Rocky Mountain National Park: The Must-See Checklist

The Must-See Checklist at RMNP:

If you haven’t been to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), below is a must-see checklist to get you started. The park encompasses 415 square miles, a daunting amount of trails and sights to see. When Planning your summer trip, we suggest selecting a few hikes with spectacular destinations to maximize your experience. Regular visitors know this place is incredibly magical, and a new adventure is always waiting at RMNP.

Bear Lake

Take the free park shuttle to the trailhead of this extremely popular must-see family hike in RMNP. Tackle the 0.8-mile path counter-clockwise to follow along with the self-guided interpretive tour. Morning is best for missing the crowds, spotting wildlife, and capturing glowing a.m. images of Hallett Peak and Longs Peak reflecting off the water. must-see Bear Lake - Rocky Mountain National Park

Wild Basin Area

Drive the Peak to Peak Scenic Highway (Hwy. 7) between Meeker and Allenspark and look for signs to this tucked-away corner of RMNP. You’ll find numerous trailheads to iconic hikes, like Ouzel Falls and Calypso Cascades, and will quickly agree with historic naturalist Enos Mills’ description of the area: “the land of many waters.” Hike around Bluebird Lake in July and August for the ultimate wildflower spectacle.

Alpine Visitor Center

The highest facility of its kind in the National Park Service, this visitor center sits at 11,796 feet and is hidden under snow for most of the year. In May, crews plow and dig it out, opening for the summer season and providing an idyllic must-see lunchtime pit stop or photo op along Trail Ridge Road. Hit the visitor center’s bookstore, gift shop, and snack bar, and don’t miss the ranger-led walks.

Trail Ridge Road

This famous twisting ribbon of highway was built in 1931 to unveil “the whole sweep of the Rockies before you in all directions.” These must-see roadway cruses 48 miles from Estes Park to Grand Lake. Enjoy breathtaking views, alpine tundra, and wildflowers. Watch as the green aspen and ponderosa pine fade up and into rugged tundra, topping out above treeline at 12,183 feet. Look for wildlife such as pikas, marmots, ptarmigans, and bighorn sheep, and bring extra layers—it’s often 20 degrees cooler up here.

Alberta Falls

Turn off of Hwy. 36 onto Bear Lake Road to reach this trailhead. Follow the path across Chaos Creek and veer left to head to Alberta Falls. The 1.7-mile hike is rated easy and brings hikers through mixed pine forest and aspen groves, eventually approaching a must-see 30-foot waterfall with rocks to perch on for a picnic and photo shoot. The waterfall is named for an original Estes Park settler, Alberta Sprague. If you’re up for the challenge, extend your hike and trek up to Mills Lake. must-see Alberta Falls - RMNP

Moraine Park

This must-see is best saved for early autumn. One of the national park’s most popular roadside pull-off spots, Moraine Park, opens up to an expansive viewing space (also check out Horseshoe Park and Sheep Lakes) and affords the ideal, safe spot to witness large herds of elk, hear them bugle and gather harems of female cows. You may even glimpse bighorn sheep, ptarmigan, and coyotes here. If you time it just right, an autumn trifecta comes together with the elk rut, peaking gold aspen trees, and crisp Colorado bluebird skies. Aim for mid-September to mid-October for this postcard-perfect landscape.

After the Must-See at RMNP

Dinner, strolling, and shopping in Estes Park, the gateway to RMNP, is the icing on a long day of adventuring. Camping is available at RMNP; however, reservations are recommended. Or, there is plenty of lodging in the Estes Park area, including rustic cabins.

By Lisa Blake

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