14 of the Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park for Families

Rocky Mountain National Park is a hiker’s paradise. Trails to alpine lakes, cascading waterfalls, jagged peaks, and wildflower-dotted tundra abound.

This park offers something for everyone, from 0.5-mile jaunts around a lake to 11-mile leg burners that climb high above the tree line. What are the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park for families? Here are our picks.

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Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park: Bear Lake Area Hikes

The Bear Lake Area, just outside of Estes Park, is the most popular hiking destination within Rocky Mountain National Park. During the peak season, parking at the trailheads is usually full by 7am.

Luckily, there is a large overflow parking area with a free shuttle system which runs frequently and drops visitors at three different trailheads down the road. 

The overflow parking can even be full midday, especially on summer weekends. Arrive early (before 10am) or late (after 3) to secure a spot.

Trails in this region can get very crowded. The crowds definitely detract from the experience so  I HIGHLY suggest getting up early to hike (arrive by 8AM).

An early arrival means the weather will be pleasant (hot days and afternoon thunderstorms are both common in the summer) and you will have the trails (mostly) to yourself.

Read about more things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park with kids.

1. Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, and Emerald Lake

Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families
Nymph Lake

If there is one trail that packs a whallop of Rocky Mountain National Park beauty into one short punch, it is this trail. The hike begins at the Bear Lake Trailhead and is doable for families with children of all ages.

It is an out-and-back trail with a steady (but not too steep) climb, however there are some lovely places to stop and enjoy along the way.

After hiking 0.5 mile, you will reach Nymph Lake, a charming little lake dotted with lily pads. Families will reach Dream Lake at the 1.1 mile mark. Take some time to skip rocks and eat a snack before hiking the final 0.7 miles to Emerald Lake.

Snow patches cling to rocky slopes near the lake well into the summer months. After taking some time to enjoy the lake, enjoy the easy 1.8-mile hike back down the hill.

2. Bear Lake Trail

Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families
Bear Lake, Photo by: Flickr/ Andy Smith

One almost feels obligated to see Bear Lake while hiking in the Bear Lake Area of Rocky Mountain National Park.  The lake is very close to the shuttle stop and there is a 0.5 mile loop trail which encircles the lake.

The trail is very easy and can be added as an extension of your Emerald Lake hike. It is also a nice place to warm up before heading down to Glacier Gorge area.

3. Alberta Falls

Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families
Alberta Falls

Another wildly popular hike, Alberta Falls is best enjoyed early in the day before the crowds start forming.

Most people access Alberta Falls via the Glacier Gorge shuttle stop which will take you on an easy but steady 0.8 mile climb up to the falls. My kids prefer beginning at the Bear Lake shuttle stop and ending at the Glacier Gorge shuttle stop. This strategy minimizes the uphill hiking.

All the trails in this area are well marked, making navigation a breeze. At the Bear Lake trailhead, a trail heads 0.4 miles downhill before joining up with trail coming from Glacier Gorge and gently climbing for the last 0.5 miles to the falls.

We spend lots of time scrambling on the massive boulders adjacent to the falls before heading downhill to the Glacier Gorge shuttle stop.

4. The Loch

Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families
Loch Vale, Photo by: Flickr/ChristianCollins

If you have older children and are looking for more of a challenge in the Bear Lake area, definitely consider the hike to Loch Vale. This is definitely one of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

It follows the same trail that passes Alberta Falls, but continues on for 2.3 miles to a gorgeous lake known as “The Loch”. There is some significant elevation climbing involved but the scenery is lovely and well worth the effort.

While gazing upon The Loch, you will notice Timberline Falls cascading in the distance. Can you reach Timberline Falls? Why yes you can! The trail hugs The Loch for a bit before climbing significantly towards the falls.

5. Sky Pond

Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families
Sky Pond

Once you reach Timberline Falls you can either a) enjoy the falls and be satisfied or b) embrace your inner adventurer follow the trail which climbs up the rocks on the side of the falls and heads towards the Lake of Glass.

I would only suggest this section to experienced and fit hikers. Those with a fear of heights might be too intimidated to continue. This part of the trail is quite difficult and does require using your hands and feet to scale the rocks. It becomes more rock climbing than hiking at this point.

There can also be water running on the trail near the waterfall, which adds to the adventure. The payoff is a magical lake surrounded by 13,000-foot peaks.

But wait! There’s more! To the right of the lake, the trail continues. It hops across boulders after 0.3 miles you will reach your reach your final destination, Sky Pond. This small but lovely little lake is at 10,900 feet in elevation. Taylors Peak and Powells Peak loom above. 

Be sure to keep your eyes out for rock climbers on the Sharks Tooth formation to the right. They look like little ants on the sides of the massive granite spires.  

You’ve climbed 1,780 in elevation so take some time to savor the moment before heading back downhill. The total hike is length is about 10 miles. It is highly suggested that you start early to avoid crowds and afternoon thunderstorms.

Explore more of the state. Here are the Top 10 Things to do in Colorado with Kids. 

Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park: Easy Wildlife-Spotting Hikes

Wildlife sightings can be plentiful in Rocky Mountain National Park, if you know when and where to go. Some of the best, easy hikes in the park are in locations frequented by  moose, elk, and deer.

6. Sprague Lake

Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families
Moose grazing at Sunset at Sprague Lake

Located off Bear Lake Road, Sprague Lake is a wonderful destination for multi-generational groups who are hoping to spot some moose. The parking lot is a good size and we never had an issue finding a spot during our multiple evening visits.

The one-mile trail around the lake is mostly flat, making it ideal for strollers, wheelchairs, and the elderly. The lovely scenery makes it enjoyable for even experienced hikers.

Visit this destination at sunset for your best opportunity to spot a moose. Elk, deer, and even bear can be spotted in this area. This is also a popular place for beginning fly fishing because the entire lake is quite shallow.

7. Lily Lake

Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families
Lily Lake

Lily Lake is another popular moose-spotting destination just outside of Estes Park. Similar to Sprague Lake, the 0.8-mile trail around the lake is mostly flat and ideal for strollers and the mobility-challenged.

The parking lot is small and can fill up during the day but usually has plenty of space near sunset when wildlife spotting is most likely to occur. Moose and elk are commonly spotted.

Kids will be entertained by the dozens of muskrats that live in the lake and swim around like little otters. Those looking for more adventure might want to take the spur trail which climbs up the side of a rocky hill next to the lake.

8. Coyote Valley Trail

Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families
Colorado River Running Along Coyote Valley Trail

The west side of Rocky Mountain National Park receives less visitation than the east because it is further from the Denver metropolitan area, but this section of the park is not to be missed.

One of the highlights of this part of the park is the Colorado River. The Coyote Valley Trail is a flat, one-mile trail which follows the Colorado River (which looks more like a creek) as it runs adjacent to a vast meadow. 

Hikers are treated to sweeping views of the Never Summer Mountains and frequent wildlife visitors such as elk and moose. Wading in the river is a fun option on a warm day.

9. Adams Falls

Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families
Photo by: Flickr/ Julie Falk

The hike to Adams Falls is also located on the west side of the park near the resort town of Grand Lake. It is just  0.7 miles round trip to the waterfall, making it a good hike for families with small children. The elevation change is only 100 feet.

Kids can wade in the stream. Continue past the falls to discover a meadow where wildlife sightings are frequent.

Rocky Mountain National Park made our list of the best national parks for kids. See what else made the list!

Best Rocky Mountain National Park Hikes: Easy Tundra Hikes

Trail Ridge Road winds high into the Rockies, taking visitors into the treeless tundra. Up above 10,000 feet the air is thin, the temps are much cooler, and the wind is usually blowing.

Still, there is quite a bit of beauty to discover in the higher elevations. Life above the tree line is fragile, so please remain on the trails at all times

10. Tundra Communities Trail

Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families

The Tundra Communities Trail begins at Rock Cut, which is 12,100 feet in elevation. Parking can be found in spaces alongside the road. This out-and-back trail is about a mile in length and there is a 260-foot elevation gain.

Lichen covered rocks and delicate wildflowers dot the fragile-yet-stunning landscape. A spur trail about half way to trail’s end leads to some interesting toadstool rock formations. At trail’s end there are some rocks to climb. 

Read more  10 of the Best Black Mountains Hikes near Burnsville (Mount Mitchell, Crabtree Falls, and More!)

Atop the rocks on the right side there is a very cool geographical marker which shows the distance and direction to several other national parks. Be on the lookout for marmots and pika which love to hang out in the rocky outcroppings.

11. Alpine Ridge Trail

Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families
Views from the Alpine Ridge Trail

The Alpine Ridge Trail is less of a hike and more of a stair climb. It gains 207 feet in just 0.3 miles, but the expansive views from the top are well worth the climb.

The trail begins at 11,796 feet next to the Alpine Visitor Center. Expect to see wildflowers, marmots, and plenty of people along the way. The Alpine Visitor Center is an incredibly popular destination (and the closest thing to being considered civilization on Trail Ridge Road) so the parking lot can often fill up midday.

For the best weather (thunderstorms are common) and chance of securing a spot, visit earlier in the day.

Find deals on hotels in Estes Parks, CO (eastern entrance)

Best Rocky Mountain National Park Hikes: Moderate Day Hikes

12. Boulder Brook Trail

Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families
Along the Boulder Brook Trail | Photo by Michelle McCoy

If you are looking for a lightly trafficked trail off Bear Lake Road, the Boulder Brook Trail is a good option. This 4.6-mile out-and-back trail follows a lovely creek for  much of the hike and can be accessed from Sprague Lake.

It does climb 1,486 feet over the duration of the trail, but you can make it as long or as short as you would like. Bring a hammock and rest by the creek while the kids splash about. Expect to see several small waterfalls and plenty of colorful vegetation during the autumn months.

13. Ouzel Falls

Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families
Whitewater Along the Ouzel Falls Trail | Photo by: Flickr/ Randy Martin

The Ouzel Falls Trail begins in the Wild Basin area, not far from Estes Park. As with most of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, it is suggested you arrive early (before 8am) to guarantee a parking spot.

Those who park along the road will be ticketed by rangers. The trail follows a river and passes Copeland Falls and the Calypso Cascades before reaching Ouzel Falls at the  2.7 mile mark. 

When you reach the bridge near the falls, head to the left and follow an unmarked trail which will get you close to the falls.

14. Gem Lake

Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families
Gem Lake | Photo by: Flickr/Kimon Berlin

This trail begins at the Lumpy Ridge Trailhead, not far from the Estes Park Visitors Center. It is 3.4 miles round trip and has an elevation gain of nearly 1000 feet. There are boulders for the kids to climb on along the way to the lake.

There are great views of Estes Park from the trail. Series of steps near the top of the trail as you approach Gem Lake. Chipmunks that live around the lake will climb on you looking for food but remember, it is against park rules to feed the wildlife!


— Update: 30-12-2022 — cohaitungchi.com found an additional article 5 Best Trails for a Family-Friendly Rocky Mountain National Park Hike from the website www.moon.com for the keyword best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families.

The phrase “family-friendly hike” is up for wide interpretation. Parents lugging full-to-the-brim diaper bags and strollers around on a Rocky Mountain National Park hike might be game for a half-hour jaunt on level ground (Coyote Valley Trail fits the bill). On the flipside, I’m personally aware of a family that climbed Longs Peak with a 6-year-old in tow. Like I said—family friendly: it means different things for different people.

For the purpose of this list, the phrase is defined as holding broad interest and appeal for multi-generational groups—from toddlers to teens, midlifers to active seniors. The following five hikes in Rocky have been proven, time and again, to capture imaginations of all ages.

Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families
The picturesque Nymph Lake is abundant with pond lilies. Photo © Erin English.

Nymph Lake and Beyond

Nymph Lake’s appeal lies largely in its decorative pond lilies. In the warm months, scores of verdant leaves float weightlessly alongside brilliant yellow flowers. Any spot along the lake’s edge is great for views, but I recommend parking yourself at the north side of Nymph for the most remarkable vantage point. To arrive at Nymph, drive or catch a shuttle to Bear Lake, and hike approximately half a mile (one-way) along the Emerald Lake Trail. If everyone in your party is pumped to keep going, continue on to Dream Lake (an additional 0.6 miles) and finally Emerald (an additional 0.7 miles) before heading back.

Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families
Holzwarth Historic Site was built in the early 20th century and has been well-preserved. Photo © Erin English.

Holzwarth Historic Site

One of the most interesting remnants of early settlement on Rocky’s west side is Holzwarth Historic Site, a well-preserved guest ranch built in the early 20th century. History buffs in particular will enjoy poking around this cluster of guest cabins and outbuildings. Volunteers lead informal tours around the property in summertime, and some of the log structures display historical items of significance. A ranger-led campfire program with songs and stories takes place one night a week in the peak season (bring your own marshmallows to roast). The hike out to Holzwarth is approximately 0.5 miles from the trailhead.

Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families
Lily Lake has a wheelchair-accessible path that is also great for strolling. Photo © Erin English.

Lily Lake

Lily Lake is a people-pleaser for so many reasons: among them, its birds and colorful wildflowers. A 0.8-mile, wheelchair-accessible path winds its way around the lake and is delightful for strolling. Several picnic tables with nature-iffic views dot the shore; snag one of these highly coveted lunch spots if you can. There’s no admission fee to hike around Lily Lake—simply arrive via Highway 7, on the east side of Rocky, and park in one of two lots. They fill quickly, so plan to get there early in the morning or late in the day.

Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families
Hike the Glacier Gorge Trail to Albert Falls. Photo © Erin English.

Alberta Falls

When journeying to a waterfall, I am of the opinion that the build-up on the hike out is almost as good as the gusher itself. I just love listening for those first glorious sounds of rushing water. The easy trek to Alberta Falls—a tumbling, frothy spectacle—delivers on both fronts: the path there, and the main attraction. The tree-lined trail is especially gorgeous in the fall, when the aspen leaves’ pigment changes from green to yellow. Large rocks alongside Alberta are great for sunning or snacking. Your starting point for this 1.6-mile round-trip hike is Glacier Gorge Trailhead. In the summer, the parking lot fills up by 6am, so plan on either rallying your crew at the crack of dawn, or taking the park shuttle.

Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families
Bring a sweater when you head out on the Tundra Communities Trail. Photo © Erin English.

Tundra Communities Trail

Walking around above treeline is a fascinating experience, no matter your age. On the Tundra Communities Trail (0.6 miles round-trip), pikas and marmots scurry about. The wind often screeches and howls, and plants grip tightly to the earth in order to survive. This partially paved trail features a number of interpretive signs along the way, making for both an educational and scenic outing. To get there, take Trail Ridge Road to the Rock Cut parking area; the path to follow will be obvious. Pack sweaters and jackets for all.


Related Travel Guide


— Update: 30-12-2022 — cohaitungchi.com found an additional article The Best Hikes for Families in Rocky Mountain National Park from the website thatwasafirst.com for the keyword best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families.

It’s time for a road trip to Rocky Mountain National Park!  The car is packed, the route is mapped, and everyone is excited to head to the mountains!  But wait, what are you going to do once you get to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP)?

You’re sure you’ll be able to cruise into the park and spot some wildlife in the meadows.  You’ll maybe try to do some hiking?  You’ve heard of Long’s Peak before.  Maybe that would be fun for the family to hike?  Not quite!

You have a lot to keep track of when traveling with kids, so let me take care of the hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park that your family should do.  And no, you aren’t going to be hiking anywhere near Long’s Peak.  If you need more insider information about what to do in Estes Park and RMNP, read my previous posts about planning three perfect days in Estes Park and my 25 tips for your first visit to RMNP.

(This post contains affiliate links for your convenience.  Read my full disclosure policy here.)

Our family has visited RMNP multiple times and always plan our hikes before we go.  Planning ahead is important because of the varying elevations.  You don’t want to do the hike at the highest elevation on your very first day.  You need to get used to the elevation with an easier hike and then go from there.

Related Post – What You Need to Pack for Your Trip to Rocky Mountain National Park

This article is going to highlight the easier and moderate hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park that are great for families.  I define an easy hike as in any age can do the hike.  Moderate hikes are for the kiddo’s ages nine and up.  All kids have different abilities, so your own kid may be up for the challenge of a harder hike than you expect.

Our family has done many hikes in the Northern and Central regions of RMNP.  I have not hiked in the Southwest region of the park, and do not cover that area of the park.

For a complete hiking guide of Rocky Mountain National Park, I recommend this book and trail map (click photo for details):

Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for familiesBest hikes in rocky mountain national park for families

Please note:  During the summer and early fall months, reservations are needed to enter Rocky Mountain National Park during the daytime.  Visit the National Park Services website here, for more info and to make your reservations.

The Easiest Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Bear Lake – Bear Lake is a very popular lake to walk around.  The trail is 8/10’s of a mile long and is fairly flat.  The hiking path is wide, a smooth surface and is handicap accessible.  Perfect for pushing that stroller on!  Plus, the parking lot is within a few hundred feet of the start of the trail.

But the best part of hiking around Bear Lake is the scenery.  You’ll be walking in the shadows of Long’s Peak and Hallett Peak.  Very impressive to even the youngest member of your family.

Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families

The view of Long’s Peak as you walk around Bear Lake.

The trail around Bear Lake is also a nature trail.  This can keep the little ones interested as they learn about the trees, plants and the lake shore.

The trail also has a lot of benches to take a break on and take in the view.  There are also some pretty amazing spots for that Christmas card photo.

Since Bear Lake is so popular, it’s also very busy.  I recommend hiking this trail before mid morning, or better yet, after dinner.

Related Post – 25 Tips for Your First Trip to Rocky Mountain National Park

Sprague Lake – Another popular lake to walk around is Sprague Lake. This trail is 9/10ths of a mile long and has a 10 foot elevation gain.  Nice and easy!

Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families

The trail is like this all the way around the lake. Very nice!

The back drop of the trail has you taking in the views of Hallet Peak, Flattop Mountain and Notchtop Mountain.  My 11 year old always points out Flattop and declares that someday she’ll hike to the top of it.  And she will!

If you take this hike early or late in the day, you have a good chance of spotting some wildlife.  On the last couple of trips to Sprague Lake, the elk have babysat our car out in the parking lot.  We also have watched two moose walking in the waters of the lake, and there are numerous fish that are easy to spot in the clear water.

Read more  The 24 Best Northern California Hikes (Near San Francisco Bay Area)

I really recommend walking around Sprague Lake in the evening before sunset.  It’s very quiet and peaceful (even with little kids).

Alberta Falls – The hike to Alberta Falls is still easy, but it’s 1.6 miles round trip.  The elevation gain on this hike is 200 feet, so you will really feel like you are hiking in the mountains.  The pathway on this hike isn’t as wide, flat, or smooth as you’ll see on the paths around the lakes.  There are steps, narrow spots, and rocks on this trail so wear appropriate footwear.

We see all ages of kids and adults on this hike.  It’s a popular hike because of the waterfall and the never-ending view over Glacier Gorge.  You can also continue past Alberta Falls to hike to some very picturesque mountain lakes.  These hikes are moderate and I’ll mention the hike to Mills Lake below.

The only times we’ve been able to get pictures of Alberta Falls without other people in them are when we go early in the morning.  You may be surprised at the amount of people hanging around the waterfall, but it really is a must see.

Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families

Get there early if you want a photo without the crowds!

Short hikes, Tundra hikes – Throughout RMNP there are scenic overlooks, parks and picnic areas that have short hiking trails to walk on.  Some that I recommend are Hidden Valley, Alluvial Fan, Moraine Park, and the Tundra Trails near the Alpine Visitor Center at the top of Trail Ridge Road.

Moderate Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Old Ute Trail – This tundra hike is the perfect first experience for your family.  The hike starts above treeline at 11,800 feet and ends in the trees at an elevation of 10,750 feet.  The hike ends at Poudre Lake which is where you can get a cool picture on the Continental Divide.  Yes, you can have one foot on each side of the Continental Divide.

This hike, as one-way, is 4.2 miles.  It is completely downhill, unless of course, you hike the opposite direction.  (My parents hike it uphill, I don’t know why…).  Since you end the hike at a different location, you need two cars to make this work for you.

The trail starts at the Alpine Visitor Center, and it’s common to see families just walking a short distance while they are sightseeing along Trail Ridge Road.  That way you still can experience some of the hike, although you have to walk uphill back to the Visitor Center.

Bear, Nymph, Dream and Emerald Lakes – This hike takes you by four mountain lakes and is just under 6 miles round trip.  The elevation gain is 1040 feet.  That sounds difficult, but the terrain is pretty easy to handle.  Plus you are stopping quite a bit throughout the hike to take in those lake views.

Just remember, you don’t need to hike the full route.  The trail starts at Bear Lake (see above) and it’s only 1/2 mile to Nymph Lake.  The trail starts with a long and gradual uphill walk, I hate this part of the hike but the kids don’t seem to mind as they are running ahead of me.  Nymph Lake is covered with lily pads during the summer and is very pretty when the flowers are in bloom.

Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families

Nymph Lake – with Hallet Peak in the background

Dream Lake is popular for fishing and you will see people catching some trout.  You will also be able to spot the fish in the water right from shore.  Dream Lake is 1.1 miles from Bear Lake.

If you make it all the way to Emerald Lake, you’ll be rewarded with an up close view of Hallett Peak.  Look closely and you may see some rock climbers.  Emerald Lake is 1.8 miles from Bear Lake.

Related Hike – Check out this article by the Just Go Travel Studios blog for details on the Emerald Lake, Lake Haiyaha, and Alberta Falls Trail

Mills Lake – I’ve saved the best for last.  Mills Lake is considered the most beautiful lake in the park by many visitors.  The hike is 5.6 miles round trip and has an elevation gain of 750 feet.

Since this is a longer hike with varied terrain, you want to have the proper gear.  Good hiking boots and hiking socks are a must, along with some durable hiking pants.  I recommend the hiking pants from Kuhl, because they are lightweight and keep me warm during the early morning portion of this hike.

My oldest daughter did this hike, for the first time, when she was a ten year old.  She was able to walk the trail with no problems and no complaints.

Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families

Why take the bridge when you can walk on the rocks?

As I mentioned above, this hike takes you past Alberta Falls and along Glacier Creek.  This hike also has you walking along a hillside, over bridges, and deep in the woods.  Before you know it, you arrive at the rocky shoreline of Mills Lake.

Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families

Will you agree that Mill’s Lake is the prettiest lake in the park?

Allow some time to sit on the boulders, enjoy your snack, and watch the water.  You’ll see trout swimming close to shore and plenty of chipmunks begging for your snacks.  Don’t leave without feeling how icy cold the water really is.  No one will be swimming in this lake!

We also notice a lot of jet traffic overhead at Mills Lake.  Your kids will be amazed at how much closer they are to the airplanes flying above.

Of course, Mills Lake is the perfect backdrop for a family photo.  There will likely be someone around willing to snap that photo for you.

The hike is popular, but because of the distance, you won’t have near as many people around you.  Mills Lake is fairly large and there’s no problem finding a spot on the shoreline that’s away from other hikers.

Before hiking any of the moderate trails, stop at any of the Visitor Centers for more information and maps.  The rangers are happy to answer any of your questions and give you updated trail conditions.

Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the best National Parks for hiking.  The trails are varied and well taken care of.  Your family will be rewarded with some awesome scenery no matter which hikes you choose.  You may even spot a few elk along the way!

Planning a trip to Colorado?  Here’s more info:

  • Click here for a list of lodging available in Estes Park
  • What You Need to Pack for Your Vacation to Estes Park and the Rocky Mountains
  • How to Have Three Perfect Days in Estes Park
  • 10 Foods Your Family Must Eat While in Estes Park
  • 25 Tips for your First Visit to Rocky Mountain National Park

— Update: 30-12-2022 — cohaitungchi.com found an additional article Rocky Mountain National Park with Kids: 2 Perfect Days from the website www.thefamilyvoyage.com for the keyword best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families.

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A visit to Rocky Mountain National Park should be on every travel bucket list. It offers some of America’s most stunning scenery representing and plenty to keep visitors busy for as long as they’re able to stay.

We had an amazing experience visiting Rocky Mountain National Park with kids. It’s an ideal national park to visit with kids thanks to the wide range of activities for the whole family to enjoy.

In this guide you’ll find everything you need to prepare for a family trip to Rocky Mountain National Park – when to go, where to stay, what to do while you’re there and more!

When’s the best time to visit Rocky Mountain National Park?

Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families

One of the best things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park is drive Trail Ridge Road. It connects the park’s east and west sides, crossing over the mountains at a stunning 12,000 feet! For first-time visitors, driving Trail Ridge Road should be included in your Rocky Mountain National Park itinerary. However, Trail Ridge Road is only open in summer and fall – the exact dates depend on weather conditions.

Summer in Rocky Mountain National Park offers ideal weather conditions and the entire park is accessible. However, the crowds can be intense. Unless you’re a very early riser it may be difficult to get to the popular Bear Lake area of the park until the end of the day. That said, summer offers plenty of daylight so you can pack in a lot of activities in the park.

If you don’t have to fight with a school schedule, fall can be a great time to visit Rocky Mountain National Park. The crowds are thinner, especially on weekdays, and the foliage is stunning. Even during our family’s visit in August we saw the beginnings of the aspens changing colors! Late September and early October are great times to visit Rocky Mountain National Park in fall, balancing thinner crowds and stunning foliage with weather that is usually still favorable.


How to get to Rocky Mountain National Park

Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families

Unless you’re visiting Colorado on a cross-country road trip, you’ll likely want to fly into Denver International Airport. It’s a major airport (and a hub for United) so there are often affordable flights including with some ultra-low cost carriers like Frontier, Allegiant and Spirit. Compare flight prices here.

The drive from Denver to Estes Park is about 90 minutes, but allow closer to 2 hours for traffic. You’ll definitely want to rent a car to get around the area, as the one shuttle service is nearly $200 roundtrip per person. An affordable bus service from Denver’s Union Station to Estes Park was piloted briefly in 2019, but its future it unclear. Check rental car prices for your trip.

If you’re visiting Rocky Mountain National Park during the COVID-19 pandemic, you’ll absolutely need to rent a car to get to the park. If you’re planning far enough ahead, hopefully the free shuttle from Estes Park to Rocky Mountain National Park will be running again. It takes you Park & Ride within RNMP, from which you can hop on the other shuttles that operate within the park. Note that there are no shuttles that operate on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park, and none that goes across Trail Ridge Road.

Pro tip: Make the most of your time driving around Colorado with the free RoadTrippers app. It helps you plan your route and shows you tons of unique stops along the way. Get $5 off RoadTrippers Plus with coupon BTR5QTP.

One advantage of the shuttle buses is that they avoid the insane lines at the entry stations. If you’re driving in to Rocky Mountain National Park in summer, you could wait up to 20-30 minutes to get in to the park entrances on the east side. When we visited there was an “express line” for those who brought an America the Beautiful National Parks pass, which saved us a few minutes. Note that those riding the shuttle bus still need to pay for park admission or bring a pass.

Read more  28 Best Things to Do in Sedona with Kids in 2022

We visited RMNP during one of our cross-country road trips, so naturally we had our own car with us. While we had to face the issue of limited parking availability, bringing our own wheels meant that we could pack in a cooler full of food and extra gallons of water. We love having the flexibility to stay in the park all day long even if it means throwing together an unexpected meal on the fly. For our family, taking the shuttle would have decreased our flexibility or massively increased how much we had to carry with us during the day.


Where to stay near Rocky Mountain National Park

Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families

The most convenient place to stay near Rocky Mountain National Park is the lovely mountain town of Estes Park, Colorado. Estes Park offers plenty of wonderful accommodation options for families.

We had the most amazing stay at The Ridgeline Hotel in Estes Park. It’s our kids’ favorite hotel ever thanks to the massive indoor pool where movies are projected on the wall, the all-hours game room and the outdoor fire pits to match the s’mores kits we were given at check in. It’s a total winner and walking distance to all of the restaurants and shops in town.

Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families

If you’d rather have more space and the flexibility to prepare some meals on your own, there are hundreds of family-friendly Airbnbs in Estes Park. They range from condos in the center of town that are walking-distance to all the amenities to riverside cabins in where you can watch animals flit by through your window. Check out some of the top options:

Use the interactive map to find vacation rentals and hotels near Rocky Mountain National Park


What to bring to Rocky Mountain National Park

Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families

Rocky Mountain National Park is a place to take the “be prepared” mantra to heart. Depending on your plans for the day, you could experience everything from perfect warm weather to bitterly cold winds.

A full day in the park could start just after breakfast and go all the way until dinner time, so you’ll need lots of food and water to keep your whole family happy and healthy. Really – make sure your bring a lot of water and that everyone is hydrating well. The extreme elevation makes everyone more subject to dehydration, and the last thing you want is for someone to develop altitude sickness.

Here are the most important things to bring to Rocky Mountain National Park (of course accounting for some seasonal variation):

Gear you’ll need in Rocky Mountain National Park

Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families

What to wear in Rocky Mountain National Park

  • Lightweight hiking pants ( his | hers | kids)
  • Multiple layers – tank/short sleeve plus long sleeves for sun protection and warmth
  • Hat – Sunday Afternoons has amazing options for the whole family
  • Bandana or other neck protection (we love these!)
  • Sunglasses
  • Fleece or packable puffer jacket for high elevation ( his | hers | boy | girl ) – our kids are on their third season with these and still going strong!
  • Hiking shoes – for most trails, running shoes or even trail runners will suffice

How many days should you spend at Rocky Mountain National Park?

Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families

We spent two days in Rocky Mountain National Park and a third would have been wonderful. As you’ll read about below, there are so many wonderful things to do on a Rocky Mountain National Park family trip! Especially if you’re visiting in the summer when the park is most crowded, you need to give yourself ample opportunity to get to Bear Lake and you may need to build in extra time to use the park’s shuttle bus system.

One thing’s for sure: no matter how long you spend in Rocky Mountain, you’ll never feel like it’s too much!


Things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park with Kids

Stop at a Rocky Mountain National Park visitors center

Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families

I always recommend starting your national park visit at the visitors center. Park rangers are wonderful, dedicated professionals who love to share their favorite spots and expert recommendations. They also have the latest information on trail closures, full parking lots and other wrinkles you need to know about. In particular, the wildfire in fall 2020 has resulted in some of the most popular areas of the park being closed so it’s essential that you check in with rangers when you try to plan your visit.

On the brighter side, the visitors centers also have fun activities like viewing the park film (typically shown at Beaver Meadows, but may be temporarily unavailable due to COVID and fires). Check here for the latest information on which visitors centers are open and what their current restrictions are.

You’ll also want to stop off to pick up Junior Ranger booklets.

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Drive Trail Ridge Road

Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families

Trail Ridge Road is one of the most epic drives in America and it’s a must-do for visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park. It runs almost 50 miles from (roughly) Estes Park on the east side to Grand Lake on the west side. In between, it hits an altitude of more than 12,000 feet in the park’s treeless alpine zone.

How long does it take to drive Trail Ridge Road? Without stops, it would take you around 2 hours each way – but you’ll definitely want to stop. I recommend allowing a full day for Trail Ridge Road.

The scenery itself is worth the drive, as you can spot lots of wonderful wildlife as you explore the park’s different climate zones. Two stops definitely worth making are the Alpine Visitors Center and the continental divide. Though it was overcast on the east side of the mountains, we found clear blue skies and a stunning view at Milner Pass.

Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families

If you’re spending at least two days in Rocky Mountain National Park, I recommend driving Trail Ridge Road on your first day. It’s a nice introduction to the park and you won’t be doing much hiking at elevation (except perhaps once walk – more on that below) while your bodies get acclimated.

Try one of these easy Rocky Mountain National Park hikes

Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families

One of the joys of visiting Rocky Mountain with kids is that there are so many wonderful day hikes to choose from! Unfortunately some of the best easy hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park have been closed due to fire damage, but there are still plenty of great ones – and hopefully more will open back up in the coming year.

Alberta Falls hike

Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families

Alberta Falls is a wonderful family hike in Rocky Mountain National Park if you’re visiting with kids who can tackle a little bit of steep terrain. It’s just over a mile round trip but does have around 200 feet of elevation gain. Our almost-7 year old handled it just fine on his own, but we opted to put our 4 year old in this carrier since it was late in the day and there would have been a lot of griping otherwise. The trail can be a little busy, but it’s beautiful nonetheless and worth exploring.

Bear Lake Trail

Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families

The classic kid-friendly hike in Rocky Mountain National Park starts at Bear Lake and continues 0.5 miles to Nymph Lake and then optionally another 0.6 miles to Dream Lake (pictured above). If you make it all the way to Dream Lake, you’ll cover 2.2 miles round trip with a total elevation gain of 425 feet. If you need a toddler-friendly hike in Rocky Mountain National Park, you can always just walk the pretty loop around Bear Lake itself – it’s under 1 mile and totally flat. If you’re only able to plan one day in Rocky Mountain National Park, hiking in the Bear Lake area is a great way to spend it!

The biggest downside of the entire Bear Lake area is that it’s so extraordinarily popular that it can be extremely difficult to access in the summer unless you arrive in the park very early. One day during our August visit, the Bear Lake parking was entirely full by 9:30 and there were so many people that the park shuttle wasn’t even bringing people to the area. There are plenty of other great hikes for families in Rocky Mountain National Park, but if Bear Lake is at the top of your list be sure to arrive early!

Tundra Communities Trail

Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families

The Tundra Communities Trail is near the highest point on Trail Ridge Road. It offers a very different glimpse of the park: at 12,000 feet of elevation, it’s above the tree line. You’ll see fascinating rock formations atop the 1.1 mile roundtrip.

Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families

The trail itself isn’t hard but the elevation makes it feel extremely intense. I won’t lie – it was hard for both of our kids. If you choose to take your kids on this trail, be sure they are dressed warmly and well-hydrated. Go slowly and bring patience with you! Like the rest of Trail Ridge Road, this trail is only accessible in the summer.

Complete the Rocky Mountain National Park Junior Ranger program

Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families

Like many of the large national parks in the US, the Rocky Mountain National Park Junior Ranger program has several age-specific options. There are separate books for kids 5 and under, kids 6-8 and kids 9 and up – meaning all the little explorers in your family will find activities to interest them.

The Junior Ranger activities do a great job of helping kids understand the park’s diverse ecosystems, which is one of Rocky Mountain National Park’s distinguishing features.

Go wildlife spotting

The wildlife in Rocky Mountain National Park is a real highlight for families! You’ll see plenty of animals everywhere you go, just go slowly and keep your eyes peeled. Here are a few critters we saw during our visit:

Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families
Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families
Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families
Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families

Where to go next

Best hikes in rocky mountain national park for families

Want to continue your western adventure? Check out these destinations next:

  • Colorado:
    • 12 Can’t-Miss Things To Do In Colorado With Kids
    • 5 Best Family Ski Resorts in Colorado
  • Utah:
    • 13 Awesome Things To Do In Utah With Kids
    • How to Spend One Day in Bryce Canyon With Kids
    • 7 Unique Things To Do In Capitol Reef National Park
  • New Mexico:
    • 8 Great Things To Do In New Mexico With Kids
    • 5 Can’t-Miss Things To Do In Albuquerque With Kids
    • Visiting White Sands National Park – America’s Newest National Park!
  • Arizona:
    • 8 Great Things To Do In Arizona With Kids
    • Fun things to do in Flagstaff With Kids
    • Where to stay in Flagstaff: Little America Flagstaff review
    • The best things to do in Scottsdale with kids (and Phoenix too)
    • Where To Stay In Scottsdale With Kids
    • Saguaro National Park – How To Plan Your Visit
    • 7 Fun Things To Do In Tucson With Kids – Choices For All Ages

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About the Author: Tung Chi