1 day Itinerary for Your Rocky Mountain National Park Trip
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Before we get started, you should know that we get it. Really, we understand. The struggle is real when it comes to planning a hiking trip, especially for a short period of time. Most people purchase a guide book filled with hikes that include elevations, compass details, and data that are difficult to process into actionable information that would allow someone to actually PLAN a hike.
Tell me if any of these thoughts have gone through your mind?
- How long are these hikes?
- Where are they located?
- How long will it take to get there?
- Do they leave from the same trail head?
- How many hikes can I accomplish in one day, given my experience (or lack thereof!)
- What should I really see?
- What can I skip?
- Am I going to get lost?
- Help. Please help.
At your service.
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1 day Itinerary
Rocky Mountain National Park Trip
But first, coffee.
Today you will start off at Donut Haus, a favorite stop in Estes Park. Grab your donut early, because when they sell out, they are SOLD OUT! Here’s a secret! You can call ahead 970-586-2988 to place an order so it’s there waiting for you! Seriously? Delicious. Don’t believe me? Check out the donut menu. And I’m not even an affiliate, people, I just love their donuts!
Resources and Information
If you only have one day in for an itinerary in Rocky Mountain National Park, you NEED to see these sites. Don’t worry, you’ll see it all!
1. Start Early
You need to START EARLY. Repeat. Start early. Whatever time you think you need to start, just set your alarm for an hour (or three) before that. Seriously.
2. National Park Pass
Make sure that you have a National Park Pass, or at least have purchased a pass into Rocky Mountain National Park. You can purchase one at the gate. Interested in going more than one day, or maybe another time during the year? Learn about the National Park Pass and how that might be the best decision for you!
3. Bus Route
Many people hike Rocky Mountain National Park near Estes Park. It can get very busy in this popular national park! You may choose to ride the shuttle bus service available at Rocky Mountain National Park during the operating months May through October. Please check the National Park Service Website Here in order to see dates, times, and a map of the shuttle bus service within RMNP!
4. Trail Conditions
We won’t be sending you on any crazy expeditions. But that said, it’s always best to practice safety. (This includes learning about wildlife safety.) The trail conditions for this amazing itinerary can be found here. Updated Trail Conditions can be found by clicking here.
5. Road Conditions
Rocky Mountain National Park weather can be fickle, and its always important to look at the road conditions. Road Conditions in Colorado can be found by clicking here.
6. Backpacking Checklist
You will be gone likely most of the day. Make sure to pack everything you (and your family needs.) This includes extra (extra, extra) water, food, and necessities. We have compiled a list of the most important items you need to carry with you for a long day hike already! Feel free to add to it as you see fit! Now, let’s get started!
DAY HIKING CHECKLIST
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Overview – Four Lakes and a Waterfall!
Today you will be visiting FOUR incredible and iconic lakes in the Estes Park area and a waterfall!
1. Travel to Bear Lake Trailhead
Directions to Bear Lake Trailhead
- Travel on US 36 highway to Bear Lake Road.
- Make a left onto Bear Lake Road
- Travel to the Bear Lake Trailhead (Travel 8 miles on Bear Lake Road from US 36).
- Park in the Bear Lake Trailhead parking lot.
Please note: The 3D maps in this post, and below are NOT FACING NORTH (on purpose!). Repeat: These maps do NOT face North. These maps are shown specifically for those of us who are “map-ically challenged” and need to visually see which way we are hiking. Please refer to the compass at the bottom right of the map below to show where NORTH actually is!
CLICK ON THE MAP BELOW, OR CLICK HERE, AND YOU WILL LINK TO THIS EXACT GOOGLE MAP. You can zoom in on it and take as many screenshots as you would like! If you bring up the map in Google, if you use your mouse and hit CONTROL, then you can MOVE the map to the direction in which you are ACTUALLY HEADED!!!! (Amazing!)
When you click on this, and open the map, you can then click on the link below the blue box on the left and have these directions sent DIRECTLY TO YOUR PHONE!
You can then screenshot those images, so that you can see these directions, and maps, even if you do not have wi-fi as you are hiking!
Finally – look look LOOK! AT THE BOTTOM RIGHT of the map. See that little yellow guy? Click on him when you open up the map on your phone. You can see ACTUAL PICTURES on the blue dots that people have taken. This is a GREAT resource to have. If you look at your map before you go, you can screenshot what the intersections in the trail look like to help you navigate your way, and not get lost!
2. Bear Lake
You really should be able to only hike one way for the Bear Lake Trail Loop Hike, and the signs are clearly marked. When you get to the actual Bear Lake Hike trail head, you will see the huge sign for the Bear Lake Hike to your right. Take it! Walk around in a loop around the Lake and take lots of pics to make family and friends jealous!
This hike is one of the most popular hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. You shouldn’t feel nervous about this hike with kiddos at all. The terrain is easy, and well-traveled. In fact, it’s likely to be jam-packed with lots and lots (and LOTS) of visitors. The best time to go to this place, or really any place in RMNP is early, early, early, (no seriously, even earlier than that) in the morning.
Coolest feature? There are 32 NUMBERED POSTS around the lake that show points of interest and information. You can get a booklet from a dispenser at the beginning of the lake (East Side). Kids will love this. It is the easiest treasure hunt they will ever do, and (bonus!) they will be learning!
Time: 30 minutes
Distance: 0.5 mile loop
One Lake Done!
3. Nymph Lake
When you get back to the start of the Bear Lake Trailhead, you will want to look for some signs. They are clearly marked, and to your right as you come out of the Bear Lake Loop.
Walk all the way to Nymph Lake!
Time: 30 minutes
Distance from Bear Lake Trailhead: 0.5 miles
Total time now: 1 hour
Total distance 1.0 mile
Two lakes done!
4. Dream Lake
You will be at Nymph Lake. Keep walking on the trail, as Nymph Lake is on your left
1.0 mile from Bear Lake Trailhead you will see that the trail branches off to Lake Haiyaha. Don’t take it!
1.1 Reach Dream Lake! Enjoy
Time: 30 minutes
Distance from Bear Lake Trailhead 1.1 miles
Total time now: 1 hour, 30 minutes to 2 hours 30 minutes depending on how long you spend taking pictures, sightseeing, etc.
Total distance 2.1 miles
Three lakes done!
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5. Emerald Lake
Walk another 0.7 miles to Emerald Lake on the same trail! Celebrate!
Time: 30 minutes
Distance from Bear Lake Trailhead: 1.8 miles
Total time now: 2 hours to 3 hours depending on how long you spend taking pictures, sightseeing, etc.
Total distance: 2.8 miles
Four lakes done!
6. Walk Back!
Now you have to turn around and walk back the way you came! Walk all the way back to Bear Lake Trailhead.
Time: 1 hour 30 minutes if you walk very slowly and take in the scenery
Total time now: 3 and a half to 4 and a half hours depending on how long you spend taking pictures, sightseeing, etc.
Total distance: 6.1 miles
7. Alberta Falls
Remember how I said there was a waterfall in this Itinerary for your one day Rocky Mountain National Park Trip? I didn’t lie – here it is!
You have been walking this entire time on the Dream-Emerald Lakes Trail. Just before you get back to the Bear Lake Trailhead, this trail will end.
When it ends, go to the RIGHT. This will be southeast. You will walk along this all the way straight until you get to Alberta Falls!
Enjoy the Waterfall and then come back!
Total distance from the fork in the road above: 1.8 miles round trip.
Total time to get to the waterfall and then back to Bear Lake Trailhead 1 to 1.5 hours depending on how leisurely you are walking!
Total time now for four lakes a waterfall: Approximately 5 to 6 hours. You could do this in less if you really hustled, but isn’t the point to enjoy the scenery and the day?
Four Lakes and Waterfall!
You will have walked approximately 8 miles today, in about 5 or 6 hours. I would give yourself another hour or two. You could stop and eat lunch and enjoy the view, because these views are incredible!
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But wait, there’s more!
Interesting in a doing something fun in the evening in Estes Park? Here are some ideas!
While Stephen King’s visit to The Stanley inspired The Shining, the movie based on the novel wasn’t filmed at the Estes Park hotel. Apparently, Stephen King and his wife stayed the night in room 217 (room 237 in the film), and this inspired him to think of the Overlook Hotel, and ultimately created the ominous setting of his best-selling novel, The Shining. However, while the Shining wasn’t filmed at the Stanley, the Shining mini-series was filmed here, as well as……”Dumb and Dumber!” The restaurant is good, and it’s a really fun setting to just go and get one of their (very strong!) drinks!
Estes Park has an adorable street where a ton of shops, restaurants and drinks can be found. Breweries are a plenty here as well! Check out Estes Park Brewery, Rock Cut Brewing Company, Lumpy Ridge Brewing Company, or the Tavern 1929!
There is one taffy shop that is the best. There, I said it. You can just go ahead and pass by all of the others, because this one is amazing. The Taffy Shop was established in 1935, 83 years ago, so they know what they are doing! You can even have taffy shipped back home to friends and family. It’s so good, you don’t want to miss this.
We hope you had an amazing day, and that this 1 day Itinerary for Rocky Mountain National Park helped you get the most out of your day!
Let us know your thoughts!
Adieu for now!
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