Winter, spring, summer or fall — no matter the season, there’s always something to do at Rocky Mountain National Park, a renowned national park encompassing 415 square miles in the Front Range near Estes Park. Here, visitors (and there are a lot of them — more than 4.5 million per year!) can experience a multitude of outdoor activities, from hiking in the summer to snowshoeing in the winter. All the while, stunning natural beauty abounds, from ice-capped mountain peaks to sparkling rivers, all occupied by beautiful wildlife.
To help you navigate this massive park and all that it has in store, we created this guide complete with the top activities you can do here. Whether you’re visiting from elsewhere in Northern Colorado or from across the country, we hope you enjoy your visit to Rocky Mountain National Park!
As of June 4, Rocky Mountain National Park has implemented a temporary timed entry/reservation system. Permits issued using the reservation system will allow park visitors to enter the park (including Trail Ridge Road) within two-hour windows of availability between 6 a.m. and 5 p.m. to minimize contact with entrance station staff and limit congestion in parking lots and throughout the park. In this initial phase, approximately 60% of the park’s parking capacity will be open. Click here for more information and to make a reservation.
Recreate responsibly during your visit. Be sure to follow local area health orders, maintain social distance and avoid high-risk outdoor activities. Of course, do not visit if you are sick or were recently exposed to COVID-19. For more information about COVID-19 updates and tips for recreating responsibly, click here.
One of the best ways to experience RMNP is by hiking along one of its many trails, whether you’re looking for an easy stroll or a more challenging climb. Several of the best hikes near Estes Park are located within the park, including Bierstadt Lake Loop, Gem Lake, Ute Trail, Ouzel Falls, Loch Lake and more. If your visit lands during the fall, embark on one of these hikes immersed in fall foliage.
Driving along the 48-mile Trail Ridge Road is one of the most scenic drives in the region and one of the best ways to experience Rocky Mountain National Park — and see the Continental Divide as it cuts through Colorado. Built between 1929 and 1939, this historic trail cresting at 12,209 feet is the highest continuous paved road in elevation in the country. Trail Ridge Road travels from Estes Park to Grand Lake, passing by Horseshoe Park, glacier-carved valleys, towering peaks and sparkling lakes. Make sure you make a stop at Forest Canyon Overlook and Many Parks Curve, which offers views of Horseshoe, Moraine and Estes Parks. Trail Ridge Road is only open between late May and late October because of snowfall during the winter.
When the snow hits in the winter, there’s still plenty to do in Rocky Mountain National Park.In fact, we created a whole guide for winter activities! Put a snowy twist on a hiking adventure through the park. Strap on your snowshoes and hit the trail for a serene (and sometimes challenging) walk through a wintery wonderland. Some of the best snowshoe trails in the park include Bear Lake Loop, Sprague Lake, Gem Lake, Cub Lake, The Pool Loop and Deer Mountain Hike.
If you’re looking to cool down on a hot day, consider diving into one of the many lakes throughout Northern Colorado, one of which is located right next to RMNP, just about a mile away from the west entrance. Nestled along the quaint, historic town with the same name, Grand Lake is a large natural lake known for its incredible views and water sports. It is actually the largest and deepest natural lake in the entire state! Visitors head to Grand Lake in the summer for kayaking, boating, fishing, swimming and much more. And all year long, there is no shortage of things to do around the lake, including hiking, snowmobiling, picnicking and simply taking in the views of mountains reflected on the glassy water. In fact, head to Point Park for the best view of Mount Craig, also known as Mount Baldy, a distinctive 12,007-foot peak.
While there are no hotel-like accommodations in the park, there are plenty of places to rest your head — under a tent, that is! RMNP is home to five campgrounds, three of which are reservable and two of which operate on a first come, first served basis. Reservations may be made between one day and six months in advance and are highly recommended. Click here to learn more about camping at Rocky Mountain National Park, including information about each campground, fees, reservations, FAQs and more.
Take in the sights and sounds of the park while you dine amidst nature. There are several picnic areas throughout RMNP, all of which are available from dawn to dusk on a first come, first served basis (except Lily Lake!). While you’re picnicking, be aware of curious wildlife that may come near your food, and remember to never feed wild animals. After you’re done, be sure to dispose of trash in bear-proof cans or dumpsters. Click here for more information about picnicking at RMNP.
The park is dotted with a wide variety of wildlife, including bighorn sheep, elk, mule deer and more. In total, there are anywhere between 200-600 winter elk, about 350 bighorn sheep, and countless mule deer throughout RMNP. Overall, there are 60 species of mammals, 280 recorded bird species, 11 species of fish, numerous insects and a large number of butterflies. Elk can be seen in meadows and where meadows meet the forest any time during the year, but are particularly common to see during the fall. Bighorn sheep are commonly seen at Sheep Lakes from May through mid-August, and moose frequent willow thickets along the Columbia River on the west side of the park. Check out these tips for wildlife viewing during your visit.
Did you know you can go horseback riding at Rocky Mountain National Park? This is a relaxing yet adventurous way to explore the park and all its gorgeous scenery. There are two stables located in the park, including Glacier Creek Stables and Moraine Park Stables, both of which are open around Memorial Day in late May. Plus, there are many more stables outside the park that are permitted to bring riders into RMNP!
Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the best places for fishing in Northern Colorado. Both the Cache la Poudre and Big Thompson River have headwaters in the park and the area is dotted with lakes and ponds of all sizes. There are more than 50 lakes and many streams where you can fish, including sport fishing as the park is a protected area. A Colorado fishing license is required and special regulations exist. To learn all you need to know about fishing in the park, click here.
There is no better source for learning the ins and outs of RMNP than one of the park’s many visitor centers. You can ask questions, watch educational movies, view exhibits, shop for books and other educational items, and more, all while escaping the extreme temperatures the park experiences.
One of the best visitor centers is Alpine Visitor Center, which is the highest visitor center in the U.S., reaching an impressive 11,796 feet in elevation. From there, you can take the short hike along the Alpine Ridge Trail to reach 12,000 feet!
To learn more about the many visitor centers throughout Rocky Mountain National Park, click here.
Whether you’re up for an adventurous hike or a leisurely scenic drive, we hope you enjoy your time at Rocky Mountain National Park. Let us know your favorite park activities in the comments below!