Visiting Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park with Kids

Rocky Mountain National Park is the largest and most impressive of Colorado’s four national parks. Situated in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, visitors will encounter a unique alpine wilderness filled with an array of flora and fauna. The park is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year, but summer is the best (and the busiest) time to visit. Whenever you decide to go, you can expect to leave with lifelong memories for the whole family.

There are five campgrounds at Rocky Mountain, so make reservations early if you plan on staying inside the park. Although there are no overnight accommodations, families can stay at the nearby town of Estes Park, which makes an ideal base camp for the trip. There’s lots to do inside the park grounds, so plan to stay a while.

Stay in Estes Park

Since there are no lodgings within the park, families who aren’t camping can stay in the small town of Estes Park. Located near the east end of Rocky Mountain National Park, the town has lots of kid-friendly restaurants, affordable lodgings, and opportunities for shopping. It also boasts wonderful views of the Rockies!

Families visiting from May to September can hitch a ride on the Estes Park Aerial Tramway up to the observation deck atop Prospect Mountain. Feel free to stay for a few hours to enjoy on site hiking trails, sit down for a picnic, or visit the onsite coffee shop. 

Hike the Trails

There are over 350 miles of hiking paths in Rocky Mountain National Park, so don’t be shy about getting out of the car and onto the trails. With plenty of easy options, even the youngest family members can keep up on these scenic strolls.

Bear Lake Trail has a fun trail guidebook (purchase at the trailhead) that will help kids learn about the local history and geology. Sprague Lake Loop is flat, easy, and just under a mile long. Another easy option is the Lily Lake Loop, just 0.8 miles round trip. Other lake hikes include the trek to Dream Lake (2.2 miles round trip) and Emerald Lake (3.5 miles roundtrip), both in the Tyndall Gorge.

Ute Trail is relatively easy and takes you through two miles of alpine tundra where trees cannot grow due to extreme weather conditions. If you want to spot some waterfalls during the trip, try the hike to Alberta Falls, a 1.7 mile round trip beginning from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead. Or try the short walk to Copeland Falls, about 0.4 miles from the West Basin Trailhead.

Get on the Horses

A park tradition since the early 1900’s, horseback riding is welcome on about 80% of the trails at Rocky Mountain National Park. Kids as young as 6 can accompany their parents to Glacier Creek Stables or Moraine Park Stables to sign up for relaxing full or half-day horseback trail rides. Families can also look for various stables outside of the park, some of which offer rides into Rocky Mountain.

Visiting during the snowy season? Sombrero Ranch Stables in Estes Park is open during the winter months.

Join the Junior Ranger Program

The Junior Ranger Program gives kids the opportunity to engage in fun activities while earning the status of Junior Ranger. Choose one of three age specific programs for kids ages 5 and under, 6 to 8, and 9 to 12 and let the fun begin! In order to earn ranger badges, kids must complete activities designed to help them learn about the history and ecology of the park. Pick up a Junior Ranger Program booklet at the visitor centers at Alpine, Beaver Meadows, Fall River, Kawuneeche, and Moraine Park and see what exciting activities are in store.

Take the Scenic Route

Delight in scenic views from the comfort of your vehicle on Trail Ridge Road, the premier road of Rocky Mountain National Park. The drive will take you high up into the mountains where the winds are strong and the views are breathtaking. Elk and bighorn sheep are a common sight, so keep kids busy by having them try to spot these and other animals.  

Some parts of the drive can get a bit scary, so be prepared for narrow sections of the road and no guardrails. It also gets a lot colder near the top, so pack warm clothes for the journey. The higher you travel, the more it will feel like an adventure as you ascend to what seems like the top of the world!

Tips for Families

The weather can change drastically in a short period of time at Rocky Mountain National Park. For this reason, it is recommended that you always have warm clothes on hand in case the temperature drops. You’ll also be closer to the sun, so don’t forget the sunblock and sunglasses. In addition, if you happen to have little ones who are prone to altitude sickness, they are likely to experience it during the trip because of the high elevations.

If you plan on bringing a family dog along, know that pets are not allowed on park trails or in the backcountry. Also, pet owners must keep all animals leashed within 6 feet at all times and are required to clean up after them.

What do you have planned for your Rocky Mountain family experience? We want to know!

Tags : travel   national parks   rocky mountain national park   colorado   

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