Fall Colors at Endovalley in Rocky Mountain National Park

Best Things to Do in Rocky Mountain National Park

Over the past twenty years that my family has lived in Colorado, we have spent many weekends discovering things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park. US News-Travel suggests that Rocky Mountain National Park is in the top 5 places to visit in Colorado.

Spring, Summer, Winter, or Fall, we have hiked numerous trails, camped (I do not love camping), enjoyed the tourist town of Estes Park, and challenged each other to see who could spot the first elk.

If you haven’t ever tried the GyPSy Guide Audio Tours, check out the tour for RMNP.

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How to Get to Rocky Mountain National Park

Map from Denver to Estes Park

Travel by Car

If you have access to a car or are planning to rent a car for your visit, the map above shows the most direct route from Denver (and surrounding areas) to Estes Park. You will need to have a National Park pass to enter RMNP as well as a timed-entry reservation if you are visiting between May and October. (See below).

Travel by Bus

Ride the Bustang bus from Union Station in the heart of downtown Denver all the way to Rocky Mountain National Park on weekends and holidays from the end of May until the first of October.

Tickets to ride the Bustang bus are only $5.00 each way for Denver (also from Westminster and Boulder, and $3.00 each way from Lyons) and are about 2 1/2 hours each way.

PLEASE NOTE: Tickets must be reserved in advance to save your seat. Plan to pay with cash? Select the “Pay Cash on Board” option as your ticket type when you begin the reservation process.

If you choose, you can get off the bus in Estes Park, (located near the park’s east entrance) or ride the bus all the way to the park n’ ride in Rocky Mountain National Park. Here you will transfer to the free Bear Lake or Moraine Park shuttles to explore more of the park.

If you choose to get off in Estes Park first but still want to enter the park later, you can make a reservation on the park’s Hiker Shuttle.

Bonus! If you ride the bus, you will not need to purchase an additional Rocky Mountain National Park timed entry reservation for the 2022 season.

What is the Rocky Mountain National Park Reservation System?

Due to the popularity of the park, from the end of May until mid October, Rocky Mountain National Park requires a timed-entry reservation through their online system if you wish to visit the park between the hours of 5 am and 6 pm.

The reservations can be purchased for a nominal fee of $2. However, interest in RMNP is high and you will need to make your reservation as soon as tickets become available for the next month. Check the website above for the ticket schedule.

In 2021, Rocky Mountain National Park instituted two options on the reservation system.

  1. Bear Lake Road Corridor + Full Access to the Park

Due to the popularity of the Bear Lake Road corridor of the park, you will be required to a have a specific reservation to visit this area.

If this is your first time visiting Rocky Mountain National Park, you WILL want to choose this option. Bear Lake is stunning and there are many great hikes—short and long—that can be accessed along the corridor.

2. Park Access (excluding the Bear Lake Road Corridor)

With this reservation, you can visit anywhere in Rocky Mountain National Park except for the Bear Lake Road Corridor.

You must visit the park during your reservation window.

Also note that having a reservation does not guarantee parking. You can make use of the shuttle systems once you are in the park on Bear Lake Road to reach Bear Lake.

There are some roads, trail systems, wilderness campsites, and cross country zones that are currently closed due to the Cameron Peak and East Troublesome Fires from the summer of 2020.

Check NPS.gov for the most up to date openings and closures.

Top Things to Do in Rocky Mountain National Park

If you come to visit our family, chances are good that we will take you to visit Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park.

We visit the national park so often that we almost always purchase the annual America the Beautiful—The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass.

Did you know that US Military members receive this pass for FREE?

The pass is also free to all US 4th grade students. Be sure to follow the instructions on the Every Kid Outdoors website.

Not only does having the yearly pass inspire us to visit Rocky Mountain National Park often, but we also plan vacations around other national parks in the United States. It’s a win-win.

Rocky Mountain National Park view

In fact, we have had some amazing trips planned to these parks recently:

If you love to visit our nation’s greatest parks, I encourage you to invest in an annual pass.

Visit Estes Park

There are many things to do in Estes Park, Colorado, a small town just outside of the national park. If you have the time, plan to stay in Estes Park for a few days at least and explore the town and the national park to your heart’s content. It is one of the perfect places to visit in Colorado in June.

Estes Park Gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park

Wildlife in Rocky Mountain National park

While the wildlife in Rocky Mountain National park is abundant, awesome and often majestic to look at, it is illegal to feed the animals. And don’t be like the crazy people we see who get out of their vehicles to get a closer look at elk, bears, and moose!

Bear sign in Rocky Mountain National Park

What are the Fun Things to Do in Rocky Mountain National Park?

Drive Trail Ridge Road

Trail Ridge Road is the highest continuous paved road in the United States.

Designated as both a scenic and historic byway, Trail Ridge Road crosses the Continental Divide just over 12,000 feet.

The road is only open from Memorial Day through the middle of October, and even then you may encounter some snow and much cooler temperatures.

Trail Ridge Road links Estes Park from the east to Grand Lake in the west. The road winds through Rocky Mountain National Park offering some of the park’s best views.

Be sure to stop at the Alpine Visitor Center and check out the panoramic vista surrounding you.

Climb to the Elevation Marker at the Alpine Visitor Center

The Alpine Visitor Center, located along Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, is the highest visitor center in the national park system. The views are stunning. Even more so if you set off up the hill to the elevation marker at 12,006 feet above sea level.

Elevation Sign in Rocky Mountain National Park

If you happen to play the license plate game, chances are you will find a few out-of-state plates in the parking lot as the Alpine Visitor Center is a popular tourist destination.

Drive Old Fall River Road

After many years of living in Colorado, my husband and I finally drove the Old Fall River Road (instead of Trail Ridge Road) to the Alpine Visitor Center and then on to Grand Lake.

Before Trail Ridge Road was finished in 1933, Old Fall River Road was the means of accessing Rocky Mountain National Park’s high country.

If you drive it today, note that it is a one-way gravel road without guard rails starting at Endovalley. The road is 11 miles long with numerous switchbacks and a posted speed limit of 15 miles per hour.

Snowshoe

Whether you have your own snowshoes or rent from the shops in Estes Park, be prepared for some amazing winter scenery within Rocky Mountain National Park.

Chris and I snowshoed to Alberta Falls and then from the falls up to Bear Lake. I don’t think I have ever felt my heart pound with so much exertion.

Snowshoeing in Rocky Mountain National Park

If you are going to venture out on snowshoes, just remember that the elevation in Rocky Mountain National Park is much higher than many tourists are accustomed to and be prepared with the appropriate winter hiking gear and safety equipment.

Take Pictures

Taking pictures is one of my favorite hobbies, and even though we have been to Rocky Mountain National Park dozens of times, I still find something beautiful to photograph each time we explore the park.

I always have my Canon camera [affiliate] handy.

Play in the Snow

One of our girls’ favorite memories is hiking to Alberta Falls in the snow on New Year’s Day and playing on the falls.

The falls had frozen over and we jumped off ledges, built a snow fort, and threw snowballs. Rocky Mountain National Park is perfect for making family memories Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall.

Alberta Falls in winter in Rocky Mountain National Park

The park is open to hiking all year round. Just be sure to come prepared for the weather.

Check out the Fall Foliage

Fall Foliage in the park is stunning. While the colors aren’t always as varied as in other national parks, the vibrant yellows of the aspen trees in Rocky Mountain National Park can’t be missed.

Fall Foliage at Endovalley in Rocky Mountain National Park

Ride Horses

To be fair, our family has never ridden horses in the park, but we see evidence that horses have been on the hiking trails.

There are a number of stables where you can schedule rides in the park.

Favorite Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Alberta Falls

While it does have some incline, this hike is fairly doable for young children. And the reward of seeing the falls at the end keeps you going. You hear the roaring of the falls long before you ever see them.

The hike to Alberta Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park begins from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead, located on Bear Lake Road almost 8 miles from the turn-off at Highway 36. Due to the extreme popularity of the Bear Lake Road area you may want to consider using the free park shuttle to reach the trailhead during the peak tourist season.

Roughly one-quarter of a mile from the parking area, just after crossing Chaos Creek, the trail briefly converges with the Glacier Creek Trail. After walking a very short distance the Glacier Creek Trail splits off to the right and heads toward Bear Lake. To continue on towards Alberta Falls hikers should turn left at this junction.

Rocky Mountain Hiking Trails

You will be astounded at the power of this 30-foot waterfall as it thunders down a small gorge on Glacier Creek.

Be prepared with good hiking shoes. We have seen so many tourists setting off in flip flops and heels!

I love my Oboz Hiking Boots [affiliates].

Mills Lake

As Chris and I ventured out on more winter hikes in 2021, we hiked to Mills Lake for the first time. Chris found the Mills Lake hike on the highly recommended AllTrails App. This hike continues on above Alberta Falls.

We had always stopped at Alberta Falls in the past without realizing there was so much more to see.

Mills Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

If you hike this trail in the snow, as Chris and I did, you will definitely need some cold-weather gear and crampons. The crampons made a HUGE difference and kept us from slipping in a number of spots.

And if you venture out on the ice, you can always say, “I walked on water!”

The Loch or Loch Vale

When you make the choice to hike to Mills Lake, you can also veer off to the right of the fork at Mills Junction (1.6 miles past Alberta Falls) and hike on to The Loch—another beautiful lake.

Mills Junction in Rocky Mountain National Park

As we have only been in the winter, the goal for Chris and I now is to hike both Mills Lake and The Loch in the summer. And perhaps explore even beyond to Sky Pond or Black Lake.

If you make the trip, not only will it be warmer in the summer, but you will also have longer daylight hours to explore around each of the lakes.

Ouzel Lake

If you choose to hike the 4.9 miles to Ouzel Lake, you will also pass Copeland Falls (only 0.3 miles from the parking lot), Calypso Cascades, and Ouzel Falls before you reach your destination.

Ouzel Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Start at the Wild Basin Trailhead just outside of the small town of Allenspark in the southeast corner of Rocky Mountain National Park. This is a well-traveled trail with many young families who like to hike to the lower falls.

The parking lot is busy, but with a little patience, you might find a spot close by. If not, there is overflow parking that you probably passed as you drove in.

Come prepared if you plan to hike the full ten miles round trip to Ouzel Lake and back. Bring snacks, plenty of water, Zipfizz, [affiliates] and dress appropriately for the weather.

Built bar protein bar

Bonus * Use Code SJTRAVELS at checkout for 10% off your Built Bar purchase.

Check out 10 Essentials for Your Best Day Hikes for all of the essentials whether you choose to hike in the summer or winter.

I love my Oofos Recovery Sandals after a long hike.

They don’t help much with the dirt though.

Dirty feet after hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park

Deer Mountain Trail

If you are looking for a little more challenge in your hiking, Deer Mountain Trail ascending from Deer Ridge Junction will have you huffing and puffing up the trail in no time with the 1120 elevation gain over 3.1 miles.

It is a popular hike with limited parking so it is recommended that you arrive early.

As you reach the top, you are treated to amazing views of both Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park in the east. Should you ever wish to enjoy sunrise views over Estes, well then, you shouldn’t have a problem finding a parking spot that early in the morning!

Deer Ridge view in Rocky Mountain National Park

East Portal

In an attempt to go on 21 hikes in 2021, Chris and I try to go hiking fairly regularly. Our girls are pretty consistent in declining our invitations to join us.

We hiked the East Portal Hike outside of Estes Park in June.

With the new reservation system, you have to have a timed slot in order to get into the Rocky Mountain National Park. We missed out on getting reservations when we were out of range in Yosemite.

Chris, however, found this cool hike where we actually didn’t have to go into the park to reach the trail head and we were able to skirt around the edge of the national park.

Around Bear Lake

The hike around Bear Lake is a nature trail (go counter-clockwise) to follow interpretive guides published by the Rocky Mountain Conservancy that provide historical, natural, and geological information at 30 different marked spots along the 0.8 mile trail.

The interpretive guide is a small booklet that can be purchased at the trailhead.

The nature trail is beautiful to follow with or without the guide and you’ll certainly find some picturesque moments along the way.

Bierstadt Lake

Typically the hike to Bierstadt Lake is an out and back hike from Bear Lake. However, you can choose to hike to Bierstadt Lake and then continue on around the lake to the opposite end.

Once you reach the lake, follow the posted signs to the Bierstadt Lake Trailhead on Bear Lake Road. Shuttle buses within the Bear Lake Road corridor of Rocky Mountain National park make stops here for pickups and will return you to the Bear Lake parking lot.

Lily Lake Loop

If you are looking for a fairly easy hike for the whole family with minimal elevation gain, the Lily Lake Loop is a great option. The trail is handicapped accessible and only 0.8 of a mile in length.

Lily Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

There is not a lot of shade along the trail so you may want to wear a hat, your sunglasses and put on some sunscreen.

Lily Lake is within Rocky Mountain National Park in the southeast corner of the park. It is free to visit without a park pass or a reservation.

Ypsilon and Lawn Lake

Whether you are going to Ypsilon Lake or Lawn Lake, both hikes begin at the Lawn Lake Trailhead. The switchback trail skirts up the side of the mountain behind the Alluvial Fan and follows Roaring River.

A word about the Alluvial Fan.

An alluvial fan is a triangle-shaped deposit of gravel, sand, and even smaller pieces of sediment, such as silt. This sediment is called alluviumAlluvial fans are usually created as flowing water interacts with mountains, hills, or the steep walls of canyons.

National Geographic

The Alluvial Fan in Rocky Mountain National Park was created in July of 1982 when the Lawn Lake Dam gave way and flooded the area as well as Estes Park. Massive rocks and boulders crashed down into the valley, leaving behind a huge pile.

A trail and bridge were built in 1985 and the area became a popular tourist stop within the park. The Front Range Flood of 2013 totally wiped out the infrastructure of the area, depositing sediment up to 15 feet deep in some places.

Alluvial Fan after slide in Rocky Mountain National Park

To hike to Ypsilon or Lawn Lake, you would reach the trailhead by driving 2.1 miles into Rocky Mountain National Park through the Fall River Entrance Station on Highway 34. Turn right at the sign for Old Fall River Road.

After hiking approximately 1.4 miles, you will arrive at the Ypsilon Lake Trail junction with the Ypsilon Lake Trail heading off to the left. Continue on the trail if you want to hike to Lawn Lake.

Give yourself plenty of time if you plan to hike to either lake. Ypsilon Lake is 9 miles round trip and Lawn Lake is 12.6 miles round trip.

We have never actually made it to either lake. We used to hike with young kids and it was too far to go all the way to Ypsilon when we hiked with them.

Chris and I started out for Lawn Lake recently on a cloudy afternoon. We turned back when the skies began to turn dark and thunder boomed. We logged about 7 miles that day.

Lake Haiyaha

Beautiful Lakes Haiyaha and Travel quotes for instagram

Chris and I found Lake Haiyaha in the summer of 2021. It has since become my FAVORITE hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. Not only because of the scenery in getting to the lake but also because the lake is a stunning turquoise blue.

Chris and I hiked past the trail to Lake Haiyaha in RMNP a number of times before finally tacking it on after our hike to Nymph Lake, Dream Lake and Emerald Lake along the Dream Lake Trail. All beautiful lakes in their own right, but Lake Haiyaha was the lake that caused a quick intake of breath as we scrambled over giant boulders to reach it. It was stunning.

What does Haiyaha mean? Some have joked that the meaning is: “You will never be able to pronounce this”, but it is actually an Arapahoe Indian word meaning “rock”.

Pronunciation is close to Hi-ya-ha. 

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Best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Final Thoughts on Things to Do in Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park is a national treasure within Colorado. It covers an area of 415 square miles with the Continental Divide running north to south through the park. After 20+ years of visiting the park, we are still finding new hikes and areas to explore.

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41 Comments
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Mary Williams
1 year ago

Great Article! We loved Estes park it was our favorite!! Thanks for sharing!!

Hannah
Hannah
1 year ago

What a fun list of things to do! That slide looks so fun!

Linda
1 year ago

There is so much to explore in Colorado. We’ve been maybe 3-4 times and have barely scratched the surface! I would love to go back and spend more time exploring these wonderful places you’ve highlighted. Great post, as always!

Genesis
1 year ago

Wow, it’s incredible how much there is to do here! Outdoorsy vacations are always my favourite ones. This has a lot of potential!

Helen Story
1 year ago

National Parks in the States are a different game to what we have here in the UK. So much open space…ad the wildlife! I’d love to visit one day. To see a bear would be magical!

Shelley
1 year ago

Thank you for all the helpful info. I would love to go one day.

lisa
lisa
1 year ago

I love RMNP! I grew up going to Estes Park, CO with my family every summer so we’ve gone all through that area many times. It’s so beautiful! I’m glad you’ve had a chance to take your girls there as well. God’s beauty is evident all around.

Amber
Amber
1 year ago

I love the rocky mountains and am so blessed to live in MT! I will definitely need to check this park out one day!

Jen
Jen
1 year ago

Thanks for sharing! This is really a great and complete list. I’ve actually never been to Rocky Mountain National Park…which is odd as I love places like this. The hikes look so beautiful, especially the Lily Lake Loop. The reflection is so cool!

Cassandra
1 year ago

Rocky Mountain National Park looks so incredibly beautiful with something for everyone to enjoy! The kind of place you could visit hundreds of times and still find a new area to explore.

Josy A
1 year ago

It’s awesome that after 20 years, you are still finding so many things to explore in Rocky Mountain National Park. I guess even if you do repeat some trails, so can go back in different seasons to see them looking totally different. 🙂
The whole area looks incredible and I LOVE the sound of those hikes.

Farrah
1 year ago

I got to visit 2 summers ago but feel like I barely scratched the surface because there was so much to do! Hoping to go back someday so I can knock off more of this list! :]

Linnea
Linnea
1 year ago

I would love to see the fall foliage here! Great tips on hiking boots too.

Hannah
9 months ago

Rocky Mountain National Park looks like a great place to explore! I’d love to tour the Stanley Hotel, I bet it is a fascinating place to visit! Thanks for the great guide!

Hannah
1 month ago

This is a bucket list destination for me! Thanks for sharing.

Terri
Terri
7 days ago

I love visiting our national Parks as often as possible. I can’t wait to return to Rocky Mountain. Great post!

Richa
7 days ago

This post is so timely as we are heading to RMNP end of this month. Cannot wait to see fall colors (fingers crossed they show up by then!).

KarlaTypes
7 days ago

Great post, the park sounds amazing!

Jasmina
Jasmina
7 days ago

Wow, this is incredible. I would love to go one day!

Elina
7 days ago

So many great hikes to follow in the Rocky Mountain National Park! The ones around Lake Haiyaha and Lily Lake must be very beautiful!

Fiona Mai
Fiona Mai
7 days ago

All these lovely hikes and cool winter activities sound so much fun! I’d definitely check out Rocky Mountain National Park next time I get to visit Colorado.

Faith Coates
7 days ago

One of the places that is on my bucket list since Colorado is one of my favourite states.

Andrea Cannon
6 days ago

I can’t wait to visit this park again.