Best Things To Do in Rocky Mountain National Park
Hiking is the main attraction at Rocky Mountain National Park, so make sure to come prepared with sturdy and comfortable shoes or boots to make the most of popular trails, such as Bear Lake and Emerald Lake Trail. To experience the park from the comfort and safety of your car, take the hour-long drive on Trail Ridge Road. But before you do anything, you should stop at one of the park's visitor centers, such as Beaver Meadows, to stock up on maps and information. For a refreshing beer or ice cream at the end of a day in the wilderness, head to Estes Park and be sure to check out the establishments along the main drag, Elkhorn Avenue.
Updated July 24, 2017
- #1View all PhotosfreeTrail Ridge Road#1 in Rocky Mountain National ParkSightseeing, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDSightseeing, FreeTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Horace Albright, director of the National Park Service between 1929 and 1933, once said about Trail Ridge Road, "It's hard to describe what a sensation this new road is going to make. You will have the whole sweep of the Rockies before you in all directions." Trail Ridge Road was a sensation when it debuted back in 1932 and it remains so today for the travelers that make the 48-mile drive from Estes Park to Grand Lake, rising above the tree line for 11 miles at an elevation of more than 12,000 feet. Visitors should keep that in mind when they're stopping at the lookout points that the road experiences temperatures that are 20 and even 30 degrees lower than both Estes Park and Grand Park.
Most travelers call Trail Ridge Road a must-do while in Rocky Mountain National Park. One recent traveler, who said she spent a full day taking in the "stunning views" along Trail Ridge Road, saw elk, marmots and moose. Stopping at the pull-offs yields some spectacular photo ops, and some offer restrooms.
- #2View all Photos#2 in Rocky Mountain National ParkMuseums, FreeTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPENDMuseums, FreeTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND
To get an educational overview of the park, it's wise to stop in at one of RMNP's visitor centers, such as Beaver Meadows. According to recent visitors, the park rangers are extremely helpful and knowledgeable and can help you decide which trails to take, depending on your time and skill level. Along with books and maps, you can also purchase (or rent) equipment like walking sticks or cleats.
Recent travelers said a stop at Beaver Meadows (located near the park's main entrance along Highway 36) is a must, reporting that the friendly, helpful rangers gave valuable tips about how to get the most out of an RMNP vacation, including what roads and trails might be closed.
- #3View all PhotosfreeDowntown Estes Park#3 in Rocky Mountain National ParkShopping, Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPENDShopping, Sightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Estes Park is the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, and it is home base for many visitors. It contains a host of accommodations, ranging from inns and motels to hotels like the Stanley, which range in price. And the town is also filled with restaurants, bars and shops that line the main street, Elkhorn Avenue. Try Brownfield's for affordable souvenirs, such as T-shirts, blankets, key chains, and koozies. For bars, head to the traveler-approved Rock Cut Brewing Company or The Barrel beer garden. What's more, the town contains 75 restaurants that span cuisines, from the diner The Egg & I to the pizza place Antonio's Real New York Pizza & Deli, so visitors are sure to find some food to suit their fancy.
The Big Thompson River also cuts through town, with an array of waterfront dining establishments and a Riverwalk that make for a charming way to enjoy a relaxing meal or a post-dinner stroll. For more information, visit Estes Park's tourism website.
- #4View all PhotosfreeBear Lake#4 in Rocky Mountain National ParkHiking, Recreation, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDHiking, Recreation, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Bear Lake is encircled by a nearly 1-mile trail that visitors enjoy for its ease and beauty, especially during the fall when the aspens turn gold. Spruce, fir and pine trees also surround the lake, as do giant granite boulders. Travelers that hike Bear Lake's entire perimeter will also be rewarded with majestic views of Hallett Peak and Half Mountain.
The variety of trails that lead from the Bear Lake trailhead (including the Emerald Lake Trail) make it a great place for people of all fitness levels. Previous travelers recommended getting here early to secure a parking spot in the small lot that fills up quickly.
- #5View all Photos#5 in Rocky Mountain National ParkHiking, Recreation, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDHiking, Recreation, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
This popular 3 ½-mile, round-trip hike winds past Nymph Lake, Dream Lake and Tyndall Creek, and offers some breathtaking views of Longs Peak, Hallett Peak and Flattop Mountain before reaching the subalpine Emerald Lake at an elevation of 11,000-some feet.
Recent travelers recommended getting to the trailhead early to avoid crowded conditions on this popular trail. Also, unless you're visiting in the summer, visitors suggest bringing along some slip-on spikes for your shoes since the trail will likely be snow-covered.
- #6View all Photos#6 in Rocky Mountain National ParkMuseums, Recreation, Sightseeing, FreeTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPENDMuseums, Recreation, Sightseeing, FreeTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND
Housed in a converted log cabin built in the early 1900s, the Moraine Park Museum is filled with exhibits on the natural environment of Rocky Mountain National Park, from its geology to its wildlife. It also features an outdoor amphitheater that hosts various talks and events. The second-floor observation area offers some comfortable rocking chairs and an unbeatable perch from which to take in the surrounding views.
Some travelers say that they almost begrudgingly stopped at the Moraine Park Museum because their traveling companions wanted to check it out, but almost all were glad they did, citing the interesting hands-on exhibits and facts they learned about everything from the park's elk to glaciers.
- #7View all Photos#7 in Rocky Mountain National ParkSightseeing, ToursTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPENDSightseeing, ToursTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Not only is the grand Stanley Hotel a member of the Historic Hotels of America, it's also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Aside from its historic accolades, the property boasts another claim to fame. Fans of "The Shining" will recognize the hotel as the setting for the creepy Stephen King novel, but the hotel also touts a history of paranormal activity. To learn more, visitors can take one of two tours – a daytime tour that focuses more on pop culture and a night tour that concentrates on the property's ghost lore.
Whether day or night, travelers say the tour guides are fantastic storytellers and that they impart a bevy of interesting tidbits.
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