There are no bike paths in the park, and bikes are not allowed on trails. Bicyclists are permitted on Trail Ridge Road, but it's too strenuous for most people due to its enormous changes in elevation. Those who have an extra lung or two to spare, however, might tackle a ride up the gravel, 9-mile Old Fall River Road, then a ride down Trail Ridge Road.


Spring and summer, early in the morning, are the best times for bird-watching in the park. Lumpy Ridge is a nesting ground for several kinds of birds of prey. Migratory songbirds from South America have summer breeding grounds near the Endovalley Picnic Area. The alpine tundra is habitat for white-tailed ptarmigan. The Alluvial Fan is the place for viewing broad-tailed hummingbirds, hairy woodpeckers, ouzels, and the occasional raptor.


Rocky Mountain is a wonderful place to fish, especially for trout—German brown, brook, rainbow, cutthroat, and greenback cutthroat—but check at a visitor center about regulations and information on specific closures, catch-and-release areas, and limits on size and possession. No fishing is allowed at Bear Lake. To avoid the crowds, rangers recommend angling in the more-remote backcountry. To fish in the park, anyone 16 and older must have a valid Colorado fishing license, which you can obtain at local sporting-goods stores. See for details.

Tours and Outfitters

Estes Angler. This popular fishing guide arranges four-, six-, and eight-hour fly-fishing trips—as well as full-day horseback excursions—into the park's quieter regions, year-round, with a maximum of three people per guide. The best times for fishing are generally from April to mid-November. Equipment is also available for rent. 338 W. Riverside Dr., Estes Park, CO, 80517. 970/586–2110 or 800/586–2110. Daily 8–6.

Kirks Fly Shop. This Estes Park outfitter offers various guided fly-fishing trips, as well as backpacking, horseback, and llama pack trips. The store also carries fishing and backpacking gear. 230 E. Elkhorn Ave., Estes Park, CO, 80517. 970/577–0790 or 877/669–1859. Daily 7–7.

Scot's Sporting Goods. This shop rents and sells fishing gear, and provides four-, six-, and eight-hour instruction trips daily from May through mid-October. Clinics, geared toward first-timers, focus on casting, reading the water, identifying insects for flies, and properly presenting natural and artificial flies to the fish. Half-day excursions into the park are available for three or more people. A range of camping and hiking equipment is also for sale. 870 Moraine Ave., Estes Park, CO, 80517. 970/586–2877 May–Sept.; 970/443–4932 Oct.–Apr. June–Aug., daily 8–8; May and Sept–mid-Oct., daily 9–5. 870 Moraine Ave., 80517. 970/586–2877.


Rocky Mountain National Park contains more than 355 miles of hiking trails, so you could theoretically wander the park for weeks. Most visitors explore just a small portion of these trails—those that are closest to the roads and visitor centers—which means that some of the park's most accessible and scenic paths can resemble a backcountry highway on busy summer days. The high-alpine terrain around Bear Lake is the park's most popular hiking area, and although it's well worth exploring, you’ll get a more frontierlike experience by hiking one of the trails in the less-explored sections of the park, such as the far northern end or in the Wild Basin area to the south. Keep in mind that trails at higher elevations may have some snow on them, even in late summer. And because of afternoon thunderstorms on most summer afternoons, an early morning start is highly recommended: the last place you want to be when a storm approaches is on a peak or anywhere above the tree line. All trail mileages are round-trip unless stated otherwise.


Bear Lake Trail. The virtually flat nature trail around Bear Lake is an easy, 0.6-mi loop that's wheelchair and stroller accessible. Sharing the route with you will likely be plenty of other hikers as well as songbirds and chipmunks. Easy. Trailhead at Bear Lake, Bear Lake Rd., Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, 80517.

Copeland Falls. The 0.6-mi hike to these Wild Basin Area falls is a good option for families, as the terrain is relatively flat (there's only a 15-foot elevation gain). Easy. Trailhead at Wild Basin Ranger Station, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, 80517.

East Inlet Trail. An easy hike of 0.3 mi from East Inlet trailhead, just outside the park in Grand Lake, will get you to Adams Falls in about 15 minutes. The area around the falls is often packed with visitors, so if you have time, continue east to enjoy more solitude, see wildlife, and catch views of Mount Craig from near the East Meadow campground. Note, however, that the trail beyond the falls has an elevation gain of between 1,500 and 1,900 feet, making it a more challenging hike. Easy. Trailhead at East Inlet, end of W. Portal Road (CO 278) in Grand Lake, Grand Lake, CO, 80447.

Glacier Gorge Trail. The 4.5-mi hike to Mills Lake can be crowded, but the reward is one the park's prettiest lakes, set against the breathtaking backdrop of Longs Peak, Pagoda Mountain, and the Keyboard of the Winds. There's a modest elevation gain of 750 feet. On the way, about 1 mi in, you pass Alberta Falls, a popular destination in and of itself. The hike travels along Glacier Creek, under the shade of a subalpine forest. Give yourself at least four hours for hiking and lingering. Easy. Trailhead off Bear Lake Rd., about 1 mi southeast of Bear Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, 80517.

Sprague Lake. With virtually no elevation gain, this 1-mi, pine-lined path near a popular backcountry campground is wheelchair accessible and provides views of Hallet Peak and Flattop Mountain. Easy. Trailhead at Sprague Lake, Bear Lake Rd., 4.4 mi southwest of Moraine Park Visitor Center, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, 80517.


Bear Lake to Emerald Lake. This scenic, caloric-burning hike begins with a moderately level, ½ mi journey to Nymph Lake. From here, the trail gets steeper, with a 425-foot elevation gain, as it winds around for 0.6 mi to Dream Lake. The last stretch is the most arduous part of the hike, an almost all-uphill 0.7-mi trek to lovely Emerald Lake, where you can perch on a boulder and enjoy the view. All told, the hike is 3.6 mi, with an elevation gain of 605 feet. Allow two hours or more, depending on stops. Moderate. Trailhead at Bear Lake, off Bear Lake Rd., 7.9 mi southwest of the Moraine Park Visitor Center, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, 80517.

Cub Lake. This 4.6-mi, three-hour (round-trip) hike takes you through meadows and stands of aspen trees and up 540 feet in elevation to a lake with water lilies. Moderate. Trailhead at Cub Lake, 1.7 mi from Moraine Park Campground, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, 80517.

Colorado River Trail. This walk to the ghost town of Lulu City on the west side of the park is excellent for looking for the bighorn sheep, elk, and moose that reside in the area. Part of the former stagecoach route that went from Granby to Walden, the 3.1-mi trail parallels the infant Colorado River to the meadow where Lulu City once stood. The elevation gain is 300 feet. Moderate. Trailhead at Colorado River, off Trail Ridge Rd., 1.7 mi north of the Timber Creek Campground, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, 80517.

Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. This 3,100-mi corridor, which extends from Montana's Canadian border to the southern edge of New Mexico, enters Rocky Mountain National Park in two places, at trailheads only about 4 mi apart and located on either side of the Kawuneeche Visitor Center on Trail Ridge Road, at the park's southwestern end. Within the park, it covers about 30 mi of spectacular montane and subalpine terrain and follows the existing Green Mountain, Tonahutu Creek, North Inlet, and East Shore Trails. Moderate. Trailheads at Harbison Meadows Picnic Area, off Trail Ridge Rd., about 1 mi inside park from Grand Lake Entrance, and at East Shore Trailhead, just south of Grand Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, 80517.

Fern Lake Trail. Heading to Odessa Lake from the north involves a steep hike, but on most days you'll encounter fewer other hikers than if you had begun the trip at Bear Lake. Along the way, you'll come to the Arch Rocks; the Pool, an eroded formation in the Big Thompson River; two waterfalls; and Fern Lake (4.9 miles from your starting point). Odessa Lake itself lies at the foot of Tourmaline Gorge, below the craggy summits of Gabletop Mountain, Little Matterhorn, Knobtop Mountain, and Notchtop Mountain. For a full day of spectacular scenery, continue past Odessa to Bear Lake (9 miles total), where you can pick up the shuttle back to the Fern Lake Trailhead. Moderate. Trailhead off Fern Lake Rd., about 2.5 miles south of Moraine Park Visitor Center, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, 80517.

Mills Lake. From this popular spot, you can admire the Keyboard of the Winds, a jagged ridge connecting Pagoda and Longs Peaks that looks like the top of a spiny reptile's back. The 5.6-mi hike gains 750 feet in elevation as it takes you past Alberta Falls and Glacier Falls en route to the shimmering lake at the mouth of Glacier Gorge. Moderate. Trailhead at Glacier Gorge Junction, 1.1 mi from Bear Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, 80517.


Bluebird Lake Trail. The 6-mi climb from the Wild Basin trailhead to Bluebird Lake (2,478-feet elevation gain) is especially scenic. You pass Copeland Falls, Calypso Cascades, and Ouzel Falls, plus an area that was burned in a lightning-instigated fire in 1978—today a mix of bright pink fireweed and charred tree trunks. Difficult. Trailhead at Wild Basin Ranger Station, about 2 mi west of Wild Basin Entrance Station off Rte. 7, 12.7 mi south of Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, 80517.

Chapin Pass. This is a tough hike, but it comes with great views of the park's eastern lower valleys. It's about 3½ mi one-way, including a 2,874-foot gain in elevation to the summit of Ypsilon Mountain (elevation 13,514 feet); you pass the summits of Mount Chapin and Mount Chiquita on the way. From the trailhead, the path heads downhill to Chapin Creek. For a short distance after leaving the trailhead, keep a sharp eye out to the right for a less obvious trail that heads uphill to the treeline and disappears. From here head up along the steep ridge to the summit of Mount Chapin. Chiquita and Ypsilon are to the left, and the distance between each peak is about 1 mi and involves a descent of about 400 feet to the saddle and an ascent of 1,000 feet along the ridge to Chiquita. From Ypsilon's summit you'll look down 2,000 feet at Spectacle Lakes. You may wish to bring a topo map and compass. Difficult. Trailhead at Chapin Pass, off Old Fall River Rd., about 6.5 mi from the Endovalley Picnic Area, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, 80517.

Chasm Lake Trail. Nestled in the shadow of Longs Peak and Mount Meeker, Chasm Lake offers one of Colorado's most impressive backdrops, which also means you can expect to encounter plenty of other hikers on the way. The 4.2-mi Chasm Lake Trail, reached via the Longs Peak Trail, has a 2,360-foot elevation gain. Just before the lake, you'll need to climb a small rock ledge, which can be a bit of a challenge for the less surefooted; follow the cairns for the most straightforward route. Once atop the ledge, you'll catch your first memorable view of the lake. Difficult. Trailhead at Longs Peak Ranger Station, off Rte. 7, 10 mi from the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, 80517.

Deer Mountain Trail. This 6-mi round-trip trek to the top of 10,083-foot Deer Mountain is a great way for hikers who don't mind a bit of a climb to enjoy the views from the summit of a more manageable peak. You'll gain more than 1,000 feet in elevation as you follow the switchbacking trail through ponderosa pine, aspen, and fir trees. The reward at the top is a panoramic view of the park's eastern mountains. Difficult. Trailhead at Deer Ridge Junction, 4.1 mi west of Moraine Park Visitor Center, U.S. 34 at U.S. 36, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, 80517.

Longs Peak Trail. Climbing this 14,259-foot mountain (one of 53 "Fourteeners" in Colorado) is an ambitious goal for almost anyone—but only those who are very fit and acclimated to the altitude should attempt it. The 16-mi round-trip climb requires a predawn start (3 am is ideal), so that you're off the summit before the typical summer afternoon thunderstorm hits. Also, the last 2 mi or so of the trail are very exposed—you have to traverse narrow ledges with vertigo-inducing drop-offs. That said, summiting Longs can be one of the most rewarding experiences you'll ever have. The Keyhole route is the most popular means of ascent, and the number of people going up it on a summer day can be astounding, given the rigors of the climb. Though just as scenic, the Loft route, between Longs and Mount Meeker from Chasm Lake, is less crowded but not as clearly marked and therefore more difficult to navigate. Difficult. Trailhead at Longs Peak Ranger Station, off Rte. 7, 10 mi from Beaver Meadows Visitor Center, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, 80517.

Longs Peak: The Northernmost Fourteener

At 14,259 feet above sea level, Longs Peak has long fascinated explorers to the region. Explorer and author Isabella L. Bird wrote of it, "It is one of the noblest of mountains, but in one's imagination it grows to be much more than a mountain. It becomes invested with a personality."

It was named after Major Stephen H. Long, who led an expedition in 1820 up the Platte River to the base of the Rockies. Long never ascended the mountain—in fact, he didn't even get within 40 miles of it—but a few decades later, in 1868, the one-armed Civil War veteran John Wesley Powell climbed to its summit.

Longs Peak is the northernmost of the Fourteeners—the 54 mountains in Colorado that reach above the 14,000-foot mark—and one of more than 114 named mountains in the park that are higher than 10,000 feet. The peak, in the park's southeast quadrant, has a distinctive flat-topped, rectangular summit that is visible from many spots on the park's east side and on Trail Ridge Road.

The ambitious climb to Longs summit is only recommended for those who are strong climbers and well acclimated to the altitude. If you're up for it, be sure to begin before dawn so that you're down from the summit when the typical afternoon thunderstorm hits.

Horseback Riding

Horses and riders can access 260 miles of trails in Rocky Mountain.

Tours and Outfitters

Allenspark Livery. Part of the Sombrero Ranches group of stables, Allenspark Livery offers one- to three-hour guided rides into Rocky Mountain National Park and Roosevelt National Forest, plus half- and all-day trail rides, and pack and fishing trips, and overnight "drop" camps (you ride to your campsite, they pack your gear and set up your camp, then come back with the horses to get you the following day). 211 Main St., Allenspark, CO, 80510. 303/747–2551 stables; 970/586–4577 off-season reservations. May–mid Sept.

National Park Gateway Stables. Guided trips into the national park range from two-hour rides to Little Horseshoe Park to full-day rides along the Roaring River to Lawn or Ypsilon Lake. The six-hour ride to the summit of Deer Mountain is a favorite. The Cowpoke Corner Corral location has a one-hour ride geared for families with preschool-age children. National Park Gateway Stables, 4600 Fall River Rd., Estes Park, CO, 80517. 970/586–5269 National Park Gateway Stables. Mid-May–early Oct.

Hi-Country Stables. The Glacier Creek Stables and Moraine Park Stables are the only liveries located within the borders of the park, and both offer two- to ten-hour guided rides to places like Cub Lake, Beaver Mountain, and Marguerite Falls. 970/586–2327. Open May–mid-Sept. Glacier Creek Campground, off Bear Lake Rd. near Sprague Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, 80517. 970/586–3244 stables; 970/586–4577 off-season reservations.

Moraine Park Campground, off Fern Lake Rd., Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, 80517. 970/586–2327 stables; 970/586–4577 off-season reservations.

Rock Climbing

Expert rock climbers as well as novices can try hundreds of classic and big wall climbs here (there’s also ample opportunity for bouldering and mountaineering). The burgeoning sport of ice climbing also thrives in the park. The Diamond, Lumpy Ridge, and Petit Grepon are the places for serious rock climbing, while well-known ice-climbing spots include Hidden Falls, Loch Vale, and Emerald and Black lakes.

The Diamond. Named for its distinctive shape, this sheer cliff on the east face of Longs Peak is the site of more than 30 routes. The "easiest," the Casual Route, is rated 5.10. Note that the Longs Peak Trailhead is located outside the park. Rte. 7, 9 mi south of Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, 80517.

Lumpy Ridge. These granite crags, about 1 mi north of Estes Park, draw climbers from all over Colorado's Front Range. Some of the routes are closed from March to July, due to nesting raptors. The area's rock outcroppings, including the distinctive Twin Owls, rise behind the Stanley Hotel and can be seen from town. Mainliner, a top-rated, six-pitch route on Lumpy's Sundance Buttress, is one of the classics. The entrance is outside the park, just north of downtown Estes Park. MacGregor Ave., off Rte. 34, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, 80517.

Petit Grepon. If you're interested in a spectacular setting, try this climb on one of the park's Cathedral Spires (they also include Sharkstooth, the Saber, and the Foil), on the popular South Face climbing route. It's southwest of Bear Lake, above Sky Pond, and is accessed via the Glacier Gorge Trailhead. Bear Lake Rd., about 1 mi southwest of Bear Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO, 80517.

Tours and Outfitters

Colorado Mountain School. Colorado Mountain School has been guiding climbers since 1877 and is an invaluable resource for climbers in the Rocky Mountain area (they're also the park's only official provider of technical climbing services). They can teach you rock climbing, mountaineering, ice climbing, avalanche survival, and many other skills. Take introductory half-day and one- to five-day courses on climbing and rappelling technique, or sign up for guided introductory trips, full-day climbs, and longer expeditions. Make reservations a month in advance for summer climbs. The school also runs a 16-bed hostel with a full kitchen ($25 a night). 341 Moraine Ave., Estes Park, CO, 80517. 800/836–4008 or 303/447–2804.

Winter Sports

Each winter, the popularity of snowshoeing in the park increases. It's a wonderful way to experience Rocky Mountain's majestic winter side, when the jagged peaks are softened with a blanket of snow and the summer hordes are nonexistent. You can snowshoe any of the summer hiking trails that are accessible by road; many of them also become well-traveled cross-country ski trails. Two trails to try are Tonahutu Creek Trail (near Kawuneeche Visitor Center) and the Colorado River Trail to Lulu City (start at the Timber Creek Campground).

Backcountry skiing within the park ranges from gentle cross-country outings to full-on, experts-only adventures down steep chutes and open bowls. Ask a ranger about conditions, and gear up as if you were spending the night. If you plan on venturing off trail, take a shovel, probe pole, and avalanche transceiver. Only on the west side of the park are you permitted to snowmobile, and you must register at Kawuneeche Visitor Center before traveling the unplowed section of Trail Ridge Road up to Milner Pass. Check the park newspaper for ranger-guided tours.

Tours and Outfitters

Estes Park Mountain Shop. You can rent or buy snowshoes and skis here, as well as fishing, hiking, and climbing equipment. The store is open year-round and gives four-, six-, and eight-hour guided snowshoeing, fly-fishing, and climbing trips to areas in and around Rocky Mountain National Park. 2050 Big Thompson Ave., Estes Park, CO, 80517. 970/586–6548 or 866/303–6548. Daily 8 am–9 pm.

Never Summer Mountain Products. This well-stocked shop sells and rents all sorts of outdoor equipment, including cross-country skis, hiking gear, kayaks, and camping supplies. 919 Grand Ave., Grand Lake, CO, 80517. 970/627–3642.

Outdoor World. Open year-round, Outdoor World is Estes Park's biggest outfitter, with all kinds of outdoor equipment for sale or rent. They offer daily snowshoe rentals, which include gaiters and poles. They also stock supplies for summer adventures, including hiking, camping, and general travel. 156 E. Elkhorn Ave., Estes Park, CO, 80517. 970/586–2114.


Anglers in the Grand Lake and Granby area enjoy plentiful trout, mackinaw, and kokanee salmon. Ice fishers will not want to miss the big contest held the first weekend in January on Lake Granby, where winners collect $20,000 in cash and prizes. Anyone older than 16 needs a Colorado fishing license, which you can obtain at local sporting-goods stores. See for more information.

The Big Thompson River, which runs east of Estes Park along U.S. 34, is popular for its good stock of rainbow and brown trout. See for more information on fishing licenses.

Tours and Outfitters

Rocky Mountain Adventures. From its Fort Collins office, guides from this company can take you fly-fishing on the Big Thompson and other rivers, including those in Rocky Mountain National Park. Call ahead. 1117 N. U.S. Hwy 287, Fort Collins, CO, 80522. 970/586–6191 or 800/858–6808.

Trail Ridge Marina. Visit the Trail Ridge Marina on the western shore of Shadow Mountain Lake to rent a Sea-Doo or motor boat for two to six hours. 12634 U.S. 34, 2 miles south of Grand Lake on U.S. 34, Grand Lake, CO, 80447. 970/627–3586.


Grand Elk Ranch & Club. Designed by PGA great Craig Stadler, the challenging mountain course is reminiscent of traditional heathland greens in Britain. 1300 Tenmile Dr., Granby, CO, 80446. 970/887–9122 or 877/389–9333. Reservations essential. 18 holes. 7144 yds. Par 71. Green fee: $95. Facilities: Driving range, putting green, golf carts, rental clubs, lessons, restaurant, bar.

Winter Sports

Many consider Grand Lake to be Colorado's snowmobiling capital, with more than 300 miles of trails (150 miles groomed), many winding through virgin forest. There are several rental and guide companies in the area. If you're visiting during the winter holidays, it's wise to make reservations about three weeks ahead.

Grand Adventures. Guided tours by snowmobile range from $75 for one hour to $195 for four hours, and unguided snowmobile rental fees range from $100 for two hours to $175 for four hours. 304 W. Portal Rd., Grand Lake, CO, 80447. 970/726–9247 or 800/726–9247.

Never Summer Mountain Products. Rent cross-country skis, backcountry skis, and snowshoes in the winter, or buy backpacks, tents, and all other camping equipment for summer sports. All backpackers in Rocky Mountain National Park need a manditory bear canister (for overnight food storage), and the friendly staff at Never Summer rents those for $5 per day. 919 Grand Ave., Grand Lake, CO. 970/627–3642.

On The Trail Rentals. This handy outfit a few miles northwest of town rents snowmobiles and organizes unguided trips into Arapaho National Forest. Prices range from $100 for two hours on a smaller machine to $240 for eight hours on a larger model. During the summer, you can rent mountain bikes, ATVs, and side-by-sides here. 1447 County Rd. 491, Grand Lake, CO, 80447. 970/627–0171 or 888/627–2429.


Windy Gap Wildlife Viewing Area. The reservoir at Windy Gap Wildlife Viewing Area is on the waterfowl migration route for geese, pelicans, swans, eagles, and osprey. The park has information kiosks, viewing scopes, viewing blinds, a picnic area, and a nature trail that's also wheelchair accessible. 2 miles west of Granby on U.S. 40 where it meets Rte. 125, Granby, CO, 80446. 970/725–6200. May–Sept., daily dawn–dusk.