A Family Vacation in Rocky Mountain National Park - Edventures with Kids

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A Family Vacation in Rocky Mountain National Park

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Have you ever thought about visiting a national park? 

We've visited quite a few local and state parks - all beautiful -- but nothing compares to our visit at Rocky Mountain National Park this summer!

I was so enthralled with the beauty of the park, the abundance of wildlife and the amazing back-to-nature connection that our family experienced, I feel compelled to share our visit in the hopes that you too will consider a trip to one of our national parks!

1-Colorado3

 

The Beauty (& Space All To Yourself)

The first thing that strikes you when you're in the park isthe views!  Everywhere you turn it's just breathtakingly beautiful. 

I love that our kids were able to see so much undeveloped land in one place, to experience what it's like when a storm moves in, and to smell the fresh pine air.  It's almost impossible not to slow down and just enjoy it ~ and don't we all need to slow down just a little bit!

We visited Rocky Mountain National Park in August when the park usually averages more than 600,000 visitors that month -- but we frequently had a whole area to ourselves! 

Unlike many other places that we've vacationed, there are so many sprawling acres of wilderness, you hardly ever find yourself in a crowd.  The park covers over 400 square miles with 355 miles of hiking trails!

 

waterfalls-hike

We visited many locations throughout the park.  This is the view as we hiked up to Alberta Falls one evening.

 

 

rocky-mountain-park-panoramic

Like I said earlier, SPECTACULAR views!

 

bear-lake

We also spent a few evenings hiking around Bear Lake, which is a very family-friendly area.  The trails and paths can be navigated by young and old alike, and Bear Lake has quite a few places to sit and enjoy the view or take photos.

 

Wildlife Around Every Corner

You would not BELIEVE the number of animals we saw on our visit! 

This was truly the highlight of our visit.  Park rules state that it's important to be respectful to the animals.  We agree! You are visiting their home while you're there. 

Park residents (aka, wildlife) can frequently be seen grazing by the roadside and walking through open areas.  Some animals prefer certain areas of the park so ask a park ranger where you're most likely to see some of your favorites.

 bull-moose-rockies

On our drive across the park, we were treated to a viewing of 3 moose!  There were two bull moose (one older and one younger) along with a cow moose. 

 

owl-at-rocky-mountain-national-park

Yes, a great horned owl (and in the middle of the day). 

I guess that just goes to show that owls can be awake during the day :-)  This beautiful guy took up residence in the tree right outside our back door.

 

buck-in-grass

The park has quite a few deer too. 

We saw deer in groups around the park, usually in the early part of the day or later in the evening.

 

elk-eating

And elk - EVERYWHERE! 

I think we saw elk 5 of our 7 days in the park (and also outside of the park right in the town area of Estes Park). 

following-elk-on-road

Some of these creatures are very large ~ as you can note above by the size of the elk that we followed while driving thru the park one afternoon.

 

1-Colorado

 We were also treated to the sight of bighorn sheep!

The rangers told us that the sheep come and go as they please so they may not come down off the mountains for days.  The best time of the year to see them is in the Fall.  We learned that the sheep come down to the marsh area near Sheeps Lake in order to eat the mud, which has essential minerals for them.

 

Great Family Activities

There are a number of wonderful things that families can do at the park.  Our vacation included a set of grandparents too, so we ranged in age from 9 years to 70 years and we all had a wonderful time!

Trail Hikes

alberta-falls

First, hiking (or walking) is available throughout the park.  There are many trails that accommodate young children and older adults.  The trails around Bear Lake are paved and easy to walk.  If you'd like more of a challenge, I would suggest a trek to Nymph Lake or Alberta Falls (we saw parents with kids as young as 2 at all three of these areas). 

And if you're really up for a hike, head up Deer Mountain or crawl thru the boulders at the Alluvial Fan -- or do both!

 

Ranger Programs for All

Another wonderful family activity is to attend some of the great Ranger Programs that are available in the park.  Programs are available throughout the park and cover a huge variety of topics -- wildlife, plants and trees, astronomy, science and history!  The park has a list of all available programs on their website, along with details about weekly programs that are available at their visitor's centers. 

big-horn-sheep-program

 We attended two programs during our visit - Big Horn Sheep and a tour of Holowitz Site.  The rangers do such a great job involving kids in the programs!  And, while we're on the subject, kids will also enjoy becoming a Jr. Ranger in the park. 

There are booklets available at any of the 4 Visitor's Centers for kids ages 3 - 12.  Jr. Ranger books are filled with puzzles, activities and learning opportunities so kids have a fun way to explore the different areas of the park.

Kids can be 'sworn in' as Jr. Rangers at any of these locations.  Park rangers make a big deal about this and turn it into a mini-ceremony which is so much fun for the kids!  

When a child has completed their Jr. Ranger activities,

  • a park ranger will ask them a few questions about what they enjoyed,
  • the ranger will announce to everyone in the center that there is now 'a new Jr. Ranger' in the park,
  • some rangers will have your child take an oath, and
  • kids are then awarded their Jr. Ranger badge. 

You can also purchase Jr. Ranger patches or other items at the Visitor's Centers.

If you'd like to learn more about all the Jr. Ranger programs at our National Parks, you'll want to take a look at our post on Why We Love Jr. Ranger Programs.

 

Drive the Park

Take a drive across the park.  There are few roads in the park but two will take you from east to west across the park.  In order to see the alpine area, cross the Continental Divide or view the glacier areas - you must drive Trail Ridge Road.  And this isn't one of those 'let's just get there' drives - you really want to take time to stop and get out to enjoy the sights.

Some of the roads have sharp turns and run along the side of a mountain.  I would highly recommend that you review the National Park Service's details about driving thru the park before you head out.

We were able to visit the park when the Old Falls River Road was open (it's closed from October - May due to snow and ice).  This is a one-way drive through beautifully wooded areas and above the tree line. 

 

Do Some Animal-Watching

Large and small, you will see animals everywhere in the park.  It's so much fun to just stop and watch them.

snacking-squirrel

A squirrel having a snack on one of our hikes.

 

hummingbird

We watched this hummingbird for 20 minutes as he flew from flower to flower.  It made the time fly by while we were waiting to head off to lunch.

 

Take Amazing Photos

If you have a junior shutterbug at home, you will definitely want to make sure they take a camera on this trip.  There's so many ways to use a camera - panoramic shots, catching wildlife in action, or just things kids see as 'beautiful'.  Check out this great water shot my son took on our hike up the Alluvial Fan.

water-alluvial-fan

 

We have 58 beautiful parks across the country ~ check out the National Park Services website to find one near you.  Park entrance is very reasonable (we spent $20 for a week's pass to Rocky Mountain National Park). 

The National Park Service also offers free entrance days ~ the next one is September 29th!

 

I'd love to hear about your visits to a National Park - please leave me a comment below to tell us about your trip. 

I hope that I've inspired you to check out one of the National Parks! 

  • Jacquie Fisher
    Jacquie Fisher August 28

    Heather

    We love the RMNP too! We went camping a few weeks ago and we're going back this weekend. I love all your pictures, especially the moose. We haven't gotten to see a moose yet, I sure hope we do:) Any tips? Special spots to see them?

    Our daughter is working on her Junior Range Workbook, hoping to turn it in this visit for a badge!

    We're lucky to be just barely an hour away. It's our favorite spot to visit. Estes Park is a lovely town.

    Reply Cancel
  • Jacquie Fisher
    Jacquie Fisher August 30

    Hi Heather - Oh, I envy you living so close to such a beautiful place! We saw moose on the west side of the park pretty far south (about a mile from the visitor's center). The 3 moose we saw actually came right down to graze at the parking lot/restroom area on Trail Ridge Road - it was amazing to me that they came that close to the cars. And we always had great luck seeing animals in the early evening - between 5pm - 7pm. I so hope you guys get to see a moose this time - have a wonderful trip!

  • Jacquie Fisher
    Jacquie Fisher August 29

    Amazing pictures! I love taking my kids to National Parks for our vacations. I have a personal goal to go to all 58 major ones, and I'd like for my kids to accompany me to as many as possible! Luke has been to 4 so far, Leah has been to 2, and I've been to 10. Now that I've seen these gorgeous pictures of Rocky Mountain NP, that park just moved a little higher on my list!

    Reply Cancel
  • Jacquie Fisher
    Jacquie Fisher August 30

    Danielle - I knew you would be one of my first visitors (kindred spirits) :D I love your goal of seeing all 58 parks! My goal is to visit all 50 states, so I may have to add on 'all the National Parks' too! It is so much fun to be with the kids when they are visiting a new place.

  • Jacquie Fisher
    Jacquie Fisher August 29

    Love all of your amazing photos. We love national and state parks for trips and vacations. Drop by and share this on our travel linky if you get the chance. I'd love to have you.

    Reply Cancel
  • Jacquie Fisher
    Jacquie Fisher August 30

    Thanks Amber - I linked up and found a few more great places to put on our travel list!!

  • Guest
    Tonya W. February 24

    Loved reading this write up as we're talking about making a trek there this summer. I'd like to hear about your experience with the Bear Lake Road construction since it looks like it's still scheduled to be in progress. How bad was it to navigate? Did it affect your choices of trails? It looks like many of the trails that are family friendly are on this route!

  • Guest
    santafetraveler April 07

    We used to live about an hour from Estes Park and spent a lot of time in RMNP. It's a very special place. Glad you got to experience it.

    Bear Lake is better on a weekday before the height of summer. If you go then, expect delays. There are some family friendly trails around Moraine Park.

  • Guest

    We love the National Parks we have here in the US too! The scenery is amazing but its the animals that make it special. Rocky Mountain National Park is a gem.

  • Guest
    Traveling Ted April 19

    You are definitely right about the number of visitors compared to the amount of space. I was there in April and along the roads it was crowded, but it was easy to take a half mile hike and be off by yourself. I saw a lot of elk, but not the amazing variety of wildlife you saw. It makes me want to come back.

  • Guest

    I've not been through the Rockies, but caught a view of them from the interstate on the way to a conference. Even at that, the view was stunning. I'd love to return with my family to truly explore the area and do some hiking. Plus, I'd really love to photograph a moose in the wild!

    Thanks for linking up to the Best of the USA blog hop! I hope you'll stop back again next month.

  • Guest
    Joy May 06

    We just moved to about an hour ro so away from the park. We are so excited now that it is warming up and we can take those hikes. I don't know who is more excited. My kids or myself! :)

  • Guest

    Aren't the park rangers cool nowadays? And the Jr. Ranger program is a must do for every child- heck, BB got her own honorary Jr. Ranger badge and I get a kick everytime I look at it. Here from the Best of the USA hop, loving the picks and totally agreeing that our Ntl. Parks shouldn't be missed. Hope to see you at my dance; BB2U

  • Guest
    Alysia May 07

    Beautiful post! I love all the wildlife. Last summer I took my kids to Glacier National Park, but we were only able to stay for the day. The only wildlife we saw was a marmot! That was disappointing, but the park was a highlight of our summer vacation. I would love to visit Rocky Mountain National Park.

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