When traveling with children it's important to know that there is something that they will enjoy. Fortunately, that is not a problem in Rocky with activities to keep them busy all day long.
Things To Do with Children in Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park is a great place to visit with the whole family. There is lots to do for every age group from toddlers to teenagers. The most important thing is to put your own plans and expectations aside and see the world through their eyes.
Young children may be delighted in a rock, or a puddle next to the parking lot and not even care about the trail you want to hike or the large scenic views. Older children may need something to look forward to at the end of their hike such as ice cream or some other activity of their choosing. Teenagers may either show little interest in anything or may be inspired by proving themselves in reaching a particular destination. At whatever stage your kids are at, you’ll have the best experience if you work with their interests and desires.
Junior Ranger Program
For kids between 5 years old and 13 years old, be sure and check out the national park’s Junior Ranger Program. It provides a fun way for kids of different ages to engage with the national park. Stop by any visitor center to pick up a Junior Ranger booklet for the appropriate age or stop by Junior Ranger Headquarters in Hidden Valley.
As your child works their way through the booklet, it will lead them and you into out into the natural world, where you’ll learn about aspects of the wild that you wouldn’t otherwise know. You’ll have interactive lessons about animals, habitats, and ecosystems that will make your child knowledgeable about the natural world. During the completion of this booklet, they will need to perform several tasks, including attending one ranger-led program. At the end, there is a small ceremony where they are officially sworn in by a park ranger and receive their badge to become an official Junior Ranger.
This program runs from late May through mid-August. You can learn more and even have a look at the booklets at: https://www.nps.gov/romo/learn/kidsyouth/beajuniorranger.htm.
For most kids, the thought of going on an adventure sounds much more exciting than going on a walk or for a hike. Take your kids out exploring to see what they can see and move at their pace. Some great locations for exploring are:
- Lumpy Ridge Trailhead on the east side of the park. Here you’ll find lots of giant boulders often in unusual shapes. Some of the best ones can be found just above the parking lot where you can walk under and around these incredible formations. If they need to run and burn off some steam, consider heading out on the Black Canyon Trail. There’s a large hill at the start but then at the bottom of the hill it levels out quite a bit. Along the way you’ll see formations such as the “Hen and Egg”, the Twin Owls formation, and other large rocks that are in need of names.
- Alluvial Fan area just west of Horseshoe Park. During mid-summer through autumn, when the water is slow, it can be a great place for kids to get their feet wet as they explore the rocks and the fish swimming between them. (This area should be avoided before late June as the water can be very powerful in the spring.)
- The Holzwarth Historic Site on the west side of the park shows life as it used to be. Many of the old buildings are open to visit or look inside and see how people lived long ago. It can be a great way to excite their imaginations and think about all that they enjoy now.
- Tunda Communities Trail is a short trail high in the tundra that begins at Rock Cut on Trail Ridge Road. This is a good place to let kids run up the gentle trail. They can explore all the small plants growing on the tundra, burn a bunch of energy at high elevation, and older kids can climb on the rocks at the end with the close supervision of an adult.
One way to encourage kids to fall in love with hiking is to consider collecting hiking patches for each hike they complete without help. These can be purchased at gift stores throughout Estes Park and Grand Lake. A couple great hikes to start with are:
- On the west side: Adams Falls and Coyote Valley are relatively short hikes that are realistic hikes to take young children on. At Adams Falls they will be able to look down on a decent sized waterfall after a short wander through the forest. If they still have strength, you can head up to beautiful East Meadow where you may find animals grazing. On the Coyote Valley Trail they will wander through a meadow with towering mountains in the background. The trail comes alongside the Colorado River not too far from its source. This river will head south and run right through the Grand Canyon.
- On the east side: Lily Lake, Sprague Lake, and Bear Lake are also good options for kids as they are very flat and short. At Bear Lake you’ll notice little paw print signs all around the lake. These refer to descriptions in a pamphlet put out by the Rocky Mountain Conservancy. I know of parents who used these to help their kids hike without realizing it, by simply challenging them to find the next one and the next one.