Your Perfect 3-Days in Rocky Mountain National Park

Fill a long weekend with driving the thrilling Trail Ridge Road, wildlife watching, hiking, fishing, and visiting historic sites in Colorado's Rocky Mountains.
Car lights illuminate Trail Ridge Road at night in Rocky Mountain National Park

Trail Ridge Road is the highest elevation continuous road in the U.S. 

Day 1

Head to the West Side

The west side of the park features a different ecosystem than the east side: Here, you’ll find more lodgepole pines and fewer ponderosa pines, a wide river valley, and a wetter, cooler climate. And only a fraction of the park’s visitors make it over the divide to this region, making for more opportunities for solitude. Cruise over Trail Ridge Road to the Alpine Visitor Center, then continue west to cross the Continental Divide at Milner Pass (the Lake Irene Picnic Area is a great place for a snack). Stop at Farview Curve for views of the Kawuneeche Valley and the Never Summer Mountains, then wind down to the valley. (Note: Parts of Trail Ridge Road are closed in the winter and spring because of snow.)

Parking is limited at Fairview Curve

Fairview Curve on Trail Ridge Road

Visit a Historic Dude Ranch

Stop by the Holzwarth Historic Site, just south of Timber Creek Campground, for an up-close look at life in the valley in the 1920s. Walk the half-mile trail to a cluster of cabins to peek inside the main house and taxidermy studio, or try your hand at doing laundry the old-fashioned way.

Historic photo of the Ice House at the Holzwarth Trout Lodge in the Historic District on Trail Ridge Road

Historic photo of the Ice House at the Holzwarth Trout Lodge in the Historic District on Trail Ridge Road

Wildlife-watch in the Kawuneeche Valley

The western side of the Continental Divide supports a wide variety of wildlife. Moose are found primarily on this side of the park, as they prefer the region’s cooler climate and plentiful wetlands; look for them along the Colorado River and in the first few miles of the East Inlet Trail. Elk and mule deer graze throughout the Kawuneeche Valley. Also look for bighorn sheep in the Shipler Park area (on the Colorado River Trail) and beaver and coyote along the East Inlet Trail.

Moose in Kawuneeche Valley on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Moose in Kawuneeche Valley

Go Fly-fishing

Brown, brook, rainbow, and cutthroat trout swim the park’s streams. Of those, only two subspecies of cutthroats (greenback and Colorado River) are native to the area. Cast for a bite in the west side’s abundant waters: Top spots include anywhere along the Colorado River, in Timber Creek and Timber Lake (brookies and Colorado River cutthroat), Lake Nanita (cutthroat), and in the meadows surrounding the East Inlet (brookies). Valid Colorado fishing license required.

Day 2

See a Waterfall

Rocky’s tumblers range from multitiered river cascades to plunging freefalls. On the west side, hike .3 mile to Adams Falls, a powerful waterfall on the East Inlet Trail. For a longer trip, walk 5 miles on the Tonahutu Trail to Granite Falls, a roaring cascade ringed by broad rocks perfect for sunbathing. If you’re heading back to the east side, visit Alberta Falls via the .8-mile trip from Glacier Gorge, or trek 3 miles on the Cow Creek Trail to 20-foot Bridal Veil Falls.

Alberta Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park

Alberta Falls

Go Backpacking

Want to truly experience RMNP? Get out onto the park’s 355 miles of trails, and 415 square miles of alpine paradise are yours for the exploring. You can’t go wrong with any lakeside campsite, but we’re partial to the ones at Lake Verna (west side, 8 miles) Odessa Lake (east side, 4 miles), and Thunder Lake (east side, 6.2 miles).

Thunder Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Find life-list camping and backpacking beside Thunder Lake accessed from the Wild Basin entrance on the southeast side of the park.

Day 3

Hike Long's Peak

Strong hikers who have adjusted to the altitude by now shouldn’t miss the chance to summit the park’s tallest, most recognizable mountain: 14,259-foot Longs Peak. Get an early—and we mean early—start, as a round-trip hike can take up to 15 hours, and you’ll need to be back below treeline before summer thunderstorms roll in. Grab a campsite at the Longs Peak Campground, then get on the trail around 3 a.m. Watch the sun rise over the tundra and pick your way along the Keyhole Route to the football field-size summit.

Longs Peak catches the sun on an August morning in Rocky Mountain National Park

Longs Peak catches the sun on an August morning in Rocky Mountain National Park

Go Horseback Riding

If you think the view from the trail is good, wait ‘til you see if from the back of a horse. Most of the park trails are open to stock, and you’ll find plenty of outfitters in the gateway towns around the park. Hi Country Stables operates the only two stables inside the park, located at Moraine Park and Glacier Creek ($50-$250/person, depending on trip;

Horse Trail Ride on the Fern Lake Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park

Horse Trail Ride on the Fern Lake Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park

Attend a Ranger Program

Park rangers hold free presentations and lead guided hikes on all kinds of topics. Summer options range from tundra hikes to wildflower walks to kid-friendly wildlife talks; in winter, you can ski or snowshoe with a ranger, learn about animal adaptations, or join a full moon walk.