Colorado National Parks Itinerary: A Day In Rocky Mountain National Park

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Curated By

Julia Tafoya

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  • Colorado

  • Adventure Travel

  • Family Travel

  • Nature Escapes

  • Solo Travel

  • Mountains

  • Hiking

  • Sightseeing

Rocky Mountain National Park encompasses a spectacular range of mountain environments.
Curator’s statement

Whether you’re traveling solo or with your whole crew, Rocky Mountain has something to offer for everyone. Located a little over an hour from Denver, you will quickly realize you are in one of the most scenic spots in Colorado. From day hikes to fishing, scenic drives to snowshoeing, you are sure to enjoy your time spent in Rocky Mountain National Park.

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Insider knowledge

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Where to stay in Colorado

St Julien Hotel & Spa

Unparalleled luxury and rejuvenation in the heart of the city.

Halcyon, a hotel in Cherry Creek

This hip boutique sleep has a host of special extras, from loaner bikes, scooters and ham boards to a rare-in-Denver rooftop pool and choice of brasserie-like restaurants.

Thompson Denver - A Hyatt Hotel

Vibrant downtown hotel with chic style and a French restaurant all within a short walk from the historic Union Station, Coors Field and the buzzy bars and restaurants of the Dairy Block.

Fora Perks
  • Property credit.

  • Daily breakfast for two.

  • Upgrade & extended check-in/out, whenever possible.

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Unlock perks by contacting Julia to book your trip.

Things to do in Colorado

Dream Lake is a high alpine lake located in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Planning your ideal day

For an ideal day hiking in Rocky Mountain, I would highly recommend leaving in the morning so you can guarantee a full day visiting the park and wandering through Estes when you are finished.

Activities for everyone

Depending on who you are traveling with, there is something for everyone! Below is a list of my personal favorite hikes and ways to see the park.

Scenic drive

In the summer months, you can drive the entire 43-mile loop from the Beaver Meadows entrance to Grand Lake (Trail Ridge Road). This is the perfect option for those who want to enjoy the park in comfort but are wanting to see everything it has to offer. You will climb each switchback until you reach the summit, where you can get out and walk around to see 360 views of the Rocky Mountains. In the fall, you will spot plenty of golden trees and elk or moose wandering the grounds!

Hiking

There are endless amounts of stunning hikes in the park, so to be honest, you will not go wrong with whatever you choose. Here is a list of my favorite hikes:

  • Dream Lake: This two-mile loop is the perfect option for all types of hikers. With only 500 feet of elevation gain, you will wander upon the quaint Nymph Lake on your way to Dream.

  • Lake Haiyaha: If you’re chasing turquoise waters, then Lake Haiyaha is for you. This four-mile loop will leave you with views of some of the park's prettiest bodies of water.

  • Chasm Lake: For stunning views with less people, hike to Chasm Lake for views of an alpine lake surrounded by stunning rocky peaks.

  • Sky Pond: If you’re up for the challenge, I highly recommend this 8.6 mile loop that will take you to this scenic alpine lake. You’ll traverse a waterfall scramble at the very end, leading the way to the opening of the lake.

Exploring Estes Park

If you have extra time before or after your hike, take a stroll along the main street in Estes Park for shopping or a sweet treat.

For the Shoppers

Visit Trendz At The Park for adorable home goods.

For the Sweet Tooth

Explore the sweet shops lining the street, offering everything from taffy to fudge, ice cream, and caramel apples.

Iconic Sights

On your way out of town, drive by the Stanley Hotel for a glimpse of the iconic filming location of "The Shining." Despite its spooky connections, it's a gorgeous hotel set on a beautiful plot of land just outside the main street.

With this, you will leave having the most incredible day visiting Rocky Mountain National Park!

Note: You will need to make a park reservation from May - October (timed entry permit per vehicle). If you are going to be hiking in any areas in Bear Lake Corridor (all of which I have listed above) you will have to make a reservation for this as well. Before 9am and after 2pm you do not need a permit.

Tip: If you are planning on going to multiple parks in a year, I would highly recommend purchasing the America The Beautiful Pass. This goes for $80 and will grant you access to every single National Park as many times as you want! With only two park visits, you will have paid for the pass, so it is a must!

Places to eat & drink in Colorado

Smokin' Dave's BBQ Platter

For the coffee lover: On your way up, stop in Lyons for a warm cup of coffee at Moxie Bread Co.

For the Donut Delight: For a unique treat, try Donut Haus, located in a gas station just outside the park entrance. Despite the unusual location, their donuts are a must-try before your hike.

Post-Hike Dining

After your day in the park, it is an MUST to stop at Smokin’ Daves BBQ on your way home. For me, there is personally nothing better than a steaming hot platter of BBQ after a long hike.

What to Order: Any of their meat plates! (Each comes with two sides and buttery cornbread - YUM!)

Need to Know

Looking for more travel inspiration? Check out my guide, A Guide to the Can’t Miss Eats in Florence, Italy.

Travel advisor posing in a green field with mountains

Travel Advisor

Julia Tafoya

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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to Colorado.