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Things to Do With Only a Day in Rocky Mountain National Park

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There’s no getting around the fact that to plan for only a single day in Rocky Mountain National Park is to short shrift one of Colorado’s prettiest parks. And that’s not because this park takes in a substantial 265, 000 acres or so. Consider its rocky peaks, its hidden meadows, quiet forests, alpine tundra and nearly 365 miles of trail and you might begin to get a glimpse of the bigger picture. Rocky Mountain National Park deserves serious attention.

But let’s say your schedule simply won’t allow for more than a one day stay. What do you do, to maximize your daylight hours? One of the best introductions to the park is a scenic drive along Trail Ridge Road, a 48-mile long route that winds up and over the Continental Divide linking Estes Park in the east with Grand Lake in the west. Sure, it can be well-trafficked during summer months, but you’ll get a superb overview of the park’s variety as well as grand views of those rugged Rocky Mountains.

While the scenery alone might be enough to make your heart beat faster, there’s also another culprit: altitude. Since it’s wise to acclimatize a day or more before tackling any of the park’s really high peaks, you’ll want to do your short day-hikes at lower elevation. There are well over 300 miles of trail in the park, so really the dilemma, with just a day, is to decide whether to tackle a moderate summit or set off in search of waterfalls and secluded lakes.

Let’s say you got an early start and have already managed to fit in a short hike, a scenic drive and a picnic lunch at some pretty overlook. What next? For a worthwhile cultural and natural introduction to the park, leave time for a visit to one of the park’s visitor centers. Moraine Park Visitor Center houses a small museum showcasing objects from the park’s natural and cultural history collection. So though this park certainly has many picturesque montane faces it’s not just another pretty one; the mountains may be the stuff of photo opportunities but they shelter their share of stories and secrets - reason enough to plan a much longer return sojourn to Rocky Mountain National Park.

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Below are the Free Visitor Guides for Rocky Mountain National Park. More Visitor Guides are available in Colorado. Click here to view them all!

Grand Lake Grand Lake Grand Lake
Rocky Mountain National ParkAt the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park, Grand Lake is the deepest natural lake in Colorado, dipping to 265 feet. Fed by high mountain runoff, the lake is clear and pristine. In the summer, you can rent a boat, bring your own or simply enjoy the gentle lapping of the waves from the sandy shore. Grand Lake connects with Shadow Mountain Lake via a canal, and just down the road is Lake Granby, the second largest body of water in Colorado.
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