How to Enjoy Rocky Mountain National Park

June 13, 2016

One of my favorite places to visit in Colorado is Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). I make a point of visiting throughout the year because the park has so many gifts to share at different moments in time. The elk bugling and the aspen leaves changing to sparkling gold during the fall, camping in Moraine Park Campground during summer and seeing the Milky Way, and the time after Trail Ridge Road opens and visitors get the chance to experience the Alpine Visitor Center’s almost other worldly view.

Hopefully you’ll see the occasional moose, a ton of elk, deer, and more, but if you do see these creatures, please don’t feed them. When it comes to larger animals especially, don’t get close to them, try to take selfies with them, or engage with them in any way that will leave you injured and on the evening news. I see visitors doing this every year, and it’s extremely dangerous. Remember, they are wild animals that will protect their space if you spook them.

This year, in honor of the National Parks Service turning 100 years old, entrance fees will be waived for numerous throughout the year. The next free days take place August 24-28.  Those days will be busy, it’s a great opportunity to enjoy the park if you’re on a budget..

If you decide to forgo the free days here is the breakdown of fees going into the park: a single-day pass for a car is $20, a weekly pass costs $30, and the annual pass is $50. If you have a fourth grader they get to enter for free with the 4th Grade Pass.

No visit to the Alpine Visitors’ Center is complete without climbing the Alpine Ridge Trail, which underwent years of renovations and emerged even better than before. When you climb the stairs take your time because the air is thin up there. I make a point of climbing the stairs every time I visit the park.

Once you’ve finished exploring RMNP, spend some time in Estes Park—home of the famous (or infamous) Stanley Hotel that helped inspire the hotel from Stephen King’s classic novel, The Shining. Next, take a paddle boat ride on Lake Estes, and follow it up with a walk next to the Big Thompson River—which for some reason the hordes of people don’t seem to know about. After your walk, enjoy delicious salt water taffy, shop for memorabilia along Main Street, or buy a gorgeous hat from Colorado Hats.

If you’re feeling a little adventurous you can also go horseback riding at Sombrero Ranch. The horses are very mellow and the wranglers are used to leading groups with complete beginners. My favorite ride is the Steak Dinner Ride—there’s nothing better to work up an appetite than riding a horse on a gorgeous day in the mountains.

Estes Park has a wonderful art scene, so make sure to check and see if there will be an arts festival the day that you’re visiting.  My favorite event in Estes Park is the Longs Peak Scottish-Irish Highlands Festival, which is absolutely amazing! Every September thousands of people participate in or watch the festival events. Contests range from jousting, highland dancing, and log throwing, to a “Dogs of the British Isles” competition.

Some things to keep in mind: regardless of the time of year you visit make sure you wear multiple layers. The higher the altitude the cooler it will be. It may be 90 degrees in Fort Collins but much, much cooler when you’re in RMNP. Also, pay attention to how you’re feeling. Altitude sickness is a very real issue when going from lower altitudes to the mountains. Connect with your doctor so they can advise you on what to watch out for. Bring water, snacks, and a charger for your phone so that you can take some great pictures.

If you’re new to Colorado, you will fall in love with RMNP. Take advantage of the free days, spend time with friends and family, and connect with nature. What are some of your favorite activities in the park?

This post was written by PERA member Michelle Jackson, a former University of Colorado employee and personal finance/lifestyle blogger. If you’re interested in writing for The Dime send us an email at dimecontact at copera dot org.