1. Become a Junior Ranger
The park’s excellent Junior Ranger program teaches kids (and adults—there’s no age limit) about Rocky Mountain’s history, geology, wildlife, and plants through fun activities. Children who complete the minimum number of activities earn an official Junior Ranger badge and a round of applause from real park rangers. Pick up a free Junior Ranger activity booklet at park visitors centers; in summer, don’t miss a stop at the Junior Ranger headquarters at Hidden Valley.
2. Go Horseback Riding
Hop in the saddle to see the most beautiful parts of the park the way early explorers and pioneers did. Several outfitters run guided horseback rides in the park and the surrounding national forest ranging from short, easy strolls to all-day adventures. Two outfitters are based inside the park (Glacier Creek Stables and Moraine Park Stables www.ridermnp.com), while several others operate from Estes Park and Grand Lake. Children as young as 2 can ride with an adult, and 5 and older can ride their own horses.
3. Take a Hike
With streams to splash in, rocks to climb, and meadows to explore, the Rocky Mountains are a giant playground. The best way to see it all is on one of the park’s fantastic hiking trails. It’s best to start with shorter hikes with young kids, such as the .6-mile walk around Bear Lake, the 1-mile Coyote Valley Trail, or the 1.2-mile round trip to Alberta Falls. Elementary-age children can handle longer miles and some elevation gain: Try the 4.6-mile round trip to Cub Lake or the 3.2-mile round trip to Calypso Cascades. Older kids and teens can challenge themselves with more strenuous trails, such as Deer Mountain (6 miles round-trip), Flattop Mountain (8.8 miles round-trip), and Lone Pine Lake (11 miles).
4. Go Camping
What’s more fun than roasting marshmallows, telling campfire stories, and sleeping under the stars? Camping is one of the best ways to spend some quality family time, and kids love the park’s frontcountry campgrounds. The best family campgrounds are Moraine Park, Glacier Basin, and Aspenglen; making reservations ahead of time is highly recommended for these popular spots. Don’t miss the evening programs at all three campgrounds, where rangers make presentations about fascinating park topics (check the park newspaper or at visitor centers for times and themes).
5. Attend a Family Ranger Program
In summer, park rangers lead several fun—and free!—programs especially geared to children. Activities might include art projects, crafts, games, and hikes. Check the park newspaper or at visitor centers for details and times.
6. Go Fishing
Rocky Mountain’s streams and lakes provide some of the best fishing waters in the area. Teach the kids to fly-fish for four different types of trout (brown, rainbow, brook, and cutthroat); easily accessible waters include Lily Lake, Fern Lake, and Loch Vale. Anglers 16 and up need a Colorado fishing license, but younger kids can fish with a licensed adult.
7. Paddle a Canoe
Rent a canoe in the town of Grand Lake (or bring your own) and glide into the cold, calm waters of Grand Lake for hours of watery fun exploring the shoreline—if you’re lucky, you might just spot a moose grazing at the water’s edge. Not into canoeing? You can also enjoy Grand Lake in a kayak, stand-up paddleboard, or pontoon boat, all available for rent at Grand Lake Marina.
8. Walk on the Tundra Trails
Driving up to Rocky Mountain’s loftiest terrain is a must-do for any summer visitor—well above treeline, you’ll be treated to expansive views of the park’s biggest peaks; a chance to spot high-altitude wildlife such as marmots, pika, and bighorn sheep; and a unique tundra ecosystem of hardy plants and colorful wildflowers.
Drive Trail Ridge Road up to the Alpine Visitor Center and the road high point of 12,183 feet. (Note: Trail Ridge Road is closed during the winter season)
Take at least a short stroll on one of the tundra trails for a literally breathtaking experience—the air is “thinner” up here, which means it has less available oxygen and kids (and adults) will get tired more quickly. Try the 1-mile Tundra Communities Trail or the short climb from the Alpine Visitor Center; well-acclimated youngsters can tackle the more demanding 9-mile (round-trip) hike to Mt. Ida from Milner Pass.
9. Have a Picnic
It’s a fact—food just tastes better when you eat it outdoors. Beautiful picnic sites abound in the park, from secluded areas without any services to larger spots complete with grills and bathroom facilities. Load up a picnic basket or a backpack with groceries from town (Tip: Slip in a few treats from one of the many chocolate shops in Estes Park) and find your dream picnic table along a lake, in a meadow, or tucked in the woods. Or go rustic and set up your picnic at the end of a wilderness hike: You’ll get a side of gorgeous scenery with your PB&J.
10. Sled at Hidden Valley
Come winter, Hidden Valley is the place to be for snowy, all-ages fun. This gentle hill is perfect place for sliding on tubes, sleds, and saucers (bring your own; no rentals available in the park). On weekends, kids can toast chilled toes in a staffed warming center, and toilets are available. Call the park before your trip to check snow conditions, as windy weather can sometimes blow the prime white stuff right off the mountain.