Visiting Rocky Mountain National Park With Kids
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Are you looking for what to do in Rocky Mountain National Park with kids? We have you covered! From kid friendly activities like the Junior Ranger program to family and kid friendly hikes inside Rocky Mountain National Park, we will help plan your next trip to make your family trip to Rocky Mountain National Park a breeze.
How to get to Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the easiest parks to get to. If you are flying in, you’ll want to fly into Denver. Rent a car and you can be at the park in as little as 1.5 hours. It’s such an easy drive that you can even visit as a day trip from Denver.
Best time to visit Rocky Mountain National Park
While you can visit year round (though check for road closures in certain parts in the winter!), the peak season to visit Rocky Mountain National Park is June through September. We visited in September and it was spectacular. The weather finally cooled off and the weekday crowds weren’t as big. If you really want to avoid crowds, then visit any time from November to April. Be sure to check the National Park website to see if you need timed reservations to enter.
Where to stay when visiting Rocky Mountain National Park
Camping in Rocky Mountain National Park
If you are a tent camper or have an RV, there are several campgrounds you can stay at. Check out the Aspenglen Campground, the Glacier Basin Campground or the Moraine Park Campground. Moraine Park is open year round, making it a great option if you are traveling in the off season.
Best Family-Friendly Hotel near Rocky Mountain National Park
The best place to stay near Rocky Mountain National Park is going to be in Estes Park. Unlike many other national parks, there is no in-park lodging at the Rocky Mountain National Park. Estes Park is a cute little town with a charming downtown and lots of hotel options to choose from. Our hotel was 12 minutes to the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center.
After reading reviews, we decided to stay in the Estes Park Resort, one of the best family-friendly hotels in Estes Park. It’s located less than 15 minutes to the park entrance and is a great Estes Park hotel option for families with young kids.
The hotel is by Lake Estes, which has walking paths, a playground, boat rentals (motorized and non), bike rentals and surrey rentals. You can easily spend time at the hotel and still have tons to do!
If you’re feeling extra adventurous, book a room at the historic Stanley hotel, which is rumored to be haunted. After staying here, Stephen King used the property as an inspiration for The Shining.
AirBnB near Estes Park
Prefer to have your own home during your stay? There are lots of home rentals to choose from, you can filter out by family friendly if you are traveling with kids. If it’s your first time using the site, you can save by using our referral link.
Things to bring when visiting Rocky Mountain National Park with kids
Since you’re going to be hiking and away from your car for hours, it’s important to pack some essentials you may need on the trip.
–Food: We brought lunch (avocado and tomato sandwiches) and some protein bars for our hike. We love the RX Bars and the Made Good granola minis.
–Binoculars: Milana recently got her own kid-sized pair of binoculars and brought them on the trip. She used them a ton in the park to view all the wildlife.
–Hiking bachpack: I recently got this Osprey Daylite backpack for our day hikes and absolutely love it! I saw so many people have the same exact one, it’s definitely a popular one! It’s not too massive where you feel like a pack mule and perfect for day hikes. Even Milana liked carrying it at times!
–Appropriate footwear: You’re going to be hiking a lot, make sure you have the right footwear! Milana wore her PLAE Charlie waterproof shoes, which were perfect for the sometimes muddy/snowy ground. She hiked for many miles in these without a single complaint!
Things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park With Kids
Go on a hike! One of the best and most popular things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park is to go hiking. They have tons of trails, from easy kid-friendly hiking trails to more advanced for when you aren’t with the kids.
Best kid friendly hiking trails in Rocky Mountain National Park
- Bear Lake Nature Trail: This is one of the most popular trails in the park and if you are visiting during peak season, you will want to get here early if you want to park right by the trail. Otherwise, you can take the easy shuttle right to the trail start. The trail is perfect for families with young kids. The trail is just 0.7 miles of easy terrain around the beautiful lake, making it one of the best kid friendly hiking trails in Rocky Mountain National Park.
- Emerald Lake Trail: This trail is longer at 4.1 miles, and is an out and back trail meaning you will turn around and go back the same way you came. If your kids are great hikers, you can do the entire thing. Otherwise walk a bit then turn around and come back. To get to Emerald Lake, you will first pass Nymph and Dream Lakes, mentioned below.
- Dream Lake Trail: This is another out and back trail, this one being around 2 miles. It features a lake and easy terrain, making it a great option for everyone in your party.
- Nymph Lake Trail: At just 1.2 miles, this out and back trail is perfect for families with young kids. The lake often has lily pads on it, making is gorgeous against the mountain backdrop. I highly recommend packing for a full day and continuing on to Dream and Emerald Lake! The views only improve from here.
- Alberta Falls Trail: This 1.6 mile out and back trail has easy terrain and features a waterfall.
- Lily Lake Trail: This is a 0.8 mile loop trail that will take you around the lake. If wildflowers are your thing, you are likely to spot lots of them on this trail! This is more of a nature trail than a hike, perfect for days when you’re too tired for a true hike.
We are not early risers so we didn’t rush to get to the park. We had a reservation for entry between 10-12 which meant that the Bear Lake parking lot was full. We parked in the park and ride lot and took the shuttle which was great and easy to do, I highly recommend not stressing over finding parking, the shuttle was great and convenient.
We first walked around Bear Lake, which wasn’t crowded at all on a Wednesday in September. The walk around the lake is easy and the views are spectacular!
But don’t stop there! After Bear Lake, head to the trail that takes you to 3 lakes-Nymph Lake, Dream Lake and Emerald Lake. To reach Emeral Lake, it’s 2 miles one way and then you have to come back the way you went in. While this is a nice, scenic hike, be aware that going towards Emerald Lake, you are going uphill the entire time. So if you have younger kids, you may want to bring a structured carrier to help them along the way! We loved the soft structured carriers when Milana was younger, but we did see a ton of these Osprey hiking packs on our hike which families seem to love.
At the time of our trip, Milana was 8 and had no issues hiking the entire trail and back. The first lake you will come to is Nymph Lake, known for its lily pads.
Continue on the trail to Dream Lake. At this elevation, we were able to find some snow to play with from a surprise summer snow storm that happened the week before we came.
Continue on to your final destination-Emerald Lake! I’ve heard stories of this area being packed but we experienced the opposite-there were barely any people here on our visit. This lake is at an elevation of 10,110 feet and well worth the hike up! We saw lots of families at the trail start, but most turned back after the first lake. The only families with young kids we saw at Emerald Lake were ones with infants and toddlers that were carried up by their parents, so make sure your older kids are up for the hike!
If you want more of a nature trail type walk, then Lily Lake is the place for you! If you have a jogging stroller, you can bring it here. The path is flat and goes around the lake. We spotted lots of wildlife here from beavers and chipmunks to all types of birds.
Junior Ranger Program
Rocky Mountain National Park, like most others, has a Junior Ranger Program. Be sure to stop at any visitor center to pick up your free Junior Ranger activity booklet. Milana loved finding all the wildlife, plants, etc. as we hiked along the trails. And don’t forget to ask for the passport stamp! We purchased this National Park journal that Milana fills out each time we go to a National Park, and they stamp the inside with a passport stamp. We also purchase a sticker from each national park to put in the journal as well.
Things to do in Estes Park with kids
Looking for kid friendly things to do in Estes Park? You’re in luck, there are a ton of things to do in Estes Park with kids!
Explore downtown: The downtown area is super cute and great to wander around. There are lots of restaurants, souvenir shops, ice cream stores, candy stores, toy stores, etc. They even have a little riverwalk with restaurants by the river.
There are quite a few ice cream shops in downtown, and we picked Munchin House because they had huckleberry ice cream and it was awesome!
Rent bikes: There are several places where you can rent bikes, but I highly recommend the Estes Park Mountain Shop. They are located right near the Estes Park resort and have quality bikes that they properly size to you, making it a great ride. Milana loved riding around the lake and we even spotted some elk on our ride!
Visit local playgrounds: Looking for the best playground in Estes Park? It’s going to be Stanley Park! They have multiple play structures and a zip line. There’s even a mountain bike trail for kids to ride on, which is super fun. If your kids have bikes, bring them!
Horseback riding: Do your kids like horses? Then go on a trail ride! Jackson Stables is located inside the YMCA of the Rockies complex (which has a ton of activities for families so check their site!). We chose the one hour Glacier Basin ride.
This was the highlight for Milana, she loves horses! I however am not really a fan and was glad that it was only an hour ride!
Where to eat in Estes Park with kids
Looking for family friendly restaurants near Rocky Mountain National Park? There are plenty to choose from!
Smokin’ Dave’s BBQ & Taphouse
This bbq restaurant is very family friendly and a very short distance from the park entrance. Keep in mind that at peak times, the wait can be very long! You can add your name to the waitlist via Yelp before you arrive. Milana and I shared the 3 meat platter and loved it, would definitely recommend it if you’re into bbq.
Located right at our hotel, this very popular restaurant books up fast! If you want to visit, be sure to make a reservation in advance. They do not take reservations for the outdoor patio, but you can request to sit there if you have a reservation or come early to snag a table. You’ll have great views of Lake Estes while you eat!
This is an Italian restaurant, with lots of pasta options. Milana and I shared the artichoke dip, I had their famous lasagna for dinner and Milana chose the spaghetti and meatball from the kid’s menu, which was a really huge portion! Everything we had was good.
If you like pizza, then Antonio’s Real New York Pizza is a must! Now being from the NYC area, we are very skeptical of places that use the term NY style to sell pizza. But these guys are the real deal! They moved to this area from Staten Island and the pizza is identical to what we had when we lived on the East coast.
If you like Indian food, there are 2 options in downtown Estes Park. We chose Nepal’s Cafe for lunch one day, Indian food is one of Milana’s favorites!
If you’re planning a family trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, we hope you find this guide useful. Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the best national parks to visit with young kids. There are so many things to do inside and outside the park, you’re going to have your days full of exploring.