mountain range

Rocky Mountain National Park in Two Days

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I have been to Colorado NUMEROUS times: ski vacations with my dad growing up, visiting my travel-nurse friends in Denver, etc. But I had never been to Rocky Mountain National Park.

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.

I will review what we did during our visit, then at the end of this post, I will give you a Rocky Mountain National Park 2 day itinerary!

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links. This means if you make a purchase through a link, I may make a small commission at no additional cost to you. Read full disclosure here.

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Things to Do in Rocky Mountain National Park When You Only Have 2 Days

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!

mountains and trees

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!)

Mountain range against a blue sky
mountain range

If you’re shooting with your DSLR or mirrorless camera, make sure to bring your polarizing lens to make those colors really stand out!

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.

lake surrounded by trees
Poudre Lake at Milner Pass/Continental Divide off Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park

Related: 18 Photos That Will Make You Want to Visit Rocky Mountain National Park

Far View Curve

After Milner Pass, we stopped at Far View Curve and made some sandwiches for lunch.

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.

trees and mountains

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.

log cabin house
cot in log cabin room

Along the Holzwarth Historic Site trail are beautiful, wildflower-filled meadows.

We actually spotted a moose in one of the meadows. In another section of the meadow were a mama and baby moose!

Unfortunately, I only had a wide-angle lens with me so I was unable to capture mama moose and baby moose 🙁 But I did get some decent pics of the meadows and creek!

meadow with wildflowers and mountains in the distance
creek flowing through mountains
creek in a meadow

Grand Lake

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!

lake with pebble shore

After seeing Grand Lake, we headed back up Trail Ridge Road and back into the park.

Twin Owls

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.

rock mountains behind a dirt road

Plan to hike a lot? Check out my post on the best budget trekking poles and how they may benefit you on the trail.

Or just click here to go straight to the best-selling trekking poles.

Bear Lake

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!

reflection of mountains in a lake
reflection of mountains and trees in a lake
mountain reflections on a lake

Hike to Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lake

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!

rocky mountains and lake
Emerald Lake
lake and mountains
Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

Sky Pond Trail

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…)

mountain with pond in front
jagged rocky mountain top
jagged rocky mountain peaks

Related: How to Visit Yosemite National Park in TWO Days

Moraine Park

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!

creek with mountain in background
pebbles in creek in mountains

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:

Day #1

  • 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

Day #2

  • 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.

pink sunrise over a curvy road
Sunrise from the Bear Lake parking lot in Rocky Mountain National Park

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.
sitting on a rock in the mountains

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! If you need to learn more about trekking poles, check out my post on the best budget trekking poles.
  • 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 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!

melissa of dogwoods & driftwood travel blog

Want more Rocky Mountain related posts? Check out these photos of Rocky Mountain National Park and my post on hiking to Sky Pond!

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How to Spend Two Days in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado!

"2 days in rocky mountain national park, colorado: hikes, things to do, viewpoints"

**Don’t forget to check out my Yosemite National Park post for a similar 2-day itinerary!**

How to Visit Yosemite National Park in TWO Days

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  1. There is a restaurant adjacent to the Alpine Visitor’s Center — typical fast food fare. The same building also houses the gift shop.
    Worth doing, take the old trail road. You can only drive UP hill (east-to-west). Check the park’s website to see when it’s open. Note: there are times when the road is open for bicycles to go down.

    I visited RMNP in July, too. All of your comments and recommendations are spot on.
    Parting thought: try the park’s Junior Ranger program fo a different perspective.

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