Want to feel like you’re on an episode of Man vs. Wild? (even if only for an hour or two?) Rocky Mountain National Park won’t leave you disappointed!
From wildflowers, waterfalls, lakes, and wildlife, RMNP is a nature lover’s eye candy, and ultimate playground!
Only 2 hours away from Denver, and 15 minutes From the charming mountain town of Estes Park (home of the infamously haunted Stanley Hotel), you can get up there, have an adventure, and get home before dinner.
Many companies offer a variety of tours if you don’t want to go at it solo. There’s everything from horseback riding, hiking, rock-climbing, and even jeep tours available. I’ve lived in Colorado my whole life, and had never been to RMNP. Check out my day trip below!
1st stop: Alberta Falls
Honestly, this was a last minute decision to go up here. Keep in mind this is a NATIONAL PARK, and you should know in advance where you want to go. Additional drive time can be anywhere from 20 minutes to 3 hours once inside the actually park. ( I ended up eating the lunch I packed in my car while waiting to get into the park).
Today I was on a mission to find a waterfall within my short time limit. Basically, I googled waterfalls within the park, picked the prettiest picture (and closest) and boom! That’s how I ended up at Alberta Falls.
Alberta falls hike is only a 20 min drive from Beaver Meadows Visitor center (park entrance), and a 20 minute hike up Bear Lake Trailhead. The hike was very easy, and accessible. I spent a good 2 hours up there exploring the other side of the waterfall. Since it’s October you will see a few aspens sprinkled in the green landscape, and elk will be rutting in the meadows. Great place for photographers!
Colorado weather is notorious for being bi-polar. Wear your sunscreen, hats, and multiple layers in clothing, in case you need to cool off or bundle up. While I was up there it was sunny, rainy, rainy with light snowflakes, then sunny again. Check the weather prior to going, and dress accordingly.
*day pass to RMNP is $20, they prefer you to use a card to make the line go faster*
* Bear Lake trailhead parking lot most likely will be full, pay attention to signs and park where it directs you. Naturally, I ignored the “parking lot full” and scored a parking spot right as someone was leaving*
*I regret not hiking the entire Bear Lake trailhead loop which is epic, but probably a full day hike*
2nd Stop: Penelope’s Diner Estes Park
After being in the car, and then the wilderness, I was in desperate need of a break, so I headed over to downtown Estes Park. Once again because it was October everything was so much better. The town resembled all the small towns in Halloween movies like Casper and Hocus Pocus. Here is where you will find a charming strip of candy shops, boutiques, and Penelope’s World Famous Burgers and Fries.
1950’s tunes and a large menu lured me into this old fashioned inspired diner. The walls were decked out with all kinds of vintage goodies, and I liked how the doors were open allowing the fall air, and leaves to gently blow in.
While in Rome, do as Romans do. While in a place named world famous burgers and fries, for goodness sakes, order a cheeseburger and fries. Predictably, that’s exactly what I did and added an ice cold coke to complete the cliché. No regrets here. none. My meal was made fresh right in front of me and tasted like hamburgers did before they were pumped with chemicals and preservatives.
I Couldn’t have picked a better place to re-fuel . I used the restroom, charged my phone, and fully enjoyed my hand cut French fries. Don’t forget to put yourself on the diner’s map!
3rd Stop: Stanley Hotel
On your way out from downtown Estes, make a left to get to the legendary haunted hotel on the hill. After a horrifying dream while staying in room 217 of Stanley Hotel, Stephen King says it was his inspiration for his next horror novel, The Shining. It was also the hotel used in the comedy Dumb and Dumber in the “Aspen” scenes featuring the fictional Hotel Danbury.
With a reputation like that I had to check it out. I had no problem parking and wandering into the main building of The Stanley Hotel. There is a gift shop, Garden area, historic basement area, ballroom, Cascades 5 star steakhouse and lounge (with one of the largest whiskey selections in Colorado). Going upstairs is not permitted without a ghost tour, or room booking.
Grab a cocktail, and take in the hauntingly beautiful sights of the 107 year old Colonial Masterpiece.
*dinner reservations not required but recommended for Cascades Restaurant*