes Cone reflect off the water of Lily Lake. Lily Lake is one of my favorite spots to practice photography. You can take a stroll around the lake and enjoy a picnic at one of the 4 picnic tables. An additional 12 tables are available for group rental a quarter mile down the trail. The group picnic spot feels more secluded. There is a vault toilet in the parking area.

Lily Lake in the autumn, Rocky Mountain National Park
Lily Lake in the autumn

Lily Lake is one of the spots we visit most often, here is one of our oldest posts about Lily Lake and here is a post I wrote last month.

sprague lake

If I had to choose just one picnic spot, I’d recommend Sprague Lake. The views of the golden aspens and continental divide can’t be beat. We often see people bird-watching and fishing in this lake. We’ve also spotted a moose here. Plus, there are 27 picnic spots and several benches by the lake where you could eat your lunch right on the water. There are summer flush toilets/winter vault toilets in the parking area.

Sprague Lake in the fall. Rocky Mountain National Park top destinations
Sprague Lake

Want to know more about Sprague Lake? I posted about it here.

coyote valley

My first few choices were on the East side of Rocky Mountain National Park near the town of Estes Park, Colorado. Coyote Valley is on the West side of the park. Coyote Valley has a family-friendly hiking trail along the Colorado River in the Kawuneeche Valley. This is a great place to spot wildlife. There are 7 picnic tables available. There are no toilets.

picnics in rocky mountain national park
Coyote Valley picnic

Read more about the Coyote Valley here.

lake irene

Lake Irene is located off of Trailridge Road on the West side of Rocky Mountain National Park. The lake is mostly surrounded with evergreen trees, so the fall colors won’t be as visible. However, if you are going on a scenic drive and are looking for a peaceful place to stop, this is an ideal spot. There are 8 picnic tables. There is also a vault toilet near the parking lot.

Lake Irene Rocky Mountain National Park
Lake Irene

We recently enjoyed a hike around Lake Irene. You can read all about it here.

building your ITINERARY

Some of our most popular posts include 1 day itineraries of what to do in Rocky Mountain National Park. What I appreciate most about these top picnic destinations is the ability to ‘park and play’. By this I mean, once you get to your destination you can add on a hike, bird-watching, fishing, photography, scenic drive, or other outdoor recreational activity to transform a simple picnic into an enjoyable half-day adventure.

Spring Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park: Upper Beaver Meadows

Spring is a great time to visit Rocky Mountain National Park

If you want to avoid the summer crowds, spring is a wonderful season to visit Rocky Mountain National Park. However, some of the most popular trails like those leaving from the Bear Lake area can still be covered in snow and ice.

Over Memorial Day weekend, we purchased a new hiking guide called Hiking Rocky Mountain National Park: The Essential Guide written by our favorite local photographer, Erik Stensland. The guide included a new (to us) hike that fit our family’s hiking criteria. First, we wanted to find a lower elevation hike to avoid snow. We also needed an easy hike so our kids could walk the trail partially on their own.

Upper Beaver Meadows

Stensland classified the Upper Beaver Meadows Loop as an easy hike. The loop is approximately 1 mile in length beginning at 8,437 feet in elevation and gaining 108 feet.

The hike begins at the Upper Beaver Meadows trailhead. The turnoff that leads to the trailhead is conveniently located less than a mile from the main entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park.

hiking Upper Beaver Meadows in Rocky Mountain National Park

We enjoyed the views of surrounding mountains including Longs Peak and the sweet smell of Ponderosa pine trees as we walked along the trail.

Spring hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park

We accidentally took a wrong turn and tripled our distance walking around the meadow. I highlighted the loop that we should have followed in green and the loop we took in yellow.

Upper Beaver Meadows trail map provided at trailhead by national park service

Parts of the trail were muddy because of recent snow and rain. Soft snow fell briefly while we were hiking.

We passed by a herd of elk and tried to give them extra space. Female elk can become protective of their babies during the spring season.

elk in Upper Beaver Meadows

Upper Beaver Meadows is the ending point to the Ute Trail which I wrote about here. It also connects to the scenic Moraine Valley.

crossing the creek in Upper Beaver Meadows

For breathtaking pictures and insider knowledge that far exceed my own, I recommend picking up Erik Stensland’s guide. And if you are looking for an easy hike in Rocky Mountain National Park, I hope you consider adding Upper Beaver Meadows Loop to your list along with some of our favorite hikes under 2 miles.