The Perfect Day at Rocky Mountain National Park

Saturday, September 5, 2020

one day at rocky mountain national park
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I traveled to Rocky Mountain National Park at the end of July for the first time and left wishing I had more days to hike and explore the park. Instead of staying in Estes Park, we found an amazing little Airbnb in Longmont, Colorado. It was a lot cheaper to stay a little further away from the park. The 45 minute drive to the park entrance felt like nothing after a 13 hour drive from Saint Louis. We entered the park just after 8 a.m. and spotted a few moose on our way in (keep your eyes peeled!), so I knew it was going to be a good day. 

Rocky Mountain National Park Entrances

  • Beaver Meadows Entrance (Estes Park)
  • Fall River Entrance
  • Wild Basin Entrance
  • Grand Lake Entrance

moose at rocky mountain national park

trail ride road rmnp

Drive Trail Ridge Road

2-3 hours
Open from Memorial Day to mid-October, driving up Trail Ridge Road is a must-do when you visit Rocky Mountain National Park. Travel above the treeline up to 12,183 feet (at the highest point). We saw elk, deer and marmots on our way up to the Alpine Visitor Center. There is a gift shop at the top as well, where I snagged a t-shirt and a Christmas Tree ornament. The views are spectacular and absolutely worth the drive. I read a lot of recommendations to make Trail Ridge Road the first thing you do because it can get very busy in the afternoons. We definitely noticed there were more cars coming up on our way down, even with limited entry into the park. I also recommend wearing long pants and packing a jacket in your car because the temperature drops like crazy as you make your way up. Weather conditions can also change quickly. You can call 970-586-1222 for updates.

Visitors Centers in Rocky Mountain National Park

hidden valley rocky mountain national park

We stopped at Hidden Valley picnic area to change into shorts and walked around the short loop there to check out the creek. We saw a mule deer and wild turkey at this stop! I think that the animals were more active and visible due to restrictions on park traffic, but I don't personally know how common these sightings are normally. I definitely saw more animals than I expected. 

Eat Lunch at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is one of the most accessible and picturesque lakes at Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s a popular destination for those reasons, but there are also free shuttles from a few parking lots. The trail looping around the lake is about a mile and there are several other trails to hike. We walked part of the way around and found a spot to eat our picnic lunch before finishing the loop and heading up to Emerald and Dream Lake. 

bear lake trail loop    trails for beginners at rocky mountain national park

My Favorite Hiking Snacks:

  • Mixed Nuts
  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Granola
  • Dried Fruit

Hike to Emerald Lake

There are plenty of trails that begin at Bear Lake, but we chose Emerald Lake in advance. It’s a 3.5 mile round trip with 650 feet of elevation gain. It’s technically an easy hike but if you haven’t hiked at an elevation before (me) it can be challenging as the whole trail is uphill and unpaved. There are lots of places worth stopping for pictures and views (and to catch your breath) on the way up. We sat at Dream Lake for a while watching the rainbow trout before continuing to Emerald Lake. The whole trip probably took us over two hours, but the majority of that was heading up the trail and making stops.

dream lake at rocky mountain national park

Other Trails at Bear Lake Trailhead:

  • Alberta Falls: 0.8 miles, 160ft elevation gain
  • Bierstadt Lake: 1.6 miles, 566ft elevation gain
  • Flattop Mountain: 4.4 miles, 2,849ft elevation gain
  • Lake Haiyaha: 2.1 miles, 745ft elevation gain
  • Lake Helene: 2.9 miles, 1,215ft elevation gain
  • The Loch: 3.1 miles, 990 ft elevation gain

General Hiking Tips:

  • Don’t feed the wildlife (even when the chipmunks literally beg).
  • Pack extra water in your backpack.
  • Dress in layers, the temperatures change a lot.
  • Wear sunscreen even on a cloudy day.
  • Pack a rain jacket or poncho.
I really enjoyed my trip to Rocky Mountain National Park this summer and I would love to go back. I loved the change in scenery that the mountains offered. This trip also inspired me to add several other National Parks to my bucket list. 

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perfect one day at rocky mountain national park

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