Looking at Rocky Mountain National Park, it's hard to believe that humans have managed to conquer the wild and rugged terrain. It took awhile, but roads were built through the park's backcountry. Trail Ridge Road wasn't the first, but it's pretty old; it was constructed in 1932, and has been connecting the east side of the park with the west side ever since. It's a twisting, winding route right through the heart of the Rockies, so you're guaranteed views of the wilderness as you climb and dip through the mountains and cross the Continental Divide. Take advantage of pull-offs to admire the sweeping beauty here, and enjoy all of the fun to be had along the way.
Spanning from Estes Park through Rocky Mountain National Park to Grand Lake, Trail Ridge Road offers breathtaking views of Colorado's wilderness. As you drive along, you will have a view of the Rocky Mountains in all directions. No wonder it's known as the "scenic wonder road of the world!" The road also has some amazing views of area wildlife, including marmots, pikas and even bighorn sheep. Make sure to check conditions before you arrive-- the road is usually closed until May because of ice.
On the Estes Park Aerial Tramway, you can get a great view of the entire park without having to make a grueling trek. This tram is one of the only European-style aerial cable cars in the United States, and has carried over three million passengers since 1955. The tramway route begins at the foot of Prospect Mountain, and slowly carries you all the way to the summit. The top of the mountain has a restaurant and souvenir shop, both with amazing views! The tramway is open from May until September, and entrance is $12 for adults ($8 for kids).
Created with large quantities of explosives, Rock Cut Overlook gives you a spectacular view of Estes Park. The overlook was made in order to accommodate Trail Ridge Road, and now allows for you to view colorful wildflowers and snowcapped mountain peaks. Make sure to take the one-mile, paved trail leading from the overlook for more spectacular views. This place rocks!
A far cry from the elusive home of our favorite ranch dressing, Hidden Valley is a great place to whip out the sleds and have a snowy adventure. The area is the only place in Rocky Mountain National Park that allows you to sled and tube, so make sure to take advantage of it! On the weekends, an attendant runs a warming room for those who just want to watch the festivities. You can also rent tubes and sleds in shops in the nearby town, so don't worry if you forgot them! During the summer, it's a lush, open meadow tucked away among rocky peaks and dense woodland... it's a great place to unpack a picnic and enjoy.
Looking over a beautiful wooded gorge, Forest Canyon Overlook is a hidden treasure. The overlook is just a short walk from the parking lot, and gives you a view of Forest Canyon, Terra Tomah Mountain, and Stones Peak. The path is paved and an easy walk for all ages and abilities. This overlook is at a high altitude though, so be careful of altitude sickness as well as shortness of breath. Make sure to look out for pikas and marmots as you look out over the natural beauty!
Built in 1880 after gold was discovered in the area, Lulu City Ghost Town is an off-the-beaten-path adventure in Rocky Mountain National Park. The ghost town was only inhabited for five years and was quickly abandoned after it was found that the ore the town sprang up around was of low grade. There are now three cabin ruins remaining as well as remnants of other structures. Make sure to check this out on your trip... maybe you'll even see a ghost!
If you haven't seen enough ghost towns after Lulu City, check out nearby Dutchtown Ghost Town. The town was built to accommodate Dutch miners driven out of Lulu City after a night of drinking and rabble-rousing. Its lifespan was even shorter than Lulu City's, and it is in slightly more ruined condition... but if you look carefully, you can still see the foundations and subtle remains of cabins and buildings.
If you're interested in learning more about Rocky Mountain National Park, Kawuneeche Visitor Center is the place to be. The center offers nature hikes with park rangers, Saturday evening programs, a 20-minute film providing background on the geology and history of the park, and even a gift shop. You can also get acquainted with the park from a topographical relief map, and this is the place to reserve backcountry camping sites. Make sure to pack a picnic lunch, as the picnic area has tables and fire pits galore!
Looking at Grand Lake is fun, but actually getting out on the water is a real experience! Mountain Paddlers allows you to rent both solo and tandem kayaks in order to experience the natural beauty of this Colorado lake firsthand. The company operates on a first-come, first-served basis, in order to make sure that all people out on the water don't feel constrained by time. It also offers a special where you get three hours for the price of two! Each rental includes a boat, life vest, whistle, dry bag (so you can bring your phone for epic pictures), a waterproof watch, and of course, a paddle.
Right along the Tonahutu River lies Rapids Lodge and Restaurant, a great way to get back to "civilization" for a bit on your trip. The lodge is home to a variety of shops, a public beach, multiple restaurants, and plenty of bars. Lodging options include condominiums, cabins, and guest rooms, all along the beautiful river. The lodge is just minutes from Trail Ridge Road, so it's the perfect place to relax after or during your adventure.
Aas the only remaining fire lookout in Rocky Mountain National Park, Shadow Mountain Lookout is a great place to look out on Grand Lake. The lookout was built in 1934, and is known as one of the best rustic-style buildings in the entire National Park system. The best way to get to the tower is to take the 10-mile Shadow Mountain Trail, which is moderately difficult and hosts a score of wildlife viewing opportunities; you can spot animals including elk and chipmunks. Make sure to get there at sunset to get the best pictures!
Originally a guest ranch built in 1917, Holzwarth Historic Site allows you to travel back in time and see how pioneers lived. Comprised of a variety of rustic cabins along the Colorado River, the site is home to a cattle ranch, homestead, and even a taxidermist's workshop. Visitors can see snippets of life decades ago, with interactive exhibits run by National Park rangers. The site is just a short hike from Trail Ridge Road, and is definitely a hidden gem of Rocky Mountain National Park!
With historic ghost towns and beautiful overlooks, who would have known that a single road would have so many activities to offer? So pack your bags and head down Trail Ridge Road for the Colorado adventure of a lifetime.
Only 67 miles from Denver, Grand County is brimming with natural beauty, adventure and authentic Colorado heritage. Each of our 5 towns - Granby, Grand Lake, Kremmling, Hot Sulphur Springs and Winter Park - has its own distinct character and story to tell. Don’t just vacation. Go Grand.