Updated: Jan 4
Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the nation's highest national parks that consists of 77 peaks over 12,000 feet in elevation and Trail Ridge Road, which is the highest continuously paved highway in the nation. The Alpine Visitor's Center (11,796 feet) is the highest-elevation visitor center in any national park.
Table of Contents
The best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park
[9.8 Miles; 1761 ft. Elevation Gain; Out & Back; Rating; Hard]
This is a difficult hike, yet completely worth it for some of the most EPIC views in RMNP. Although rated "hard" this hike is more on the moderate end when completed in the summer months and is a wonderful way to see three lakes within one hike.
First, is the beautiful Loch Lake, followed by Lake of Glass, and finally Sky Pond. Once you approach Timberline Falls, you are required to scramble up the waterfall to get to the Lake of Glass (be careful of ice and check weather conditions in colder months). Although the views at Lake of Glass are incredible, be sure to continue on an additional 0.3 miles to Sky Pond. You will find the trail to Sky Pond off to the right side of Lake of Glass. The difficulty level does increase in this last 0.3 miles, however, the views are magnificent and definitely worth the hike!
A word of warning, this hike is very popular and the small parking lot at the trailhead is usually full by 6 am. Get there early or park at the Bear Lake Trailhead where there is additional parking (adds about 1 mile of hiking each way). We estimate 5-6 hours to complete this hike.
Also Read: Top 8 Hikes & Day Trips from Denver
[0.8 Miles; 39 ft. Elevation Gain; Loop; Rating: Easy]
Sprague Lake is a scenic lake featuring an easily accessible walking path around its perimeter and offers picturesque views of Flattop Mountain. This trail has spectacular scenery for those choosing an easier hike in winter months, or for those wanting less mileage and elevation. We found this to be a wonderful add-on hike to several of the other more moderately challenging trails within RMNP.
Tip: We found this to be a wonderful add-on hike to several of the other more moderately challenging trails within RMNP.
[3.4 Miles; 990 ft. Elevation Gain; Out & Back; Rating: Moderate]
Outside of Estes Park, this hike is a fun and challenging climb. Gem Lake is small in size and nestled within the valley of the mountains, however, it's well worth the climb for the views along the way. Gem Lake manifests breathtaking landscapes around every corner and allows you to appreciate different terrain, mountains, and elevations compared to some of the popular trails off of Bear Lake Rd. We also found this to be a great winter hike as the sun keeps the trail free of ice and snow.
J&L Recommended: Top hike with incredible views along the journey
[3.3 Miles; 702 ft. Elevation Gain; Out & Back; Rating: Moderate]
A lovely alternative to Sky Pond at a more moderate difficulty level and duration. Emerald Lake Trail also offers three lakes to see along your journey: Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, and Emerald Lake. Each are nestled within the limber pine trees, and has a deep blue color that contrasts against the mountain terrain in such a captivating way.
This trail is one of the most popular in the park due to the amount of scenery you can view within such a short distance. Prepare yourself for a trail that leads through the forest, cliffs, peaks, and along water. The trail is easily completed at most skill levels and throughout most of the year.
Tip: Offers three lakes to see along your journey: Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, and Emerald Lake
5. Trail Ridge Road
Trail Ridge Road is the highest road in any US national park and must be added to your trip if visiting RMNP in the summer months (closed during the winter due to hazardous driving conditions). This drive allows you to cruise through various ecosystems, such as the montane (sub 9,000 feet) and subalpine (9,000 -11,000 feet). In the subalpine, the trees give way to tundra with the remaining trees looking crooked or stunted due to high winds, cold temperatures, and ice. These trees are called krummholz and can be spotted along the higher elevations of the Trail Ridge Road.
Tip: Do you also find the science and geology of the US national parks fascinating? Check out one of our favorite books for more information: "Scenic Science of the National Parks"
The best foods in the Rocky Mountain Region
One of the highlights of our trip, Cherry Cricket had AMAZING burgers, an extensive list of local beers on tap, and an adorable outdoor patio with bonfire pits. We tried their awarding winning 303 Green Chile Relleno Burger that left our mouths watering. Stop by mid-day for happy hour and enjoy half-off draft beers from many local Denver breweries. We stopped here after reading their fantastic reviews and stayed for their delicious burgers and excellent service!
Try: Their awarding winning 303 Green Chile Relleno Burger
2. Sam's No. 3 [Denver, CO]
Denver's best diner serving a large amount of options (literally over 100) and HUGE portions that will leave you asking for a take-home box. Established in 1927 with locations in Aurora, Glendale, & downtown Denver, Sam's No 3 has a full menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, serving delicious food at any time of day. With over 3900 people served on a single weekend day, this diner knows how to satisfy their hungry customers quickly. See for yourself on your next trip to the Denver area!
J&:L Recommended: Diner-style breakfast with large portions at an affordable price!
A quaint local shop in downtown Colorado Springs. If you are like us, an ice cream stop is required to re-fuel your adventure energy wherever you may go. Golden Sweets had a wide variety of flavors, as well as, chocolates and other delicious sweets! Their Oreo Espresso flavor was an amazing combination of some of our most favorite ice cream flavors.
The best craft brews in the Rocky Mountain Region
1. Left Hand Brewery [Longmont, CO]
Featured Brew: Peanut Butter Milk Stout Nitro (ABV: 6%)
This well established regional brewery is located in the town of Longmont and needs to be on your list. It has a tasting room with a variety of microbrews, a patio, tours on weekends & hosts a variety of special events. We went in the winter and they even had bonfires for customers to sit around to warm up along with a nice smooth beverage. Their friendly and helpful staff gave us samples of beers that they thought would fit our palate.
Our personal favorite drink here was the Peanut Butter Milk Stout Nitro. This comes with a creamy head packed with milk chocolate peanut butter flavor. Our waiter provided exceptional service and was extremely knowledgeable about Left Hand brews. We can honestly say that we have never experienced better service at a brewery!
J&L Recommended: Favorite brewery in Colorado
2. Great Divide Brewing Company [Denver, CO]
Featured Brew: Yeti Double Imperial Stout (ABV: 9.5%)
You will not want to miss this well established downtown Denver staple. The taproom is medium sized with a mix of seating and standing room. No kitchen, but there is typically a food truck outside for snacks and pub food. They have a variety of beer options for all beer lovers and are especially known for their classic yetis.
The original Yeti is an imperial double stout that has big/bold flavor that stems from the massive amount of malts and hops packed inside. Yeti starts with a roasty, chocolate, coffee malt flavor that eventually finishes with burnt caramel notes and rich toffee. Try for yourself!
Also Read: Top 7 Things To Do in Fort Collins
3. Denver Beer Co. [Denver, CO]
Featured Brew: Incredible Pedal IPA (ABV: 7%)
Another downtown Denver brewery staple is Denver Beer Co. Excellent beer, service, and vibes. We recommend grabbing a flight to try one of their many options outside on their relaxing patio! No inside kitchen but a daily food truck offers noms to satisfy all cravings. We decided to grab one of their variety packs to take home, which are also sold in many CO locations including groceries. Incredible Pedal is a hoppy, floral, and smooth drink with a tangerine and grapefruit finish.
Also Read: Top 7 Things To Do in Colorado Springs
Planning Your Trip
How do I avoid altitude sickness when traveling to Rocky Mountain National park?
Drink lots of water and ascend slowly to avoid altitude sickness. Flying in from a lower elevation area? You may want to stay one night in Denver [5,300 ft.] before driving to Rocky Mountain National Park Alpine Visitor's Center [11,796 ft.]
Tip: Drink lots of water and ascent slowly
Why is Rocky Mountain National Park famous?
Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the nation's highest national parks that consists of 77 peaks over 12,000 feet in elevation and Trail Ridge Road, which is the highest continuously paved highway in the nation. In addition, the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park (Grand Lake) is where the Colorado River starts, flowing 1,500 miles through 7 states and 6 national parks, and ending at the Gulf of California.
What animals live in Rocky Mountain National Park?
Be on the lookout for animals such as Elk, Bighorn Sheep, Mule Deer, Black Bear, and Coyote
Also Read: Hiking in Bear Territory
How much does it cost to enter Rocky Mountain National Park?
Entrance Fee: Daily $25/Vehicle
How much time do I need at Rocky Mountain National Park?
While you can certainly visit the major site in Rocky Mountain National Park within a day trip, we would recommend spending 4-5 days in the Denver area and visiting the scenic mountain towns that stretch from Colorado Springs to Fort Collins.
Suggested Duration: 4-5 Days in the Rocky Mountain Region
When to Go
When is the best time to visit Rocky Mountain National Park?
There is no bad time to visit Rocky Mountain National Park, only factors that may sway your preference. If you are looking to avoid crowds, you may consider visiting the park between November and April. If you are looking to avoid snowy or icy peaks, you may want to visit in summer or fall.
J&L Recommended: Summer/Fall
What is the best lodging location near Denver?
Our recommendation is to stay in the Boulder area. We stayed in Louisville, right outside of Boulder which allowed for more affordable lodging while keeping us within close access of all of the places we planned to explore. While a car is necessary to explore the Rocky Mountain Front Range, Boulder is a great location to be based in order to minimize your day-trips and destination driving distance to 1 hour or less. For a great deal on hotels, visit Booking.com
J&L Recommended: Louisville or Boulder
Where should I camp at Rocky Mountain National Park?
We would recommend staying at Glacier Basin Campground (May-Sept) due to its cleanliness, knowledgeable staff, scenic campsites, ability to make reservations ahead of time, and proximity to epic hikes. They also have a free shuttle from the campground to trailheads which is a strong advantage when trying to avoid the limited parking throughout the park.
J&L Recommended: Glacier Basin Campground (May-Sept)
Rocky Mountain Camping Tips:
Read up on Bear Safety ahead of your trip - there are limited black bears and no Grizzly's in RMNP but we recommend knowing your bear safety ahead of time
Wolves: Recommended by NPS: "If you’re concerned about a wolf because it’s too close or not showing any fear of people, stand tall and hold your ground. If the wolf approaches you, wave your arms, yell, and flare your jacket. If that doesn’t discourage it, throw something at it or use bear spray. Group up with other people, continue waving and yelling, and tell a ranger as soon as possible."
Before entering the park, buy bear mace from a store in Estes Park or Denver - We used Frontiersmen and although we never needed to use it, felt it was a reliable choice.
Bring a separate set of clothes to only wear in the tent to avoid the scent of food that could be on your clothes throughout the day
Bring waterproof jackets/pants
Bring winter clothes for sleeping at night (warm during the day but drops significantly at night)
Also Read: Camping Hacks
What is the best way to get around Rocky Mountain National Park?
While there is certainly public transportation available within Denver, in order to explore the beauty of the Rocky Mountain front range, we highly recommend renting a car. This itinerary was completed with a car, allowing us to explore many different cities across the front range within a short period of time.
Map: Rocky Mountain National Park Map
Is there cell phone reception in Rocky Mountain National Park?
NO SERVICE within Rocky Mountain National Park. SAFETY TIP: learn how to download interactive maps to your phone that can give you driving, walking, & biking directions even without cellular service!