Rocky Mountain National Park Travel Guide
Rocky Mountain in One Day
Starting out in Estes Park, begin your day at the Bighorn Restaurant, a classic breakfast spot and a local favorite. While you're enjoying your short stack with apple-cinnamon-raisin topping, you can put in an order for a packed lunch (it’s a good idea to bring your food with you, as dining options in the park consist of a single, seasonal snack bar at the top of Trail Ridge Road).
Drive west on U.S. 34 into the park, and stop at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center to watch the orientation film and pick up a park map. Also inquire about road conditions on Trail Ridge Road, which you should plan to drive either in the morning or afternoon, depending on the weather. If possible, save the drive for the afternoon, and use the morning to get out on the trails, before the chance of an afternoon lightning storm.
For a beautiful and invigorating hike, head to Bear Lake and follow the route that takes you to Nymph Lake (an easy 0.5-mile hike), then onto Dream Lake (an additional 0.6 miles with a steeper ascent), and finally to Emerald Lake (an additional 0.7 miles of moderate terrain). You can stop at several places along the way. The trek down is much easier, and quicker, than the climb up. If you prefer a shorter, simpler (yet still scenic) walk, consider the Bear Lake Nature Trail, a 0.6-mile loop that is wheelchair- and stroller-accessible.
You'll need the better part of your afternoon to drive the scenic Trail Ridge Road. Start by heading west toward Grand Lake, stop at the lookout at the Alluvial Fan, and consider taking Old Fall River Road the rest of the way across the park. This single-lane dirt road delivers unbeatable views of waterfalls and mountain vistas. You’ll take it westbound from Horseshoe Park (the cutoff is near the Endovalley Campground), then rejoin Trail Ridge Road at its summit, near the Alpine Visitor Center. If you’re traveling on to Grand Lake or other points west, stay on Trail Ridge Road. If you’re heading back to Estes Park, turn around and take Trail Ridge Road back (for a different set of awesome scenery). End your day with a ranger-led talk or evening campfire program.