Are you looking for a list of the best things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park with kids?
Rocky Mountain National Park is known for its epic scenery, beautiful lakes, and exciting wildlife sightings that are unique to its terrain – but what is there to do for kids?
Families love exploring this natural playground by means of family-friendly hikes, scenic drives, and other fun-filled outdoor activities.
In this post, I’ll cover all of the best things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park with kids and provide a sample itinerary on how to spend one day in Rocky Mountain National Park if you’re short on time.
This is a HUGE guide including exclusive tips and photos you absolutely don’t want to miss if you’re visiting Rocky Mountain National Park with kids!
*Important: This article has been updated with information regarding the required Timed Entry Permit Reservations for 2023!
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Rocky Mountain National Park With Kids
Located in Northeast Colorado, a family trip to Rocky Mountain National Park is a US bucket list destination for many families.
Rocky Mountain National Park spans over 265,000 acres of pristine wilderness making it one of the largest national parks in the United States.
With over 4.5 million visitors every year, Rocky Mountain is also one of the most visited parks within the National Park System.
When visiting Rocky Mountain National Park with kids, it’s important to first stop at one of the park’s 4 visitor centers to get a park map, get an up-to-date weather update, and check on the park’s road conditions and possible closures.
We love starting off our visit at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center and then moving on from there.
As the largest visitor center in the park, it is open every single day from 9:00 AM -4:00 PM and offers a 20-minute introductory video that is totally worth watching.
Oh, and psst…we love visiting Rocky Mountain National Park with kids so much that we’ve written several other guides to help you plan your trip:
- The Ultimate Estes Park Family Vacation Itinerary
- Best Things to Do in Estes Park and RMNP in Winter
- 29 Exciting Things to Do in Estes Park with Kids
- 15 Easy Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park Reservations
Visitation to Rocky Mountain National Park has surged within the last decade and has led to severe crowding at many park destinations.
In order to control the crowd level and improve visitor experience, a timed entry permit reservation will be required to enter either or both Bear Lake Corridor and ‘the rest of the park’ when visiting from May 26 through October 22, 2023.
It is VERY important to visit the National Park Service website to determine when you can make reservations for your desired dates as it varies per month and date.
Timed Entry Permit Reservations are available in advance online at Recreation.gov and require a $2 processing fee.
They are not available for purchase at the park.
*Mark your calendars and set a reminder alarm to book accordingly!
Tips for Visiting Rocky Mountain National Park with Kids
If you’re thinking of visiting Rocky Mountain National Park with kids, it’s important to understand the general layout and to know what there is to do there before your arrival.
Though Rocky Mountain National Park is a popular tourist destination, knowing the best things to do for kids will make your family trip less stressful as well as ensure that the trip appeals to, and is safe, for all ages in your family.
An article loved and read by many, we also think it’s essential that you read our complete 7-Day Rocky Mountain National Park vacation itinerary.
This article includes a step-by-step 1 – 7 day family-friendly itinerary, as well as important tips on where to stay and how to get around that are essential to know and understand before you go.
Additional tips for visiting Rocky Mountain National Park with kids:
- Make timed entry permit reservations as soon as you’re able.
- Have a thought-out plan and research kid-friendly hikes ahead of time as there is limited (often nonexistent) Wi-Fi in the park.
- Start your hikes early in the day to best avoid crowds.
- Check the weather each day before heading out. Afternoon thundershowers are common so always be sure to pack lightweight rain gear.
- Also, there are big temperature changes when going from lower to higher elevations, so always plack layers.
- Prepare for a lot of walking and be sure that everyone wears comfortable and supportive walking shoes or boots.
- Consider the limited food options within the park. Be sure to plan ahead by packing a reliable cooler filled with road trip meals and snacks.
- Don’t forget to bring a pair of travel binoculars. Spotting wildlife isn’t as easy and close-up as in some other National Parks, and you obviously want to keep a safe distance, especially when spotting bears.
- Remind your kids not to pick wildflowers or plants, or get too close to the wildlife.
Best Time to Visit Rocky Mountain National Park With Kids
There are plenty of activities to do in Rocky Mountain National Park year-round!
Do note, however, that some activities are seasonal to either winter or summer, so you’ll need to plan ahead.
The best time to visit Rocky Mountain National Park with kids is from June to September when the snow is (mostly) melted and there are more accessible hikes available to children, as well as summer-exclusive programs.
This is also when seasonal family-friendly activities like horseback riding and river rafting are available.
Along with the summer months offering ideal weather conditions and full accessibility, this is also when the park is the most crowded, however.
Unless you’re a very early riser it may be difficult to get immediate parking at popular overlooks or to get to the popular Bear Lake area of the park until the end of the day.
With that said, summer offers plenty of daylight so you can pack in a lot of activities in the park.
Late September and early October are also great times to visit Rocky Mountain National Park with kids as there are thinner crowds, stunning fall foliage, and the weather is usually still favorable.
If you’d rather experience RMNP in relative isolation and enjoy its many winter activities including skiing and snowshoeing, visit between the months of October and May.
Keep in mind that in the winter, several roads, including the popular Trail Ridge Road, are closed due to snow accumulation and adverse weather conditions.
The bottom line is that whether there’s sunshine or snow, the park is open to the public 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, although accessibility varies per month.
Fun Things to Do in Rocky Mountain National Park With Kids
With plenty of opportunities for education and exploration, family-friendly hikes, and several outdoor adventures, families marvel at the variety of family-friendly things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park.
You must be very selective and do your research ahead of time when it comes to choosing kid-friendly activities in Rocky Mountain National Park, however, if you want it to be enjoyable.
The last thing you want is to find yourselves on a hiking trail or rafting excursion (for instance), that is too difficult, too scary, or too long for the ages and abilities of your family.
Here’s our list of fun things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park with kids:
1. Go hiking
The most popular thing to do in Rocky Mountain National Park with kids is to go hiking!
From difficult and strenuous, to flat and family-friendly hikes, this park has it all.
All throughout the park, you’ll find easy access to hiking trails and some truly spectacular views as you reach higher elevations.
Some of the easy hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park to do with children are the Lily Lake Loop (.8 mile), Bear Lake Loop (.8 mile), and Alluvial Fan (.2 mile) because they’re low in difficulty and high in beauty!
If you’re in the mood to go chasing waterfalls, Adam Falls and Alberta Falls are good options.
And finally, The Loch and Alpine Ridge Trail are awesome for tweens and teens.
Plan and pack ahead by checking out our favorite gear and family hiking essentials!
Additional planning tip: A little over a third of the park is considered alpine tundra, which makes for strong winds and lower temperatures.
Check the difficulty of your hike and plan and pack accordingly.
2. Enjoy a scenic drive
A gorgeous drive is one of my favorite family activities when traveling, and the Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the best places to enjoy one!
There are plenty of amazing views to see in the park including those from the overlooks and trails located on Rocky Mountain National Park’s two famous scenic drives: Trail Ridge Road and Old Fall River Road.
Trail Ridge Road is a paved highway that spans 48 miles from Estes Park to Grand Lake. The highest point of this drive is 12,183 feet providing amazing panoramic views of the mountain range.
Old Fall River Road, on the other hand, is a 9.4-mile gravel, one-way road that leads cars along the steep slope of Mount Chapin’s south face past waterfalls, pine forests, and Fall River Pass.
Both of these scenic drives are a perfect addition to any Rocky Mountain National Park family itinerary.
Additional planning tip: These roads close during the winter months due to extreme road conditions. You can check road conditions and openings here.
3. Explore the lakes
One of the very best things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park with kids is to explore the beauty of its many natural, freshwater lakes.
Rocky Mountain National Park’s lakes make for wonderful hikes, amazing photo ops, and the perfect place to stop for a waterfront picnic.
If you’re thinking of exploring some of the gorgeous lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park, you should consider:
- Grand Lake
- Emerald Lake
- Nymph Lake
- Lily Lake
- Sprague Lake
- Bear Lake
Note that swimming in Bear Lake is not allowed.
Also, Emerald Lake is fed by snowmelt and is way too cold to swim in, even in the hottest summer months.
Please note that some of these lakes are more easily accessible than others.
Bear Lake, Lily Lake, and Sprague Lake are the most accessible options for families. More accessibility information is available here.
Additional planning tip: Consider visiting Lake Estes as one of the best things to do in Estes Park, Colorado which is only 5 miles from the park.
Here you can rent kayaks, paddleboards, and pontoons.
4. Become a Junior Ranger
The Junior Ranger Program is a program sponsored by the National Park Service to help spark fun, curiosity, and learning among kids in regard to protecting National Parks.
If interested, kids complete a series of activities during their park visit, share their answers with a park ranger, and receive an official Junior Ranger patch and Junior Ranger certificate.
Junior Rangers are typically between the ages of 5 to 13, although people of all ages can participate.
Kids can also enjoy free activities and pop-up courses put on by the Junior Ranger Headquarters from late May until the end of August.
During this time, park rangers will take kids on educational adventures, including scavenger hunts and other fun activities.
5. Go fly fishing or ice fishing
With an abundance of streams and lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park, there are plenty of opportunities for fishing!
In fact, if you’re looking for a fun outdoor activity suitable for all ages, fishing is one of my favorite things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park with kids!
Depending on the time of year when you visit, there are options within the park for both fly fishing and ice fishing.
Read up on where to rent gear, as well as find the best places to go fishing in Rocky Mountain National Park here.
6. Camp under the stars
Why not get the most out of your experience by camping under the stars, right in the park?
While you can’t exactly set up anywhere, there are several campsites available within the park.
Some sites are even open year-round.
Standard sites are $35 a month during the summer season, with reservable and first-come-first-serve options.
If you’re visiting in the off-season, you can take advantage of their winter campsites at the Moraine Park Campground for $30 a night.
You can find more information on campsites in the park here.
6. Take in the wildlife
There is so much amazing wildlife to explore in Rocky Mountain National Park making wildlife spotting one of the most popular pastimes in the park.
600-800 elk, over 350 bighorn sheep, numerous mule deer, and a small population of moose call the park home.
You might also spot black bears, coyotes, and yellow-bellied marmots.
Whenever there is a spotting of larger animals, traffic typically comes to a halt as visitors stop to take photos and admire them.
7. Visit the Moraine Park Discovery Center
If you’re interested in knowing more about the local wildlife and history of the park, take a visit to the Moraine Park Discovery Center.
Kids will enjoy looking at the gorgeous displays while learning about the park along the way.
This center also offers ranger-led discovery hikes that are perfect for a first visit to the park.
At the end of your visit, make sure to stop by the gift shop to pick up some fun souvenirs as little memories of your trip.
8. Go rock climbing
If you’re traveling with older children, you can enjoy a beginner’s rock climbing camp through the Kent Mountain Adventure Center.
While this experience is limited to kids ages 12-17, adults can join in with a course of their own!
This is a great way to experience a bit of adventure in the mountains while also bonding as a family over a newly learned skill.
10. Take a tour or attend a ranger-led program
Guided tours and ranger-led programs are always worthwhile to gain local knowledge and view the park in ways you’ve never imagined.
You can take a tour with the Rocky Mountain Conservancy to learn about important environmental conservation efforts throughout the park or work with an independent company to arrange photography tours, hiking tours, Alpine Visitor Center tours, etc.
11. Drop by a Visitor Center
Need some more information on the park?
Drop by a Rocky Mountain National Park visitor center to learn about the park, as well as purchase souvenirs, use the restrooms, and gain access to a park map.
Visitor centers can give you up-to-date information on hiking trails, park conditions, seasonal activities, and more.
They can also offer invaluable local advice to help make your family trip one to remember.
Visit the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center upon entering the park, as well as the Alpine Visitor Center located at the peak of Trail Ridge Road.
12. Journey to Milner Pass (the Continental Divide!)
As far as bucket list activities to do in Rocky Mountain National Park with kids, viewing the continental divide is surely up there!
This divide separates the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, along with some awe-striking views of the Rocky Mountains.
You can hike to this area or experience it by driving Trail Ridge Road.
13. Go skiing or snowshoeing
Rocky Mountain National Park becomes a winter wonderland in the colder months, and many guests choose to explore the great outdoors by way of cross-country skiing or snowshoeing.
Whether opting for a ranger-led snowshoe walk or venturing out on your own, snowshoes can be rented in the nearby towns of Grand Lake or Estes Park.
The same goes for cross-country skiing.
There are no winter equipment rentals available within park boundaries, but there are plenty of outfitters in surrounding towns.
Additional planning tip: If visiting nearby Estes Park, Colorado, I recommend the YMCA of the Rockies for family-friendly skiing.
Their Snow Mountain Ranch Nordic Center has skiing options for all ages with 120k of terrain!
They also have pet-friendly trails and snowshoeing.
14. Try snow tubing
Hidden Valley was once a skiing area located in Rocky Mountain National Park, though it was closed to skiing in the 90s.
The spirit of winter adventures remains, however, at the bottom of the old bunny hill!
Located 7 miles from the Beaver Meadows Entrance and the Fall River Entrance on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park, kids can enjoy hours of snowy fun tubing, sledding, or making snow sculptures.
Additional planning tip: Snow tubes and sleds are not available for rent on-site.
Come prepared by renting your equipment from the Estes Park Mountain Shop.
15. Go horseback riding
Horseback riding is such a fun way to enjoy Rocky Mountain National Park with kids!
We did this ourselves and highly recommend it!
Personally-owned horses, mules, ponies, llamas, and burros are allowed on park trails if you yourself would like to bring your own animals along.
There are also two stables located within the park (Glacier Creek Stables and Moraine Park Stables) as well as many stables outside the park that offer guided horseback rides.
Find contact information for the various stables in the area here.
How to Spend One Day in Rocky Mountain National Park
If you’re short on time and only have one day in Rocky Mountain National Park, I recommend focusing on exploring Bear Lake and Trail Ridge Road.
As one of the best scenic drives in the country, Trail Ridge Road is truly the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park and is a must-do when visiting there.
- Get to Bear Lake by 7:30 AM as parking there fills up fast. If you’re not early enough, plan to take the Park N Ride free shuttle.
- Hike Bear Lake Loop: <1 mile long, paved, takes 30 minutes to complete.
- View Alberta Falls via Sky Pond Trailhead: the most popular waterfall in the park, a paved, 2-mile hike round trip that takes 1 hr. and 30 minutes to complete.
- From Bear Lake Road, turn left into Hwy 36 and continue on Trail Ridge Road (keep your eyes out for Bighorn sheep and elk).
Trail Ridge Road
- Travel along the 42-mile-long Trail Ridge Road stopping at the following popular overlooks:
- Rainbow Curve Overlook
- Forest Canyon Overlook (3 miles from Rainbow Curve)
- Lava Cliffs
- Gore Range Overlook
Alpine Visitor Center
- Stop at the Alpine Visitor Center, which is the highest visitor center in the entire National Park System.
- Admire the views, visit the gift shop, use the restrooms, and grab a bit to eat at the cafe’.
- Hike up Alpine Ridge Trail: <.5 miles, very steep with several steps, breathtaking views.
- After visiting the Alpine Visitor Center, continue on 23 more miles to Grand Lake.
- When in Grand Lake, visit Holzwarth Historic Site.
Final Thoughts on Things to Do in Rocky Mountain National Park With Kids
Family vacations should be fun for all!
That’s why the adventurous spirit of Rocky Mountain National Park is a no-brainer.
There’s nothing more ageless than the great outdoors.
With kid-friendly activities that adults will love, this outdoor vacation is going to be a hit.
So get planning and have some fun!
On a National Park kick?
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*Before leaving, be sure to check our Travel Resources Page to find exclusive travel discounts and to book hotels, rental cars, and guided tours.*