10Best Day Trip: Escape to Rocky Mountain National Park

Discover the Rocky Mountains on your multi-day trip just outside the Boulder city limits

Boulder Local Expert

Grab your tent and backpacks for a two-day adventure in one of America's most wild, rugged, and scenic spots, Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). We encourage you to make campsite reservations well in advance during the summer and fall months of the year, because this park is popular and rightly so. Just a short 45-minute drive from Boulder and you'll find yourself deep in the mountains while winding through Estes Park: a somewhat touristy, but very adorable little mountain town just outside the park. We highly recommend stopping off for a local brew at Estes Park Brewery.

Once you've arrived at the park, we're hoping that you made reservations at Moraine Park campground. This site features spectacular scenery, running water, onsite bathrooms and puts you in close proximity to one of our favorite hikes: Cub Lake Trail. Easily accessible for both children and adults, this hike meanders calmly through groves of aspens, and features spectacularly scenic views of the Rockies.

If you take the Cub Lake Trail, this 2-3 hour hike will lead you to a mountain lake which blooms with white and pink lilies throughout the warmer months. We suggest staying until sunset and catching the oranges, yellows, and mauves as they glint off the water. The mountains in the backdrop make for a picture-perfect photo opportunity.

Cub Lake — Photo courtesy of Rennett Stowe

Nearby, Fern Lake Trail offers a steady and gradual hiking path which ambles along a mountain stream lined by pines. Talus fields can be found along the way and bouldering routes are waiting just off the trail. This route can be combined with the Cub Lake trail to form a loop which takes you up for a moderately steep mountain ridge offering a bird's eye view of the valley, trails, and forests below.

As you make your way back to your campsite, here are some important logistics:

  • You must bring your own firewood or purchase it at the campground ( No scavenging for wood, as this is bad for the nature environment). 
  • Bear boxes are necessary during bear season. They're available at the campsite and the park rangers will give you detailed instructions concerning use and what items need to be boxed away. 
  • Elk frequent the campsite and, though harmless, will often approach and scavenge for food.


After you've sung your last campfire song and indulged on s'mores, we suggest a morning drive along Rocky Mountain National's famed Trail Ridge Road before you leave the park. This scenic highway is proclaimed to be one of the most beautiful stretches of road in all of the United States and certainly lives up to the acclaim. Along your drive, you'll see exquisite views of Long's Peak (RMNP's towering 14,259-foot mountain), Mt. Meeker, billion-year old glacial rock, tundra and you may even spot herds of elk, particularly during mating season.

Long's Peak — Photo courtesy of Miquel Vieira

As you twist and turn back down the canyons on your way to Boulder Valley, you'd be remiss if you didn't stop off in one of the hippest, quirkiest, mountain towns around: Lyons, Colorado. This one-horse town boasts an adorable downtown, complete with trinket shops, bistros and local artists selling their creations. What's more, no respectable mountain town is complete without a brewery and Lyons is home to one of the best ale houses in all the state, Oskar Blues Brewery.

Live music makes an appearance most evenings, the beer is to die for, and OB's soul food is the perfect way to end your stay in the mountains just beyond Boulder.

About Hope Gately

Rocky Mountain National Park is one of Hope's favorite getaways in Colorado for hiking, camping and sightseeing. This summer, she'll be hiking the park's famous 14,259-foot mountain, Long's Peak.

Read more about Hope Gately here.

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