8 Days Exploring Rocky Mountain National Park

Fall color at Bear Lake with reflections in photos of rocky mountain national park

Visiting Rocky Mountain National Park during the fall season is an experience that shouldn’t be missed. As a photographer, my goal was to get awesome photos of Rocky Mountain National Park. The park is home to a large population of elk, and the fall season is when the elk rut occurs. During this time, we witnessed the magnificent display of male elk competing for the attention of female elk, with their impressive antlers and distinct vocalizations. Be prepared for the Rocky Mountain National Park timed entry.

In addition to the elk rut, the hiking trails in the park were especially beautiful during the fall season, with the changing colors of the leaves creating a stunning backdrop for any hike. Bear Lake was gorgeous and the drive over the Continental Divide to the other side of the park was spectacular. We took advantage of the cooler temperatures and had a great time in the park. Remember that it is a timed entry park. We’ll talk about that later.

Efforts to preserve Rocky Mountain National Park’s fragile ecosystems are multifaceted and collaborative. Conservation initiatives focus on habitat restoration, reducing human impact, and promoting sustainable practices. Park management implements strict regulations to minimize disturbances to sensitive areas and wildlife habitats.

To use this map click on the icon in the upper left corner to pull down the menu and select points of interest from there.

Where we stayed

Fall in Rocky Mountain National Park is really popular due to the annual elk rut so the only place we could find in Estes Park with hook-ups was at Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park.

We weren’t sure how this was going to work out but we had a good time in the campground when we weren’t in the National Park. We stayed here for 8 days and enjoyed our time here both in the campground and the town of Estes Park as well as the National Park.

Us with Yogi Bear at Jellystone park

Not being familiar with Rocky Mountain National Park timed entry permit system we got 5 permits for Park Access + Bear Lake Road Corridor and 2 for the Park Access that does not include the Bear Lake Road Corridor. This is where you can get information on the permits. Timed entry permits

We found that the Bear Lake Road Corridor was the best choice for us to get awesome photos of Rocky Mountain National Park because the best elk rut was down Moraine Park Road in Moraine Meadows off Bear Lake Road. The elk were more active in the morning twilight and for a couple of hours after sunrise. It was almost magical right at sunrise when the low angle of the sun turned the grass in the meadow a golden orange.

The Elk

For the camera and setup I use for wildlife photos see Photo Equipment

During our visit to Rocky Mountain National Park in the fall, we discovered that the Bear Lake Road Corridor offered the most stunning display of autumn foliage on that side of the park. Bear Lake itself was simply breathtaking, and the surrounding area had an abundance of hiking trails that we thoroughly enjoyed. Our hikes to Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, and Emerald Lake were particularly memorable, with the changing colors of the leaves providing a picturesque backdrop. One morning, we woke up early to catch the sunrise at Sprague, and the experience was nothing short of spectacular. We also highly recommend catching the sunrise at Bear Lake – it’s an experience you won’t want to miss and it’s impossible not to get stunning photos of Rocky Mountain National Park here.

Stunning lakes and hikes

During our trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, we were only able to secure permits for Bear Lake on certain days. On the days when we didn’t have permits, we took the opportunity to explore other areas of the park. We drove along Highway 34, which offered stunning views of the park, especially when we were above the tree line. As we made our way toward the west side of the park, we were treated to a beautiful display of fall foliage, particularly around Grand Lake. Having those two extra days to explore other parts of the park was a blessing, and we were able to fully appreciate the diverse beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park.

The drive over the mountain

Living with elk has become a way of life for the residents of Estes Park. These majestic animals can be found wandering everywhere in town. From walking paths around Estes Lake to the Little League field, it’s not uncommon to find them. Despite their imposing size, the elk are a beloved fixture of the community, and residents have learned to coexist with them in a peaceful manner. Observing these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat has become a unique aspect of life in Estes Park, and visitors to the area can also enjoy the thrill of encountering elk up close. There were 2 times when walking around town that we had to alter our walk because of elk in the area.

Elk in Estes Park


Rocky Mountain National Park is a natural wonder with breathtaking sights. Fall foliage on Bear Lake Road dazzles. Elk roam Estes Park unexpectedly. Hiking trails, scenic drives, and wildlife viewing cater to all. It’s a must-see for nature lovers. A visit leaves a lasting impression, inspiring appreciation for nature’s beauty.

,On to The Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP

Lorna’s Tips and Lessons

Make sure to check the calendar of events for the campground before you go. We arrived during a loud Halloween party, not realizing that the campground hosted such events every weekend in September. People came from far and wide to partake in the festivities, which included loud music, a firetruck with a siren, and non-stop partying late into the night. We had a choice to make – either join in or suffer in silence. We opted for the former, heading to the local hardware store to buy some poster board for a sign. Halloween lights, and lots of candy for the trick-or-treaters. Luckily, I had a collection of various solar lighting fixtures on hand to help set the spooky mood. Lesson learned – always check the calendar before booking a campsite!

Halloween scene with blow-up figures

Halloween sign

trick-or-treaters At the campground

Rocky Mountain NP Hat

On to The Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP

Leave a Comment