Within two hours from Denver, you’ll be on top of the world at Rocky Mountain National Park—literally with peaks cresting over 12,000 feet and 265,000 acres to explore. Centennial celebrations are in full swing at the park, Trail Ridge Road, and its book-ending gateway towns: Estes Park (eastern) and Grand Lake (western). Need more inspiration?  How about 32 reasons to plan a road trip and visit Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park in 2015 and beyond?

  1. Watch the Sunset over the Never Summer Mountains – Drive up to the Rock Cut along Trail Ridge Road, and stay for the sunset.  If you don’t want to do this alone, ride along on a Sunset tour with the Rocky Mountain Conservancy.
  2. Watch the Centennial Movie at Beaver Meadows Visitor Center – As you enter into Rocky Mountain National Park on Highway 36, stop in at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center and watch the park video exclusively produced for the park 100thbirthday!
  3. Attend a Ranger-led Program – Every day in the park, there are numerous educational programs for visitors of all ages.  Check the park’s newspaper for current listings.  If you are camping in the park, attend an evening program at your campground!
  4. Take a walk around Sprague Lake – Sprague Lake is an artificial lake in RMNP, created in 1914 to accompany a resort.  Now it offers some of the most spectacular views of the Continental Divide in RMNP.  Maybe you will see a moose wallowing in the willows or an osprey diving to catch fish.
  5. Attend Discovery Days – Every Tuesday and Wednesday throughout the summer, a rotating educational exhibit will be featured in Moraine Park by Rocky Mountain National Park’s Environmental Education staff.  These programs will focus on cultural history, geology, mammals, birds, and more!
  6. Explore Wild Basin – Wild Basin is the southern most park entrance along the east side of the park. Take a drive and go explore the coniferous forests that grow orchids, host snowshoe hairs, and host several of the best waterfalls in RMNP.
  7. Grow your artistic abilities – Whether you are just beginning your artistic journey or refining skills practiced for decades, look at the Rocky Mountain Conservancy’s full list (www.rmconservancy.org) of art seminars for listings on water coloring, sketching, photography, and more.
  8. Lay out on the Tundra – The Alpine Tundra is a unique, majestic environment where most of the plants grow mere inches above the surface.  Go, stretch out, and experience the wind’s chill disappear as you sink close to the tundra’s thin top soil.  A good place to do this?  Medicine Bow Curve or off the Mount Ida Trail.
  9. Straddle the Continental Divide at Milner Pass – Read the sign.  Stand over the line.  Smile and snap a photo!RMNPContinental DivideMilner1
  10. Get your Junior Ranger Badge – Whether you are 5 or 50, fill out a Junior Ranger book, attend a Ranger program, and get sworn in!
  11. Volunteer with Rocky Mountain National Park – There are many ways that groups or individuals can lend a hand and improve the park.  Groups can help for a day with vegetation management, trail improvement, and campground restoration.  There are also volunteer days throughout the season. Contact RMNP volunteer office (970-586-1330) for more information.
  12. Hear an Elk Bugle – As summer ends and aspen leaves turn gold, elk bugles echo throughout valleys in and around Rocky Mountain National Park.  Come out for the Elk Rut and hear this mating call!
  13. See a Mountain Blue Bird – Mountain Blue Birds frequent RMNP in late spring and summer.  They reflect Colorado’s prestine skies with their plumage.  Can you spot one while you are here?
  14. Sit silently for an hour in a newly discovered place – Rocky Mountain National Park has 415 square miles of open space.  Get out and find a quiet corner away from other guests.  Take the time to sit and listen to the sound of the forest.  Chances are you won’t find it quiet!
  15. Fish Glacier Creek – Glacier Creek parallels Bear Lake, making many areas easily accesible to anglers.  While some portions of this creek are gentle, others  require an angler proficient in river navigation.  So, grab your rod and reel, purchase your fishing license, check in with a Ranger about fishing laws, and come out to Glacier Creek!
  16. Summit a Peak – Whether you are a casual hiker or an experienced mountaineer, Rocky has numerous peaks to satisfy “Summit Fever.” Some favorites? Deer Mountain, Flat Top, Hallett Peak, Estes Cone, Twin Sisters, and Mount Ida.  Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to adjust to the altitude and pack your 10 Essentials!
  17. Take a Photo at the Alluvial Fan – Part of Rocky’s wonder is the continually shifting landscapes.  This is no better demonstrated than at the Alluvial Fan.  This park favorite was created in 1982 when a dam at Lawn Lake broke and carried debris down the Roaring River.  It again changed in the flood of September 2013.  Come see how this area is shifting through time, and commemorate it with a photo at the waterfall.
  18. Hike to Alberta Falls – Alberta Falls is the most visited waterfall in Rocky Mountain National Park, and you don’t want to miss it.  Easily accessible from both Glacier Gorge and Bear Lake Parking, it is a mere 1.4 mile round-trip hike on a well-developed trail.
  19. Take the Park Shuttle – Sometimes it is nice to sit back and let someone else do the driving.  Pick up the Park Shuttle from the Estes Park Fair Grounds, Beaver Meadows Visitor Center, or the Park and Ride (within the park boundaries).  This feature is fantastic for the early hiker or mid-day picnicker.
  20. Visit the Historic Holzwarth Site – The Colorado River Valley is home to the historic homestead of the Holzwarth’s.  Come out and participate in living history as you tour through Papa and Mama cabins and attempt to rope a calf (non-living, of course).
  21. Stargaze in Upper Beaver Meadows – Rocky Mountain National Park is a great place to become acquainted with our star-plastered heavens.  Either go out by yourself or join Rocky’s Night Sky and Astronomy Program on evenings listed here.
  22. Camp out under the Stars – Rocky Mountain National Park has a variety of campgrounds.  While many sites are taken early through reservations, there are also first come-first serve sites, as well.  And, if you are truly adventurous, you could also get a backcountry site and backpack to your sleepy, starry haven.
  23. Watch a Pika – While there are many fascinating animals in Rocky, the Pika is a fan favorite!  These tiny lagomorphs (rabbits) scurry around rock outcrops in the Alpine, gathering food for their winter hay piles.  So, head up above treeline and find a rock to sit on- maybe you will see one?
  24. Have a Picnic – Pack your dinner, lunch, or breakfast up and drive to favorite location.  Some suggestions?  Sprague Lake, Lily Lake, Milner Pass or Endo Valley.
  25. Find a Beaver Dam – Although Rocky’s beaver population isn’t what it used to be, many of these wood-chewing mammals can be found in and around the park.  Look for a large pile of sticks in the middle of standing water.  Maybe you will even catch a glimpse of these busy friends.
  26. Attend a Campfire Ghost Story – Who said ghost stories had to be scary?  Come join famous characters from Rocky’s past as they present an hour long program.  There may even be marshmallows.  For more information, visit www.RMConservancy.org.
  27. Follow Rocky Mountain National Park on Instagram –Technology allows us to explore the wild places we love where ever we go.  So, follow RockyNPSand see what excitement is occurring here year round.
  28. Get to know a Tree – Have you ever shaken a trees hand… errr… limb?  You should!  Get up close and personal.  Explore a tree’s needles, bark, and pine cones.  Once you are done, compare it to another’s!  How many different species can you find?
  29. Take a Photo of a Moose – The Kawuneeche Valley is wet, open, and loved by moose!  Drive over to the west side, or participate in a bus tour, and see if you can spot these large ungulates and capture it on film. I snapped this moose photo (below) near the Historic Holzwarth Site on the Grand Lake side of RMNP.RMNPMoose1
  30. Explore a new place – Rocky Mountain National Park is 415 square miles.  Why revisit the same area when there are so many more?  Whether you are in the back country, or want to access somewhere by car, try to get out and sit somewhere new.  Make sure while you are exploring you are being safe and following park regulations.
  31. Fly-fish the Colorado River Headwaters – Rocky Mountain National Park has terrific fishing.  It also is the origin of the grand Colorado River.  Take a trip to Kawuneeche Valley with your rod and reel, and see what bites on your fly.
  32. Check out the 3D, light-up map at Kawuneeche Visitor Center – Located just outside of Grand Lake is the Kawuneeche Visitor Center.  Inside?  Brilliant Rangers, informational displays, and a light up map of Rocky Mountain National Park.  So, head on in, check out the Continental Divide, and see which places you have visited, where you have visited, and where you still want to go.

What are you waiting for?  Make your next road trip a visit to Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park.

Diana Rowe is a Denver-based freelance writer, who loves to get outdoors, hike, bike, fish, and simply enjoy Colorado.  Photos Courtesy of Diana Rowe/TravelingInHeels.com