Sample Itineraries

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Sample Itineraries for Rocky Mountain National Park

A Day in Rocky Mountain National Park photo by Aaron Cathcart

IN ONE DAY YOU’LL SEE MOUNTAINS, AND MUCH MORE

What can we see in a single day in Rocky Mountain National Park?

Lots of mountains, that’s for sure.   Whatever else you see here depends on what you’re looking for.   Several park rangers and local residents were asked what they’d suggest if a traveler had only a single day to spend exploring the park.

Here’s what they recommend:

  • Drive Trail Ridge Road. It is one of America’s most spectacular scenic drives. Stopping at various vista points – from Many Parks Curve to Farview Curve – and soaking in the grandeur can make this trip last all day long, two or three hours at the least.
  • Take a hike. Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most user-friendly parks in the nation. There are lots of trails and a wide variety of destinations, from lakes and waterfalls to summits, forests and meadows. An hour or two of strolling allows you to get an enticing sample of Rocky Mountain’s renowned backcountry.
  • Watch for wildlife. Viewing the great variety of animals and birds is one of the most popular activities in the park. A few words of warning: Mind your manners, respect their privacy and never feed them.
  • Take pictures. These mountains are perfect subjects for photography. Because wildlife is abundant and the mountain scenes tend to change hourly with varying light, clouds and shadows, the park is a great place to capture the spectacular Colorado Rockies with a camera.
  • Visit a museum or historical site. Places such as the Moraine Park Visitor Center (filled with natural history exhibits) or the Holzwarth Historic Site (preserving a historical resort) help us understand what the area was like before the park was formed.
  • Enjoy a picnic. Many places within the park provide pleasant outdoor settings made better with food, friends and family. Whether it takes place somewhere along the roadway, in one of the dozens of picnic areas or simply on a flat rock out in the woods, a picnic is one of life’s little pleasures – easily organized and long remembered.

Wildlife in Rocky Mountain National Park photo by Aaron Cathcart

A WEEK IN THE PARK ROCKY OFFERS PLENTY TO DO

When Rocky Mountain News editor William Byers visited this region back in 1864, he tried to climb Longs Peak. Byers failed.   Nevertheless, he had an exciting time and a memorable experience making it to the summit of neighboring Mount Meeker.   To anyone planning a visit to this stretch of the Rockies, Byers advised a trip of at least eight days. Of course, he traveled by horseback and it took him a couple of days just to get here from Denver. But a week in this area definitely is worth considering, especially if you’re in search of the perfect trip.

Some suggestions on how to spend seven days in Rocky.

DAY ONE: Time to stretch those legs. Pick a gentle trail for a stroll.   Amble toward a famous waterfall (maybe Copeland, Adams or Alberta) or around a popular lake (perhaps Bear, Sprague or Lily). Many people require a day or two to get used to the altitude, and some time spent sauntering at the park’s lower elevations is a good idea.

DAY TWO: If you’re feeling acclimated to the elevation, explore the high country by car. The trip across Trail Ridge Road is punctuated by many pullovers that will introduce you to the region. There’s lots to see – scenery, wildlife and wildflowers.   A leisurely drive with lots of stops, short walks and chats with the rangers will make this a memorable outing.   Top off your full day with an evening ranger talk at one of the campgrounds or visitor centers. (See the official park newspaper for programs.)

DAY THREE: Begin your morning with a ranger-led bird watching expedition. (See the park newspaper for programs.) You do not have to be an avid birdwatcher to enjoy an introduction to this informative and interesting activity. In only an hour or two, you can learn a lot about the park and its wild inhabitants. Spend the rest of the day driving up the Old Fall River Road toward Fall River Pass, pausing for a picnic along the way.

DAY FOUR: Do what the locals do: Hike the backcountry. Pick a more ambitious walk to a location suited to your ability.  Plan to spend the whole day outdoors.   Figure on an afternoon rain shower.

DAY FIVE: Take a Rocky Mountain Field Seminar. The nonprofit Rocky Mountain Nature Association offers half-day, day-long and multi-day classes on all sorts of natural and cultural history subjects.   In a short time and at a reasonable

cost, you can learn a lot from experts about subjects such as outdoor skills, nature writing, photography, art and history. (Reservations are required. For information and registration, call 970-586-3262 or visit rmna.org.)

DAY SIX: Now that you’re better acclimated, it’s time to try a more rigorous hike. High country lakes are especially popular destinations. Today, you also can apply what you learned from your chats with rangers, the bird watching trip and your seminar.

DAY SEVEN: Try something new.   Perhaps you’ve never ridden a horse, been fly fishing, climbed a mountain or sketched an alpine scene. Here’s your chance. After you’ve sampled one or two Rocky Mountain wonders, you’ll find there’s a lot more to do than you thought. But after this first week, you’re off to a great start.