A Family Vacation at Rocky Mountain National Park

By: 
Jacquie Fisher

Have you ever considered a visit to a national park? We've visited quite a few local and state parks over the years, 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. Due to the wonderful memories I have experienced at the various national parks, I feel compelled to share our visit in the hopes that you too, will consider a trip to one of our national parks!

The Beauty (& Space All To Yourself)

When you first enter the park, you are in awe of the amazing scenic views.  Everywhere you turn, the views are breathtaking and 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 on our hikes.  It's almost impossible not to slow down and take in the beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park. 

We visited Rocky Mountain National Park during the month of August when the park usually averages more than 600,000 visitors. There are so many sprawling acres of wilderness, you hardly ever find yourself surrounded by a swarm of people.  The park covers over 400 square miles with 355 miles of hiking trails!  We hiked many locations throughout the park.  We also spent a few evenings walking 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 magnificent 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 week.  Park rules state that it's important to be respectful to the animals and we could not agree more.  You are visiting their home, so please be a gracious guest.  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 and when you are most likely to see some of your favorite animals.

During our drive across the park, we were lucky enough to come extremely close to 3 moose, gallivanting on the side of the road.  There were two bull moose (one older and one younger) along with a cow moose. We spent at least an hour watching them graze and stroll near one of the rest areas on the west side of the park.  We also saw deer in groups around the park, usually in the early part of the day or later in the evening. 

And elk…EVERYWHERE!   During five of our seven days at Rocky Mountain National Park, we saw a number of elk herds.  Some of these creatures are very large, many of which towered over our minivan.  We were surprised at how calm they were around tourists and cameras.

We were also excited to see bighorn sheep!  The rangers told us that the sheep come and go as they please; therefore, it could be days until a sighting of a sheep is noted.  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, their main source of nutrition.  One afternoon, during the educational program on Bighorn Sheep, a large group of females and babies came down the mountain.  My son and husband were on a hike elsewhere in the park and we were so sad they had missed it.  We returned to Sheeps Lake the following day, hoping to catch another glimpse of them. Fortunately, we were granted the surprise of seeing a ram wandering the hillside! 

 Great Family Activities

Rocky Mountain National Park has programs and activities for all ages.  Our family ranged in age from 9 years to 70 years old and we all found many things to do during our stay. 

Trail Hikes - Hiking and walking trails are 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 would like more of a challenge, I would suggest a trek to Nymph Lake or Alberta Falls. During our hike, we saw parents with kids as young as 2 years old at all three of these areas.  And if you're really up for a hike, head up Deer Mountain or crawl through the boulders at the Alluvial Fan.

Ranger Programs for All - Another wonderful family activity is attending 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, such as wildlife, plants and trees, astronomy, science and history!  The park has a list of all available programs on their website, as well as details about weekly programs that are available at their visitor's centers.  During our visit, we attended two programs that consisted of a tour of the Holowitz site and a Big Horn Sheep. The rangers did such a great job involving kids in these programs! 

Kids are also given the opportunity to become a Junior Ranger during their visit to the park. There are free booklets available at any of the four visitor's centers for kids ranging from the ages of 3- 12.  Junior Ranger books are filled with puzzles, activities and learning opportunities, giving kids a fun way to explore the different areas of the park.  Park rangers host a mini-ceremony for the induction of Junior Rangers, which takes place at multiple locations throughout the park. After the ceremony is over, the rangers announce the new Junior Rangers to the audience, ask them to recite an oath, and award the kids with their very own Junior Range badge. You can purchase additional Junior Ranger patches at the visitor center.

Drive through Park - We spent 5 hours taking a drive through the park one afternoon. Driving through the park allows you to experience all four of the eco-systems.  In order to see the alpine area, cross the Continental Divide or witness the beautiful glacier areas, you must drive Trail Ridge Road.  Some of the roads have sharp turns and run alongside the mountain.  I would highly recommend that you review the National Park Service's details about driving through the park before you head out.  We were able to visit the park when Old Falls River Road was open (it's closed from October - May due to snow and ice).  This is a one-way road that takes you through the beautifully wooded areas and above the tree line.  

Enjoy Some Animal-Watching - Large and small, you will see animals everywhere in the park.  It's so much fun to stop and watch them in their natural habitat.  We saw a squirrel having a snack on one of our hikes.  We watched a hummingbird for 20 minutes as he flew from flower to flower. As I mentioned earlier, we spent time watching elk, moose, sheep and many other animals. We were even lucky enough to get an amazing view of a great horned owl from the window of our rental house, which was located just a few feet from the park.  I would strongly suggest visiting the park during the late afternoon and evening hours due to the fact that this was when we had the best luck seeing animals.

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 are so many ways to use a camera, such as taking breathtaking panoramic shots, catching wildlife in action, or just capturing nature’s beauty. 

Check out the full list of National Parks to find a park that sparks your interest. I promise you it will be a visit you’ll remember for years to come!

About the Author:
Jacquie Fisher is a mom to two adventurous kids, an educator and founder of KC Edventures, a website that provides resources to “keep kids curious, creative and connected to the world around them”.  She loves to encourage families to get outside and explore nature, and frequently blogs about fun learning activities and family travel.