Not too far from the Beaver Meadows Entrance is Moraine Park. Many people choose to stay at the campgrounds, but this meadow is the perfect place to roam and admire the elk during the fall season. The meadow is flat and nearby the small parking lot is a stream where many people fish or admire the birds. During elk season, hikers are not allowed into the meadow past 5:00pm. While walking through this meadow, peace flooded my body while pieces of my heart strings tethered with the fertile blades of grass to become one with the earth. Out of all the places I've been to, this may very well be my favorite place on the planet.
Located off Bear Lake Road is Sprague Lake, an easy, flat 0.9 mile accessible trail around the lake. The adjacent parking lot is a popular place for local elk to graze and lay in the pasture. If lucky, one will discover moose grazing along, or walking through the lake. It's an easy walk for any age or ability. Picnic tables are nearby the parking lot. If no parking spaces are available, drive to one of the main lots off Bear Lake Road to take a shuttle bus to and from Sprague Lake.
This road opened in 1920, this was the first auto route in the Rocky Mountain National Park. Today, it is considered "off-roading" or "backcountry" and is more of motor nature trail. This is a one-way road, and once on the road, there is no turning back. The road meanders through some "dicey" areas where the car is several feet from the cliffside. In some spots, the incline is a sixteen percent grade.
The road follows a route once walked by old Indian hunters in search of game. There are various stop off points throughout the drive, with Chasm falls being one of the most popular. The road exits at the visitors center onto 36 or Trail Ridge Road.
Located near the Fall River Entrance, Sheep Lakes is a scenic overlook spot on 34.
During the summer months, a naturalist may be staffed at the information booth. Keep an eye out for bighorn sheep, elk and deer in the meadow. If wildlife is not in the meadows, use binoculars to see if they are off in the distance or across the river. The highlight here is to view the wildlife in action.
Alberta Falls is an easy 1.7 mile roundtrip hike that begins at Glacier Gorge trailhead. If searching for a more intense hike, start at Bear Lake and hike down to Alberta Falls, and from there can take the shuttle back to the bear lake or visitors parking lot. During the fall season, discover the aspen changing colors during foliage season. The falls is 30-feet and named after Alberta Sprague, the wife of Abner Sprague, who were one of the first settlers in Estes Park.
The trail leads through a wooded section, which bypasses several lakes and streams up toward the main Lake. The hike is considered easy as an 0.8 mile roundtrip that has some elevation. It is a high traffic trail since it is short, scenic and family friendly. Avoid the crowds and come early as the main parking lot during peak season fills up by 8am.If you can't park at the main trailhead, take the shuttle from the overflow lot.
This newly paved "highway to the sky," is 11 miles that drives far above the treeline. NPS.Gov states, "the elevation near 11,500 feet where the park's evergreen forests come to a halt. As it winds across the tundra's vastness to its high point at 12,183 feet elevation, Trail Ridge Road (U.S. 34) offers visitors thrilling views, wildlife sightings and spectacular alpine wildflower exhibitions, all from the comfort of their car." Be alert for a high winds and weather that is 20 to 30 degrees cooler than Estes Park. Most people drive up to the visitors center and then turn around to go back to Estes Park. There are various scenic stop off points on the drive with many areas to spot elk in the distance.
Family friendly horseback riding is available within the Rocky Mountain National Park. Each stable has their own routes and trip options ranging from an hour to half a day. Find a stable that meets your budget and needs on this link.
This 4.8 mile roundtrip trail features lake views, fall aspen and wildlife views. This is a family-friendly hike, but also has some sections with some steady incline, with a total elevation gain of 570 feet. The hike begins at Moraine Park and hikers notice sweeping views of the meadow and surrounding mountains. Further into the hike leads through a forest ending at the lake.
Located on Highway 7 and a 15-20 minute drive from town center is the historic Catholic Church. The church only operates for Catholic weddings, but the exterior and views are photogenic, so even if you don’t make it inside, the outdoor view is worth it. The chapel was built in the 1930’s and donated to the Archdiocese of Denver. The church currently has restoration plans to preserve it’s beauty, and the Pope Saint John Paul II trail. There are plans to build a visitors and heritage center.