Weekend in Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain is an exciting park with mountains as high as 14,000 feet, stunning lakes and waterfalls, and trails perfect for any hiker. Rocky Mountain National Park is located in Colorado, about 1.5-2 hours from Denver and 1 hour from Boulder. The best way to get to the park is to fly into either Denver or Boulder and rent a car, unless you are only a few hour drive away. Two days is a great amount of time to see the highlights of the park and will allow you to do a peak hike, lake hike, and see the alpine region. Follow this guide for how to visit Rocky Mountain National Park in a weekend.
Rocky Mountain National Park is made up of three ecosystems:
Montane (below 9,000 ft): Where all entrances to the park are located
Subalpine (9,000-11,4000 ft): Many of the popular lake trails including Bear Lake are in this ecosystem
Alpine (above 11,400 ft): Follow Trail Ridge Road towards the Alpine Visitor Center to see the alpine ecosystem. The highest elevation on this road is 12,183 ft, located just before the Alpine Visitor Center (coming from the east part of the park). This area can be 15-20 degrees Fahrenheit colder than the Montane ecosystem.
Best Time to Go to Rocky Mountain National Park
I recommend visiting Rocky Mountain National Park in May through early June or in September. Rocky Mountain National Park is busiest during July and August. In the summer there are frequent thunderstorms in the afternoon, so plan accordingly. Find a weekend in late spring or early fall and start planning your trip to this incredible national park.
Amenities at Rocky Mountain National Park
There is no gas available in the park so make sure you fill up gas before. There are toilets available throughout the park at most trailheads. There is only one restaurant inside the park, located next to the Alpine Visitor Center (Open May-October). I recommend eating in Estes Park before entering Rocky Mountain National Park.
Entrance Fees at Rocky Mountain National Park
$25 per vehicle for 1-day pass OR $35 for 7-day pass OR $80 for America the Beautiful annual pass (accepted at all US national parks)
Where to Stay Near Rocky Mountain
Estes Park is closest to the east entrances of the park and it has a nice downtown in with many shops and restaurants. I recommend booking your stay early, especially in the summer months since it can get very busy. We stayed at 4 Seasons Inn on Fall River which is located very close to the park entrance and not far from the restaurants at Estes Park.
Money Saving Tip: If you are flying in on Friday night stay near the airport for that one night because it is a lot cheaper. Continue to Rocky Mountain early Saturday morning, and stay in Estes Park for Saturday night.
Saturday: Hike to 6 Lakes
Spend your day hiking in the Bear Lake Area and if you have time and energy continue to further lakes. Follow the recommended hiking route below. Parking in this area gets full early, so make sure to get here as early as possible. We got here around 8:30 AM and had to make a few rounds before we found a spot. There are shuttles that you can take as well, but who wants to wait for a shuttle after a long day of hiking? If you can’t find parking at the Bear Lake Trailhead you could also try the Glacier Gorge Trailhead which is about 0.8 miles from the Bear Lake Trailhead.
This is the most popular lake, surrounded by trees and mountains. Enjoy a short walk around the lake.
Length: 0.6 mile loop
Nymph Lake is a small lake with lily pads on the way to Emerald Lake. There is also a viewpoint of the lake from above as you continue hiking to Dream Lake.
Length: 0.5 miles one way from Bear Lake trailhead
Dream lake is a nice, small lake, surrounded by mountains.
Length: 1.1 miles one way from Bear Lake Trailhead
This is a dark emerald colored lake with large mountains and waterfalls flowing in the mountains above.
Length: 1.8 miles one way from Bear Lake Trailhead
Lake Haiyaha is the most stunning lake with light teal water. This lake is my favorite out of all the lakes we saw in Rocky Mountain. If you only hike to one lake this is the one!
Length: 2.1 miles one way from Bear Lake Trailhead
The loch is a darker lake located at a higher altitude on the way to Sky Pond. There are many large mountains surrounding the lake.
Length: 5.2 miles from Bear Lake Trailhead or 3.1 miles from Glacier Gorge Trailhead
This waterfall can be seen on the way back to the trailhead (if you do the full loop) or you can hike only to Alberta Falls from Glacier Gorge Trailhead in 1.6 miles roundtrip. The waterfalls are nice but there are prettier things to see at the park.
Recommended Hiking Route to See 6 Lakes
Distance: Total about 10.5 miles, but can turn around or continue in a shorter route at any point
- Start at Bear Lake and do the short loop around the lake (0.6 miles)
- Hike to Emerald Lake passing Nymph Lake and Dream Lake on the way (1.8 miles)
- On the way back from Emerald Lake turn right to continue to Lake Haiyaha (1.8 miles)
– If you are tired this is the last point where it still makes sense to turn back to the Bear Lake Trailhead instead of continuing to The Loch lake-
- As you return from Lake Haiyah turn right to continue towards The Loch (2.1 miles)
- Take another right and hike uphill to rest of the way to The Loch (0.9 miles)
- Return from The Loch and turn right to continue to Alberta Falls (2.3 miles)
- Continue to Glacier Gorge Trailhead (0.8 miles) or Bear Lake Trailhead (About 1 mile)
Note: Look out for signs along the route that will lead you in the correct direction
- Make sure to bring a copy of the trail map with you so that if you get tired you can find the quickest route back, and so you don’t get lost!
- Bring a lot of water with you. This YETI bottle is perfect to keep your water cold throughout the hike.
- Wear comfortable shoes, sneakers are fine.
- Apply sunscreen as you are hiking in very high elevation. I always use Neutrogena Face Sunscreen, which is only 3 oz so it is perfect for travel.
- Bring high protein snacks to make sure you have energy if you end up doing the full 10.5 miles. CLIF bars are a great option.
Now that you are more used to the higher elevation, spend the second day hiking a peak and seeing the alpine region.
Hike Deer Mountain Trail
Trailhead: Deer Mountain
Length: 5.6 miles roundtrip
Elevation: 1,400 feet
Difficulty: Moderate (the high elevation could make it harder)
Parking: Park on the side of the road near the trailhead (spots are limited so arrive early)
Description: Hike this trail for views of Estes Park, Moraine Park, and surrounding mountains.
Tips: Hike early for clearer views especially in the summer where there are likely to be afternoon thunderstorms. We reached the top right before a thunderstorm started so the views were not very clear. I recommend wearing hiking boots for this hike for better traction and ankle support.
Explore the Alpine Region
From the Bear Meadows Visitor Center follow Trail Ridge Road for about 45 minutes to reach the Alpine Visitor Center (11,796 ft). There are many spots to stop along the way for great views and short hikes. The highest elevation on this road is 12,183 ft, located just before the Alpine Visitor Center.
Make sure to bring extra layers as it can get 15-20 colder than Estes Park in the Alpine Region. Try to look out for Marmots who can be spotted in this area. Marmots are one of the largest members of the squirrel family and spend over half their lives in hibernation, but you can see them out from about May-September.
Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above are affiliate links for products and services I recommend. At no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
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