Highway 7 follows the eastern edge of Rocky Mountain National Park. The road never enters the park itself but provides spectacular views of it. You'll enjoy dramatic views of the mountains and the iconic Saint Catherine of Sienna church.
Highway 7 Scenic Drive Near Rocky Mountain National Park
Highway 7 follows the eastern edge of Rocky Mountain National Park. You’ll begin the journey in Estes Park and head north on Highway 7. The road drives through the northeastern edge of town passing some of the main residential areas. Eventually, the road makes a sharp right at the end of the valley and begins climbing upward. Over the next 2.5 miles (4 km), the road winds upward as it climbs over 750’ (230m). Along the way, you’ll pass a dirt parking area that is usually filled with cars. This is the start of the Lily Mountain hike which is outside of the national park but whose summit provides wonderful views of Longs Peak and the surrounding area.
As soon as the ascent begins to lessen, start to slow down. You are arriving at Lily Lake which is in Rocky Mountain National Park. If you have time and if there is parking space, this is a great place to stop. The walk around the lake is wheel-chair accessible, relatively flat and provides amazing views of Longs Peak and Mount Meeker. It is well worth a stop, even if you only walk to the edge of the lake.
After Lily Lake, continue up the road until it levels out again. Over the next half mile, the view on the right-hand side will open up. Find a safe place to pull over. This is one of the best views of Longs Peak (14,259 feet/4346m) and Mount Meeker (13,916 feet/4241m). This open meadow was once the home of the Longs Peak Inn built by Enos Mills who is sometimes referred to as “The Father of Rocky Mountain National Park” for his un-tiring efforts to make this area a national park. His personal cabin can still be seen in the trees on the east side of the road, across from the Salvation Army High Peak Camp.
A mile further down the road you’ll pass Longs Peak Road. This road leads up to the trailhead from which most people embark on their way to try and summit this imposing peak. There are not any view points up at the trailhead. Unless you are planning to make the 14 mile round-trip hike, it’s best to continue onward.
After driving through the trees for 1.8 miles, another amazing view will open on your right. Be sure and pull over to the side of the road when you see it. St. Catherine of Siena Chapel, also known as “Church on the Rock” or Saint Malo (the retreat center that the church is located at) is breathtaking. It is a gorgeous little church built on a rock outcrop with the majestic Mount Meeker (13,916ft/4242 m) as a backdrop. This little chapel is usually open to visitors Tuesday – Sunday, 10 am to 4 pm during the busy season. It is also a very popular wedding venue. You’ll find a gift store at Saint Williams Lodge located just a short distance behind the chapel.
Two miles (3.2 km) further south on Highway 7 is Wild Basin Road. Drive down this road and past the Wild Basin Lodge, another well-loved wedding venue. If you have a park pass and permit, enter the Wild Basin entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. Just a short way beyond the entrance station you’ll come to Copeland Lake with a dramatic view of Mount Copeland. This small lake is used as a reservoir and so at times you’ll find it quite full providing a wonderful reflection of the Mount Copeland. At other times it may be nearly dry. I advise you to turn around here. While the dirt road continues for a couple more miles, it is mainly through the woods with very few views.
Return to the main road and turn right to continue south. In two miles (3.2 km) you’ll reach the end of your drive. Stop at the Old Gallery on the left side of the road, just after the fire station. As you get out of the car, be sure to look to the north and see the fabulous view of Mount Meeker. Then head inside to enjoy the art, books, and gifts available. There are also a couple of restaurants and shops across the street in the little town of Allenspark. Meadow Mountain Café is a long-time favorite, as is the store Distant Harbors.
In very late September or early October, you will probably see wonderful autumn colors. If you are visiting in the autumn, consider extending this drive to the quirky little town of Nederland. It’s an additional 40-minute drive, but the autumn colors along this stretch can be wonderful. To get to Nederland you’ll need to turn right onto Highway 72, about 2 miles (3.2 km) past Allenspark.