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Rocky Mountain National Park was the first park the 1920s National Park to Park Highway visited, and for good reason. It’s proximity to Denver and long history of tourist development in Estes Park makes it one of the most highly visited parks with more annual visitors than both Yellowstone and Yosemite.
On our trip we spent most of our time on the east side of the park, as do a lot of visitors. If you have time explore both the west and east sides of the park, there’s so much to see!
Visit the Moraine Discovery Center
– With exhibits on the geology of Rocky Mountain National Park this museum in the wild has something interesting for everyone. We went during Discovery Days, a special program for kids that runs on select days throughout the summer. Check the park newspaper for more information.
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Camp at Glacier Basin Campground – With easy access to the free shuttle system, a mini ranger station, excellent bathrooms and over 100 campsites, this campground was a great home base for exploring Rocky Mountain National Park.
Ride a Horse – Several trails in Rocky Mountain National Park are open to horseback rides, in fact there’s a livery stable near Sprague Lake.
Become a Junior Ranger – Rocky Mountain National Park has a great Junior Ranger program complete with a dedicated Junior Ranger Station at Hidden Valley.
Hike around Bear Lake – This popular hike is handicap accessible, although steep in certain sections. The tots (including their cousin E) loved scrambling on the giant boulders around the lake and giving the bear paw post markers high fives as they passed.
Swim at Sprague Lake – This shallow lake is great for a cold swim, or rather wade. A sand bar through the lake allowed Mountain Dad, Tio Monte and the tots to walk out to the center of this glacier lake. We also saw canoers and fly fishermen.
Drive Over 12,000 Feet – For a taste of road travel from the 1920s take the 15 mile per hour, unpaved motor nature trail up Old Fall River Road to the Alpine Visitors Center. This one way dirt road gives you a taste of what the 1920s National Park to Park Highway group had to deal with on a daily basis. Complete the trip over the continental divide by driving down on the Trail Ridge Road which connects the east and west sides of Rocky Mountain National Park.
See Snow in July – It’s not every day that you can explore a snowy tundra in mid-July. While driving the Trail Ridge Road be sure to get out and explore the tundra trails up above the tree line. Little G and Cousin E spotted yellow bellied marmots and pikas from the Gore Range Overlook and we loved exploring the area around the Alpine Visitors Center until frozen rain forced us back to the car.
Search for Wildlife – Whether its spotting elk fom the Trail Ridge Road, marmots on the tundra or hummingbirds in the trees, Rocky Mountain National Park is home to a wide variety of animals. My favorite was watching the yellow bellied marmots scuffle on the tundra. Good thing they have furry coats – it’s cold up there, even in summer.
Ride the Free Shuttle – Avoid traffic and parking hassles by catching the free park shuttle from Estes Park or the Park and Ride from inside the park. There’s even a bus stop at Glacier Basin and OTHER campgrounds.