Bucket List Outdoor Activities in Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park is an outdoor lover’s paradise. There are so many amazing things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park you could spend a lifetime of adventures there.

I’ve done countless activities throughout Rocky Mountain National Park. From leisurely sunrise hikes, to scaling the tallest mountain in the park there are tons of amazing adventures to be had in this top US national park.

Unlike other guides, you’ll get real, local advice about the best things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s my mission to let you experience the magic of Colorado like a local, not a tourist.

The Best Things to Do in Rocky Mountain National Park

As a Colorado local of over 12 years, I’ve trapezed my way through Rocky many times. As a result, I’ve curated this list of the best things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park that bring a real, local, Colorado flavor. In this guide you’ll find:

  • Amazing local recommendations for things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park
  • Cost and time associated with each activity
  • Who they are best suited for
  • Quick tips for visiting the park
  • Additional planning resources.

Timed Entry Requirements for Rocky Mountain National Park in 2021

In 2021 Rocky Mountain National Park is continuing their required reservation system. From May 28th to October 28th you’ll need to purchase an advanced reservation to access Rocky Mountain NP.

Permits cost the same as the entry fee and annual pass holders should check specific details.

There are two separate permits. One for the Bear Lake Road corridor which must be purchased if you’re entering that area of the park between 5 am and 6 pm. You can continue to enjoy the rest of the park at that time.

A second permit is available if you are NOT visiting the Bear Lake Road Corridor from 9 am to 3 pm. This permit allows you to enter the park, but not visit the Bear Lake Corridor unless you take the free shuttle.

Bear Lake Road Corridor includes the following trailheads:

  • Bear Lake including the Emerald Lake hike
  • Sprague Lake
  • Glacier Gorge
  • Bierstadt Lake
  • Hollowell Park
  • and any other trailhead accessed from Bear Lake Road

Permits are released on the first of the month for the following month. Meaning you can obtain timed entry permits for July on June 1. Plan accordingly and remember, permits fill up fast!

Map of the Best Things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park

Use this map here to help you plan the perfect trip to Rocky Mountain National Park.

Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park

With over 110 hiking trails, hiking is one of the top things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park. For seasoned hikers and newbies alike, there are countless scenic mountain hiking trails in Rocky Mountain National Park.

If you’re short on time, hit up one of the several shorter hikes or go big and tackle some of Colorado’s most challenging hiking trails.

Some of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park include:

  • Dream Lake, Emerald Lake, and Nymph Lake – Easily one of the most popular hikes in the park, Dream Lake is extremely accessible and provides hikers with epic views of park icons like Hallet Peak and Dragon’s Tail Couloir.
  • Alberta Falls – This short and easy hike takes you to one of the most beautiful viewpoints in the park and can be accessed from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead parking lot. Try visiting in late May or early June when the waterfall is at its most impressive.
  • Bear Lake – This is probably one of the easiest hikes in the park since you can enjoy insane panoramas of Bear Lake just a few minutes from the parking lot. You can then continue walking around the lake or connect with one of the more challenging hikes in the area.
  • Gem Lake via Lumpy Ridge – Looking to escape the crowds? Then climb to Gem Lake via Lumpy Ridge and admire all the gnarly rock formations along this easy/moderate hike.
  • Ute Trail to Tombstone Ridge – Experience ridge-walking at its finest on this moderate/challenging trail. Just keep an eye on the weather since you’ll be above the treeline and could be in danger if a thunderstorm rolls through.
  • Sky Pond via Glacier Gorge Trail – This super popular hike is worth the effort if you’re up for a bit of a challenge. And while the terrain is pretty mellow most of the way, you will need your hands as you scramble up a creek bed near the end.
  • Chasm Lake – This intense hike won’t take you to the top of a mountain. But, it will take you to some of the best scenery in the park. Also be on the lookout for the second biggest granite rock wall in the USA. Just be prepared for lots of switchbacks and intense elevation gains.
  • Long Peak – Easily one of the most famous 14ers in Colorado, Longs Peak is not for novice hikers and requires scrambling skills and previous mountain summits. You’ll also need a helmet and should be okay with lots of exposure.

Cost: Free (minus the entry into the park)
Time: Varies. Anywhere from a half-hour to 12 hours.

Local Tip: Home to many of the best hikes in the US, hiking is a must-do activity.

best things to do in rocky mountain national park

Go for a Scenic Drive

Two of the most scenic drives in Colorado are located right in Rocky Mountain. The first, Peak-to-Peak Highway, works its way past the Wild Basin and Long’s Peak area of the park right into the heart of Estes Park – an incredibly scenic Colorado mountain town. Take this drive either entering or leaving Estes Park.

Next, drive the famous Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mountain National Park. The road is 48 miles long and extends from Grand Lake to Estes Park.

As the highest paved road in any national park in the country, it is a must-see since it offers visitors unparalleled views of the surrounding alpine landscape and local wildlife.

In fact, you’ll ascend above the treeline and reach a maximum height of 12,183 feet. You can also stop along the way at the Alpine Visitor Center, which is known for being the highest elevation visitor center in the USA.

Don’t forget to stop at Forest Canyon Overlook since it offers visitors unparalleled views of Longs Peak and various other mountains.

Local Tip: Trail Ridge Road closes in winter, so be sure to check for the latest conditions.

Cost: Free (minus the entry into the park)
Time: Allow 45-minutes one way for the Peak-to-Peak Highway and 1.5 hours for Trail Ridge Road.

Enjoy Camping Under the Stars

Rocky Mountian National Park has 5 designated camping areas throughout the park. Reserve your spot or try your luck at one of the first-come-first-serve campsites. Rocky has some of the best camping in Colorado, so get the family together for a night under the stars!

Cost: $26 per night plus the park entry fee ($25 per day)
Time: Open May 25th through September 18th.

Check Out Areas Outside of the Park Proper

There are lots of things to do just outside of Rocky Mountain National Park. Some areas see a fraction of the crowds, while others also make the Colorado Bucket List. A few favorites include:

  • Exploring the Indian Peaks Wilderness
  • Spend the day in Estes Park
  • Go boating on Grand Lake
  • Ski at Eldora in Nederland

Cost: Varies.
Time: Varies.

things to do near Rocky Mountain National Park

Watch for Wildlife

Colorado is home to some spectacular wildlife and spotting them is one of the best things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park. Home to creatures both big and small, the park hosts an array of healthy wildlife including:

  • Elk, moose, deer
  • Coyotes
  • Bears
  • Beavers
  • Ram, big horned sheep, and mountain goats
  • Various birds including eagles and falcons
  • Pika and marmot
  • And more!

Want to see majestic herds of elk quietly grazing in a stunning mountain valley? If so then Moraine Park is one of the best things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park for you.

After all, this place is insanely beautiful and home to a wide variety of classic hikes like Bear Lake, Mills Lake, the Morraine Park Loop hike, and more.

There’s even a campground here with an amphitheater and a shuttle service that will take you into RMNP.

Local Tip: Don’t feed, harass, or approach wildlife. Tourists get charged every year so keep your distance. As always, obey ranger instructions.

Cost: Free (minus the entry into the park)
Time: Varies.

Take a Scenic Bike Ride

Although you can’t mountain bike in Rocky Mountain National Park, you are allowed to bike the roads. Instead of driving in your vehicle, go for a scenic bike ride across Trail Ridge Road or the Peak-to-Peak Byway. Just keep in mind that the roads are narrow, so bike with care!

Cost: Free (minus the entry into the park)
Time: Varies, but this is roughly an all-day activity.

Holzwarth Historic Site

Nestled deep within the Kawuneeche Valley, the Holzwarth Historic Site features various cabins built by the Holzwarth family in 1917.

See, this German immigrant used the Homestead Act to purchase 160-acres of land to create a dude ranch for visitors to stay at while they explored the area.

Today, this historic property introduces visitors to the realities of life as a Colorado homesteader. In fact, volunteer-led tours of the site are offered daily between mid-June and Labor Day.

So, top by and marvel at the original furnishings inside the Mama cabin before enjoying some of the other things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Cost: Free (minus park entry)

Time: Tours are offered daily throughout the summer

Photograph a Sunrise

Catching a sunrise is bucket list activity in the park. Rocky Mountain National Park has no shortage of photographic scenery. In fact, there are so many Instagrammable spots in Rocky Mountain NP that it’ll take some time (and effort) to see them all. A few of my favorites that don’t require hiking are the Many Parks Overlook, the Gore Range Overlook, Sprague Lake, and Bear Lake.

Cost: Free (minus the entry into the park)
Time: Varies depending on your photography needs.

best things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park

Sleep in the Wilderness

There’s no better way to explore the park than to head out on a wilderness camping adventure. There are countless loop options (pick up a topo map of the park with trails and campsites) but Boulder Brook to Granite Pass to Storm Pass is one of my favs!

As one of the top things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park, backpacking and sleeping at a backcountry campsite require a little pre-planning. First, you need a permit ($30 per trip, which can be shared with multiple people). You’ll also need proper human waste disposal bags (wag bags(, and bear canisters for your food. However, it’s worth the effort.

Cost: $30 per trip plus the park fee
Time: Varies. Anywhere from one night to one week!

Learn About Native American History

Every time you head out into nature, think about who lived here first. Native American history is deeply tied to the land and the Rocky Mountains are teeming with native history. The ranger programs at Rocky Mountain National Park are a great way to learn some history and expand your knowledge of the land.

Cost: Free (minus the entry into the park)
Time: Varies. Anywhere from a half hour to an hour

Go Rock Climbing

One of the best things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park in summer is rock climb. Loved by professionals and newbies alike, the park is home to some of the best rock climbing in Colorado and even the world.

There are a wide variety of routes for beginners to experts alike. Get your feet wet in the alpine with the Spearhead or Petit Greppon or try your luck at multi-pitch in Lumpy Ridge.

Inexperienced climbers should certainly hire a guide for Rock Mountain National Park.

I highly recommend The Mountain Guides Colorado, a division of Jackson Hole Mountain Guides. They are absolute experts hiring local guides who know the park inside and out.

Right now I’ve got a deal where you book a day of climbing in Rocky Mountain National Park and get to take a friend for free! Get this BOGO climbing deal while it’s hot!

Cost: Free (minus the entry into the park) for experienced climbers, private guides cost between $275 to $300 per day.
Time: Varies. Anywhere from a half-day to 15 hours.

top things to do in rocky mountain national park

Hike to the Top of a Mountain

Experienced mountain hikers will love the challenge of scaling one of the park’s, 13,000 and even 14,000-foot peaks. One of the best things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park for seasoned hikers is to stand atop a peak. There are several peaks suitable for beginners, such as Flattop Mountain. More experienced hikers with scrambling experience can hike the famous Longs Peak, the tallest mountain in the park.

Local Tip: Hiking mountains is VERY dangerous. Learn about how to safely climb a mountain and have a lot of mountain hiking experience before attempting these peaks.

Cost: Free (minus the entry into the park)
Time: Varies. Anywhere from a half-day to a full day.

Overall, there are a lot of activities to enjoy in Rocky Mountain. This list of the top things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park covers bucket-list activities for all abilities and interests. What did you do on your Rocky Mountain adventure?

Ditch the Crowds and Enjoy the Awe-Inspiring Beauty of Estes Park, Colorado like a Local with this Epic Itinerary!

Want the secrets to a crowd-free weekend in Estes Park, Colorado? Use this epic itinerary to discover exactly how to visit the park like a local and enjoy some of Colorado’s most scenic hiking trails without the crowds! You’ll get exclusive access to top tips for planning your weekend in Estes and navigating Colorado like a long-time local.

Planning a visit to Rocky Mountain National Park? I’ve got you covered with these local planning resources:

The local's guide to the best things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park. This insiders guide gives you all the details about what to do in Rocky Mountain National Park and how to do it. Includes the bet activities for summer, spring, and fall. #nationalparks #colorado #travel
The local's guide to the best things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park. This insiders guide gives you all the details about what to do in Rocky Mountain National Park and how to do it. Includes the bet activities for summer, spring, and fall. #nationalparks #colorado #travel

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Meg aka Fox is a 30-something who's born to explore. Her mission is to get you out on your greatest adventure. She'd rather be dirty than done up.