So, back in July of this year, me, my hubby & daughter visited RMNP for the first time.
We love visiting national parks! It’s one of our favorite things to do!
Put me in the mountains surrounded by lakes & I feel like I’m in heaven!
RMNP did not disappoint!
Tip: Click here for the 10 best things to do in the park
Read Day 2 of my time in the park here
There are four entrances into the park, three on the park’s east side and one on the west. To make the most of your time in the park, choose the entrance that will give you the best access to the sights you want to see and experience.
We stayed at the Alpine Trail Ridge Inn.
The hotel sits about 1-2 miles from the Beaver Meadows Entrance.
The hotel was very reasonably priced and was super convenient to the park.
My only complaint about the hotel was, I had booked online through the hotel’s website a few months before arriving. A couple of weeks before our trip, the price went down around $30 a night so I called the hotel to see if they would honor the lower price & they wouldn’t.
At this point, I couldn’t cancel my reservation without being charged the full amount because they had a very strict cancellation policy….so, I was not a happy camper! I also had to email & call multiple times to get a response from them.
Read reviews here
Before arriving to Estes Park, we had stayed 2 nights at the Eldora Lodge in Golden. The lodge was about an hours drive from Denver.
We all LOVED this place!!
Read reviews here
After checking out of the Eldora Lodge, we headed to the park..
The drive from Eldora Lodge to the Beaver Meadows Entrance takes approx. 1.5 hrs.
On the way, we stopped at the Chapel on the Rock in Allenspark, CO….the chapel was 1 hr from Eldora Lodge & 25 mins to the park’s entrance.
Read reviews here
The chapel was over twenty years in the making before it was finally completed in 1936.
The serene and inspiring location was even visited by Pope John Paul II who came in 1993, prayed in the chapel, and blessed it afterwards.
After leaving the church, we continued our drive.
The drive to Estes Park was very scenic!
We passed the RMNP sign…the park was established in 1915.
Once we entered the park, we had to sit in a very long line to pay the entrance fee.
UPDATE: You are now required to have reservations to enter the park….For 2023, the reservation dates are May 26 through Oct. 22, 2023. You can either get a reservation for the entire park including Bear Lake Road for 5 a.m. to 6 p.m., or the park with no Bear Lake Road access from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Outside of these peak hours, you do not need a reservation. Read more here & Click here & here for reservations.
Tip: I did read that the Fall River Entrance is less crowded & more convenient to the Trail Ridge Rd & Old Fall River Rd. It’s only 10 mins from Estes Park.
There’s a one day pass you can purchase for $30 or a 7 day pass for $35. We chose the 7 day pass since we would be visiting the park for 2 days.
You can purchase the passes online here
Before leaving for our trip, I had purchased & downloaded the Gypsy Guide app for the park. I have used Gypsy Guide in other parks & loved it!
It didn’t disappoint for RMNP either!! Such a useful & helpful app!
Once we entered the park, we drove the Trail Ridge Rd through the park.
The Trail Ridge Road is the highest continuous auto road in the US..it travels 48 miles over Trail Ridge in Rocky Mountain National Park. The road runs above 12,000 feet for four miles and over 11,000 feet for 11 miles.
It climbs almost 5,000 vertical feet from Estes Park to its high point, traveling through three life zones that’s the equivalent of traveling from Colorado to the Arctic.
The many turnouts along the way provide scenic overlooks and tremendous photographic opportunities, day or night.
The road travels through forests, over the alpine tundra, reaches the high point, and crosses the Continental Divide before winding its way down to the town of Grand Lake.
There are numerous trails, short hikes and scenic pull-off spots. The drive can take anywhere from 2 hours of non-stop driving to an all day trip with scenic and meal stops.
There will be many well marked pull overs in the first 18 miles of the Trail Ridge Rd.
The first one we came to was Many Parks Curve Overlook…
Many Curves Overlook is a spectacular viewpoint…..the 9,620-foot overlook sits on a high wooded ridge above several open parks.
This was a busy stop & some of the views were obscured by the trees but beautiful nonetheless!
Read reviews here
After this stop, we continued our drive through the park….it’s a beautiful drive!
Our next stop was Rainbow Curve Overlook.. an 8 min drive from the last stop.
Rainbow Curve, enclosed by a low stone wall, sits on the outer edge of a wide switchback on Trail Ridge Road 12.8 miles from the Beaver Meadows Entrance Station.
This major viewpoint at 10,829 feet is just below timberline, the transition zone between a subalpine fir and spruce forest and the alpine tundra of grass and delicate wildflowers. The vista looks down on Horseshoe Park, an open grassy valley floored by twisting Fall River.
Tip: There are toilets & plenty of parking at this stop
Our next stop along the Trail Ridge Rd would be Forest Canyon Overlook — just a 6 min drive from the last stop.
The views on the way were spectacular!!
Forest Canyon Overlook offers some of Trail Ridge Road’s most dramatic views. The 11,716-foot viewpoint perches on the eastern edge of Forest Canyon, a deep U-shaped valley in the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park.
Glaciers chiseled out the deep canyon along a major fault line that the Big Thompson River now follows. The Continental Divide, the spine that separates the Atlantic and Pacific watersheds, hangs on the skyline across the valley.
It’s a short walk to the end of the viewpoint.
After this stop, we continued our drive….
We pulled out a bag of chips that we had in the car & they were about to explode due to the elevation!!
Our next stop was Rock Cut Overlook..…a 5 min drive from the last stop.
Rock Cut, a projecting rock formation at 12,110′ elevation, had to be cut through by road crews in order to allow the Trail Ridge Road to pass. The highly resistant rock was blasted away with large quantities of explosives;
Tip: There is a trail that you can hike at this stop called the Tundra Communities..it’s 1.1 mi r/trip…we didn’t hike it as the elevation was really getting to us.
This was a very crowded stop….& you will see why…the views were worth it!
I spotted this lake while I was snapping pics!
We saw lots of marmots running around!
Read about other animals you can see in the park here
We continued our drive through the park…
Our next stop was Lava Cliffs Overlook.…5 mins from the last stop.
According to the Trail Ridge Road guide, the dark cliff northwest of the parking area is composed of volcanic rock.
Glacial ice carved into the hillside exposed a cross section of the Precambrian Rock to form the lava cliff that you can see from the overlook today.
We saw lots of elk & marmots at this stop!
We left here & continued our drive to the Gore Range Overlook just 2 mins away from the last stop.
At 12,048 feet elevation, Gore Range Overlook offers spectacular, sweeping views of the Gorge Range, the Never Summer Mountains, and Rocky Mountain National Park’s highest peaks.
The overlook sits above the treeline in the alpine tundra, just down the road from the highest point on Trail Ridge Road (12,183 feet elevation).
The views were gorgeous!
We spotted a couple of small lakes from the overlook.
Next on the list was the Alpine Visitors Center just a 2 min drive from Gore Range..
Click here to see a list of the visitor centers in the park
Tip: There’s a 1/2 mi r/trip hike you can do at the visitor’s center…called the Alpine Ridge Trail. Click here for the 15 best hikes in the park
Sadly, this place was so crowded that we couldn’t even get into the parking lot! It was a mad house! I recommend you get here early…I think we arrived around 2 pm.
So, we continued our drive and stopped at Milner Pass. It was a 10 min drive from the visitor’s center.
At this stop you will see Milner Pass, Lake Poudre & the Continental Divide.
Milner Pass provides passage over the continental divide for Trail Ridge Road (US Highway 34) between Estes Park and Grand Lake.
Tip: There is a 6 mi r/trip hike here called Poudre River Trail & an 11 mi r/trip hike called the Gorges Lake Trail
Don’t miss having your picture made in front of the Continental Divide sign!
After this stop, we headed to the Fairview Curve Overlook...just 5 mins from our last stop.
Farview Curve is a smaller scenic viewpoint than some of the other stops along the scenic highway, with little parking, but it’s sweeping mountain and valley views make it well worth the stop.
Once we arrived, the parking lot was full so we bypassed this stop & headed to Grand Lake...at this point you will be descending in elevation.
The drive to Grand Lake from Fairview Curve Overlook takes approx 30 mins.
Arriving into Grand Lake
After arriving into Grand Lake, we started looking for somewhere to eat lunch. We spotted Squeaky B’s.
Squeaky B’s mostly focuses on burgers and since my hubby is a burger connoisseur, we decided to give it a try.
The restaurant offers burgers, chicken sandwiches, salads, hot dogs & even breakfast.
I ordered the grilled chicken sandwich with sweet potato tots & my hubby & daughter ordered the burger & fries.
The food was very good! However, it was a bit expensive. The burgers cost around $10-13 each & fries weren’t included with that!
After lunch we decided to check out the lake.…
Click here for the best things to do in Grand Lake
Grand Lake is the largest natural lake in Colorado. It was formed by glaciation many years ago. It has an estimated depth of 265 ft.
After leaving the lake, we decided to walk around the town. It’s a a really neat place!
Known as the “Western Gateway” to the Rocky Mountain National Park, Grand Lake has something for everyone.
Don’t miss taking a stroll down the historic boardwalk with over 60 shops, restaurants, and galleries, or take in a show at the new Rocky Mountain Repertory Theater.
We then decided we would do the short hike to Adams Falls.
The hike is only .6 miles roundtrip but be sure to bring plenty of water…it was hot!!
On this same trail, you can also see Lone Pine Lake, Lake Verna, Spirit Lake & Boulder-Grand Pass.
The hike was a bit crowded and there were lots of adults with children on the trail.
I wasn’t overly impressed with the falls but if you want to see a waterfall, it’s nice enough & it’s a short hike.
Tip: Click here for more hiking trails in Grand Lake & here for hiking trails in Estes Park & here for waterfalls in the park
After the hike, we headed back into town to grab some ice cream before we left…
We came across Polly’s Sweet Shop & decided to stop.
They offered all kinds of options & flavors!
I ordered 2 scoops for $6.50…I had a scoop of the cookies & cream and a scoop of the cookie dough…it was delicious!
After leaving Grand Lake, we headed back to Estes Park though the park.
We stopped at a nearby trail that had views of open wetlands…the area was known for moose and I really wanted to see a moose!!
Sadly, after hiking about 1/2 mi, we never saw much of anything so we turned around and headed back to the car!
Tip: Click here for the 15 best hikes in the park
However, shortly after leaving the trail, we spotted a huge bull elk & 2 moose!!!
Click here for best places to spot moose in the park
We continued our drive & I took 3000 more pics on the way to our hotel!! 😉
The drive from Grand Lake to our hotel took approx 1 hr 45 mins.
We checked into our room (131) and it had been nicely remodeled.
After getting settled into our room, we headed out to find somewhere to eat…
We tried several places in/around Estes Park but everything was packed so we found a Mexican restaurant near our hotel called, La Cocina de Mama.
None of us were very impressed with the food & we thought it was really expensive!
We sat outside and had a nice view though! 🙂
Click here for the best restaurants in Estes Park, here for the best hotels & here for things to see/do.
Tip: The one place we tried to eat at a couple of times was Smokin’ Daves but it was always too crowded! It has over 4k reviews on Trip Advisor!
After dinner, we called it a night and headed back to our hotel!
Thanks for reading & stay tuned for Day 2!!
Click here for 15 Epic things to do in the park and all about the reservation system
Update: Read Day 2 here