Top 10 Things to Do in Rocky Mountain National Park

by Jon D. B.

From some of the most impressive drives in America to pristine lakes, peaks, and hikes, Rocky Mountain National Park (ROMO) has it all.

Below, Outsider’s breaking down our Top 10 recommendations for the best ROMO excursions. You’ll find the best trails within the park’s 265,761 acres, alongside the best drives in the 415 square mile stretch.

All this land holds remarkable diversity outside craggy, towering peaks, too; from subalpine ecosystems and evergreen forests to crystal-clear lakes, rivers, and creeks. Enjoy ample wildlife and wildflowers along the journey, and prepare for the best possible Rocky Mountain excursion. Let’s get to it!

10. Rocky Mountain National Park Staple: Alberta Falls Trail

  • Distance: 1.2 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 160 feet
  • Type of Trail: Out & Back, Easy

The most famous feature of Glacier Creek, the 30-foot Alberta Falls thunders down one of Rocky Mountain‘s most picturesque valleys. It’s an easy hike via Alberta Falls Trail, too, making this one of the national park’s more popular hiking destinations.

Head for Glacier Gorge Trailhead to get to Alberta Falls Trail. Once there, you’ll embark on a 1.2-mile round trip via 160-feet of elevation gain. This short distance and low gain makes AFT a great spot for hikers of all experience levels and capabilities. And the rewards of aspen groves, pine forests, and gorgeous overlooks on the way to the scenic waterfall make it a must-do.

Alberta Falls Trail also gives access to The Loch, Mills Lake, Lake Haiyaha, and Black Lake if you wish to continue along. As always, Outsider and NPS recommend getting to this hike as early as possible. Take to free shuttle from ROMO’s Park-and-Ride during the summer, too, to avoid parking difficulties.

9. See the Rockies via Sombrero Stables Horseback Riding

Colorado Horseback Riding. (Photo by: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Looking for a fantastic horseback adventure? Colorado is steeped in cowboy history, making local Sombrero Stables a highly-recommended destination when visiting Rocky Mountain National Park.

Sombrero Stables horseback rides will take you through private lands, including forests of the Rockies and up gorgeous, rocky ROMO hills. Elk, deer, and coyotes are often spotted during rides, but it’s the unchanged pockets of Rocky Mountain glory that will blow you away.

Experience it all as the settlers did – via horseback – with one of the top rated stables in the nation. You won’t regret it. Sombrero Stables even offers Dinner and Breakfast Rides; full package deals that land you a horse and fantastic Colorado cuisine.

Sold yet? Head to this link for more information on Sombrero Stables for your visit.

8. Boulder Along Alluvial Fan

Take the park road to Endovalley, and you’ll arrive at Alluvial Fan: a unique, beautiful cascade of water flowing down through a boulder field. This bolder field, or alluvial, is the product of natural forces, but makes for one of the most picturesque vistas in all of the Rocky Mountains.

The trail to Alluvial Fan was also reconstructed in 2020, making it fully accessible. Head to the trail to traverse the 56-foot bridge crossing the Roaring River, then access the east side of Alluvial Fan. NPS states this path is for “hikers of all abilities,” so don’t hesitate to take the family.

Once there, climb around the small-to-massive round boulders, bask in the pristine waters, and enjoy breathtaking views of the Mummy Range, Horseshoe Falls, and Endovalley.

*ROMO Ranger Recommendation: “In the Fall, the changing foliage of aspen groves in Endovalley are some of the most dramatic in the park, be sure to bring a camera,” the park offers.

7. Sprague Lake Loop

  • Distance: 0.5 mile round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 10 feet
  • Type of Trail: Loop, Easy

Need a wheelchair and stroller accessible stroll? Or simply looking for one of the most gorgeous hikes in America? Sprague Lake Loop is perfect for hikers of all abilities, and offers stunning vistas of Rocky Mountain National Park ecosystems.

Plenty of benches and lookouts are available throughout the trail, where hikers can take in Rocky Mountain peaks along the Continental Divide. Many visitors signal Sprague as being as magnificent as more-visited lakes like Bear and Emerald, but without the crowds.

Sprague Lake itself is also an excellent place to see ROMO wildlife (but remember to always keep your distance as per park laws & regulations. Never approach or feed wildlife). Please keep in mind that all pets are prohibited on ALL park trails, tundra, and meadow areas. Leashed pets are only allowed in picnic areas, parking lots, campgrounds, and along roadsides, no exceptions.

6. ROMO’s First Road: Old Fall River Road

Misty, foggy, and cloudy views are seen along the Old Fall River Road in Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park, Colorado, United States near the Alpine Visitor Center on July 14, 2018. (Photo by Patrick Gorski/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Ready to roll on down the park’s first auto route? Opened in 1920, Old Fall River Road offers access to the park’s high country all via vehicle. This may seem a relatively subtle old route, but unlike Trail Ridge Road (featured later on this list) Old Fall River Road still offers a “motor nature trail.”

The old road leads travelers from Horseshoe Park (a short distance west of the Fall River Entrance) through the park’s wilderness. Your final destination will be Fall River Pass, which sits 11,796 feet above sea level and offers incredible views.

Misty, foggy, and cloudy views are seen along the Old Fall River Road in Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park, Colorado, United States near the Alpine Visitor Center on July 14, 2018. (Photo by Patrick Gorski/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Please note, however, this means you’ll be traveling a primarily gravel, one-way and uphill road all the way into the alpines. Drive slow, as switchbacks are common on this 11-mile journey, and there are no guard rails.

Rocky Mountain National Park’s posted speed limit is 15 miles per hour. But as the park states, “Old Fall River Road is ideal for visitors seeking to become intimate with nature.”

5. Tackle Bear Lake via Trailhead

  • Distance: 0.5 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 20 feet
  • Type of Trail: Loop, Easy

As ROMO states, “Welcome to a wilderness of lakes, waterfalls, and magnificent peaks.” This is Bear Lake, one of the most sought-after areas of Rocky Mountain National Park. And it’s not hard to see why.

Ponderosa pine and refreshing views of Hallett Peak and the Continental Divide surround the trail and lake. Bear Lake Loop is also wheelchair-accessible, and is a perfect trek for hikers of all abilities. Ample interpretive signs offer historical and natural information along the trail, making it great for family excursions.

Bear Lake offers many opportunities to continue your Rocky Mountain adventure, too. Emerald Lake, Flattop Mountain, Dream Lake and Tyndall Glacier, and many other trails/sites branch from the Bear Lake Trailhead.

But please note,  The Bear Lake area is one of ROMO’s most busy, especially in summer and during weekends in the fall. The park’s free shuttle bus is here to help you dodge congested parking and traffic.

4. Rocky Mountain National Park Hidden Gem: Sky Pond

Distance: 9 miles round trip
Elevation Gain: 1780 Feet
Type of Trail: Varied w/ Scrambling, Strenuous

Looking for a more involved and impressive hike in the Rocky Mountains? Take to Sky Pond via the trail of the same name. The hike begins from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead, located on Bear Lake Road around 8 miles from the turn-off at Highway 36.

What follows is a 9 mile round trip excursion that includes scrambling, bouldering, and steep up-hill walks. At 4.5 miles, you’ll finally reach Sky Pond, a pristine hidden gem straight out of America’s mythological tales. The pond sits at an elevation of 10,900 feet, and the surrounding views here are unparalleled.

You may want to consider using the free park shuttle to access the Sky Pond trailhead during peak tourist season. And as always, the earlier the better. This is one you’ll want to see with as few other humans as possible.

3. The Stunning Lakes of Emerald Lake Trail

  • Distance: 4.1 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 744 feet
  • Type of Trail: Out & Back, Moderate

Another hike extending from the Bear Lake Trailhead, Emerald Lake offers a steady climb through aspen groves and ponderosa pine. And every foot of this trail is a wonder to behold.

At the first half-mile, you’ll arrive at Nymph Lake, a charming lake brimming with pond lilies that bloom in summer. Walk another half-mile in, and you’re to Dream Lake, another of ROMO’s many pristine, picturesque bodies of water.

From here, take the junction split to Emerald Lake, which resides about another mile on after steady elevation gain. For this portion of the journey, you’ll traverse the north shore of Dream Lake into Tyndall Gorge.

But once you’re to Emerald Lake, prepare for the most gorgeous of waters that lives up to the coloration in its name. THis unique, pristine lake is framed by the jagged spires of Flattop Mountain, and creates a picturesque destination you’ll never forget.

As with all of Rocky Mountain National Park’s more popular spots, you may want to consider using the free park shuttle to access this area during peak tourist season. And again, the earlier in the day, the better.

2. Rocky Mountain’s Best Outlooks: Alpine Visitor Center Area

Misty and foggy cloud filled views are seen as the sun begins to set at the Alpine Visitor Center in Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park, Colorado, United States on July 14, 2018. (Photo by Patrick Gorski/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Want to take in the full majesty of America’s tenth national park? Head for ROMO’s Alpine Visitor Center. Views from the AVC are unparalleled in the park. From the area’s lookouts, you can see the Mummy Range, the Fall River Valley, Trail Ridge, the Never Summer, and Medicine Bow range.

Views while ascending and descending the Rocky Mountain National Park’s Alpine Visitor Center, in Grand Lake, Colorado, on July 18, 2017. (Getty Images Archives)

The visitor center is the highest in all of the National Park Service, and offers everything you’ll need to enjoy this high elevation. Trail Ridge Road (which we cover below) leads to the AVC at 11,796-feet. But keep in mind that this area is typically open only from late-May through mid-October, weather permitting.

1. ROMO Classic: Trail Ridge Road

North America, USA, Colorado, Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Scenic Views Along Trail Ridge Road. (Photo by: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

If there’s one thing you must do while visiting Rocky Mountain National Park, it’s this 48 mile stretch of road from Estes Park on the park’s east side over to Grand Lake on the west.

Trail Ridge Road lives up to everything you’ve ever heard (or never heard) about it. A full 11 miles of this high highway, the first of its kind when complted in 1932, travel above the park’s treeline at elevations of 11,500 feet. You’ll see the stark line where the park’s evergreen forests come to a halt, and the vast open tundras begin.

North America, , Rocky Mountain National Park, Trail Ridge Road from near Lava Cliffs. (Photo by: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

This vastness is on full display before reaching the high point of Trail Ridge Road at an astounding 12,183 feet above sea level.

For navigation, keep in mind that Trail Ridge Road is also U.S. Highway 34. Drive it all for thrilling views, magnifivent wildlife sightings and unrivaled alpine wildflower exhibitions, all from your vehicle of choice.

Keep an eye on park openings of Trail Ridge Road yearly for access.

Ready for your ultimate Rocky Mountain excursion? For more ahead of your visit, see our Top 10 Things to Know About Rocky Mountain National Park next.