10 Best Things to Do on a Rocky Mountain National Park Vacation

Our favorite things to do include hiking, wildlife watching and scenic drives.

Photo: Grant Ordelheide

We realize that travelers determine their vacation destination based largely on the things to do in an area. Well, we have news for you: There is so much to do on a Rocky Mountain National Park vacation that you’ll be hard-pressed to fit it all in a single vacation. Here are our favorite things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park and nearby.

1. Go for a Hike

Chasm Lake Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park
Hiker hiking on Chasm Lake Trail.Ben Fullerton

More than 350 miles of trails crisscross the park, linking together alpine lakes, jagged peaks, thick lodgepole pine forests and rocky tundra. Dominating the skyline, and topping out at 14,259 feet, Longs Peak is the ultimate adventure for enthusiastic hikers.

2. Watch for Wildlife

Bull elk in a stream in Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain ElkDeposit Photos

Home to thousands of elk, mule deer, marmots, big horn sheep, and the occasional black bear, it’s not uncommon to have your park experience include a wildlife sighting. Often, you’ll spot herds of elk right when you go through the park’s Beaver Meadows entrance station in Estes Park.

3. Take a Scenic Drive on Trail Ridge Road

Trail Ridge Road in Autumn in Rocky Mountain National Park
Trail Ridge Road is open seasonally and connects Estes Park with Grand LakeBen Fullerton

Known appropriately as the Highway to the Sky, Trail Ridge Road crosses the Continental Divide at a whopping 12,183 feet. Colorado has also designated Trail Ridge Road as a scenic and history byway.

4. See a Waterfall

People enjoying Ouzel Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park
People enjoying Ouzel Falls.Gloria Wadzinski

A majority of the parks 30-plus waterfalls can be found east of the Continental Divide in two heavily concentrated areas: Wild Basin and Glacier Gorge. Fern Lake Trailhead is also a popular place to access several waterfalls due to its close proximity to Moraine Park and Moraine Park Campground.

5. Gaze Upon Mountain Peaks

The Mummy Range in Rocky Mountain National Park
The Mummy Range in Rocky Mountain National ParkAli Pfenninger

Rocky Mountain National Park is known for its mountain ranges. The Mummy Range is in the north end of the park. Also don’t miss snagging a few views of the Never Summer Mountains on the Park’s western border. And of course, the famous Longs Peak can be seen from many overlooks and trails in the park.

6. Go Camping

Camping at RockyGrass in Lyons, Colo.
Campers relaxingLauren Martinez

There are five drive-in campgrounds and one drive-in group camping area inside the park. Can’t find a campsite inside Rocky Mountain Park? Don’t worry. It’s bordered by the Never Summer Wilderness, Arapahoe National Recreation Area, Indian Peaks Wilderness, Roosevelt National Forest and Comanche Peak Wilderness. No matter which one you visit, there is usually always a place to pitch a tent, park an RV or hike a few miles into the backcountry.

7. Take a Guided Tour

Park Ranger sitting with Children in a national park
Deposit Photos

We know exploring a national park can be an exciting activity to do on your own, but why not spend a few hours and check out a ranger-led program or let an expert show you around? Our partner, Wildland Trekking, offers fantastic day and multi-day trips in Rocky Mountain National Park.

8. Stay a Night in the Historic, Haunted Stanley Hotel

Outside the national park.

Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colo.
The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, CO which inspired the Stephen King Book \”The Shining\”Depositphotos

Just six miles from Rocky Mountain National Park and towering above the small mountain town of Estes Park, The Stanley Hotel was the inspiration for Stephen King’s The Shining. Take a ghost tour or spend the night.

9. Attend a Festival

Outside the national park.

Longs Peak Scottish Irish Highland Festival
Longs Peak Scottish Irish Highland FestivalJon Dorn

Want to dance, drink, and eat good food under the shadow of the Rockies?

How about attending the best small rodeo in America? You can head to the Fraser rodeo grounds about 40 minutes from Grand Lake to see a real Colorado rodeo.

In early March, you can participate in one of the zaniest festivals in Colorado. Head to Nederland, Colo., for a winter carnival dedicated to Bredo Morstol, who is frozen on dry ice and housed in a Tuff Shed above Nederland. Celebrating its 17th year in 2018, Frozen Dead Guy Days includes coffin races, costumed polar plunging and frozen t-shirt contests.

On the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park hosts several events throughout the year. Our favorites are the two held in September: Autumn Gold Festival and Elk Fest.

10. Raft Down a River

Outside the national park.

Rafting the Colorado River with MAD Adventures near Kremmling, Colo.
Rafting near Kremmling, Colo. with MAD RiverCourtesy Kremmling Colo.

Two major rivers offer numerous rafting opportunities a short distance from the Rocky Mountain National Park area. Explore the La Poudre River Canyon while charging class II – IV rapids on the Poudre River near Fort Collins, Colo.

Or step it up a notch and raft along the Colorado River just outside of Kremmling, Colo., at Rancho del Rio about an hour and a half from the park’s west entrance. At Rancho del Rio, you can rent your own raft and equipment at the Soggy Dollar shop, if you have rafting experience, or go on a guided day trip with a rafting guide.

Next Read: 18 Things to Do in Winter