Rocky Mountain National Park Family-Friendly Road Trip Tips

Diana Rowe

You’ve plotted your journey, filled the gas tank, and packed the luggage and kids into the car. Now you are ready for your family-friendly road trip to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP).

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Photo Credit: VISIT DENVER / Bruce Boyer

But with so much to see and do, where do you start? How much time should you allow?

Should you camp in the park, or stay in Estes Park or Grand Lake?

Within two hours from Denver, your family-friendly road trip to Rocky Mountain National Park takes you to the top of the world!

Literally…as those Rocky Mountain peaks rise over 12,000 feet.

Drive Trail Ridge Road to discover the park’s alpine tundra, known as the “land above the trees.”

Start your park adventure at either of its book-ending gateway towns: Estes Park (eastern) and Grand Lake (western).

Need more inspiration? Read on for my tips on visiting America's favorite park and making your Rocky Mountain National Park family vacation the best ever.

NOTE: Even when your family-friendly road trip to Rocky Mountain National Park is in the summer, pack for the elements. Some trails have snow well into June. Some are sunny and dry year-round. Pack layers including a warm coat and shoes (not just sandals!), no matter the season.

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Photo by Mike Goad from Pixabay

Shake out your map and grab your family — you are in for a treat.

With so much to see and do in Rocky Mountain National Park, you could spend your entire summer within its 415 square miles.

But just in case you can’t get away for that long (or you don’t want to miss a thing!), we’ve put our tips for what to do and what not to miss for a family-friendly road trip to Rocky Mountain National Park.

Before You Go to Rocky Mountain National Park

It's important to know any restrictions before you go, and many states and cities throughout the U.S. do still have capacity limitations, mask mandates, and other restrictions due to the pandemic.

Here are some quick links:

For mask mandates and other restrictions, check the state’s color-coded map at covid19.colorado.gov.

As reported by the Denver Post:

Officials of Rocky Mountain National Park have confirmed a two-tiered, timed-entry reservations policy that will be in effect from May 28 through Oct. 11.

Find the details of the above reservation policy here.

1. Take in the Sunrise and the Sunset.

Rocky Mountain National Park is open 24 hours a day year-round (although COVID restrictions may change that).

Visitors can enter or exit at any time (read here for permits & reservations), although Trail Ridge Road is closed usually from October to May.

Start your road trip early in the morning to avoid the most traffic, but don’t be afraid to stop and soak in the views.

Be sure to return to see a sunset.

My favorite view of the sunset is over the Never Summer Mountains. If you don’t want to do this alone, take a tour with the Rocky Mountain Conservancy.

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Photo: Diana Rowe / TravelingInHeels.com

2. Treasure the Drive: Trail Ridge Road

Seriously, this will top your list as the most spectacular road trip scenery witnessed by your family.

Highway 34 is known as the “highway to the sky,” and the highest continuous road in the United States. Travel the 48 miles and climb 4,000 feet in minutes across and through Rocky Mountain National Park. Fuel up in Estes Park, Colorado, and head east to Grand Lake, Colorado in the west (or vice versa).

Allow 3 hours or more (depending on how often you stop).

From forests of aspen and ponderosa pine to the subalpine forests of fir and spruce to the treelines with wind-battered trees to the wide-open (and windy) alpine tundra, this road trip is a feast for your family.

Enjoy the journey. Stop and take pictures.

Pictured below: Driving Trail Ridge Road where it opens to the windswept alpine world, conditions resemble those found in the Canadian or Alaskan Arctic.

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Photo credit: Rocky Mountain National Park

3. Wildlife Watching

Wildlife watching is one of the top activities for any family-friendly road to Rocky Mountain National Park.

No surprise since the park has an elk herd of up to 800, while more than 350 bighorn sheep call this Colorado national park home.

Moose spotting near the Historic Holzwarth Site on the Grand Lake side of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Other popular wildlife includes deer, moose, and coyotes, but according to the park stats: visitors can also find

nearly 60 other species of mammals; more than 280 recorded bird species; six amphibians, including the federally endangered boreal toad; one reptile (the harmless garter snake); 11 species of fish; and countless insects, including a surprisingly large number of butterflies.

I was lucky enough to spot moose in the Kawuneeche Valley near the Historic Holzwarth site near Grand Lake (pictured below).

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Photo: Diana Rowe / TravelingInHeels.com

4. Hiking

There are more than 350 miles of trails to hike, and the Moon Rocky Mountain National Park guide offers a great resource on how to choose one that best fits your family’s abilities.

My favorites are in Grand Lake, where some of the best and (to me) most family-friendly hikes are located.

One of the easiest and most popular hikes here is to Adams Falls, where even toddlers enjoy the scenery. Access the East Inlet Trailhead at the end of the West Portal Road on the east end of Grand Lake.

Include a hike at Adams Falls in Grand Lake during your family-friendly road trip to Rocky Mountain National Park.

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Photo: Diana Rowe / TravelingInHeels.com

5. Attend a Ranger-led Program

Every day in the park, families will discover numerous educational programs for visitors of all ages, including the one at the Alpine Visitor’s Center.

Kids age 12 and under can enroll in the Junior Ranger Program to complete activities about park preservation and its environment.

Check the park’s newspaper for current listings.

If you are camping in the park, attend an evening program at your campground!

Attend a ranger-led program at Rocky Mountain National Park, including one at the Alpine Visitor’s Center.

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Photo: Diana Rowe / TravelingInHeels.com

6. Where to Stay at Rocky Mountain National Park

This is where you’ll need to do your homework as all accommodations (camping, hotels, lodging) fill up fast in and around the park, especially during the summer.

Want to camp? Choose from five drive-in campsites and over 200 backcountry campsites (permits required for overnight stays).

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Photo: Diana Rowe / TravelingInHeels.com

My favorite places include the family-friendly YMCA of the Rockies at either Estes Park Center (where my granddaughter caught her first fish) or the YMCA Snow Mountain Ranch (near Granby and pictured above). Both offer an array of affordable accommodations.

Make it a historic adventure with a (sometimes haunted) stay at the historic Stanley Hotel in Estes Park.

Or choose a lakefront motel or cabin accommodations at Western Riviera in Grand Lake or the historic Grand Lake Lodge (pictured below) overlooking the town and the lake.

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Photo: Diana Rowe / TravelingInHeels.com

7. Visit the towns of Estes Park and Grand Lake

These bookending towns are at the gateway of Rocky Mountain National Park, and both are worth exploring.

Estes Park and Grand Lake are both perfect base camps for exploring the park. Don't want to miss a thing? Plan to stay one night at each of these beautiful mountain towns!

Estes Park is the eastern gateway, and a family-friendly destination with lots to do and see outside of the park. Here you’ll discover bicycle and hiking trails, shopping, restaurants, breweries, and distilleries.

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Photo: Diana Rowe / TravelingInHeels.com

Rent kayaks on Grand Lake during your family-friendly road trip to Rocky Mountain National Park.

Near the headwaters of the Colorado River, Grand Lake is Colorado’s largest natural lake, the western gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park.

Year-round activities include summertime fishing, boating, camping, rafting, and festivals.

The kids will love a guided boat tour of Grand Lake or rent kayaks and explore the lake on your own while enjoying the view of the Rocky Mountains.

This updated & edited article was first published at TravelingInHeels.com.

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Denver-based freelance writer Diana Rowe wants to open the conversation that Life after 50 is not the end — it’s the beginning! She'll talk real lifestyle stuff like juggling work, marriage, caregiver for elderly parent, relationships with adult children, grandchildren, and blended families, what works what doesn't, but when all else fails, she bakes! She'll share her favorite recipes, especially baking! her favorite traveling partners are her grandkids — and sometimes she even lets their parents tag along! She wants to inspire other grandparents to travel with their adult children and grandchildren to create new and lasting memories as a multigenerational family. Seriously! The. Most. Fun. Ever.

Denver, CO
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