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  • Writer's pictureMick McMurray

8 Days Exploring Rocky Mountain National Park

Updated: Nov 16

Fall color at Bear Lake with reflections
Bear Lake

Visiting Rocky Mountain National Park during the fall season is a breathtaking experience that shouldn't be missed. The park is home to a large population of elk, and the fall season is when the elk rut occurs. During this time, we witnessed the magnificent display of male elk competing for the attention of female elk, with their impressive antlers and distinct vocalizations. In addition to the elk rut, the hiking trails in the park were especially beautiful during the fall season, with the changing colors of the leaves creating a stunning backdrop for any hike. Bear Lake was gorgeous and the drive over the Continental Divide to the other side of the park was spectacular. We took advantage of the cooler temperatures and had a great time in the park. Remember that it is a timed entry park. We'll talk about that later.

Rocky Mountain NP Rocky Mountain NP

Hiking Guide Trail Map

Fall in Rocky Mountain National Park is really popular due to the annual elk rut so the only place we could find in Estes Park with hook-ups was at Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park.

We weren’t sure how this was going to work out but we had a good time in the campground when we weren’t in the National Park. We stayed here for 8 days and enjoyed our time here both in the campground and the town of Estes Park as well as the National Park.

Us with Yogi Bear at Jellystone park
Jellystone Park

The Park uses the timed entry permits system and not being familiar with the park we got 5 permits for Park Access + Bear Lake Road Corridor and 2 for the Park Access that does not include the Bear Lake Road Corridor. You can get information on the permits here.

We found that the Bear Lake Road Corridor was the best choice for us because the best elk rut was down Moraine Park Road in Moraine Meadows off Bear Lake Road. The elk were more active in the morning twilight and for a couple of hours after sunrise. It was almost magical right at sunrise when the low angle of the sun turned the grass in the meadow a golden orange.

For the camera and setup I use for wildlife photos see Photo Equipment

During our visit to Rocky Mountain National Park in the fall, we discovered that the Bear Lake Road Corridor offered the most stunning display of autumn foliage on that side of the park. Bear Lake itself was simply breathtaking, and the surrounding area had an abundance of hiking trails that we thoroughly enjoyed. Our hikes to Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, and Emerald Lake were particularly memorable, with the changing colors of the leaves providing a picturesque backdrop. One morning, we woke up early to catch the sunrise at Sprague, and the experience was nothing short of spectacular. We also highly recommend catching the sunrise at Bear Lake - it's an experience you won't want to miss.

During our trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, we were only able to secure permits for Bear Lake on certain days. On the days when we didn't have permits, we took the opportunity to explore other areas of the park. We drove along Highway 34, which offered stunning views of the park, especially when we were above the tree line. As we made our way toward the west side of the park, we were treated to a beautiful display of fall foliage, particularly around Grand Lake. Having those two extra days to explore other parts of the park was a blessing, and we were able to fully appreciate the diverse beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Living with elk has become a way of life for the residents of Estes Park, as these majestic animals can be found wandering everywhere in town. From walking paths around Estes Lake to the little league field, it's not uncommon to come across elk in unexpected places. Despite their imposing size, the elk are a beloved fixture of the community, and residents have learned to coexist with them in a peaceful manner. Observing these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat has become a unique aspect of life in Estes Park, and visitors to the area can also enjoy the thrill of encountering elk up close. There were 2 times when walking around town that we had to alter our walk because of elk in the area.

In conclusion, Rocky Mountain National Park is truly a natural wonder that offers an abundance of breathtaking sights and experiences for visitors to enjoy. Whether you're exploring the stunning displays of fall foliage on the Bear Lake Road Corridor or encountering elk in unexpected places in Estes Park, there's something for everyone in this remarkable park. With an array of hiking trails, scenic drives, and opportunities for wildlife viewing, Rocky Mountain National Park is a must-see destination for nature enthusiasts and adventure seekers alike. A visit to this park is sure to leave a lasting impression and inspire a lifelong appreciation for the beauty and wonder of our natural world.

On to The Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP

Lorna’s Tips and Lessons

Make sure to check the calendar of events for the campground before you go. We made the mistake of arriving during a loud Halloween party, not realizing that the campground hosted such events every weekend in September. People came from far and wide to partake in the festivities, which included loud music, a firetruck with a siren, and non-stop partying late into the night. We had a choice to make - either join in or suffer in silence. We opted for the former, heading to the local hardware store to buy some poster board for a sign, Halloween lights, and lots of candy for the trick-or-treaters. Luckily, I had a collection of various solar lighting fixtures on hand to help set the spooky mood. Lesson learned - always check the calendar before booking a campsite!

Halloween scene with blow-up figures
At the campground
Halloween sign
At the campground
trick-or-treaters At the campground
At the campground

Rocky Mountain NP Hat

On to The Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP


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