Rocky Mountain National Park – Fun Ideas and Tips for your Next Trip
Updated: Dec 14, 2019
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Rocky Mountain National Park has all of the natural wonders any outdoor adventure-lover could want. Trail Ridge Road is an amazing scenic drive and a great way to see much of the park from the comfort of your own car. Dream Lake is exactly as it sounds – like walking into a dream amidst the mountains. And there are several other highlights you can see and do in just a few days if you plan accordingly. I am breaking it down and providing some of my favorite spots and helpful tips to help you prepare for your adventure in the Rockies!
Planning Your Visit
Check the weather before you go …
and prepare for it to change quickly. We visited the RMNP in September when temperatures were starting to get cold. Once we reached some of the higher elevation points in the park, the temperatures were around freezing. As we descended in the late afternoon, the temperatures were milder, around sixty degrees or so. I recommend wearing layers and bring a lightweight, packable rain jacket, like this Columbia Arcadia waterproof jacket. Whether you plan to spend the day on scenic drives or out exploring the trails, it is best to be prepared for sudden inclement weather.
What else should you bring?
A few other things I recommend for your Rocky Mountain adventures:
A hydration pack with extra pockets (I really like this cute one made by TETON)
Beanie or cap
Plenty of snacks - We usually pack these Epic jerky sticks because they are lightweight and an awesome source of protein to energize you during your hikes; plus, they are all-natural. For something on the sweeter side, these White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Clif bars are my go-to.
Extra pair of socks
This, of course, is not an all-inclusive list but should help give you an idea of some of the essentials that will be helpful during your visit to the park.
Seeing the Sights
Trail Ridge Road
Upon entering the park, you will follow the signs to Trail Ridge Road. This road leads you all the way around the park where you can take in the brilliant mountain views. There are several stops along the way where you can park your car and take off on foot to take photos and explore. We saw several elk grazing along the hills by the roadside. (They are especially active during rutting season.) The drive takes at least a couple of hours but could easily take much longer depending on how far you decide to go and how many stops you make at the many lookout points. For those who are fearful of heights, be warned. The road is narrow in places with steep drop-offs.
There are several visitor centers throughout Rocky Mountain National Park where you can view educational displays about the park, speak with park staff, get a park map, or buy souvenirs. These are also good places for a restroom stop or to grab a snack. We stopped at Beaver Meadows Visitor Center (which is actually located right outside the park entrance), Kawanuchee Visitor Center, and Alpine Visitor Center. Out of these three, Beaver Meadows is my favorite. It is the largest and has a huge selection of souvenirs, shirts, hoodies, hats, you name it! I loved browsing the visitor centers to stretch my legs during the long Trail Ridge road drive.
Hitting the Trails
If exploring by foot is your thing, there are a few trails I recommend for your Rocky to-do list. I will say that if you plan to put in some mileage, you should invest in a good, solid pair of hiking boots. I’m a fan of these Keen hiking boots. I’ve been using Keen shoes on my hikes for several years now and I love the support and durability they offer, especially on rough or slippery terrain.
This is one of the most popular trails in the park. If you don’t get to the trailhead parking lot bright and early (I’m talking 6-7am) you will not find a parking space. But no worries, there are several shuttle buses that take visitors from one of the larger overflow parking lots to the trailhead throughout the day.
The Bear Lake trail is very easy. It is a simple loop around this beautiful lake nestled in the mountains. When we were there it was quite busy, but there are plenty of beautiful spots to pause and take photos along the trail. This trail is only about 0.5 miles and is flat and easy to walk. This is truly a trail that almost anyone can manage and should make an effort to complete on their RMNP visit.
After you make the loop of Bear Lake you will see signs leading to several other trails. Follow the signs for Dream Lake and you will find yourself ascending up a mountainside. The hike is almost completely uphill for the first half a mile or so, but there are ample places along the path to stop and rest for a water break and enjoy the scenery. (Don’t let this discourage you – the gorgeous sights you will experience at the top are totally worth it!) There are a few places where the trail levels off and you can stop to catch your breath or take a water break. We took several breaks along the way because we were not used to the higher elevation, which can cause you to feel winded a lot quicker than you normally would. Take your time, be safe, and drink a lot of water.
About a mile in, you will pass Nymph Lake, a small lake tucked away amidst the trees. This enchanting lake is covered with tons of beautiful lily pads. At this point, you have about a mile to go until you reach Dream Lake.
Photo: Nymph Lake
As you get closer to Dream Lake, you will encounter several babbling brooks and streams. You will cross a small wooden bridge over a crystal clear stream, turn left and you have arrived at a peaceful, serene setting amidst the Rocky Mountains where Dream Lake rests. The water is so clear, the air feels so pure, and you feel like you are on top of the world. It makes one wonder what stories this ancient lake and surrounding mountains would tell if they had the ability to speak to us with words.
Photo: stream before Dream Lake
Photo: Dream Lake
Rocky Mountain National Park – Gateway to Adventure
Rocky Mountain National Park exudes a sense of Americana, the great frontier, and the immense wonder of our beautiful Earth. At every turn, you are bound to see an elk grazing along a lush grassy meadow or a quietly graceful doe wandering through a forest path. My first experience at this amazing national park will most definitely not be my last and I highly recommend a visit to all of my nature-loving friends out there. Among the many sights to experience at Rocky Mountain National Park, Trail Ridge Road and the hike to Dream Lake were two adventures I will not soon forget.
Please stay tuned for my next article, which will include more tips and a few “off the beaten path” sights for this amazing park, including some great trails where we were able to spot elk, deer, and more wildlife!