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One of the best ways to get an overview of Rocky Mountain National Park is to take a drive on Trail Ridge Road. You’ll eventually climb 4,000 feet and witness different biomes as you make the ascent from the comfort of your vehicle, though we did see some mountain bikers on our trip. Along the way, you may see animals like elk, deer, moose, and marmots, and if you’re like us, you’ll be excited every time you see one.
On our visit, we made Estes Park, Colorado, our home base for two nights. When we traveled to Rocky Mountain National Park, we needed a reservation along with a park pass to enter the park, so if you are planning a trip, be sure to check if you’ll also need a reservation. You may be able to enter the park earlier or in the evening when reservations aren’t needed. Just be sure to check.
Beaver Meadows Entrance
When you enter the park from Estes Park, you’ll use the Beaver Meadows entrance. After we checked in to our motel and had dinner, we decided to check out the Bear Lake area. We didn’t need a reservation in the evening, and we were able to see a beautiful area that is relatively easy to hike. It’s also not too far from the Beaver Meadows entrance. I’ll write a post about that soon, but for now, here is a picture of Bear Lake.
On that first evening, we saw deer right by the entrance.
The meadow also looks lovely with the mountains in the background.
After our hike at Bear Lake, we headed back towards Estes Park. We saw some elk at a distance, but the real winner that evening was the sunset.
It only got better as the sun went down.
When we got back to town, we stopped for a treat. But we didn’t waste too much time; we had to be up early the next morning!
Trail Ridge Road
The next morning, we arrived at the Beaver Meadow entrance at about 6:30 a.m. Our reservation stated that we could arrive at 6:00 a.m., so we felt pretty good about our arrival time, especially since there were no other cars around. At all.
We began the ascent on Trail Ridge Road, and as the sun came up, the view got even more spectacular.
One of the fun things about Trail Ridge Road is seeing the different biomes as you drive up in the mountains.
Be sure to share the road!
We continued driving. Each viewpoint was more beautiful than the last.
When we got above the treeline, we took a short walk to see where some marmots live. They are surprisingly fast and tricky to photograph, but here is a picture of a hole one popped out of.
It wasn’t long before we were at the Alpine Visitor Center near the road’s highest point, but we’d started so early that it wasn’t open yet. No worries. We planned to turn around and drive the road again, so we’d visit later.
We continued on. Soon, we found some elk that wanted to cross the road.
The views up there were pretty stunning, too.
We descended little by little, and the terrain changed again.
Holzwarth Historic Site
This is a nice little stop with some hiking near some water. Some people mentioned seeing moose here, but we didn’t. I thought the cabin captured the imagination. How amazing was it that people settled here and carved out a life in the wilderness?
When we hopped back on the road, we did spot our first moose in the wild. Ever. First wild moose for our family. It was either young or female or both, but it’s a moose!
Kawuneeche Visitor Center at Grand Lake
A short while later, we arrived at the entrance station at the other end of Trail Ridge Road at Grand Lake. We arrived before the visitor center was open, but two park rangers were outside answering questions. We asked about black bears in the park, and one estimated that there really were only about 30 black bears in the area. That blew my mind because I assumed black bears would be roaming all over the place. We’d seen black bears in the Smokies, so I thought there would be bears here.
After the conversation, the other park ranger raised the flag.
The visitor center opened when after the flag was raised. We checked out the merchandise, and then we went back to our car and turned around to make the drive again!
Rocky Mountain National Park: Trail Ridge Road Part Two
The drive is just as beautiful from the other direction. Go figure.
And we had to stop to feel the snow.
After a quick stop, we were back on the road to see the scenery.
Alpine Visitor Center
This time around, the visitor center at the summit of the road was open. We can’t resist a visitor center. If nothing else, we have to get a magnet. We often get other goodies, too.
You can access the Alpine Ridge Trail from this parking lot, but we decided to skip it.
After our stop, we drove the rest of the way back to Estes Park. We walked around downtown, ate leftover bbq in our room, and went for a swim. Stay tuned for future blog posts! That evening, we went back to the park and checked out some other the little roads we’d missed. We had a great time searching for wildlife. Here is a short video of some of the things we saw over the two days we spent at Rocky Mountain National Park.
Rocky Mountain National Park is a great park to visit with your family. It’s not as overwhelming in size as some national parks can seem (Yellowstone, I’m looking at you), yet the mountains and wildlife make it so worth it. If I were to go back, I’d probably look into doing more hiking. But I’d say we had a nice first taste of the park, and it’s pretty doable if you do want to tour mostly in your car.
As activity in national parks continues to increase, I can’t stress enough the importance of getting up early and beating the crowds. Evening was another great time to check things out. I know sometimes you have to just work in a visit when you happen to be there, but visiting in non-peak hours definitely helps.
Also note: we visited in July. Since I teach and we have a kid in school, the summer is just how it goes for us most of the time. A less popular month would also make a difference.
I hope you’re considering exploring Rocky Mountain National Park: Trail Ridge Road. You won’t be disappointed!
Check out our other national park adventures: