24-hours in Rocky Mountain National Park

We decided to spill one of our perfect days in Rocky Mountain National Park, just for you.

Photo: iStock

We get asked all the time what the perfect day at Rocky Mountain National Park would be like. It’s a valid question seeing there is so much to do in the park. So in the spirit of making your life easier, we decided to spill one of our perfect days.

Morning at a Rocky Mountain Lake

Nymph Lake Lillies.
Nymph Lake Lillies.Gloria Wadzinski

Emerge from your tent in Moraine Park Campground (Site 163) and brew up a quick batch of cowboy coffee. (Pick up locally roasted beans from Kind Coffee on East Elkhorn Avenue in Estes Park)

Grab your camera and drive to Bear Lake¬†at the end of Bear Lake Road. Throw on an extra layer to combat the brisk morning air and head out for a short hike to Nymph Lake. Set up your tripod and get ready for one of the Park’s best sunrise photo opportunities. Most mornings the warm dawn glow reflects off the lake’s glassy surface. Throw in some quality relaxation by kicking back and reading a good book as the surrounding forest begins to wake up.

Hike back to Bear Lake and drive down into Estes Park for a quick omelet at The Egg. Suck down your second cup of coffee while reading the local newspaper making sure to scour the community page since a festival might be going on later in the evening.

Noon on Trail Ridge Road

View from Trail Ridge Road's Many Parks Curve Overlook
View from Trail Ridge Road’s Many Parks Curve OverlookDollar Photo

Pick up a deli sandwich from Safeway before heading back into the Park and driving along Trail Ridge Road to Forest Canyon Overlook. Don’t forget to stop at the many turnouts along the way to soak up unobstructed views of the park.

At Forest Canyon Overlook eat your sandwich and snap a few pictures as afternoon thunderstorms most likely begin to roll in. (Obviously since you’re above tree line it’s not safe to be exposed during a thunderstorm, but if lightning is on the horizon this is a great place to get a lightning shot.)

Jump in the car and head over to the Alpine Visitor Center to check out the exhibits on Trail Ridge Road and the alpine tundra ecosystem. Grab another cup of coffee from the cafe (there is a trend here for sure) and head back down Trail Ridge Road toward Estes Park.

Evening in a Rocky Mountain Valley

Moraine Park Sunset in Rocky Mountain National Park
Sunset in Moraine ParkDeposit Photo

Time to set yourself up for a spectacular sunset. Grab your headlamp and head over to Moraine Park. Making sure you have your camera and a few snacks, before hiking up the South Lateral Moraine Trail. Along the trail views of Moraine Park and the surrounding mountains open up, providing the perfect opportunity to set up your camera and capture a stunning Park sunset. Once the sun goes down, hike back to your car in the late evening twilight. (This and dawn are our two favorite times in the Park.)

Back at Moraine Park Campground (Site 163) start a campfire and crack open a can on Oscar Blues Dales Pale Ale. The brew is brewed just down the road in Lyons and is a local favorite.

Hit the sack and plan on doing it all again the next day.


Download an official Rocky Mountain National Park map for basic road and attraction locations. Want a detailed topographical map of trails in the park? Buy the National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map for Rocky Mountain National Park at REI.com. The map includes trails, trailheads, points of interest, campgrounds, lakes and much more. Or get the Trails Illustrated Rocky Mountain National Park Day Hikes map with 16 detail maps, trail mileages and difficulty ratings. Both maps are printed on waterproof, tear-resistant material.

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