Step one: Spot you some wildlife
In addition to the aforementioned elk, who will most likely be the most impressive animal you are likely to encounter on your trip, the park is home to large populations of mule deer and bighorn sheep in addition to a small number of black bears and moose. Elk can be easily spotted grazing in open meadows at lower elevations much of the year (they move to higher elevations in summer) along with mule deer, while bighorn sheep can be found on higher-elevation cliff sides and canyons. The more elusive moose are most common on the less-trafficked west side of the park around streambeds and meadows (although moose sightings have become more common on the east side of the park as well in recent years), while bear sightings are quite rare.
The park is also home to a very small number of almost-never-seen mountain lions, in addition to more frequently spotted smaller rodents like marmots and pikas at higher elevations, plus 280 species of birds and 142 types of butterfly. Coyotes also inhabit the park.
Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park is basically required
Park elevations range from 7,700 feet in the valleys to more than 14,200 feet at the highest pea. Around one-third of Rocky Mountain National Park exists above tree line (for those flatlanders out there, that means the altitude above which trees no longer grow: around 11,500 feet.)
Popular easy hikes: If you’re an out-of-towner not yet acclimated to the altitude, start out with a flat, easy hike to get used to the environment. Rocky offers several excellent options; two of the most popular are the 0.5-mile packed gravel trails that encircle Bear Lake and Sprague Lake. You also discover easy hikes around the beautiful Lily Lake south of Estes Park, and along the relatively unknown Upper Beaver Meadows Trail not far from the park’s main entrance, which offers wide open views of Longs Peak (the park’s highest summit) and open meadows with trees that glisten with color in the autumn sunshine.
For a few slightly more challenging options, pull over at Bierstadt Lake along the often busy road to Bear Lake for a more steep yet still gently rising 3.2-mile hike, or try the 3.1-mile Gem Lake trail in the (somewhat) lesser visited Lumpy Ridge area north of Estes Park.