The Rocky Mountains offer plenty of outdoorsy things to do throughout the year. Rocky Mountain National Park is an excellent retreat if you want to get back in touch with nature – hundreds of miles of hiking trails lead you to ragged peaks like Longs Peak and Twin Sisters Peak, as well as majestic waterfalls, high alpine lakes, and lush meadows.

    If you prefer a leisurely way of exploring the Rockies, embark on an epic road trip from Estes Park to Grand Lake. There are plenty of lookouts along the way, each offering panoramic views of Colorado’s mountainous landscape. Families can also find many kid-friendly attractions in the Rocky Mountains, including adventure parks and ranger programmes. Check out our guide to the best things to do in the Rockies below.

    What are the best things to do in the Rocky Mountains?

    1

    See the sunrise at Dream or Emerald lakes

    Start the day with incredible lake views

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    While beautiful any time of the day, it’s a good idea to get up early to see the sunrise at Dream Lake or Emerald Lake in the Rocky Mountain National Park. Accessible via an easy 1.1-mile hike west of the Bear Lake Trailhead, Dream Lake is a high alpine lake surrounded by wildflowers in the summer.

    From there, continue your hike for another 0.7 miles to reach Emerald Lake, also a popular sunrise spot in the Rockies. You’ll be treated to views of the bright coloured lake, set against the 12,713-ft-tall Hallet Peak. 

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    Location: Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, USA

    2

    Hike to Alberta Falls

    Less than 2 miles to reach the 30-ft-tall waterfall

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    Alberta Falls is a dramatic natural formation in the Rocky Mountain National Park. Surrounded by aspen groves, massive boulders, and mixed pine forest, this 30-ft-tall waterfall cascades into a small gorge on Glacier Creek. A roundtrip hike to Alberta Falls is about 1.6 miles, making it quite accessible for beginners. Once you reach the falls, you’ll find several open spaces to relax and enjoy the spectacular view.

    Start at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead near Bear Lake Road, located almost 8 miles from the turn-off at Highway 36. There's a free park shuttle that takes you to the trailhead during peak tourist season. 

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    Location: Alberta Falls, Estes Park, CO 80517, USA

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    3

    Get your caffeine fix at Coffee on The Rocks

    Fuel up before hiking in the Rockies

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    Coffee on The Rocks is a locally owned café in Este Park, less than 1 mile southwest of the Estes Park Aerial Tramway. It’s a popular stop for coffee, but you can also find hot chocolate and chai tea on the drinks list if you’re not a fan of caffeine. The food menu is limited to sandwiches and light snacks.

    Service is very friendly and welcoming and there's outdoor seating near a creek that offers views of the aerial tramway. Coffee on The Rocks is also an excellent stopover for breakfast or lunch before exploring The Rockies. The café is just 2.6 miles east of the Rocky Mountain National Park. 

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    Location: 510 Moraine Ave, Estes Park, CO 80517, USA

    Open: Monday–Saturday from 7 am to 8 pm, Sunday from 6.30 am to 6 pm

    Phone: +1 970-586-5181

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    4

    Visit the Alpine Visitor Center

    Learn about the alpine tundra at USA’s highest visitor centre

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    The Alpine Visitor Center on River Pass is the highest service centre in the Rocky Mountain National Park – and the USA. It’s located 11,796 ft above sea level, meaning that you can enjoy sweeping views of the Fall River Cirque and valleys below. Inside, there’s a gift shop, bookstore and café. You’ll also find exhibits of the alpine tundra ecosystem and geology, as well as a ranger-staffed desk if you need more information about the park.

    The visitor centre also offers ranger-led tundra nature walks, which take place every day at 10 am. Note that the Alpine Visitor Center is closed during winter. 

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    Location: Trail Ridge Rd, Grand Lake, CO 80447, USA

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 4.30 pm

    Phone: +1 970-586-1222

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    5

    Take the Estes Park Aerial Tramway

    Climb over 1,000 ft within 5 minutes

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    The Estes Park Aerial Tramway takes you on a soaring journey above the treetops to the summit of Prospect Mountain. The ride takes less than 5 minutes and vertically climbs up 1,100 ft. You’ll be treated to views of the mountains of the Continental Divide, Longs Peak, and Estes Park itself.

    At the summit, there’s a gift shop and snack bar, as well as an observation deck at the upper terminal. You’re free to take in the views and shoot photos of the panoramas. There are also several trails converging on the mountaintop if you want to explore the area before taking the tram back down. 

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    Location: 420 E Riverside Dr, Estes Park, CO 80517, USA

    Phone: +1 970-475-4094

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    photo by Kyla Duhamel (CC BY 2.0) modified

    6

    Set up camp at Glacier Basin

    Don't forget to wrap up warm

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    The Glacier Basin Campground has an elevation of 8,500 ft, offering impressive views of Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park’s lush valleys and craggy peaks.

    There's plenty of space for tents, trailers and RVs, along with camping facilities such as tent pads, picnic tables, fire rings, flush toilets, and drinking water. Glacier Basin is around 6 miles south of the park’s Beaver Meadows Entrance. It can get pretty chilly in the evenings, so bring thick clothes or at least a shawl for the trip. 

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    Location: Highway 36 West, Estes Park, CO 80517, USA

    Phone: +1 970-586-1206

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    7

    Join a ranger-led programme

    Observe the night sky in the summer

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    Ranger-led programmes in the Rocky Mountain National Park offer educational yet interesting insights into the vast park. A popular choice for kids is the Junior Ranger programme, which includes interactive activities and a booklet for the little ones to learn about nature. An official badge or patch and certificate are given for participation in a programme.

    In the summer, you can enjoy excellent night-time programmes, such as Astronomy in the Park – you can observe the clear and bright sky under the guidance of a park ranger and volunteer astronomers. 

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    Location: Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, USA

    Phone: +1 970-586-1206

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    8

    Have fun at the Open Air Adventure Park

    A family-friendly obstacle course in Este Park

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    Open Air Adventure Park offers over 30 challenges that are suspended between 11 ft and 21 ft in the air. The obstacle course takes around 90 minutes to complete, in which you get to reach from one point to another via rope bridges, tightropes, and even hanging canoes and chairs.

    Open Air Adventure Park is suitable for families with kids aged 5 and above – an adult must accompany children below 10 years old throughout the course. Axe throwing is also available for older kids – you get a 30-minute lane reservation that’s sharable between 3 other people.

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    Location: 490 Prospect Village Dr, Estes Park, CO 80517, USA

    Open: Spring and summer: daily from 9.30 am to 7 pm. Autumn: Friday–Monday from 9.30 am to 7 pm (closed in winter)

    Phone: +1 970-586-3066

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    9

    Take a drive on the Trail Ridge Road

    Enjoy a scenic journey across the Rockies

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    Trail Ridge Road stretches 48 miles across the Rocky Mountain National Park from Estes Park in the east to Grand Lake in the west. It’s the highest paved road in Colorado, with its highest elevation reaching over 12,000 ft.

    There are numerous overlooks along Trail Ridge. Depending on where you stop, you can see the Rocky Mountains to the south and west, Wyoming to the north, or the Great Plains on the east. In the summer, it’s quite possible to spot wild animals like elk, marmots, ptarmigans, and bighorn sheep along the way. Note that Trail Ridge Road is closed from winter until late spring or early summer, depending on weather conditions. 

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    Location: Estes Park, CO 80517, USA

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    10

    Watch the sunset at Forest Canyon Overlook

    Enjoy dramatic views of mountain peaks

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    Forest Canyon Overlook is an 11,716-ft-high viewpoint in the Rocky Mountains. Located on the eastern edge of Forest Canyon, it offers panoramic views of several peaks, including Mount Ida, Terra Tomah Mountain, Mount Julian, and the Sprague Mountains – they’re all part of the Continental Divide, which separates the Atlantic and Pacific seaboards.

    The trail to Forest Canyon Overlook starts at a parking lot on the western side of Trail Ridge Road, about 6.2 miles from the Alpine Visitor Center. It’s a 350-yard-long paved walkway, making it easy for those with children. Signs highlight the geology and tundra along the way, too. 

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    Location: 1043 Trail Ridge Rd, Estes Park, CO 80517, USA

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    Penny Wong | Compulsive Traveller

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