There are many great things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park, and if you think hiking is all there is to do there, you are mistaken – there is so much more to see and do!
Founded on August 1, 1876, Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado has some of the most scenic and iconic spots in the United States. Its vast 415 square-miles of high-country land is home to thousands of elk, hundreds of bighorn sheep, mule deer, moose and bears. There are countless hiking trails, waterfalls, alpine lakes and of course, the impressive 14259-foot tall Longs Peak.
Rocky Mountain offers a large network of scenic drives, taking you through valleys, meadows, aspen groves, along rivers and high-alpine forests and lakes. There is an incredible network of hiking trails to get even closer to nature.
The park is incredibly vast and it takes about an hour to drive through it from one end to the other. You should at minimum spend two days at the park; one day enjoying one of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, and another day driving the full Trail Ridge Road including all the best pullovers to get a better sense of the entire park. Depending on how much time you have and how much you enjoy hiking, you could spend anywhere from 2-5 days exploring this beautiful park.
This post highlights the best things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park, including some of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, and shares some tips to help you plan your trip there.
GOOD TO KNOW: Pets are not allowed inside the national park.
11 Unmissable Things To Do In Rocky Mountain National Park
There’s no shortage of things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park, but one of the obvious top choices is hiking any of the 355 miles of trails in this park.
Walk the Bear Lake Trail Head Hikes
One of the unmissable things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park is walking the Bear Lake Trailhead. This is one of the most popular trailheads in the park. Given its popularity, this trailhead parking lot always fills up the fastest and you will likely need to take a shuttle here from the Park n’ Ride if you get to the park after 8am.
There are several trails here with varying difficulty.
Bear Lake Trail loop is an easy, flat, 0.8mile hike around Bear Lake. This is the first lake you encounter when you start the trail. The rest of the hike takes up to three more lakes: Nymph Lake, Dream Lake and Emerald Lake, on a total of 3.5 miles round trip. Keep in mind that the trailhead elevation is at 9500 feet so you may start to feel out of breath after taking the first few steps!
Admire Alberta Falls
You can’t go to the park and not visit Alberta Falls. This is one of the ultimate things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park. The trail to get there qualifies as of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. Alberta Falls trail starts from Glacier Gorge Trailhead but is also accessible from Bear Lake Trailhead if you lucked out with parking there! This is another easy 1.6 mile hike that takes you right up to the raging Alberta Falls.
GOOD TO KNOW: For more beautiful waterfalls, head to Chasm Falls, which you can reach via a short and easy hike. It’s located along the Old Fall River Road, the first road ever built into the park. Finally, Adams Falls can be reached on a short hike (less than a mile roundtrip) which you can access from Grand Lake, on the western side of the park.
Get Adventurous at the Sky Pond Trail
If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, one of the best things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park is hiking the Sky Pond Trail. This is considered one of the most scenic and best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. It is a strenuous 9 mile hike with a total of 1780 feet of elevation gain, starting off at Bear Lake Trail, going past Alberta falls and passing through a few more lakes until the trail finally reaches the spectacular Sky Pond.
GOOD TO KNOW: Keep in mind that the final elevation here is 10000 feet so on top of the hike itself being strenuous, the air is also incredibly thin which makes it harder to breathe!
Puff up the Fern Lake Trail
If you are up for the challenge, hiking the Fern Lake Trail certainly is one of the things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Fern Lake is one of the most strenuous hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. It stretches 7.6 miles roundtrip. Unlike the previous three trails, this has a mix of forests and valleys which eventually leads you to The Pool.
Escape the crowds at the Cub Lake Trail
One of the nicest things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park to escape the crowds is to head over the Cub Lake Trail.
This lower elevation and flatter trail is one of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. It takes you through a meadow where you’re almost guaranteed to see Elk roaming around. It’s a slightly longer hike of 4.8 miles, but could also be combined with Fern Creek Trail if you use a second car or the shuttle system.
GOOD TO KNOW: Another of the lesser known hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park is the one to Bierstadt Lake. It’s a 2.4 miles hike (roundtrip) which counts as moderately difficult.
Climb a 14er
Longs Peak is Rocky Mountain National Park’s only 14er and attracts climbers from all over the country who want to summit this peak. It is one of the hardest climbs in Colorado, but definitely one of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park; with a total elevation gain of 5000 feet, this roundtrip climb is a strenuous 16.8 miles.
GOOD TO KNOW: If you are looking for an easier hike, the Tundra Communities Trail is an easy one mile walk on a paved trail. Thanks to the information signs along the way, during the walk you can learn a lot about the tundra wilderness, which almost completely lacks trees!
TIP: Looking for more hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park? Check out this directory for a complete list inclusive of their difficulty rating and mileage.
Drive along the Trail Ridge Road
One of the top things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park is actually driving! The park is home to the highest continuous paved highway in America – Trail Ridge Road, located at 12183 above sea level. This scenic road is only open between Memorial Day and Labor Day (weather permitting) and is a 46-mile stretch that goes from Estes to Grand Lake.
The drive offers stunning views of the mountains and the park from the top. You’re likely going to need half a day just to drive along the Trail Ridge Road and soak in all the impressive mountain views and wildlife encounters!
GOOD TO KNOW: Among the best views along the Trail Ridge Road there is that of the Forest Canyon Overlook.
Go to the Great Divide
One of the coolest things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park is visiting the continental divide! The “Great Divide” separates drainage from the Atlantic to the Pacific. It ranges from Alaska almost to Cape Horn and you can visit it on your drive through Trail Ridge Road. Make a pit stop at Milner Pass to see the Continental Divide sign and take in the beautiful views of Poudre Lake. If you’re so inclined, you could also try out the 4 mile hike from the Alpine Visitor Center to Poudre Lake.
Stop by the Alpine Visitors Center
This is the highest visitor center in the country, located at 11796 feet above sea level. There is a nice viewing deck from there, but keep in mind the center isn’t open year round and only works limited hours in shoulder season.
Admire the stars
One of the nicest things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park if you plan to spend at least a night there is to admire the stars. The night sky is very clear in Rocky Mountain National Park, so if you get the chance to camp inside the park you will be rewarded with a beautiful view of the milky way at night! Make sure to check out the ranger-led programs including night sky and evening programs.
Enjoy other sports
Aside from hiking, one of the nicest things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park is horseback riding. If you enjoy fishing, there is no shortage of sport fishing spots.
Practical Information To Visit Rocky Mountain National Park
Best time to visit Rocky Mountain National Park
Peak time for visitors to the park is during the summer months of June through August. This is when the park is most crowded and it’s almost impossible to find a parking spot if you arrive after 7am! To avoid crowds, visit in May or September, when the weather is still nice but it’s not as busy as during the summer.
Weather can be completely unpredictable during these shoulder seasons so make sure you’re prepared for sudden thunderstorms or unexpected snowfall. It’s also worth noting that Trail Ridge Road is closed between September to May, so if this was something you wanted to do, you will have to embrace the crowds and visit during the peak season.
Rocky Mountain Weather
Although Rocky Mountain National Park is open year round, weather can make parts of the park inaccessible. You’ll need to check the National Park Service for up to date information on road closures and conditions. The weather can change very quickly in the mountains here; you can have sunny and hot weather one moment and thunderstorms and lightning the next. Make sure to bring warm clothes even in the summer months especially if you’re going to be hiking for longer periods.
Rocky Mountain Entrance Fee
Rocky Mountain National Park requires an entrance fee. If you have the America the Beautiful annual or lifetime entrance pass, you will not need to pay any additional fee.
Otherwise, this is the breakdown for day passes to the park:
1-Day Vehicle Pass – $25.00 USD
1-Day Person Pass – $15.00 USD (walk-ins, bicycles)
1-Day Motorcycle Pass – $25.00 USD.
For up to date pricing information visit the National Park Service website.
Getting to Rocky Mountain National Park and guided tours
Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the best and most common weekend trips from Denver since it’s just a short drive away from Denver International Airport. The easiest way to get to Rocky Mountain National Park is by car since there are so many different trails and places to explore within the park.
Rocky Mountain National Park has two entrances; one from the East side if you’re coming from Estes Park and one from the West side if you’re coming from Grand Lake.
There is no bus that will take you from the airport to the park, although if you’re staying in Estes Park, there is a free public shuttle from Estes Park that can take you up to the park and is connected to Rocky Mountain’s shuttle system.
Due to the large number of visitors during peak months, it is highly recommended to park at the Park & Ride and take the shuttle to any of the trails you’re interested in. Refer to the Rocky Mountain Shuttle Bus Schedule for up to date information on which routes and stops are currently open.
You can also visit Rocky Mountain National Park on guided day trips departing from Denver or Boulder. These are the best options:
- Rocky Mountain National Park tour from Denver and Boulder – this excellent tour includes some of the short hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park as well as a drive along the Trail Ridge Road.
- Strictly the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park: guided tour departing from Denver or Boulder – the best way to enjoy the national park!
- 8-hour private tour of Rocky Mountain National Park – a perfect tour if you are traveling in a small group, as it is fully customizable.
Rocky Mountain National Park Accommodation
There are 5 campgrounds in Rocky Mountain National Park. Aspenglen, Glacier Basin, and Moraine all require reservations, while Longs Peak and Timber Creek campgrounds work on a first-come first-served basis. Most of these are open June through October but make sure to plan ahead by checking the current status and availability on the National Park Service website.
Estes Park Lodging
The only option for accommodation inside the park is camping. If you’re looking for something more, you can check out any of the lodging options in Estes Park, since it’s just on the outskirts of Rocky Mountain National Park. There are also lots of beautiful and free hiking trails that start from Estes Park that do not require you to go through the Rocky Mountain National Park entrance.
YMCA Of the Rockies
YMCA Of the Rockies is a popular choice among visitors and locals alike. It’s just outside the entrance to Rocky Mountain, in Estes Park, and is a destination in itself. It’s surrounded by Rocky Mountain National Park in all directions, and has several hiking trails of its own that start from the property. The YMCA of the Rockies offers activities for families like guided hiking tours, horseback riding, swimming, fishing, indoor climbing, dining and a selection of educational programs.
Estes Park Airbnbs
You really can’t go wrong with getting an Airbnb in Estes. Surrounded by mountains and lakes on all sides, your Estes Park accommodation is guaranteed to have mountain views and some wildlife visitors!
This historic 1br downtown cabin with hot tub and views is a great option.
Grand Lake Hotels
Grand lake is located on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park and deserves a few days to explore on its own. This is a great place to base yourself in when visiting the park due to its proximity and abundance of things to do. Grand Lake is the largest natural body of water in Colorado so naturally, people love to vacation here from all over the state!
For a high end luxury stay, check out Grand Lake Lodge which offers a swimming pool and on-site restaurant, playgrounds, hot tub and more.
For a more budget-friendly place, consider this stunning Grand Lake Airbnb with lake views.
Make sure to read the following posts to plan the perfect US trip:
- 10 Not To Miss Hikes Near Denver
- 12 Free Things To Do In Denver
- The 23 Best National Parks In USA
- 12 Unmissable Things To Do In Yellowstone
- The 20 Best Places To Visit In California That You Can’t Miss
- 35 Unmissable Things To Do In California
This post was contributed by Dalya, the creator, writer and photographer behind Sweet Little Journey. Dalya currently lives in Colorado with her family, enjoying everything that it has to offer. She loves the mountains and nature and gets out hiking as much as possible, wherever possible. Her kids have been traveling from as young as 4 months and have learned to adapt to new scenarios and locations very quickly. You can follow her on Instagram too.
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