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A bucket-list destination for many outdoor lovers, Rocky Mountain National Park is a spectacular natural playground that shouldn't be missed on any trip to Colorado. Plan an adventure and witness the natural beauty that has been preserved for more than 100 years.

In 1909, naturalist Enos Mills wrote about the area that is now Rocky Mountain National Park, "In years to come when I am asleep beneath the pines, thousands of families will find rest and hope in this park." 

More than a century later, his prediction has come true — and then some. Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) is one of the most popular attractions in Colorado, drawing 4.5 million annual visitors to its 415 square miles of mountain beauty. 

The wilderness area includes 355 miles of hiking trails, 147 lakes, 77 mountains taller than 12,000 feet, and the opportunity to see elk, bighorn sheep and moose. In 2014, National Geographic named Rocky Mountain National Park as one of its best trips in the world.

At only an hour and a half drive from Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park, the park is a memorable summer day trip — and at $20 per automobile per day, it's also a very affordable one. Read on to learn about the many things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park, like wildlife viewing and scenic drives. 

SCENIC DRIVES 

TRAIL RIDGE ROAD

The highest continuous motorway in the United States climbs to a maximum elevation of 12,183 feet, with more than eight miles snaking across tundra, high above the treeline at 11,000 feet. The views throughout the drive are incomparable: At Milner Pass, motorists cross the Continental Divide.

OLD FALL RIVER ROAD

Completed in 1920, this road was the first to cross the Rocky Mountains.The drive winds past the stunning Endovalley Overlook (with impressive views of Deer Mountain) and the beautiful 25-foot Chasm Falls, ending at Chaplin Creek Trailhead, 10,640 feet above sea level.

HIGHWAY 36

The drive up Highway 36 to the park is a magnificent scenic drive in itself. Motorists pass the towns of Boulder and Lyons, striking red sandstone rock formations, and the natural beauty of Roosevelt National Forest.

FAMILY-FRIENDLY HIKES & THINGS TO DO

BEAR LAKE LOOP

The flat, half-mile interpretive nature trail that circles scenic Bear Lake is great for younger kids, offering the chance to see deer and gorgeous views of Hallett Peak and Flattop Mountain.

COYOTE VALLEY

This easy, one-mile trail follows the bank of the Upper Colorado River, where thousands of colorful wildflowers bloom in the summer and moose are often spotted during the morning and early evening hours.

HORSEBACK RIDING

Experience the high country the old fashioned way — atop a horse. This is a wonderful way for older children to see more alpine country than possible on foot. There are two stables located within the park: Glacier Creek Stables and Moraine Park Stables. Approximately 260 miles of trails are open to horse use, which makes up about 80% of the total trail network in the park.

FISHING

Fishing was a popular pastime with early visitors to the park, and it remains so today, with anglers catching several types of trout — brown, brook, rainbow, and cutthroat — in 147 lakes. Note: A valid Colorado fishing license is required for all persons 16 years of age or older to fish in Rocky Mountain National Park. For current Colorado fishing license fees visit the Colorado Division of Wildlife website.

WILDLIFE VIEWING

ELK

These majestic creatures are among the most-easily-seen wildlife in RMNP. Look for elk in meadows and any spot where meadow and forest meet. In the summer, large herds are found in alpine areas and along Trail Ridge Road. In the autumn, elk congregate in the Kawuneeche Valley, Horseshoe Park, Moraine Park and Upper Beaver Meadows.

BIGHORN SHEEP

After facing near extinction last century, the bighorn sheep population is currently thriving — there are roughly 300-400 of these striking animals in the park. Look for them at the aptly named Sheep Lakes from May through mid-August, where the bighorns descend to eat soil and obtain minerals not found in their high mountain habitat. Their visits generally occur between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.

MOOSE

The moose is a naturally shy creature, but sightings occur almost daily in the summer along the banks of the Upper Colorado River in the Kawuneeche Valley. Enjoy the moose at a distance...give these magnificent animals plenty of room to roam without human interference.

BIRD WATCHING

Over 370 species of birds have been documented in the Park and surrounding areas, making it a paradise for bird watchers. Specialty species unique to mountain habitats include White-tailed Ptarmigan, Blue Grouse, Gray Jay, Clark's Nutcracker, Williamson's Sapsucker, Three-toed Woodpecker and the Mountain Chickadee.

ESTES PARK

At the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, the historic village of Estes Park offers shopping and dining, in a quaint, Alpine resort-style setting. The town is also home to the Stanley Hotel, which inspired Stephen King's The Shining. Every September, Estes Park hosts the Longs Peak Scottish-Irish Highlands Festival, one of the largest Celtic festivals in the nation.