Top Attractions in Rocky Mountain National Park for Families

Top Attractions Rocky Mountain National Park

One of my family’s favorite national parks to visit in North America is the Rocky Mountain National Park, located in Colorado. With majestic peaks, beautiful alpine lakes and wildlife encounters, this national park is one of the best places to travel to in the US. If you’ve wanted to know how to make the best possible trip with young kids, this post will tell you everything you need to know. From easy hikes to more adventurous ones, I will tell you exactly how to spend your time in Rocky Mountain National Park and all the best things to do!

Top Attractions in RMNP for Families

Trail Ridge Road

Source: Rocky Mountain Resorts
Source: Rocky Mountain Resorts

The highest point you can drive on through the park is the Trail Ridge Road. In fact, this is the highest paved road in the entire United States national park system! This scenic drive weaves through the park’s high country, with breathtaking views of mountain peaks, alpine tundra, and wildlife. This road goes through all three mountain ecosystems – montane forests, subalpine and alpine zones. As you drive up, you will see the vegetation and tree line change, along with sprawling views of the Colorado high country. And of course there are miles of trails you can take from this road.

Despite having been to the park four times, we have never driven this road because it’s closed most of the year due to snow. It closes mid to late October and opens up on Memorial Day. You can get information about road conditions on the National Park Service website. This is a great way to see the park with younger kids and it’s definitely one of the top things to do in the park.

Alpine Visitor Center 

Be sure to stop at the highest visitor center in all of the United States parks! The Alpine visitor center is on the Trail Ridge road, a mile away from the highest point. Take a bathroom break here and browse through the gift shop. This popular visitor center also has exhibits on the alpine tundra ecosystem. Again, like trail ridge road, the Alpine Visitor center opens around late May and closes around mid October due to extreme weather in the high altitudes.

Forest Canyon Overlook

Sunset at Forest Canyon Overlook
Source: National Park Service

Forest Canyon Overlook is one of the best viewpoints which you can stop at while driving along Trail Ridge road. At almost 12,000 feet, you will have stunning views of Longs Peak and other mountain lakes. This overlook can get very crowded in peak season so I recommend getting there early in the day. Although it’s an observation platform there’s also a short paved trail you can take strollers and wheelchairs on.

Old Fall River Road 

Old Fall River Road
Source: National Park Service

Here’s an interesting piece of trivia: the Old Fall River road was the first automobile road to be constructed inside the park. It’s a narrow, dirt road with lots of switchbacks and a one-way uphill ride. The road itself is safe but keep in mind there aren’t any guard rails and there are lots of sharp turns. This drive is definitely one of the best ways to be up close with nature!

Beaver Meadows Visitor Center

Beaver Meadows Visitor Center
Source: National Park Service

Beaver Meadows is one of the main visitor centers of Rocky Mountain National Park. We always stop here to pick up some gifts and souvenirs and to talk to park rangers if needed. If you have any questions about the trails or how to even plan your day, I highly recommend chatting with one of the rangers or staff members. They’ll update you on what the trails look like that particular day and if some wildlife has been spotted and where.

Alluvial Fan Hike

Alluvial Fan Hike Rocky Mountain NP

From the miles of hiking trails in the park, let’s chat about some of the best hikes to do with kids. First, I highly recommend doing the Alluvial Fan hike which is a short and easy hike, a total of 0.7 miles round trip. You can take the stroller here up to the base of Horseshoe Falls which is the highlight of this trail. Horseshoe Falls is a beautiful cascade of water flowing through a field of boulders scattered by a massive flood in 1982.

If you’re adventurous you could try scrambling and climbing the big rocks up to the top of the waterfall. My family and I did this twice, the first time with a 4 year old and the second time with our 2 year old. Both my kids loved climbing the big boulders and you just have to be a little careful with slippery rocks, make sure you have good trail shoes on with traction. At some points my husband or I carried my toddler while our 8 year old happily did some rock climbing on his own. Definitely a favorite place of ours in the park, and a great spot to take pictures and let the kids run around and play.

Upper Beaver Meadows Loop

This is considered an easy hike which takes about half an hour to complete. A great kid-friendly hike and you might even see herds of elk and mule deer while you’re there.

Bear Lake Hike

Hiker on trail above Bear Lake in Fall
Source: National Park Service / Karen Daugherty

One of the easier and most popular hikes in RMNP is the Bear Lark hike which is part of the bear lake corridor. This part of the park is home to some great hikes which I’ll talk about individually. Bear Lake Road is approximately a mile away from the Beaver Meadows visitor center and it’s home to Moraine park area, Sprague Lake and so much more.

You can park at the Park and Ride Parking area near Glacier Basin Campground and take the free park shuttle to the trailheads because the parking lot gets super packed during peak season. If you’re lucky (and super early) you can find parking directly in the Bear Lake parking lot and walk straight to the trailhead from there. The Bear Lake loop is a flat trail which is considered easy.

When we last visited in late April the trail was snowed in but we still did the hike with clamp on spikes which we rented from the mountain shop in Estes Park. If you go in the summer, you won’t have to worry about snow or even melting ice.

Nymph lake

Nymph Lake in the Rocky Mountains National Park

After you’re done hiking around Bear Lake, you can continue on to Nymph and Dream lakes. This isn’t the easiest hike but my family and I have done it three times with kids and this time we had our 2 year old with us and the path was snowed in! I highly recommend getting a hiking baby carrier from the town, you can rent one for the day or a few days so you don’t have to carry the toddler the whole way.

A good hiking carrier makes it so easy to walk the trail even though it is a moderately challenging route. The trail is narrow and can get pretty steep but I promise you you will love the adventure!

My 8 year old did this without difficulty and it’s a short half mile hike up to the first stop, Nymph lake. Definitely take breaks on your way because even half a mile can be challenging if you’re not used to the elevation.

Dream Lake

Continue walking on the same trail as Nymph lake and you will be on the path to Dream lake. Again. This is considered a moderate hike but so many families do it with kids. I highly recommend doing this in summer months because you won’t need crampons or micro spikes for your shoes because of snow/ice. From the beginning of the Nymph lake trail, this hike is a round trip of 2.2 miles. You will be on it for about an hour or two depending on how many breaks you take.

With 2 kids we spent about an hour and a half on this trail but on our second trip we had to turn back after doing 3/4 of the hike because of a snowstorm. I promise you the hike up to Dream lake is so worth it. Take lots of snacks and water with you so you can enjoy a picnic at the lake and of course, the breathtaking views. I’m not going to recommend continuing on to Emerald lake from Dream lake because it might get too challenging with young kids, but if the kiddos are up for it, then it’s a fantastic trek as well.

Alberta Falls

Fun Things to do in RMNP with Family - Alberta Falls

Another moderately challenging hike to do with your family is Alberta Falls which starts again at the same bear lake trailhead. I would not recommend doing all these hikes in the same day, you’re gonna be exhausted! Instead, Do Bear Lake, Nymph, and Dream on one day and then come back for Alberta Falls the next day.

It’s almost a 2 mile round trip and takes about an hour and a half to complete with kids. The scenic 30 foot waterfall cascades down a narrow gorge on Glacier lake. The same trail leads up to Mills lake but that’s very challenging with kids.

Tip: When the shuttles are running, I recommend starting this hike at bear lake trailhead, then diverting towards glacier gorge trailhead on the way back down from Alberta falls for an easier, mostly downhill trek. Grab the shuttle back to the park and ride from the glacier gorge trailhead!

Sprague Lake 

Sprague Lake - Family Friendly Hike

And now to one of the easiest and most relaxing strolls in Rocky Mountain National Park – Sprague Lake. This is one of those classic walks in the bear lake corridor that should be on everyone’s list. It’s very stroller and wheelchair friendly and it’s just a short loop, less than a mile long. There are designated picnic tables around Sprague Lake – one of the many picnic areas in the park. There are accessible toilets and grills that you can use as well.

If you’re staying at an airbnb I would totally bring a big lunch here and spend some time with the kids because it’s such a great place to explore. There are streams, a boardwalk and your kids will love watching the ducks, geese and even occasional moose! Oh and you can get breathtaking views of the continental divide from this path as well!

Horseshoe Park

Horse Shoe Falls RMNP with Kids

Horseshoe Park is a low-land meadow with a collection of small lakes and great views. We have always stopped here for wildlife viewing. While you’re driving through here you might notice cars parked on the side of the road and that usually means there are some sort of animals out and about. My kids and I had binoculars and we got close looks at lots of elk and even glimpsed a family of moose as well! Remember to always stay a safe distance away, at least 25 yards, from wildlife (100 yards from bears and wolves!) and not to make sudden sounds or movements.

Sheep Lakes 

Sheep lakes is another attraction which doesn’t involve hiking. It’s a beautiful valley and has gorgeous views of Horseshoe Park. And as the name suggests, it’s popular for viewing bighorn sheep that come down the mountains to lick the mud for nutrients.

Coyote Valley Trail 

Now this might be something to add to your list if you’re coming from the other side of the park from the towns of Grand Lake instead of Estes Park, or if you’re driving the length of the Trail Ridge Road. Located on the west side of RMNP, Coyote Valley trail is an easy, family friendly hike which is accessible and has no elevation change. There are several picnic tables available here too so you could totally make a day trip out of this trail.

Holzwarth Historic Site

While you’re on the other side of the park, near the Grand Lake entrance, you should definitely visit the Holzworth Historic Site. During the summer months the historic buildings and cabins are open and staffed every day until 2:30PM. You can still visit the grounds at any time during the day. This was the first historic inn that was active in the 1920’s and you can still see the cabins today!

Moraine Park Discovery Center 

Horse Shoe Falls RMNP with Kids

Moraine Park Discovery center, one of the five visitor centers, is across a beautiful flat section of the park and it’s close to the Beaver Meadows entrance. This is home to natural history exhibits, there’s a small gift shop and a short nature trail with views of Moraine Park. This is another great spot for experiencing wildlife encounters while you’re exploring the park.

Sledding in Hidden Valley

If you’re going in the cooler months or even early to late Spring, you can actually go sledding in this area of the park called Hidden Valley. We rented a sled from the mountain shop in town and drove up to the Hidden Valley parking lot. This is the only place in the park where sledding is allowed but it isn’t a staffed area of the park during the colder months. You have to bring your own equipment and drag it up the short hill yourself. Totally worth it if you’ve never gone sledding before!

Horseback riding

Horseback riding tours are a good option if you have more time to explore. Glacier Creek Stables is the only stable inside the park and they’re run by a company called Hi Country Stables. They offer tours for kids 6+ and have different levels of difficulty to choose from. Starting from an easy trail for beginners and kids under 14, they go up to advanced trails for experienced riders.

For the Thrill Seekers

Things to do in the Rocky Mountains

The above top attractions are all family friendly activities that you can do with young kids and older parents as well. I wanted to include some other more adventurous hikes you could do if you’re up for it.

Lake Haiyaha

Accessible via the Bear Lake trailhead, once you hit Dream Lake, you can follow signs to continue on to beautiful Lake Haiyaha. This is a moderately steeper trek up the mountain, but the jaw dropping views along the way and the beautiful subalpine lake surrounded by massive boulders at the end are more than worth it. Fun Fact: Lake Haiyaha, usually a distinct and striking blue color, recently turned milky sea green due to a landslide!

Chasm Falls

Another challenging hike is this 4.7 mile round trip trail to Chasm Falls. This is a popular area for cross country skiing, snow shoeing and of course, hiking. This follows the same trailhead as Alluvial Fan past Horseshoe Falls.

Sky Pond

If sheer cliffs are your thing, you need to hike to Sky Pond via Glacier Gorge Trailhead. This is past Alberta Falls which I talked about in the beginning and you’ll pass tons of beautiful alpine lakes along the way. The path is rocky and rugged and the trail gets faint in some places so take your time if you add this tough one to your list.


Everything you need to know about Rocky Mountain National Park

What is the best month to visit Rocky Mountain National Park

While Rocky Mountain National Park is open year-round, the best time to visit depends on your interests. Summer is the most popular time to visit, with mild temperatures and wildflowers in bloom. Fall is another great time to visit, as the park’s aspen trees turn vibrant shades of gold and orange. I personally love fall and summer. Winter offers a completely different experience, with opportunities for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and more adventurous hiking. I wouldn’t recommend going in winter with kids because you won’t be able to do most of the hikes.

How many days do you need in Rocky Mountain National Park?

You need three full days to properly explore the park – that would be ideal. However, we have done day trips to the park as well on multiple occasions. If you’re going to Colorado for a trip, I’d highly suggest planning for at least a few days for the park.

What is the timed entry permit?

In order to limit the number of visitors, you have to get a timed entry permit during the peak summer months to mid-October. I recommend getting the Timed Entry permit plus bear lake road pass. You have to purchase it online well in advance of your trip so they don’t run out. If you don’t buy the permit before your trip they do offer some permits on a daily basis at the park itself but you have to be really early to arrive! Additionally, you will need to purchase a day pass for entering the park, whatever time of year you visit.

Top Attractions in Rocky Mountain National Park for Families

What to Pack for The Trip

I’ve got my luggage down to a T now with so many trips to this national park. I recommend taking one medium to large suitcase for a family of 4. Definitely use compression packing cubes to get the most of your luggage space. The following are my packing essentials:

  • One toiletries bag for the family, minimal skincare/makeup but DON’T forget sunscreen for the face and body!
  • Two pairs of shoes per person, one trail shoes (I’ll link my families favorites below), and one walking sandals or flip flops that you can dress up or down
  • T-shirts and comfortable pants/leggings for hikes
  • One light packable jacket (highly recommend this one, I’ve used it in all sorts of crazy temps), yes even in summer months it can get cold up in the mountains
  • Good sweat wicking socks
  • A water bladder for hikes or lightweight reusable water bottles (plan for at least 40oz per adult for a half day) I would buy water locally and keep it in your car, refilling bottles as needed
  • Sunglasses/hat
  • Dry snacks like trail mix, dried fruit, cookies, chips, protein bars. Buy locally don’t pack from home!
  • Lightweight backpacks that you can take while hiking (one person should carry a backpack for water and snacks and any other essentials you might want with you) the other person can just throw on a belt bag so your hands are free at all times
  • Obviously pack all your medication and carry some ibuprofen as well if you get sore from all the hiking!

my favorites

Shop my list of travel essentials.

Where to Eat During Your Stay

Restaurants to Try in the Rocky Mountains

We had some really amazing food during our trip and here are some of the spots we highly recommend:


  • Casa Colina: Really good breakfast tacos
  • Mountain Home Cafe: No frills diner type cafe with regular breakfast fare and big plates. Very kid friendly
  • The Egg of Estes: Get a skillet here! traditional breakfast fare
  • Notchtop Bakery and Cafe: Haven’t been but it was on our list
  • Bird’s Nest: Scratch bakery (didn’t love the croissants here) but the sandwiches were great


  • The Rock Inn Mountain Tavern: Get the stroganoff and the steak! Trout was really good too. Live music, kid-friendly and total mountain cabin vibes.
  • Casa Colina: Mexican inspired menu, small and intimate but really great food. Get the tacos and the salads were great too!
  • Bird and Jim: Nicer sit down restaurant, pricey but great food. Didn’t go here but was on our list. They also pack picnics for your hikes if you ask in advance.
  • The Post Chicken: Really really good fried chicken and so many other options too! This is near the Stanley hotel.

More Pictures from Our RMNP Trip

Where to Stay

If you want to plan the entire Rocky Mountain National Park trip, you have to check out this post for my top recommendations for where to stay. I go into detail about where we stayed as well as other accommodation options:

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