Fall on the West Side of Rocky Mountain National Park

A group of wooden cabins on a hillside.

Rocky Mountain National Park is a remarkable place year round, but its beauty is exceptionally radiant in the fall months. From August through October (always weather-dependant in unpredictable Colorado), the changing of the season becomes visually apparent as the colors transition in the aspen trees and some of the 900 other plant species that thrive in the Park.

Another sight and sound of nature is the annual elk bugling that occurs during the same months and will sometimes go all the way into November. As the estimated 600-800 elk that call Rocky Mountain National Park home begin their mating season, the sights and sounds of these majestic creatures are not something you'll want to miss.

You're going to want to know where the best places are to experience everything the fall season has to offer in Rocky Mountain National Park. Don't miss a thing:

Fall Foliage

As greens turn to yellow, orange, and red all over the Park, it can be hard to determine where you'll catch the most spectacular views that are only around for a limited time. Here are a few of our favorite spots for viewing the fall foliage:

By Car:

Trail Ridge Road is the highest continuous auto road in the country, and meanders elegantly from Grand Lake to Estes Park as it takes its travelers over the Continental Divide. On this 1.5 – 2 hour drive, you'll be able to see the foliage at multiple altitudes as you ascend and descend, ensuring you get the most variety of plants and colors.

On Foot:

The moderately challenging hike to Lulu City – the abandoned mining town in Rocky Mountain National Park – is a 7.4 mile round trip hike with a 350' gain that parallels the Colorado River. The length and height of this hike ensures you'll see plenty of foliage in the open meadows with the bonus of trying to spot some of the remaining log cabins from the old days. Grab more detailed directions from the National Park Service.

Elk Bugles

Elk roam all over Rocky Mountain National Park, but our favorite views of elk in the fall season happen on the west side. Check out these recommended spots:

Elk descend from the high country to the meadows of the park for breeding season. The Kawuneeche Valley, located on the western side of the park, is a marshy valley near the headwaters of the Colorado River. You'll find plenty of elk here and be able to view them from the safety of your vehicle.

Two of the best spots in the Kawuneeche Valley are the Holzwarth Meadow and the Harbison Meadow.

Directions to the Holzwarth Meadow:

Take U.S. Route 34 seven miles north of the Grand Lake Entrance Station.

Directions to Harbison Meadow:

Take U.S. Route 34 one mile north from the Kawuneeche Visitor Center and look for parking at the Harbison Meadows Picnic Site.

Viewing Tips:

Here's some tips to make sure that your elk viewing this season is safe as possible.

  • Obey all signs posted in closed areas as they may be protecting wildlife (and you from it!)
  • Turn off car lights and engine immediately (do not block traffic)
  • Be as quiet as possible
  • Always consult Rangers and Visitor Centers for safety tips in your area

Please read the National Park Service's Tips to make sure you and yours have a fun and safe fall in Rocky Mountain National Park.