Best Things to Do in Rocky Mountain National Park: 12 Essential Places to Visit

by Emil Backup
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Are you planning a trip to Colorado and seeking an unforgettable outdoor experience? Look no further than the majestic Rocky Mountain National Park. Here are some of the most fun, visually breathtaking, and unique things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park. This natural wonderland is a treasure trove of scenic vistas, diverse wildlife, and thrilling adventures that will leave you with memories to last a lifetime.

Renowned for its breathtaking mountain ranges, Rocky Mountain National Park is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. As far as the best things to do in the Rocky Mountains go, there’s a myriad of activities to immerse yourself in the beauty of the great outdoors. This makes it perfect for avid hikers, wildlife enthusiasts, and nature lovers.

From the awe-inspiring Trail Ridge Road to the tranquil Bear Lake, from the challenging Longs Peak to the serene Moraine Park, there’s no shortage of sights to see and places to explore in Rocky Mountain National Park. There truly is something for everyone. That’s why it’s crucial to know which spots align best with your interests. To assist you, I’ve curated a list of some of the most exciting attractions in Rocky Mountain National Park. Let’s dive in! Here’s everything you need to know about these fun things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park.

With its rich biodiversity and stunning landscapes, Rocky Mountain National Park is a must-visit destination for any Colorado itinerary. Seeking thrilling adventures or peaceful retreats? This park has it all.

The best things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park right now.
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Best Things to Do in Rocky Mountain National Park: Unforgettable Mountain Adventures

Ready to deep dive into the coolest things to do in the Rocky Mountains? As noted above, this natural wonderland has something for everyone. So keep reading! 

Are you seeking exhilarating explorations and adrenaline-pumping adventures? Or would you prefer a calm, peaceful, and secluded getaway? Whatever your plans, Rocky Mountain National Park can cater to your needs. Here’s all the best attractions in Rocky Mountain National Park that you should know about.

1. Trail Ridge Road

For an experience like no other, you’ll want to check out this top place to visit in Rocky Mountain National Park. The scenic Trail Ridge Road, known as “the highway to the sky”, is an engineering marvel that stretches 48 miles, reaching a peak elevation of over 12,000 feet. In fact, 11 of the road’s 48 miles are above the tree line at over 11,500 feet high.

This road offers unparalleled, panoramic views of the mountains, which are typically only available to the most adventurous backcountry backpackers. While you’re up there, don’t miss the chance to visit the Alpine Visitor Center, where the park service has some great exhibits and refreshments.

Please note that this road is closed in winter, so plan your visit accordingly. If you’re up for a short hike, consider the Alpine Ridge Trail. Situated at an elevation of 11,976 feet, it’s one of the highest trails in North America. Starting at the Alpine Ridge Visitor Center, the trail itself is a short, scenic walk amongst the peaks.

So, if you’re wondering where to go in Rocky Mountain National Park, the Trail Ridge Road should definitely be on your list. It’s a drive that promises an unforgettable journey through the heart of the Rockies, with vistas that will leave you in awe of nature’s grandeur.

Trail Ridge Road
Trail Ridge Road

2. Nymph, Dream, & Emerald Lakes

As far as things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park go, this activity is among the coolest! One of the most popular activities is the Nymph, Dream, & Emerald Lakes hike. This moderate hike starts at the Bear Lake Trailhead and follows Tyndall Creek via the Emerald Lake Trail all the way up to Emerald Lake. The first lake you’ll encounter is Nymph Lake, which is more like a pond. Next, you’ll come across Dream Lake, a crowd favorite with dramatic views of Flattop Mountain. Finally, you’ll reach Emerald Lake at the 1.6-mile mark, surrounded by steep walls.

This hike is primarily used as a summer and fall hike due to the heavy snow in winter and early spring. The trail offers a unique experience of the park’s high elevations. If you’re wondering what to do in Rocky Mountain National Park, this hike should definitely be on your list. It’s a journey that takes you through some of the park’s most beautiful landscapes, offering a rewarding experience for those who undertake it.

Exploring the Best Things to Do in Rocky Mountain National Park: Discovering Nature's Jewels at Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lakes.
Exploring the best things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park: Discovering Nature’s Jewels at Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lakes.

3. Odessa & Fern Lakes

If you’re seeking a less crowded trail that still offers breathtaking views, the Odessa and Fern Lakes hike is one of the most unique things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park. This moderately difficult trail spans 7.5 miles and ascends more than 1,400 feet, offering a rewarding challenge for those who undertake it. The trail is particularly scenic, with opportunities for fishing in the lakes and a chance to escape the busier areas of the park.

Starting from the Bear Lake trailhead, you’ll embark on a journey through lush forests, past cascading waterfalls, and up rocky inclines. As you ascend, you’ll be rewarded with stunning views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. The trail culminates at Odessa and Fern Lakes, two high alpine lakes nestled amidst the rugged mountain landscape.

Odessa Lake, the first you’ll encounter, is a serene spot surrounded by towering peaks. The clear, cold waters reflect the surrounding scenery, creating a picture-perfect moment. A little further on, Fern Lake unfolds. This lake is larger and offers a different perspective on the park’s stunning landscape. The journey itself is filled with beauty and wonder. From the rustling leaves of the aspen and pine trees to the distant sound of waterfalls, the Odessa and Fern Lakes hike is a sensory delight. It’s a less-traveled path that leads to some of the park’s most beautiful scenery. As one of the top Rocky Mountain National Park attractions, you’ll definitely want to add this to your travel itinerary.

Odessa and Fern Lakes in the mountains
Nature’s Reflections: Captivating Odessa and Fern Lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

4. Sprague Lake

Yearning for a getaway like no other? If you’re wondering where to go in Rocky Mountain National Park for a serene and picturesque start to your day, look no further than Sprague Lake. Nestled at an elevation of 8,700 feet, this tranquil spot is easily accessible and offers a stunning panorama that’s particularly breathtaking at sunrise.

As the first light of day gently illuminates the sky, the lake’s surface mirrors the changing colors, creating a mesmerizing spectacle. It’s a sight that will make you feel as if you’re in a painting, with the calm waters of the lake set against the backdrop of the majestic Rocky Mountains.

Sprague Lake is a haven for wildlife. If you’re lucky, you might spot a moose or deer taking a morning dip in the lake. The trail around the lake is an easy, scenic jaunt, perfect for families or those looking to stretch their legs in the fresh mountain air.

The lake is also equipped with several picnic tables and benches, making it an ideal spot for a leisurely breakfast as you soak in the beauty around you. Pack your camera, as the sunrise at Sprague Lake is a sight you’ll want to capture.

Visiting Sprague Lake is undoubtedly one of the coolest things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s a place of natural beauty that offers a tranquil retreat from the world, a moment of peace that sets the perfect tone for the rest of your day exploring the park.

Embracing Nature's Delights: Experiencing the Best Things to Do at Sprague Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Experiencing the best things to do at Sprague Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park.

5. Majestic Elk

One of the best activities in Rocky Mountain National Park is to admire the Majestic Elk. The park is home to a large population of these magnificent creatures, and it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll catch a glimpse of them during your visit. In the fall, you can witness and hear the park’s elk population perform their famous bugling calls during rutting season. The strange calls of these massive animals are truly something to see and hear!

If you’re a wildlife lover, then elk spotting is a must on your list. Some of the best places to see elk in the park include Moraine Park, Trail Ridge Road, Bear Lake Road, Upper Beaver Meadows, Horseshoe Park, and Kawuneeche Valley. So, grab your binoculars and camera, and get ready for an unforgettable wildlife viewing experience!

While it’s exciting to see these animals up close, it’s important to respect their space and observe them from a safe distance. After all, we’re visitors in their home. Enjoy the experience and take lots of pictures to remember your encounter with the majestic elk of Rocky Mountain National Park. As such, this Rocky Mountain National Park attraction is one of the most popular sights in the state.

Graceful Encounters: Witnessing Majestic Elk in the Splendor of Rocky Mountain National Park.
Graceful Encounters: Witnessing Majestic Elk in the Splendor of Rocky Mountain National Park.

6. Stargazing in Rocky Mountain National Park

Attractions in Rocky Mountain National Park come in all shapes and sizes, but this one is among the best! One of the most magical experiences you can have here is to simply look up at the night sky. The park, while not officially designated as a dark sky park, is still one of the best places in Colorado, and indeed the whole of America, for stargazing. On a clear night, you can see an unfathomable number of stars, including the Milky Way, painting a picture of the universe’s vastness right above you.

So, if you’re wondering what to do in Rocky Mountain National Park, consider spending an evening under the stars. It’s a sight that will stay with you long after your visit to the park is over. An amateur astronomer or just someone who appreciates the beauty of the night sky? Stargazing in Rocky Mountain National Park is an experience you won’t want to miss.

Bring a blanket or a comfortable chair, some warm clothing, and perhaps a hot drink, and let the universe put on a show just for you. It’s one of the coolest activities in Rocky Mountain National Park, and it’s completely free!

Connecting with the Cosmos: Stargazing in Rocky Mountain National Park's Enchanted Skies.
Connecting with the Cosmos

7. Upper Beaver Meadows

Looking for what to do in Rocky Mountain National Park? Look no further than Upper Beaver Meadows. This area, tucked away from the usual tourist bustle, is a haven of tranquility and natural beauty. In the spring and summer, the meadow is a riot of color, filled with a variety of wildflowers that paint a picturesque landscape.

As you wander through the meadow, keep your eyes peeled for the local wildlife. Deer, elk, and if you’re lucky, even moose, are known to frequent this area. The Upper Beaver Meadows Trail is an easy hike, making it perfect for families or those seeking a leisurely stroll in nature. The trail offers a fantastic vantage point of the surrounding mountains and peaks, making it a photographer’s dream.

The best places in Rocky Mountain National Park aren’t always the most popular or crowded ones. Sometimes, it’s the quiet, lesser-known spots like Upper Beaver Meadows that truly capture the park’s essence. The park is a place to connect with nature and to breathe in the fresh mountain air. For those seeking a relaxing getaway in nature, Upper Beaver Meadows is a destination you should know about.

Elevated Serenity: Among the best things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park - Exploring Upper Beaver Meadows.
Among the best things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park is exploring Upper Beaver Meadows.

8.  Boulder Brook

If you’re wondering where to visit in Rocky Mountain National Park, Boulder Brook should be on your list. Nestled in the heart of the park, this tranquil spot is a haven for those seeking a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of daily life.

As you meander along the brook, you’ll be serenaded by the gentle babbling of the water as it winds its way through the landscape. The trail is a moderate 4.6-mile round trip, with an elevation gain of 1,400 feet, making it an ideal choice for those seeking a leisurely hike.

The brook is particularly enchanting in the fall, when the leaves of the surrounding trees transform into a vibrant palette of reds, oranges, and yellows. This natural spectacle is a sight to behold. As you stroll along the trail, take a moment to soak in the serene beauty of the brook and the surrounding forest. This is the perfect spot to pause, reflect, and connect with nature. The best adventures are the ones that allow us to slow down and appreciate the world around us. So, if you’re looking for Rocky Mountain National Park things to do that offer a blend of tranquility and natural beauty, a leisurely stroll by Boulder Brook is a must. 

Hiking the Boulder Brook Trail is a must-do
Exploring Nature’s Symphony: Among the best things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park – Following the Boulder Brook Trail.

9. Cub Lake Trail

Looking for things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park that combines tranquility, natural beauty, and a moderate challenge? Then the Cub Lake trail is your answer. Nestled near Moraine Park, this trail offers a 6-mile round trip journey that is sure to captivate your senses.

The trail begins by meandering through a verdant meadow, where you might spot elk grazing in the early morning or late afternoon. As you continue, the path takes you through a forested area, which was affected by a fire in 2012. The regrowth process has resulted in a fascinating landscape, with new life sprouting amidst the charred remains of trees.

The trail’s namesake, Cub Lake, is a serene body of water surrounded by lily pads. The lake’s surface often mirrors the surrounding hills and the sky, creating a picture-perfect scene. The trail offers a moderate elevation gain of 700 feet, making it a suitable adventure for those seeking a bit of a challenge without being overly strenuous.

The Cub Lake trail is a testament to the resilience of nature and the enduring beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park. It offers a blend of wildlife viewing, interesting landscapes, and a peaceful lake destination. If you love hiking and being close to nature, visiting the Cub Lake trail is one of the most unique things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park you don’t want to miss.

Nature's Gathering Place: Discovering Moraine Park - A Highlight of Rocky Mountain National Park.
Discovering Moraine Park

10. Alluvial Fan

A visit to Rocky Mountain National Park would be incomplete without a trip to the Alluvial Fan. This natural wonder is a testament to the park’s dynamic geology and the power of water.

In 1982, an earthen dam at Lawn Lake gave way, sending a torrent of water rushing down Roaring River. The deluge carried with it an enormous amount of rock debris, which spread out across the valley floor in a fan-shaped deposit, hence the name “Alluvial Fan.” Today, this area is a sight to behold, with a beautiful waterfall cascading over the boulders and rocks, creating a stunning spectacle.

The Alluvial Fan is easily accessible, with a trail that’s fully wheelchair-friendly, making it a perfect destination for all visitors. The half-mile trail offers two access points (East and West) with minimal elevation gain, making it a leisurely 15-30 minute stroll. The newly improved boardwalk trail makes it an ideal choice for families with young children and people with mobility issues.

As you walk along the trail, take a moment to appreciate the raw power of nature that shaped this landscape. The rushing water, the rugged boulders, and the serene surroundings make the Alluvial Fan one of the unique places in Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s a reminder that even in the face of destruction, nature finds a way to create something beautiful.

So, if you’re planning a trip to the park, make sure to add the Alluvial Fan to your itinerary. It’s a walk through the park’s history, a testament to the ever-changing and enduring beauty of nature. It’s one of the coolest Rocky Mountain National Park things to do, and a sight you won’t want to miss.

Artistry of Water and Stone: Exploring the Alluvial Fan in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Artistry of Water and Stone: Exploring the Alluvial Fan in Rocky Mountain National Park.

11. Lily Lake

This is one of the best things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park, hands down. Let me introduce you to the hidden gem of Lily Lake. Nestled at the edge of the park, Lily Lake is a serene oasis that offers a peaceful retreat from the bustling park activities.

The lake is encircled by an easy, flat trail that’s just over a mile long, making it a perfect spot for families with young children or those seeking a leisurely stroll. As you meander around the lake, you’ll be treated to stunning views of Longs Peak and Mount Meeker, two of the park’s most iconic mountains.

But the beauty of Lily Lake isn’t confined to its shores. The lake is a haven for wildlife, and if you’re lucky, you might spot beavers, ducks, and even moose. And let’s not forget the wildflowers that bloom in abundance during the spring and summer, adding a splash of color to the landscape. You should not miss the sunrise or sunset. The calm waters of the lake reflect the changing colors of the sky, creating a mesmerizing spectacle that’s worth waking up early or staying up late for.

So, if you’re looking for unique places in Rocky Mountain National Park, make sure to add Lily Lake to your itinerary. It’s a tranquil corner of the park that offers a different kind of adventure, one that’s all about slowing down and soaking in the beauty of nature.

Tranquility Revealed: Lily Lake
Lily Lake is a tranquil plac

12. Alpine Tundra

The Alpine Tundra is one of the coolest things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s a place that offers a different perspective of the park’s beauty. You’ll find the Alpine Tundra on the park’s higher slopes and summits, where it offers breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. The tundra’s stark, windswept landscapes are a stark contrast to the lush forests and meadows found at lower elevations in the park.

The tundra is a high-altitude biome that exists above the treeline, where the air is thin, the wind is strong, and the temperatures are cold. Despite these harsh conditions, a variety of hardy plants and animals have adapted to live here.

One of the best ways to experience the Alpine Tundra is by hiking. There are several trails that traverse this unique biome, offering opportunities to see its unique flora and fauna up close. As you hike, you’ll be treated to panoramic views that are truly awe-inspiring.

Visiting the Alpine Tundra is a must-see in Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s a reminder of the park’s diverse ecosystems and the resilience of nature. So, don your warmest clothes, lace up your hiking boots, and prepare to be amazed by the stark beauty of the Alpine Tundra. It’s an experience you won’t soon forget.

Gateway to the Sky: Exploring Rocky Mountain National Park's Alpine Tundra Visitor Center.
Gateway to the Sky: Exploring the Alpine Tundra Visitor Center.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about the Best Things to Do in Rocky Mountain National Park

Looking for more content on the top things to do in the Rocky Mountains? Here are some popular questions (and answers) I get that will help you plan your trip to Rocky Mountain National Park:

What is the best time to visit Rocky Mountain National Park?

The best time to visit Rocky Mountain National Park is from June to September when the snow is melted and the majority of the park’s roads and trails are open to the public. However, keep in mind that this is also the busiest time of the year.

What can you do in the Rocky Mountains national park?

Rocky Mountain National Park offers a wide variety of activities and experiences for visitors of all ages and interests. Here’s an overview of some of the things you can do in the Rocky Mountains:

Hiking and Backpacking

  • Trail Ridge Road: Drive or hike along this famous road for breathtaking views.
  • Hiking Trails: With over 300 miles of hiking trails, there’s something for every skill level. This includes everything from easy walks to challenging backcountry hikes.
  • Backpacking: Obtain a permit for overnight backpacking trips to explore the park’s wilderness.

Wildlife Viewing

  • Elk, Moose, and More: Keep an eye out for wildlife such as elk, moose, bighorn sheep, and marmots.
  • Birdwatching: The park is home to a variety of bird species, making it a great spot for bird enthusiasts.

Scenic Drives

  • Old Fall River Road: A one-way, unpaved road that offers stunning views and a more rugged driving experience.
  • Many Parks Curve: A popular overlook providing panoramic views of the park’s diverse ecosystems.

Water Activities

  • Fishing: Enjoy fishing in the park’s many lakes and streams, following the proper regulations.
  • Kayaking and Canoeing: Some of the park’s lakes allow non-motorized boating.

Winter Activities

  • Snowshoeing and Cross-Country Skiing: Explore the park’s winter wonderland on snowshoes or skis.
  • Sledding: Hidden Valley is a popular spot for family-friendly sledding.

Camping

  • Campgrounds: Spend a night under the stars at one of the park’s campgrounds.
  • RV Camping: Certain campgrounds accommodate RVs, though there are no hookups in the park.

Can I bring my pet to Rocky Mountain National Park?

Yes, pets are allowed in Rocky Mountain National Park, but they must be on a leash at all times and are not allowed on trails or in the backcountry. They are allowed in campgrounds, picnic areas, and along roadsides.

Are there any entrance fees to Rocky Mountain National Park?

Yes, there is an entrance fee for Rocky Mountain National Park. The fee varies depending on the type of pass you purchase. For the most current information on fees, it’s best to check the official National Park Service website.

What wildlife can I expect to see in Rocky Mountain National Park?

Rocky Mountain National Park is home to a variety of wildlife, including elk, moose, bighorn sheep, black bears, and mule deer. Birdwatchers will also enjoy the park, as it is home to over 280 species of birds.

Nature's Grand Canvas: Exploring the Wonders of Rocky Mountain National Park.
Nature’s Grand Canvas: Exploring the Wonders of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Are there any guided tours available in Rocky Mountain National Park?

Yes, there are a variety of guided tours available in Rocky Mountain National Park. These range from ranger-led hikes and talks to commercial tours that can be arranged through outside companies.

What activities can visitors do at Rocky Mountain National Park?

Visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park can immerse themselves in a plethora of activities, from hiking on over 300 miles of trails and wildlife spotting, to scenic drives and stargazing. In the winter, the park transforms, offering snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and sledding amidst its stunning, snowy landscape.

How much time do you need at Rocky Mountain National Park?

The amount of time you’ll need at Rocky Mountain National Park depends on what you want to see and do. It also depends on your interests and preferences. Here’s a general guide to help you plan:

  • Half-Day or Full-Day Visit: If you’re limited on time, you can still see some of the park’s highlights. A drive along Trail Ridge Road, a short hike or two, and some wildlife viewing can be accomplished in a day. You’ll get a taste of the park’s beauty but may feel a bit rushed.
  • 2-3 Days: A 2-3 day visit allows you to explore different areas of the park. Take some moderate hikes, enjoy scenic drives, and perhaps try activities like fishing or a ranger-led program. You’ll have a more immersive experience and a chance to see various landscapes and ecosystems.
  • 4-5 Days: With 4-5 days, you can explore the park more thoroughly. This includes less-visited areas, longer or more challenging hikes, and time for relaxation and photography. You might also consider a camping experience or a guided horseback ride.
  • A Week or More: A longer stay gives you the opportunity to truly explore the park’s diverse offerings. This includes backcountry hiking, rock climbing, and more time for wildlife watching, stargazing, and other activities. You can take your time and enjoy the park at a leisurely pace. Perhaps, venture into nearby areas like Estes Park.

Is Rocky Mountain National Park worth visiting?

Absolutely, Rocky Mountain National Park is a treasure trove of natural beauty. It offers visitors a diverse range of experiences from breathtaking scenic drives to challenging hikes. Its unique blend of wildlife, majestic peaks, and tranquil lakes make it a must-visit destination for nature lovers and adventure seekers alike.

Closing Thoughts on Visiting Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park is a treasure trove of natural beauty, offering a myriad of activities for outdoor enthusiasts. From hiking and wildlife viewing to stargazing and scenic drives, the park provides an unforgettable experience for visitors of all ages. So pack your bags, lace up your hiking boots, and get ready to explore one of America’s most beloved national parks. You’re in for a treat!

Best Things to Do in Rocky Mountain National Park.
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