Rocky Mountain National Park in One Day
Only have one day to spend in Rocky Mountain National Park? Make the most of your time with this suggested itinerary.
Morning in the Park
Enter Rocky at the Beaver Meadows Entrance Station and drive on Bear Lake Road to the Bear Lake Trailhead. Just a few minutes’ walk from the parking lot, arrive at the banks of Bear Lake. Then, from the Emerald Lake Trailhead (accessed from the same parking lot), take a 3.6-mile (5.8-km) round-trip hike to Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lakes to see some of the best scenery in the park. Yes, this trail is popular, and yes, you should hike it, too.
Heading back down Bear Lake Road, pop over to Sprague Lake, then continue north. From your car window, check out the gushing Big Thompson River on the left-hand side of the road; then take in spectacular meadow views as you round the bend to Moraine Park. Take Highway 36 to Highway 34, continuing north to the turnoff for Old Fall River Road, and stop at the Alluvial Fan. Then drive the scenic, one-way dirt portion of Old Fall River Road in about an hour.
Afternoon in the Park
Park in the Alpine Visitor Center parking lot, eat lunch at Café at Trail Ridge, shop for a souvenir at the Trail Ridge Store, and check out tundra exhibits at the visitor center.
Head east on Trail Ridge Road and get out at Rock Cut for a 0.6-mi round-trip hike on the Tundra Communities Trail. Next, pull over at the Forest Canyon Overlook. Toward the end of your drive, take in the views from Rainbow Curve and Many Parks Curve.
Eat an early alfresco dinner at a solitary picnic table on the south side of the road leading to the Moraine Park Campground, and enjoy some quiet time. A good number of people leave the park by 4pm, so the park should look and feel less busy. Keep your eyes out for elk and other animals.
Evening in the Park
Head to the Moraine Park Amphitheater to enjoy a ranger-led program.
As you leave the park, step out of your car and cast your gaze upward at Rocky’s darkening sky. Wish upon a shooting star that you will find yourself back in the park soon.
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