Rocky Mountain National Park is more than a pretty postcard—it’s a playground for all kinds of visitors. Here are a few ways people enjoy the park, plus pro tips for shooting amazing photos.
Photos and advice by Ben Fullerton
Go With the Flow
Location Alluvial Fan
See it From West Alluvial Fan parking lot on Endovalley Road
When to go July-October
The Alluvial Fan was created in 1982, when a monumental flood redistributed boulders in the Roaring River. The 2013 flood changed the area again, washing out trails and covering roads with rocks. Be very careful when exploring this now-trailless area.
Pro tips To shoot moving water, use a tripod and a slow shutter speed for this silky effect. Any people in the photo must stay still, or they’ll come out blurry.
Shot Details Pentax 645D camera, 25mm lens at 25mm, ISO 100. f/13, 1/50th second
Reach New Heights
Location Moraine Park
See it Look for boulders along the first 2 miles of the Fern Lake Trail.
When to go Summer for the best bouldering and climbing conditions
The park is a great spot to try bouldering (low rock climbing without a rope). Head to Lumpy Ridge, Tyndall Gorge, or Chaos Canyon for popular routes.
Pro Tips Viewers’ eyes will be drawn to what your subjects are looking at. Use this principle to make viewers notice what you want them to: Here, the climber looks at his hand, so all eyes will be focused on his next move.
Shot Details Pentax K-5IIs camera, 16-50mm lens at 26mm, ISO 500, f/7.1, 1/60 second
Follow that Dog
Location Outside of the national park, off-trail near Mt. Neva, Indian Peaks Wilderness
See it Start from the Fourth of July trailhead and head toward Arapaho Pass.
When to go Trails are typically snow-free from mid-June to early October.
Just south of the national park, the Indian Peaks Wilderness is a fantastic destination for hiking, backpacking, and climbing. Many consider Mt. Neva, a 12,814-foot peak, a classic climb.
Pro Tips Scale subjects to the landscape. Any one of these hikers alone would look lost, but four (plus a dog)stand out. And from the cover of Abbey Road to this image, people walking in sync makes a strong visual statement.
Shot Details Pentax K-5 camera, 16-50mm lens at 16mm, ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/1000 second
To capture close-up portaits of your hiking partners, shoot at dawn and dusk for the most flattering light. Use a slight fill flash to eliminate shadows on the face, or employ a headlamp to light your subject. Use a 200mm lens with a wide-open aperture, and shoot from about 10 feet away (or put your point-and-shoot on portrait mode).Congrats—your friend has a new favorite profile photo.
Location Fern Lake Trail
See it To reach the Fern Lake trailhead, head toward Moraine Park Campground and keep left.
When to go Summer and fall
The park hosts two stables, one in Moraine Park and the other at Glacier Creek off Bear Lake Road.
Pro tips Compose your photo to include many planes of interest to give it a sense of depth. Here, everything from the grass and trail in the foreground to the river and bridge in the middle to the distant trees and sky, plus the line of riders entering the image from back to front, come together to establish an almost three-dimensional depth.
Shot details Pentax K-3 camera, 16-50mm lens at 16mm, ISO 100, f/8, 1/200 second
Everyone wants gorgeous photos of friends and family enjoying the outdoors. To nail it: DON’T hang back and shoot your subjects from behind (butt shots are never as inspiring as your friends’ faces). DO run ahead and photograph people coming toward you. DO capture friends in candid moments, such as lighting a campfire or saddling a horse: Relaxed subjects make for better photos. DON’T stick to the same angles all the time: Crouch and shoot friends from the ground up or scramble above them for more interesting, dynamic compositions.
Walk the Line
Location Jurassic Park
See it Park at Lily Lake and hike the Lily Ridge Trail
When to go Year-round
This craggy area above Lily Lake is a destination for climbing and slacklining—balancing on a strip of webbing like a tightrope. Hiking trails also circle the lake and head into the mountains from this spot just south of Estes Park.
Pro tips Anytime you want to make something look bigger or higher, get lower. By shooting this slackliner from a lower vantage point, you see the background and even the surrounding peaks below him, making him look a thousand feet off the ground.
Shot details Pentax K-5 camera, 16-50mm lens at 19mm, ISO 400, f/5.6, 1/100 second
Take a Hike
Location Torreys Peak Trail, Arapaho National Forest
See it Hike 4.2 miles from the Grays Peak trailhead.
When to go June to October
Torreys Peak and its neighbor, Grays Peak, are two of the best Fourteeners for first-timers because they don’t require technical climbing. Try them if you’re not quite ready for Longs Peak inside the park.
Pro tips Try shooting into the sun. Backlight not only makes the foliage light up, it also gives a rich sense of texture to the world and adds a halo of light around your subjects.
Shot details Pentax K-30 camera, 16-50mm lens at 16mm, ISO 400, f/8, 1/60 second
The Rule of Thirds
To master this basic principle of composition, imagine two equally spaced horizontal lines and two vertical lines on your viewfinder or LCD screen (creating nine identical panels). The most pleasing compositions tend to place the subject or focal point of the photo at a point where the lines intersect rather than in the exact center of the frame.
When to Use a Tripod
A tripod helps ensure crisp images in low light. Rule of thumb: Use a tripod when your shutter speed is slower than the focal length. Invest in the lightest tripod you can afford (and that can support your camera with its heaviest lens). Using a cable release or the self-timer button also helps capture clear shots by reducing hand shake from pressing the shutter. Even point-and-shoot cameras can benefit from a small tripod, like the flexible GorillaPod models (joby.com).
Earn your Turns
Location East Ridge of Quandary Peak
See it To hike Quandary, start from the trailhead near Breckenridge, CO, in the White River National Forest.
When to go Summer and fall for hiking, winter and spring for skiing
For experienced skiers, nothing beats the thrill of climbing a backcountry slope and finding an untouched stash of powder. Avalanche education is mandatory for anyone looking to try off-piste skiing.
Pro tips Diagonal lines create movement. Everything in this shot—the slope of the snowfield, the ridge in the background, the slant of the ski poles, the skier’s shadow—work together to give a strong sense of forward motion.
Shot details Pentax K-30 camera, 18-135mm lens at 28mm, ISO 100, f/8, 1/800 second
Catch the Big One
Location Lily Lake
See it Go 6 miles south of Estes Park on CO 7 to reach this drive-up lake.
When to go July through October for the best fishing and full lake access
Lily Lake is home to greenback cutthroat trout, a threatened native species and Colorado’s state fish. All fishing at Lily Lake is catch-and-release only, and a valid state license is required.
Pro tips Whenever you’re photographing action, like this fisherman casting, shoot lots of frames (try your camera’s burst mode) to up your chances of the perfect composition. Small variations in the position of your subject’s body and fly rod can make the difference between a good shot and a great one.