Experience these incredible things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park with kids for the ultimate outdoor family vacation
Rocky Mountain National Park is Colorado’s most epic destination. The sheer size of the park alone can make the third most visited American National Park seem overwhelming. If you’re planning on visiting Rocky Mountain National Park with kids, that feeling might make you second guess your plans. But whatever you do, don’t cancel your plans. A visit to Rocky Mountain National Park for kids is one of the most magnificent family-friendly experiences in the country. In 9-years of adventure family travel, I’ve rarely encountered so many kid-friendly hikes, epic vistas, and accessible wildlife experiences as I have while making a family trip to Rocky Mountain National Park.
Rocky Mountain National Park is one of those destinations that will live with you for a long time after your visit. Our boys were still talking about the wildlife, waterfalls, and towering mountains even on the plane ride home to Toronto at the end of our family road trip through Eastern Colorado So if you’re planning on taking the kids to Rocky Mountain National Park, read on and be inspired. Because there are more things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park with kids than you may know.
How To Get To Rocky Mountain National Park
Most families visiting Rocky Mountain National Park are arriving from the Denver area. Those that make the trip usually end up coming through the small tourist town of Estes Park which sits at the entrance to RMNP. And I’ll be totally upfront that finding the best route between Denver and Estes Park became one of my favorite pet projects while in Colorado.
There are four entrances to Rocky Mountain National Park. And depending on which one works best for your visit, your route will be slightly different. Beaver Meadows Entrance is the most common entrance. It’s located closest to Estes Park. This route is open year-round. The Fall River Entrance is also easily accessed from Estes Park. It’s the best option for those looking to experience Trail Ridge Road or Old Fall River Road, two of the most beautiful drives in RMNP.
For families looking to explore the accessible, but off-the-beaten-track areas of Rocky Mountain National Park, the Wild Basin Entrance is for you. The Wild Basin Entrance is located about 30-minutes south of Estes Park. It’s accessed off of Highway 7 on one of the best routes on the Denver to Estes Park drive. On the complete opposite side of RMNP sits one of the parks’ best-kept secrets. The Grand Lake Entrance is located on HWY 34 near the town of Grand Lake. The charming town is great to explore. And the Grand Lake entrance drops you right into the heart of the Colorado Rockies.
5 Fun Experiences At Rocky Mountain National Park With Kids
I’ll assume that if you’re exploring Rocky Mountain National Park for kids, that you’re using Estes Park as a base for exploring. Alternately you’re staying at one of the family-friendly Rocky Mountain National Park campsites that are near the Estes Park entrances. This combination of kid-friendly hikes, wildlife watching, and fun-family-friendly outdoor experiences are sure to excite every family from those visiting Rocky Mountain National Park with toddlers to teenagers.
Join The Junior Ranger Program
Although we’re Canadian (and Canada has it’s own incredible National Park System), we always make sure to have our kids take part in the NPS Junior Ranger Program. So far our boys have collected well over a dozen badges. We even picked them up a couple of ranger vests at our recent visit to Everglades National Park in Florida. We even collected one a few days before our visit to Rocky Mountain National Park with kids at the absolutely mesmerizing Great Sand Dunes National Park in Southern Colorado.
The Rocky Mountain National Park Junior Ranger Program is a self-guided activity that helps kids explore the park from a new perspective. Kids (and adults too) will examine the history, geology, wildlife, and fauna of the park. When you arrive at the park, stop by one of the Rocky Mountain National Park Visitor Center locations. There is a different set of activities based on age level. Once each child has finished their Junior Ranger activity, bring your completed book to the visitor center or ranger station. Here the kids recite their National Parks motto and get their unique National Park badge.
Take One Of The Rocky Mountain National Park Kid-Friendly Hikes
Hiking Rocky Mountain NP is one of the best family-friendly activities in the park. And there are loads of great Rocky Mountain National Park hikes for kids of all ages. After a short drive into the park, you could be splashing in streams, clambering over rocks, and staring up at the shocking heights of the Rockies from one of the many family-friendly hiking trails at Rocky Mountain NP.
Some of the best family hikes in Rocky Mountain National park are among the most easily accessible as well. One of the easiest, the .6 mile stroll around Bear Lake is even stroller friendly for those visiting Rocky Mountain National Park with toddlers or infants. If you’d prefer trails that aren’t great with wheels, you can always use one of these amazing kid-carrier backpacks. The 1.2-mile round-trip hike to Alberta Falls is along a well-marked trail and offers some beautiful views of carved out canyons and fast-flowing waterfalls.
For those looking for something a little longer, the 3.2-mile round trip up to Calypso Cascades is a fun but relatively easy hike with great views. As is the 4.6 mile Cub Lake trail. For those looking for something a little more challenging, the 6-mile round trip Deer Mountain trail or the 8.8-mile flattop Mountain trail might be perfect for you. Hiking is one of the best things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park. It gets them up-close and personal with nature. And will wow them with incredible scenery.
Drive The Trail Ridge Road
If you follow HWY 34 past the Beaver Meadows Entrance you’ll find yourself immersed in some of the best scenery of RMNP. This “Highway To The Sky” rises up among the mountain tops, eventually offering a sweeping vista of the Colorado Rockies. The 48-mile Trail Ridge Road is one of the most popular things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park with children. The route spans from Estes Park to Grand Lake. But it’s a seasonal route that is only open from late spring to early fall.
A drive along Trail Ridge Road will have you climbing over 4,000 ft (1,200 m) within just a few minutes. Kids will be fascinated by the transition from aspen and pine forests to subalpine fir and spruce. And when the views open up as you enter the alpine tundra, you’ll be treated to some of the most magnificent views in the state. Up here the tundra looks similar to what you’ll find on the epic Pike Peak highway, or the sub-arctic tundra that we experienced while searching for Polar Bears in Churchill Manitoba.
Explore The Rocky Mountain National Park Visitor Center and Alpine Visitor Center
A visit to one of the RMNP Visitor Centers is a great way for families to learn about some of the most incredible parts of the park system. The visitor centers will give you access to park rangers. These amazing resources can answer all 1,000,000 questions that nearly every child has about the animals, plants, and geology that surrounds them.
Rocky Mountain has several visitor centers, the main one is located just inside the Beaver Meadows entrance. The Alpine Visitor Center is a unique RMNP Visitor Center located high up on Trail Ridge Road. The Alpine Visitor Center also boasts the only restaurant in Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s also one of the best places to take in the amazing view from a warm covered balcony. Perfect for those who may have forgotten to bring a coat.
Experience The Wildlife Of The Rockies
One of our boys’ favorite things to do at Rocky Mountain National Park was wildlife spotting. They made us stop or pullover for just about every single creature that they spotted along the way. And there are loads of wildlife in RMNP for you to see. We saw elk and mule deer in abundance as well as porcupine, big horned sheep, and more. Other animals you may be able to see in Rocky Mountain National Park with kids include bear, moose, beaver, and the very lucky may even spot a cougar, although it’s very unlikely.
All the wildlife spotting means that those driving in Rocky Mountain National Park must pay careful attention. The roads are very windy. And there could be cars stopped with little notice taking in some of the roadside wildlife. On our way down from Bear Lake we even saw two elk bucks fighting with each other!
Tips For Visiting Rocky Mountain National Park With Children
Visiting Rocky Mountain National Park with kids is an amazing way to experience the Rocky Mountains and pristine Colorado wilderness. But like any visit to a busy, huge, and untamed destination, there are a few tips for visiting Rocky Mountain National Park that you should have on hand before you make the trip. Here are a few nuggets of wisdom that I pulled out of our time in the park.
Rocky Mountain Park Entrance Fees
As with all National Parks, there is a fee for entering Rocky Mountains National Park. If you’re traveling with children you’ll likely pay the $25 daily fee. If you plan on visiting for more than one day, pick up the $35 7-day pass. Or, better yet, order a National Parks Pass and you won’t have to worry about digging through your wallet at the entrance. You can also get the National Parks Pass right at the entrance to the park. Payment can be made using most major credit cards or cash.
Rocky Mountain NP Camping
Adventurous families can opt to go camping at Rocky Mountains National Park. The park is exceptionally popular and RMNP campsites book up very fast. For more info about camping, you can check out my guide to camping with kids.
Rocky Mountain NP Services & Amenities
There are very few services available in Rocky Mountain National Park. However, because of the location of the main entrance close to the town of Estes Park, this shouldn’t cause too many problems. The only place for food within RMNP is at the Alpine Visitor Center on Trail Ridge Road. So if you’re planning on eating in the park, you’ll likely need to bring your own picnic.
There is very limited cellular service in Rocky Mountain National Park. There is a bit of service near the Beaver Meadows entrance, but it is spotty at best throughout the rest of the park.
Washrooms are available at most major areas of the park including the visitor centers, most major trailheads, and near the ranger stations.
Transportation Within Rocky Mountain NP
Rocky Mountain National Park covers a huge area. Most visitors choose to drive while exploring the park for this reason. However, many of the most popular trailheads such as Alberta Falls and Bear Lake can fill up very quickly, especially later in the day. The good news is that there is an excellent and frequent Rocky Mountain National Park shuttle. You can park along the Bear Lake corridor from May till early October and catch the shuttle from there to the individual trailheads. Another option is the RMNP Hiker Shuttle that boards outside the park. This shuttle can take you all the way up to the Bear Lake corridor. All shuttles are free with entrance fee payment.
What To Pack For Your Family Trip To Rocky Mountain National Park
It’s good to remember that there are very few services available in Rocky Mountain Park. Unlike urban Colorado destinations like Garden of the Gods, you’ll need to plan out your trip a little further out. If you plan to go camping at Rocky Mountain National Park make sure to book early. You can also check out our tips for camping with kids for more advice on how to maximize your experience.
Unless you are planning on leaving the park to eat in Estes Park, I suggest you bring in any food you might need. There is a grocery store in Estes Park that should have anything you need for a day in the park. Pack a decent cooler to keep your drinks cool, especially for those visiting Rocky Mountain National Park in the summer. This cooler is absolutely awesome for keeping this cool even after a long day in a hot car. You should also bring water bottles. A filtered water bottle will allow you to refill from any stream and still get cool, clean water. You can check out my guide to the best filtered water bottles here.
As I mentioned earlier, the park is huge. Make sure to pack a map and snacks. It’s easy to get turned around if you’re venturing on or off the trail. This map lays out the park and many of the best family hiking trails in Rocky Mountain National Park. And, of course, don’t forget a decent pair of hiking shoes, hiking poles if you need them, and a good quality kid-carrier if you have little ones who might not have the speed or endurance to handle the whole trail.
Where To Stay In Estes Park
Many of those making a family trip to Rocky Mountain National Park stay in the town of Estes Park. Estes Park is quaint and homey. But in the high season, it can get very busy. If you plan on getting a true taste for this Colorado beauty, I recommend spending at least two nights in Estes Park. These family-friendly accommodations will help you relax and get a local taste at the end of a day of hiking and exploring.
If you are looking for a ghostly thrill, check out the famous Stanley Hotel, which served as the inspiration for Stephen King’s “The Shining“. For a less creepy accommodation, consider The Landing at Estes Park. This hotels offers great access to the entrance to Rocky Mountain Park and has some of the best views in town. You can check out their prices and availability here.
Have you ever visited Rocky Mountain National Park with kids? Drop your best tips into the comments below and help others plan their trip. Or drop by our Facebook Page and share a photo of your trip. We’d love to share in your travels.
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