Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) is such an incredible national park with breathtaking scenery and spectacular wildlife. Since it is only an hour and a half drive from Denver International Airport, it is easy to access. The town of Estes Park makes a great base for enjoying all the park has to offer. If you’ve not yet had the opportunity to visit, add it to your list. And, I highly recommend you consider a trip in the fall – that’s when RMNP is extra special.
Here are 5 tips for making the most out of your fall visit:
- Get out of the car and enjoy the golden aspen trees. The aspen trees turn magnificent shades of yellow and gold. Because the aspens are so brilliant, you may see splashes of gold on the horizon. It is truly an amazing experience. While viewing from the road is nice, it is much better to get out of the car and take a walk. RMNP has many great trails, but leaves change at different times at various elevations. Ask a park ranger for suggestions on the best hikes for viewing those golden aspens during your visit. For us, the Fern Lake trail, Wild Basin area, and Sprague Lake trail afforded great viewing opportunities. Sprague Lake was the most popular of the three. On the other hand, at the Fern Lake trail and the Wild Basin area, we saw very few people.
- Determine locations where the elk are most active. The elk herds are a highlight of RMNP particularly in the fall. Stop at one of the park’s visitor centers for insight into elk activity. Plan to spend some time listening and watching (from a safe distance, of course). The bugling of elk is a unique sound which is magical and almost haunting. If you get lucky, you might even see a little sparring!
- Consider a drive on Old Fall River Road if it is open. Before the completion of Trail Ridge Road, park visitors used Old Fall River Road to traverse the mountain. This road is gravel and narrow and has a shorter season for vehicles than Trail Ridge Road. While the date of the closure of Old Fall River Road changes every year, this was a great way to experience the change of the seasons without a lot of other people. The road ends at the Alpine Visitor Center. Check out the Park’s information on Old Fall River Road to determine if it is fit for your family and vehicle.
- Don’t miss the west side of the park. Many visitors to RMNP enter the park from the east side via Estes Park. There are also some extraordinary sights on the other side of the Rockies. Guess where the Colorado River headwaters are located? Yep, in RMNP! You can see the Colorado River in its early stages. I happen to think that is pretty cool! And the Continental Divide? Yep, you can see that too!
- Don’t miss the leaves. Yes, I know I mentioned that back on number 1. (I am very fond of them!) However, this time I’m talking about the ones that have already fallen. They are so numerous that it is almost like yellow snow (but not the bad kind). It is a remarkable sight to see those golden leaves both on the ground and in the evergreen trees!
In my opinion, fall is the best time to visit RMNP. The bugling elk, the golden aspens, and the crisp mountain air work together to make this the perfect recipe for a great trip!