One Day in Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most beloved national parks in the US. Located just a few hours from Denver, Colorado, it attracts people for it’s beautiful mountain views, lakes, and waterfalls, not to mention the wildlife you can see throughout the park! One day in Rocky Mountain National Park is enough to see some of the best of the park, but I highly recommend more time if you can squeeze it in.

One of the great things about visiting Rocky Mountain National Park is that there are several scenic drives and hiking areas that will offer you a multitude of options for your one day trip. The different drives and views make it accessible for all age groups and ability levels to enjoy. As you read through these suggestions for RMNP, keep in mind your ability level, as altitude, steep inclines on trails, and sudden weather changes can affect your day.

Table of Contents

When should you visit RMNP?

November through April is the best time to avoid crowds in Rocky Mountain National Park. Summer and fall weekends are the busiest in the park, and yearly visitation grows each year. In 2018, the park was visited by 4.5 million people, but just over . 6 million people visited during the months of November through April.

The best time to visit if you want to make sure you can see all parts of the park is June-September. The weather will be really nice this time of year and temperatures can reach the 80s during the day and 40s at night in the summer months.

Where to Stay

There are two sides of Rocky Mountain National Park to consider, Estes Park and Grand Lake. Estes Park does have more options and places to stay, it’s also closest to many of the main hiking areas in the park. Grand Lake is quieter and offers great camping options.

Both sides of the park are accessible for a day trip from Denver or Boulder as well. Boulder is close to Estes Park.

Planning Ahead for One Day in Rocky Mountain National Park

Entry Tickets and Fees

Planning a trip to the park between May 27th and October 10th will require you to have a timed entry ticket. These are only available through recreation.gov, more information on the timed entry tickets can be found here.

No matter what time of year you visit, you will need to pay the national park entry fee. This can be done through the America the Beautiful Pass ($80 for a year & includes unlimited entry to all national parks such as Yellowstone and Glacier). You can also purchase a day/week pass for RMNP.

Weather

Temperatures are often moderate at elevations below 9,400′ (2,865 m). At higher points, like Bear Lake, Trail Ridge Road, or Longs Peak, it may snow even in July. A wide variation between day and nighttime temperatures is also typical of mountain weather.

Summer days in July and August often reach the 70’s or 80’s and drop into the 40’s at night.

Based on ten years of precipitation data, Estes Park receives approximately 13.10″ of moisture every year. Grand Lake receives about 19.95″ yearly. This precipitation comes in the form of rain or snowfall throughout the year.

Facilities

Some of the popular areas like Grand Lake and Bear Lake will have facilities including bathrooms and water.

From approximately late May through early October, there is one restaurant inside the park. The Trail Ridge Store includes a café and coffee bar adjacent to the Alpine Visitor Center along Trail Ridge Road. There are no grocery stores in Rocky Mountain National Park. The Rocky Mountain Conservancy sells very limited food items in the park visitor centers and bottled water at Bear Lake and Park & Ride during summer and fall.

There are no gas stations inside the park. It is approximately 50 miles between the communities of Grand Lake and Estes Park.

Cell phone service can also be limited. Plan accordingly!

Shuttle System

If you are going to one of the popular parts of the park, like Bear Lake or Moraine Lake, there is a shuttle system that can take you to the main hiking areas. Park and ride is located in the same place for all shuttles and shuttles run on different schedules depending on the line you choose. These are perfect for one day in Rocky Mountain National Park if you cannot get to the park early in the morning. Parking areas fill up quickly.

Best Areas for One Day in RMNP

Grand Lake

On the west side of the park, located approximately two miles north of Grand Lake, is the Grand Lake Entrance Station. This station is .25 miles north of the Kawuneeche Visitor Center near the beautiful Kawuneeche Valley. You can also hike into Rocky Mountain National Park from Grand Lake.

Grand Lake is perched on the western edge of Rocky Mountain National Park and is the largest natural lake in Colorado. It is also located on Trail Ridge Road. The park provides endless entertainment from hiking and wildlife watching in summer to cross-country skiing and snowshoeing — and more wildlife watching — in winter.

The lake itself, which has a historic boardwalk that dates back to Wild West days, the Grand Lake Marina and the highest-altitude yacht club in the world, is popular with boaters, waterskiers, swimmers, anglers, paddleboarders and anyone wanting to stay on or near the water. The marina rents many types of boats and paddleboards, including sunset tours, and there are sandy spots for beach activities.

Kawuneeche Valley

Located on the west side of the Trail Ridge Road, Kawuneeche Valley is known for its abundant wildlife. This area is much different than others on this list! While there, you can see moose, elk, bighorn sheep, mule deer, and more. The Never Summer Mountains look down on the headwaters of the Colorado River in this view of the Kawuneeche Valley.

It is important to note that you won’t see all of the animals all-year round. Most of the animals like to pop into Kawuneeche Valley for just a few months out of the year (summer months are best). This is a great spot to sit back and relax for the day while looking out for wildlife and taking some leasurely strolls through the valley trails.

Drive Trail Ridge Road

Trail Ridge Road is the most famous drive in Rocky Mountain National Park and an excellent way to see a lot of what the park has to offer. It was built in the 1930s and sretches for about 48 miles from Estes Park to Grade Lake. It takes about 1/5 hours to drive the road without any stops, but if you add in a hike and all the scenic overlooks, it will take you much longer.

Trail Ridge Road takes you over the Continental Divide (stop at the Alpine Visitor Center) which separates the rivers that run to the Atlantic and Pacific. It goes from Alaska all the way to Cape Horn.

Other great stops include Many Parks Curve Overlook, Forest Canyon Overlook, and Gore Range Overlook. Bear Lake is also located along Trail Ridge Road.

Bear Lake Corridor

Bear Lake Corridor is located along Trail Ridge Road, as mentioned above, but you can easily spend an entire day here alone. Bear Lake is full of hikes to do and beautiful views to take in. There are so many lakes and waterfalls in this area that are accessible from here. Below are a few to consider.

Nymph, Dream & Emerald Lakes. 3.6 miles out and back, easy to moderate. This hike is one of the best things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park. On this hike, you get to see four beautiful alpine lakes over a very short distance. It’s a great hike for families and makes a great intro to hiking in the park.

Bear Lake. The hike is 0.8 miles round trip and easy. It begins just beyond the Bear Lake Ranger Station. As the trail circles around the subalpine lake, it passes through a forest of spruce, fir, lodgepole pine, and aspen. The trail is well paved and also the start of the hike for Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lakes.

Alberta Falls. 1.7 miles total, easy. At just over eight-tenths of a mile from the trailhead, hikers will arrive at Alberta Falls, one of the more popular hiking destinations in Rocky Mountain National Park and widely regarded as one of the best waterfall hikes in the park. The scenic 30-foot waterfall thunders down a narrow gorge on Glacier Creek and offers hikers an excellent spot to enjoy a relaxing picnic. In the winter, this waterfall becomes frozen!

Glacier Gorge Trail. 5.8 miles long, easy to moderate. Glacier Gorge Trail is a loop trail with quite a bit of elevation, 1,130 feet, but it still can be done in just a matter of hours. You’ll pass the popular Alberta Falls along the way.

You’re now ready for your one day in Rocky Mountain National Park! Happy travels, and enjoy your trip.

As one of the most beloved national parks in the US, there's plenty for one day in Rocky Mountain National Park.
As one of the most beloved national parks in the US, there’s plenty for one day in Rocky Mountain National Park.

 

As one of the most beloved national parks in the US, there's plenty for one day in Rocky Mountain National Park.
As one of the most beloved national parks in the US, there’s plenty for one day in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Meghan

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