There are endless adventures to be had in Rocky Mountain National Park. To explore the wilder side of this amazing national park with fewer crowds and less traffic, start your journey from the western entrance in Grand Lake, the closest town to Rocky Mountain National Park. From hiking to waterfalls and lakes to scouting out the wildlife, from scenic drives to picnics and the perfect spots for amazing photos, here are six of the many ways to explore Rocky Mountain National Park, one of Colorado’s favorite places for summer adventure. Your trip begins at the Grand Lake Visitor Center; you’ll find maps, current road conditions, and wildlife viewing recommendations.
1. Hike to a Waterfall: Cascade Falls
Drive east on West Portal Road through Grand Lake and follow signs for the Tonahutu and North Inlet Trailheads, eventually turning at the split for North Inlet Trailhead. When you reach the trailhead, follow the path along the North Inlet Creek valley on the western edge of Rocky Mountain National park for 3.4 miles to Cascade Falls. A lush evergreen forest trail ends at the multi-tiered falls. The water continues to cascade for several hundred feet beyond. Don’t forget your camera on this is an out-and-back hike!
2. Look for Wildlife: Kawuneeche Valley
Minutes from Grand Lake is the Kawuneeche Valley and its rich ecosystem. The river and riparian areas, woodlands, and meadows create an ideal habitat for wildlife. Larger animals like moose and elk are often seen grazing in the meadows and marshy areas. Bring your binoculars and keep your eyes open for the more illusive creatures like bears, foxes, and coyotes, or the smaller creatures like chipmunks and marmots. Remember to admire these beautiful animals from afar; the best way to observe wildlife is in their natural habitat, so for your own safety and theirs, don’t approach wild animals for any reason. Stay on the trail and enjoy the experience!
3. Go for a Scenic Drive: Trail Ridge Road
Trail Ridge Road (US 34) is the highest continuous paved road in the United States. From the comfort of your car, drive 48-miles to see jagged peaks, aspen and ponderosa pine forests, glacial valleys, rivers, lakes, subalpine forests, alpine tundra, wildflower meadows, and wildlife. Trail Ridge Road reaches a maximum elevation of 12,183 feet and is open to vehicles from approximately Memorial Day weekend in May to Columbus Day in October (weather dependent). Start your trip at the Grand Lake Visitor Center at the corner of U.S. 34 and Portal Road for maps, current road conditions, and recommendations.
4. Have a Picnic at Coyote Valley Trailhead
Follow Trail Ridge Road for five miles north from Grand Lake to arrive at this stunning trail. You can set up your picnic at the trailhead, which features a designated picnic area, bathrooms, and plenty of parking. After fueling up, head out for a one-mile loop along the wheelchair accessible Coyote Valley Trail. You’ll follow the Colorado River as it winds through the Kawuneeche Valley (Arapahoe for “coyote”!), and you can stop at the many educational displays to learn about the natural features of the area. Keep an eye out for wildlife as well; moose, elk, and antelope frequent the valley.
5. Hike to Lakes and Waterfalls on the East Inlet Trail
The East Inlet Trail is located on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park, not far from the town of Grand Lake. You can visit three lakes and a waterfall on an eight-mile day hike, or you can extend the trip to an overnight backpacking excursion up to Wild Basin. You’ll pass Adams Falls, Lone Pine Lake, Spirit Lake, and Lake Verna, all beautiful spots in one of the most remote corners of Rocky Mountain. Expect to find lots of moose and wildlife on this trek. If you decide to backpack and spend the night, note that permits are required from the Park Service.
6. Stay in a Cabin: Rocky Mountain National Park Cabins
For the best experience, spend a weekend in Grand Lake to explore Rocky Mountain National Park and to experience the best that this charming Colorado town has to offer. Visit grandlakechamber.com for lodging options. Spend the day romping around in the woods and exploring nature, then come back to your cozy cabin at night. Visitors can access lake-side eateries, visit the Rocky Mountain Repertory, and peruse Grand Lake’s stores after adventuring all day for a well-rounded Rocky Mountain National Park vacation everyone can enjoy.