9 Things To Do In Rocky Mountain National Park for First Timer’s

Calm view of Sprague lake with mountains in distance.

When planning things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park for your first visit it is really quite easy to have a wonderful time. There is a beautiful view every direction. And there is so much to do that you could fill a whole summer here. But since you probably don’t have that much time, we’ve narrowed it down for you. Here’s a list of some of our favorite activities for your Rocky National Park itinerary.

#1 Enjoy Some of the Best Views in Rocky Mountain National Park Along Scenic Drives

Every first time visit to Rocky Mountain National Park should start with a drive along Trail Ridge Road. Its 48 miles of amazing vistas! The highway that cuts through the heart of the Rocky Mountains was designed to ensure that every curve delivered Rocky Mountain National Parks best view, views beyond your imagination.

Trail Ridge Road has many easy to get to pull offs to get Christmas Card worthy vacation photos. Or take advantage of one of the short hikes along this scenic drive to explore this unique park. There is an abundance of wildlife along this route so make sure you have your binoculars and camera handy!

If you are feeling a little more adventurous, head up Old Fall River Road. It’s a one way road going up to connects with Trail Ridge Road near the highest point. It’s a narrow, steep gravel road with a lot of switchbacks that can be a little scary.

We were able to traverse it in a regular sedan, but all wheel drive would have been really nice to have. Of course Brad had to drive as some of the drop offs were beyond my fear level!

Rocky Mountain National Park Hiking
Along the trail to Sky Pond

#2 Check Out the Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Hiking is one of favorite things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park. There are a whopping 355 miles of hiking trails, with over 50 beautiful destinations. You’ll find hikes for every skill level, from short jaunts to amazing overlooks to highly challenging hikes to mountain peaks.

If you are looking for a variety of hikes for someone of average skill, start in the Bear Lake Corridor. There is a free park shuttle servicing the trailheads in this area. One of our favorite hikes to Sky Pond can be found here. It’s the perfect hike for a first time visitor. Other hikes we love is the nearby trail to Cub Lake. Or on the South end of the park Ouzel Falls takes you to 3 unique waterfalls.

#3 Explore the Alpine Tundra Ecosystem

At first glance that sounds very geeky. But take a minute and you’ll discover that the Rocky Mountain Alpine Tundra is a very special place. Brad loves that once you get above tree line you can see for miles and will always pull out binoculars or a spotting scope.

Rocky Mountain National Park Alpine Tundra
You can see forever when you get above the tree line.

Even in the peak of summer season you will need a jacket here both to keep warm and to protect yourself from the winds.

For me it’s the little tiny wild flowers that thrive in the fragile community that excites my senses. Imagine what it takes for any plant to survive at 11,000 feet where the wind scours the earth daily.

When exploring, it’s important to walk on established paths to avoid trampling the plants. Unlike the fast growing grass in your backyard, it can take 100 years for a small patch to recover from exposing the dirt to the wind.

#4 Discover Rocky Mountain National Park Fishing in Beautiful Mountain Lakes

Many of the lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park are open to sport fishing. You just need a regular Colorado State Fishing license. However I do want to warn you that there are quite a few rules so make sure you read through them before heading out to catch anything.

Rocky Mountain National Park Fishing in the Colorado River
Here’s Brad taking a fishing break along the Colorado River

Brad tucked a rod into his pack when we headed up to Sky Pond. Rangers did stop and check his license on the way up the trail so make sure you have yours with you. Fishing wasn’t great at this high altitude lake but he definitely enjoyed the day.

He had much better luck with catching a few trout when we wandered along the Colorado River on the Northwest corner of the park. (That’s also where I had a little scare when I saw my first bull moose close up!)

#5 View the Mountain Tops from Horseback

Get away from the crowds and enjoy the park like one of the early explorers. On horseback! Rocky Mountain National Park tours are available through two in park stables all summer. This is something we haven’t done on past visits to the park but I would love it!

We’ve ridden in the Colorado Mountains and the feeling of awe and peace you find is beyond compare so I am really looking forward to horseback riding on our next trip to Rocky Mountain National Park.

Rocky Mountain National Park Wildlife Photography
We stumbled upon a family of Elk on Sky Pond Trail near Lake of Glass

#6 Take Awesome Photos of Wildlife

Everyone has wildlife viewing on their Rocky Mountain National Park itinerary. And it’s pretty hard to not have many opportunities in this animal filled park.

Although black bears live in the park, they tend to avoid people so you might not get a chance for a great picture. But other animals are plentiful and ready to pose for you. It would be unusual to miss seeing the RMNP elk, mule deer and bighorn sheep. Impressive moose are often found feeding in the lower areas. And smaller critters like marmots, pika and chipmunks will be everywhere.

We’ve found the best time to see Rocky Mountain National Park wildlife in the summer is late afternoon and early evening as they come out to feed.

#7 Stand on the Continental Divide

The Continental Divide traverses through the length of Rocky Mountain National Park, most of it only accessible by taking on challenging hikes. However there is an easy access on Trail Ridge Road just West of the Alpine Visitor Center. Stop at Milner Pass and you can get the perfect selfie on the spot where the US waterways divide between East and West.

Rocky Mountain National Park Waterfalls - Alberta Falls
Alberta Falls is a fairly easy hike and a great place for a break!

#8 Be Captivated by a Rocky Mountain National Park Waterfall

There is nothing more inspiring than a roaring waterfall. And Rocky Mountain National Park waterfalls are a plenty! It has over 30 named waterfalls for your hiking pleasure! What makes these waterfalls special is the beautiful mountain settings.

If you head up Old River Road, there are pull offs with short walks leading to Horseshoe Falls and Chasm Falls. Or check out our hike to Ouzel Falls upon which you will pass three gorgeous, unique waterfalls.

Lonely Planet Colorado GuidebookHere’s one of my favorite travel tips: Get a digital copy of your guidebooks and save them to your Kindle app on your phone. Then you will always have quick access when you are on the road. How often do you find yourself with a little time to fill or wondering if you should follow an intriguing road sign? Those last minute decisions are exactly what we use guide books for!

That’s why I love Lonely Planet Guide books, get a digital copy with Kindle Unlimited free and a hard copy for note taking. This complete guide to Colorado has an extensive section on Rocky Mountain National Park that you will find so helpful in creating your perfect vacation.

#9 Join a Ranger Program

Each night as dusk sets in, visitors gather at the amphitheaters in many of the campgrounds and visitor centers for ranger led programs. These are open to all park visitors, not just the overnight campers. Programs about the history of the park, wildlife discoveries and the unique geology are a great way to end your day.

Ranger are passionate about sharing their love for the park through these programs. Check the schedule at any of the visitor centers.

The list of things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park changes with each season. If you want to see it all visit in mid-June through September because most of the trails will be fairly free of snow. However, this park is busy all seasons, with fall and winter hiking very popular.

More Things to Do in Rocky Mountain National Park

Download a GuideAlong audio tour before you go. We’ve used this phone app tour guide several times and are in awe of how smoothly it works in National Parks. The narrator covers all the points of interest as you drive, including some that you didn’t even know existed. He’ll share stories of the history and nature as you go, and occasionally a bit of humor!

For more ideas to fill up your vacation itinerary check out our additional RMNP guides:

Where to Stay in Rocky Mountain National Park

If you love camping, Rocky Mountain National Park is the place to be.

For those who prefer a soft bed at night, there are great lodging options at the East entrance to the park in and around the city of Estes Park. Try the historical Stanley Hotel, which inspired Stephen Kings The Shining and is said to be haunted. But seriously it is a beautiful luxury hotel not to be missed.

Or for something a little simpler, my sister just loved the mountain view they had at the Quality Inn near RMNP.

On the West side of RMNP, you’ll love the amenities of the gorgeous community of Grand Lake, Colorado. Many of the hotels are right on the lake. What could be more amazing than a morning view of a lake with the mountains in the distance?

To Search the best hotels in Grand Lake Colorado, click here.

Download our complete guide for guidance on selecting an amazing place to stay.

What’s your favorite thing to do in Rocky Mountain National Park? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below. And if you are planning your first trip, don’t forget to pin this your vacation board.Things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park! Great ideas for your Rocky Mountain National Park itinerary, especially if this is your first visit. #WalkingTheParks #RockyMountainNationalParkThingsToDo

Don’t Let the Planning Overwhelm You!

Plan your perfect trip to Rocky Mountain National Park!

Check out our complete digital Guide to Rocky Mountain National Park. This is written specifically for the first time visitor to make your trip planning easy! Over 90 pages of things to do and see on your adventure. Plus get pro tips for planning your adventure.

Start planning immediately with Digital Download!


  • Ladona Stork

    The Authors: Hey, we are Ladona and Brad, avid campers and hikers. We are crazy about getting outdoors at every possible moment and have decades of experience exploring nature. Our current goal is to visit all 63 US National Parks and just completed #42. WooHoo! Our mission is to help you plan your own adventures and create memories beyond your imagination!