Located just about two hours northwest of Denver, Colorado, you’ll discover Rocky Mountain National Park, one America’s most majestic outdoor treasures. Although it is known for beautiful hiking trails that weave through colorful wildflower patches and wild alpine tundra, the park is also an excellent destination for those who are just taking scenic drives between parking lots. After all, when exploring Rocky Mountain National Park with kids, it’s more important than ever to have some pavement if you’re still pushing some of your party around in strollers.
If you’re heading up a family, you probably already know you can’t just show up at the park and expect a herd of friendly bighorn sheep to keep an eye on the kids while you and the other adults explore the park’s many ecosystems. Similarly, if you’re a parent with young kids, you’ve already got enough on your plate without everything that goes into planning round trips to national parks. This being the case, we’ve devised the following guide to make your next family trip to the park one for the books.
Visiting Rocky Mountain National Park With Kids
Junior Ranger Program
Every national park in the NPS system has park rangers who implement the Junior Ranger Program with resources like Junior Ranger Activity Books. As home to the Junior Ranger Headquarters, Rocky Mountain takes the program a step further. Located on the east side of the park in the Hidden Valley area, the Junior Ranger Headquarters is a great place for some kid-friendly fun.
The Junior Ranger Headquarters is open late May to August during normal business hours. It hosts a number of pop-ups to help kids complete their activity books and become Junior Rangers. While it doesn’t cost anything, it’s not a babysitting service, so you can’t just drop your kids off and go explore the continental divide on your own. Parents and guardians must be present.
However, once your children become Junior Rangers, maybe they can start earning some money and helping pay for these family-friendly excursions.
How to Plan Rocky National Park with Kids
When visiting Rocky Mountain National Park on family vacations, your approach will depend on a number of variables. The most decisive of these are park entrances and facilities such as visitor centers. Whether you’re planning a simple day trip or a whole weekend getaway full of family-friendly hikes, the following information will help you plan the best family trip imaginable, especially if you’re visiting RMNP for the first time.
- Fall River Entrance Station: Situated on the west side of the park, this entrance leads to some of RMNP’s most popular destinations by way of US-34. Here you’ll find the Fall River Visitor Center, the Aspenglen Campground, and several well-trod trailheads. It is the best way to go if you want to take the one way Old Fall River Road to the Alpine Visitor Center between July and September. Once there, you can continue your journey west on Trail Ridge Road.
- Beaver Meadows Entrance Station: Just like the Fall River entrance, the Beaver Meadows entrance is located on the west side of the park and leads visitors to some of the busiest areas RMNP has to offer. Attractions include family favorite facilities such as Moraine Park Discovery Center and Beaver Meadows Visitor Center, as well as beautiful bodies of water like Cub Lake, Bear Lake, Sprague Lake, Dream Lake, Nymph Lake… the list goes on. This is also the best way to go if you’re heading to either of the park’s stables for horseback riding excursions.
- Grand Lake Entrance Station: Located on the east side of the park, the Grand Lakes entrance area is much more remote than the rest of RMNP. It brings visitors to the Kawuneeche Visitor Center via the US-34 and is the easiest way to reach the Timber Creek Campground. Several popular destinations line the way, including the Coyote Valley trailhead and the Holzwarth Historic Site.
- Wild Basin Entrance Station: This entrance station is a little strange because it only dips into the park momentarily to give visitors access to the Wild Basin trailhead area. As such, it isn’t the most exciting destination for families. However, if you’re coming up to the park from the south, it’s a good place to stop for picnics and/or use the restroom. It’s right off Highway 7, and as you continue north to more popping park areas, you can drop in on spots like Lily Lake. Similarly, it’s the easiest way to reach the Longs Peak tent-only campground if you’re driving up from the south.
Best Accommodations For Family Vacations
While you might consider staying at the famous Stanley Hotel that inspired Stephen King’s Overlook in the novel “The Shining,” just know that you’re whipping up some real nightmare batter if your kids have ever somehow seen the movie. That being said, there are a load of other hotels to choose from in both the Estes Park and Grand Lake areas right outside the park entrances. Particularly popular is the YMCA of the Rockies, which has cabins and hosts a range of outdoor activities.
Of course, there’s also a handful of tent and RV friendly campgrounds throughout the park you can choose from. Reservable destinations include the Aspenglen, Glacier Basin, and Moraine Park campgrounds, which you can check for availability at recreation.gov. Where first-come, first-served grounds are concerned, you can choose from either Longs Peak or Timber Creek, although these are obviously a gamble in such a popular park.
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