I had been trying to plan a trip out there for a while and finally was able to coordinate some days with one of my good friends in Denver. So I flew out to Denver and the next morning we headed out bright and early for the park! This park ended up rivaling Yosemite for “my favorite National Park!” I absolutely loved it!
This post contains what we did during our two days in Rocky Mountain National Park: hiking trails, things to do, scenic views, drives, etc. The order in which things are listed in this post is not necessarily the order we did them in. We spent a total of 3 days in the park. However, all the things we did could have easily been done in two days. We would spend time in the park from sunrise until early/mid-afternoon, then go back to the hotel and rest/nap until dinner time.
I will review what we did during our visit, then at the
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Things to Do in Rocky Mountain National Park
- Things to Do in Rocky Mountain National Park
- Driving Trail Ridge Road
- Twin Owls
- Bear Lake
- Hike to Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lake
- Sky Pond Trail
- Moraine Park
- Rocky Mountain National Park 2 Day Itinerary
- Tips for Visiting Rocky Mountain National Park
- Recommended Items
Driving Trail Ridge Road
We started our first day in the park by driving in from Denver, about a 1.5-hour drive, and arrived at the park around mid-morning. Parking is extremely limited during summer unless you arrive at the park close to sunrise. Since all the lots were going to be full by the time we got there, we chose to drive through the park as our first adventure.
Since we were staying in Estes Park and were coming from that direction, we drove east to west on Trail Ridge Road (Hwy 34). There are many sites to see while driving along Trail Ridge Road! Several pullouts along the road have the beautiful mountain range in the distance, perfect for photography! We didn’t visit every single stop, but the ones we did stop at are listed below.
If you want more info on all the places along Trail Ridge Road, Moon’s Rocky Mountain National Park book was a HUGE resource for me while planning this trip!
Gore Range Overlook
The Gore Range Overlook is an unmarked viewpoint on Trail Ridge Road located between Lava Cliffs and the Alpine Visitor Center. This overlook is high up in the mountains and provides amazing views. That being said, it was quite chilly and very windy! (Note that there is still unmelted snow in the middle of July!)
Milner Pass/Continental Divide
Next up was Milner Pass/Continental Divide. The Continental Divide creates two different drainage paths when the snow melts. One side drains into the Pacific Ocean and the other drains into the Atlantic.
This stop provides a great view of Poudre Lake. We saw several people fishing here. This stop is also one of several places you can hop on the Continental Divide Trail.
Far View Curve
After Milner Pass, we stopped at Far View Curve and made some sandwiches for lunch. (If you want to eat in the park, I suggest packing a cooler, as there are no restaurants in the park!)
The picture below shows a few trees that have been affected by the pine beetle epidemic, a very prevalent problem for Rocky Mountain National Park.
Holzwarth Historic Site
Our last stop on Trail Ridge Road was at the Holzwarth Historic Site and Trail. This trail is super easy and is about 1.3 miles roundtrip. In the early 1900s, John and Sophie Holzwarth owned 160 acres in the Kawuneeche Valley. They built their first cabin there in 1917, then proceeded to build more cabins and make this area a vacation spot called Holzwarth Trout Lodge. They charged $2/day for people to stay at their ranch.
Along the Holzwarth Historic Site trail
If you continue on down Trail Ridge Road and out of the park, you will find yourself in the Grand Lake area. This would be a wonderful place to stay if you don’t stay in Estes Park. We only stopped at Grand Lake, but there seemed to be PLENTY to do in this area if you have some extra time!
After seeing Grand Lake, we headed back up Trail Ridge Road and back into the park.
Another spot we drove to was Twin Owls. Unfortunately, this trail is closed March 1- July 31 for raptor breeding and nesting. But I was able to snap a pic of the Twin Owls from the entrance of MacGregor Ranch off of MacGregor Lane.
Getting to Bear Lake at sunrise was one of the best decisions we made during this trip. I was able to get some AMAZING pictures, even with my iPhone!
Parking at Bear Lake can fill up quickly! Getting there right at sunrise guaranteed us a parking spot. The Bear Lake Trail is an easy 0.6-mile hike. If you plan on getting there at sunrise, I suggest sticking to the right at the trailhead and going counter-clockwise around the lake for the best views and photo ops!Even if you only have one or two days in Rocky Mountain National Park, Bear Lake at sunrise is a MUST-DO! Click To Tweet
This was probably my favorite hike of the trip because the trail was just so beautiful! Lots of wildflowers, little creeks, wildlife, and three gorgeous lakes are all on this 3.6-mile trail.
To learn more about this trail & see some beautiful pictures of the lakes, make sure to read my post on hiking to Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lake!
The first part of our second day in RMNP was spent hiking Sky Pond. This was the farthest distance & highest elevation I have ever hiked. I am not really in shape & probably had no business doing a 9.8-mile hike, but it honestly wasn’t bad! (Minus being sore & barely able to walk for 4 days after…)
Moraine Park is the perfect place to relax after a long hike such as Sky Pond. My friend from Denver insisted that Moraine Park had some really cool photo ops if you walk down near the creek. I wasn’t too sure about this when we first drove up but I think she ended up being right 🙂 I’ve also read that you can horseback ride in Moraine Park if that’s something you are interested in!
Rocky Mountain National Park 2 Day Itinerary
Now that I’ve shown you several things to do in the park, let’s get you an itinerary! This is not exactly how we spent our trip, but in hindsight, this would have been my preference. Assuming you’re like most visitors & are staying in Estes Park, here’s an example of what 2 days in Rocky Mountain National Park could look like:
- Sunrise at Bear Lake; hike the 0.6-mile trail around the lake
- Hike to Emerald Lake (3.6 miles roundtrip)
- Twin Owls (trail closed March 1- July 31)
- Drive Trail Ridge Road (Hwy 34) west, then south, & stop at the sites
- If you have extra time, continue on down Hwy 34 to the Grand Lake area, or return to Estes Park for dinner
- Early morning Sky Pond hike (if you are a fast hiker or want to see more, there’s a trail off of the Sky Pond Trail that leads to Mills Lake and Jewel Lake)
- Moraine Park for lunch, photos, and possibly horseback riding
- Back to Estes Park for dinner
You can also stay in the Grand Lake area, which means you’d be driving Trail Ridge Road north into the park then east. If you stay in Grand Lake, you may need to allow some more time to get to the trailheads at sunrise since it’s a little farther away.
Tips for Visiting Rocky Mountain National Park
- Get to the trailheads EARLY!!! The parking lots fill up very quickly, especially during summer when it is most crowded.
- Bring a warm jacket AND a rain jacket. Getting started on the trails early means cooler temperatures! And if you are hiking high elevation, thunderstorms & rain can happen mid-day and afternoon so make sure you are prepared!
- Waterproof hiking boots with good tread are a must for any moderate hikes. There was water on almost every trail we hiked & I was glad I had my hiking boots!
- You should probably bring food & snacks. Food is VERY limited in the park. The only food option I saw was a ranger station at Bear Lake trailhead selling water & bags of chips. (UPDATE: One of my readers, Henry, informed me that there is a restaurant by the Alpine Visitor Center that has typical fast food. Thanks, Henry!)
- Remember you are at high elevation! Drink plenty of water and take your time on the trails. If you start feeling sick, descend to a lower elevation.
The items listed below are items that I used during my trip to RMNP and would highly recommend!
- Trekking Poles– This was my first time using these and I LOVED them! They made me feel more stable while coming back down from Sky Pond when I was feeling a little loopy from the elevation. These trekking poles are also super easy to collapse when I didn’t need them and fit perfectly in my backpack side pockets!
- Backpack– This backpack was perfect for storing everything I needed during hikes, plus it was super comfortable! (I would suggest going to REI and getting fitted for a backpack if you aren’t sure how backpacks are supposed to fit. It will make all the difference in the world!)
- Hydration Bladder– Easy to fill, easy to clean, BPA and PVC free, I’m sold! It fit perfectly in my Osprey backpack.
- Hiking Boots– My absolute favorite hiking boots to date! Waterproof, super comfortable, minimal blisters on long hikes. I hope Salomon never stops making these boots!
- Gravity Filter– Great product if you don’t want to carry lots of water in your pack & you know there will be water along the trail. This kit provides you with multiple options for filtering water. You can put the filter in-line on your hydration bladder, attach it to the top of a water bottle, use it as a straw & drink directly from the water source, or use the 1-gallon bag to filter water into a water bottle or hydration bladder. This is a 0.1-micron filter, removing 99.99% of bacteria from water.
- Camera– Of course, you don’t need to have this exact make & model of camera to take great photos. This is just what I use and can personally recommend.
- Water bottle– I carry my Nalgene almost everywhere with me! You can purchase these at several different places. I was able to find one of mine at Target on sale for less than $10! And they are BPA-free! #win
- Smartwool socks– I continue to love these socks and have several different pairs
I hope you enjoyed this post from my two days in Rocky Mountain National Park! I’m looking forward to going back when I have more time to spend there & going on different hikes!
What’s your favorite hike in RMNP? Let me know in the comments!
**Don’t forget to check out my Yosemite National Park post for a similar 2-day itinerary!**