The Perfect Rocky Mountain National Park Itinerary
Conquering the Rockies: an itinerary.
While the mountains have nothing to do with Sylvester Stallone’s iconic boxing character, we like to imagine the Rocky Mountain National Park is a tribute to him. Each peak is an homage to his triumphs, each valley, a reminder of the defeats. And hey, life is just a series of peaks and troughs, and you don’t know when you’re in a trough until you’re climbing out, or on a peak until you’re coming down. Just some wisdom from Ricky Gervais’ David Brent character (although someone said it before him).
Anyway, with this helpful guide, you should actually have an idea of when you’re in a trough and when you’re on a peak. We’ll lead you through the alpine tundra and hilly forests, reaching spectacular secluded lakes and ponds in the sky. You’ll tackle meandering nature trails and clamber on top of boulders, while staying in some of the charming towns dotted across the region, such as Vail, Aspen and Estes Park. So, here is the Plum Guide Rocky Mountain National Park itinerary.
As the main town that serves as a gateway to the Rockies, Estes Park is a natural first stop on any Rocky Mountain National Park itinerary. There's lots to do here, from exploring some of the museums to checking out the Stanley Hotel that inspired Stephen King to write The Shining. Sunbathe on the shore of the Lake Estes and walk around it to find the impressive Olympus Dam. Having admired the photos and paintings of the national park in the town’s galleries, perhaps it’s time to head on down to the real thing.
After grabbing lunch at one of the myriad restaurants skirting the main avenue, climb aboard the aerial tramway that’ll leave you dangling by a thread in a rusty red cabin. Good luck. If you can, try to enjoy the stunning views of the surrounding mountains and valleys (or peaks and troughs, to keep with an earlier analogy).
Reach the summit of the Prospect Mountain. You are now officially part of the Rockies; hoist your fist to the air in celebration, as if you’d just defeated one of Rocky’s foes in the movies. Bring your camera (shoot, we should have said that before you got in the aerial tramway) and snap photos of the panorama spread out before you. Arrive for sunset to see the sun turn crimson, and go for a bite to eat and a coffee in the café.
Gaze up at the stars, that look as though you could touch them. Disclaimer: you can’t touch them. It’s getting late; time to descend in that scary tramway of the skies, and try one of the town’s best fine-dining options, such as SEASONED – An American Bistro and the Twin Owls Steakhouse.
Depending on how long you’re staying in the Rockies, you might want to try another town in the region. What about Vail? Nestled in a valley surrounded by impressive mountains, it’s known for the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens. In winter, the Vail Ski Resort becomes the top attraction here. We’ve got some top lodgings in the town, including the Snow Elixir and the Morning Sun.
Another option is Lyons; like the plural of the large French city. Except this is a small, quaint town. Known as the Double Gateway to the Rockies, it appears to be puffing up its feathers a little in a direct attack on the nearby Estes Park. The ‘double’ refers to its place between two large highways leading to the park. In the morning, amble through the narrow lanes of the town centre and check out the Lyons Redstone Museum, whose building dates back to the 1880s. It shows you what the area was like back then, with an old kitchen and a bank teller cage, as well as black-and-white photos from back in the day.
You didn’t come to the Rockies for galleries and museums (probably), so let’s look at the park. Drive to the Bear Lake Trailhead or the nearby Glacier Gorge Junction Trailhead. From here, trek south to reach the Alberta Falls, named after an early settler to the region. Continue south for the Loch Vale (commonly known simply as The Loch, which sounds wonderfully Scottish), before straddling the banks of the Icy Creek. You’ll start to climb a little in elevation, before having to overcome a bundle of boulders. Finally, you’ll reach the divine visions (bit much?) of the Lake of Glass (with its green and yellow lily pads) and the Sky Pond – a worthwhile stop on any Rocky Mountain National Park itinerary.
Back in Lyons, bring your family to one of the top restaurants, such as Smokin’ Dave’s BBQ & Brew, Lyons Fork or Mojo Taqueria. You could also have stayed in other delightful towns – there's a lot going on in Aspen, and we're quite fond of Fort Collins and Boulder, too.