If you want to see Colorado at its grandest, Rocky Mountain National Park is a must. It truly encapsulates the beauty and diversity of the Rockies.
There are several amazing things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park with kids, from scenic hikes to spotting wildlife in its natural habitat. Here is our comprehensive guide to visiting the park. Use it to plan your own Rocky Mountain vacation.
Rocky Mountain National Park with Kids
When is the Best Time to Visit Rocky Mountain National Park?
Rocky Mountain National Park is open year around. The winter months are more limited for driving, open trails, and camping, and not ideal for most families visiting the park for the first time.
I have found the best time to visit Rocky Mountain National Park is between mid-June and September. While the park is certainly more crowded during this time of the year, it is the best time to enjoy the trails, spot wildlife, and visit the high country.
While the weather and snow conditions can make April, May, and early June hit or miss, these are popular months to visit as well and easier on the pocketbook than later in the year.
Have Your kids Become a Web Ranger and Junior Ranger
A great way to get kids excited about your upcoming trip to Rocky Mountain National Park is to have them become Web Rangers. This feature of the National Park Service website enables kids of all ages to be educated about the park and wildlife from home. They can even earn a certificate by completing activities online.
If you don’t print out your booklet at home ahead of time, stop into the Junior Ranger Headquarters, located at Moraine Park Discovery Center, to pick up a free Junior Ranger activity booklet.
When kids complete the booklet and share it with a Park Ranger, they will receive an official Rocky Mountain National Park Junior Ranger badge. Kids can turn these booklets in at any park visitor center to earn their badge.
Take a Scenic Drive
Trail Ridge Road is one of America’s Byways and a nationally designated All American Road. The road is 48 miles in length, starting in Estes Park on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park and ending in Grand Lake (or visa versa depending on where you start).
The road reaches an elevation of nearly 13,000 feet, making it one of the highest paved roads in North America. There are a few places along the way to stop, enjoy the views, and do a bit of hiking.
The most popular stop is the visitor center at the summit. It’s worth stopping to stretch those legs, talk to the park rangers, and enjoy the views. Trail Ridge Road is a very popular drive that can get congested during the summer months. On the bright-side, slowing down just allows for a little more time to soak in the sights.
NEED TO KNOW: Old Fall River Road, a historic dirt road built between 1913 and 1920 is often closed in the winter time.
Great Places to Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park with Kids
If you can get off the road and onto a trail, you’re going to see an entirely different side of Rocky Mountain National Park and nature at its best. There are more than 355 miles of hiking trails for hikers of all abilities. Trails range from easy, flat lakeside strolls to VERY difficult mountain peak climbs. Here are few great family-friendly hikes.
Emerald Lake Trail
Emerald Lake is about three miles round trip. It starts at the Bear Lake trailhead which is accessible via the park shuttle. Parking at the trailhead is difficult to find unless unless you arrive super early and manage to snag a spot.
This beautiful trail passes two additional lakes, Nymph Lake and Dream Lake, before arriving at Emerald Lake. It’s a very popular hike so go early to avoid the heat and the crowds.
Cub Lake Trail
Cub Lake is a longer hike at about 4.5 miles round trip. It begins from the Moraine Park area and is a loop trail to scenic Cub Lake. Moose and calves are often spotted int eh area in the morning.
Coyote Valley Trail
This one-mile trail is a great spot to see elk and moose, especially during the early morning and early evening hours. It is located on the west side of the park, five miles north of the Kawuneeche Visitor Center. The trail is both stroller and wheelchair accessible and features sweeping views across the meadow towards the mountains. Kids enjoy playing in the stream which runs through.
Sprague Lake is about half-mile-long trail and has some great views of the Continental Divide. It basically circumnavigates the lake, a popular spot for wildlife such as deer and moose, especially at dawn and dusk.
The hike is located on Bear Lake Road, one mile west of the Park and Ride shuttle bus parking lot. The trail is both stroller and wheelchair accessible. There is also a backcountry camping site located in the area if you want to be a little more adventurous.
Another wildly popular hike, Alberta Falls is best enjoyed early in the day before the crowds start forming. Begin your hike at the Bear Lake shuttle stop and make your way to Alerta Falls, then return to the shuttle station via the Glacier Gorge shuttle stop.
This strategy minimizes the uphill hiking. All the trails in this area are well marked, making navigation a breeze. Kids love scrambling on the massive boulders adjacent to the falls, which are an impressive sight unto themselves.
Read about more great hikes in Rocky Mountain NP in our guide to the Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park for Families.
Fishing in Rocky Mountain National Park
With several lakes at Rocky Mountain National Park you’d think you could easily pull over and cast a line but this is not the case. Many of the lakes are not open for fishing. However, the ones that are open are amazing.
A few great spots to fish include Dorsey Lake, Roaring River, and Fern Lake, which are off the Long Lake trailhead and Ouzel Lake located off of the Wild Basin trailhead. Sprague Lake is a popular spot for fly fishing.
Trekaroo Tip: Before you fish at Rocky Mountain National Park, you need to make sure you have a valid Colorado fishing license. A license is required for people over the age of 16 years. It’s pretty easy to obtain, just visit the Colorado Division of Parks & Wildlife website to pay and print out your license.
Driving or hiking through Rocky Mountain National Park are great ways to see the park, but saddling up and riding through the park is quite another. There are several guided rides for families that include riding, fishing, and seeing the sights. Jackson Stables in Estes Park has a variety of ride options as well as pony rides for the little ones.
Where to Stay in Rocky Mountain National Park
There is no lodging inside Rocky Mountain National Park but there are a lot of options outside the park in Grand Lake, Estes Park, and surrounding areas.
Camping in Rocky Mountain National Park is very popular and a lot of fun but it does get crowded, especially on long weekends. However, with 265,200 acres and several campgrounds, it’s a big place and solitude can easily be found. Plan on reserving a campsite in advance as they do fill up quickly.
Just outside of the Estes Park entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park is the YMCA of the Rockies. This isn’t the YMCA you may be used to back home; it is so much better!
YMCA of the Rockies is 860 acres in size and has over 200 cabins as well as several lodges and large vacation homes. No doubt, it is an epic place to stay, but if you aren’t able to snag a reservation you can still a variety of activities and camps with a day pass.
Read our full article on the YMCA of the Rockies.
Experience a YMCA of the Rockies Day Camp
The YMCA of the Rockies has a huge number of programs for kids. Day Camps are from 8am-3pm for kids from kindergarten through eighth grade and cost about $40 per day.
These camps are more than “child care,” they provide true outdoor adventures for kids just like they would get at a traditional summer camp – horseback riding, swimming, arts, crafts, hiking, survival skills, and so much more.
YMCA of the Rockies also offers specialty camps for kids who are very interested in certain activities such as archery or horseback riding. There are several family activities as well. A YMCA Membership is not necessary to participate in these activities.
The same is true for lodging outside of the park. One of my favorite places to stay in Rocky Mountain National Park is the YMCA of the Rockies. It’s an amazing spot for families.
Read our tips on securing a camping spot at national parks, including Rocky Mountain National Park.
Check out Elaine’s travel adventures & tips at CarpeTravel.com. Lead image by Bigstock.