Itinerary: 1 Day in Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park. There's almost no experience more grand. From sweeping mountainous views to intricate flora that you have to look closely to find, there is almost limitless awe to be found within the park's 416 square miles. So what do you do if you only have one day to experience the breathtaking beauty?
Know before you go: Be sure to check Rocky Mountain National Park’s current reservation requirements and make your reservation at Recreation.gov.
Get an early start and fuel up at one of Grand Lake's best breakfast nooks before heading into the park.
Take a five minute drive from the town of Grand Lake up Trail Ridge Road to get to the Kawuneeche Visitor Center. Watch a 20 minute film about Rocky Mountain National Park to get yourself better acquainted with the history and splendor of this 100-year-old national park, get your bearings with the center's three- dimensional park map, and take in the unbeatable views from this beautiful center.
Pick up maps and descriptive tapes from the center before embarking on a drive up Trail Ridge Road. The Kawuneeche Visitor Center is open year round from 8:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.
Continue driving north into Rocky Mountain National Park via Trial Ridge Road, and keep an eye out for some magnificent view points along the way. If you choose to drive the full length of this scenic pass through to Estes Park, the drive will take approximately 1.5 to 2 hours. Alternately, you can stop along the way to take a stroll along a few miles of the approximately 355 miles of maintained hiking trails in the park, turning around at any point to head back toward Grand Lake.
Whatever you choose, keep your eyes open for the variety of wildlife the park has to offer. With about 60 types of mammals, 280 species of birds, and 900 types of plants, you're bound to see something new and exciting in the park.
Take your trip full circle and head back on Trail Ridge Road toward Grand Lake. Pack a lunch to have a relaxing picnic at your favorite scenic overlook along the way. The Alpine Visitor Center is a great place to stop to eat your lunch and learn a bit more about the tundra that makes up one third of Rocky Mountain National Park.
When you're almost back to town, stop at the Shadow Mountain Lookout Trailhead. The parking lot for this trailhead is located to the south between Grand Lake and Shadow Mountain Lake at 40°14'25.0"N 105°49'31.8"W.
The Shadow Mountain Lookout Trail is a total of 10.2 miles of moderate hiking, and the panoramic views from the tower are worth the lengthy trek. Allow about two hours to hike up and an hour and a half to hike down from the lookout. Check to make sure the tower is open and that you aren't hiking back after sunset depending on the season.
Head back into town for a well-deserved feast at one of Grand Lake's top dining locations, and call it a day.
With a day full of scenic views, close wildlife encounters, and enriching historical experiences, it's no wonder visitors keep coming back again and again. When you return, check out our 2-day itinerary or our week-long itinerary to keep the grand adventure going a little bit longer.