When visiting Colorado, a stop at Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) is pretty much a requirement.  At least it should be.  The park is not exceptionally large compared to many and with some proper planning we can hit many of the major attractions within a single day (a long day, yes… but we will see an awful lot).

The park is best known for its amazing views and abundant wildlife.  This makes it perfect for photographers to experience a wide variety of photo opportunities in a short period of time.  More often than not we will see a wide variety of wildlife in addition to always lovely lakes and vistas.  Many of the beautiful landscape views do not require hiking; we can set up right by the road.  So if hiking is not part of your plans, you still will get to put your camera to good use.

Tour Options:


Single Day Tour:

Option 1 (let’s hike): It is possible to visit RMNP in a single day; however it makes for a very long day.  We will leave Golden about 2 1/2 hours before sunrise as it will take that long to get into the park.  That allows us to reach the Bear Lake Trailhead just in time to capture the surrounding peaks mirrored in the waters as the morning sun rises.  During the next few hours (before the afternoon haze starts in) we will hike our way to three more lovely mountain lakes.  If we still have the time and energy we will also visit Alberta Falls. (total hiking approx 5-6 miles | 12 hrs total with about 5 hrs drive time).

Option 2 (let’s not hike): This option caters to those who do not wish to do a lot of hiking, and would like to see more of the park including the amazing views of Trail Ridge Road.  We will leave Golden about 2 1/2 hours prior to sunrise.  As with option 1, we will visit Bear Lake at dawn; however we will not continue up the trail to the other lakes.  We will then drive to Sprague Lake, another very easily accessed lake full of beautiful photographic opportunities.  After Sprague Lake we will drive through Moraine Park and make our way over the Continental Divide on Trail Ridge Road.  We will stop periodically at road-side scenic views and whenever we come across wildlife, which is a very frequent occurrence along this road.  Once we leave the park at Grand Lake we will make our way back to Golden via an alternative route through the mountains. (total hiking 1 mile or less | 12 hrs total with about 9 hours drive time).

For details about the locations listed (and others not mentioned) continue reading further down the page.


Two Day Tour:

This tour option allows us to see both the top and bottom halves of the park.  In addition we will be able to make use of both sunset and sunrise allowing for the best photographic opportunities.  From Golden we will travel a lovely mountain drive to the quaint town of Grand Lake.  There we will get some dinner before we head into the park via Trail Ridge Road.  Making our way through the park, we will pass many meadows and valleys which are rich with elk herds.  Eventually we will reach our highest point (12,183 feet), just before the Gore Range Overlook.  Here we will have several locations from which to photograph the amazing sunsets from above the mountains (often above the clouds).  Once the dark of night sets in, we will continue on Trail Ridge Road until we reach Estes Park where we will stay the night.

The next morning (pre-dawn) we will leave to make our way through Moraine Park until we reach the Bear Lake trail head.  We will be there just in time for the beautiful lake reflections of sunrise.  From dawn until mid afternoon we will hike our way to three more lovely mountain lakes (Nyph Lake, Dream Lake, Emerald Lake).  Depending on how long we spend sightseeing and photographing we may also be able to visit Alberta Falls before heading back to Golden. (total hiking approx 5-6 miles).

For details about the locations listed (and others not mentioned) continue reading further down the page.


Wildlife and Wildflower Photography at the Park

If you are looking to photograph wildlife in Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park is the place to be.  The park is home to large herds of elk, marmots abound, eagles fly above, foxes, deer and moose are all on the watch list.  The odds are well in your favor for animal sightings.  Getting that amazing photo is easier here than most places due to the calm nature of the wildlife.  The animals are so used to human presence in the park that they will pretty much “hang out” for you while you attempt to get your gear ready.

In addition to the abundant fauna, there is a rich world of wild flowers to photograph as well.  You’ll want to break out your macro lens (or at least a good telephoto) as these flowers tend to be quite small.  But they make up for their size with brilliant color and amazing background.   Try and get down low to the ground and frame your flower with a mountain view in the background.

A taste of the wildflowers you can expect to photograph: Rocky mountain columbine, Bluebells, Fairy Slippers, Monkshood, Wild Strawberry, Snow Buttercup, Western Spiderwulf and more.


Rocky Mountain National Park (lower Park)

Sprague Lake

Sprague Lake is a very popular place for visitors and photographers alike.  Not just for the amazing views of snow capped peaks reflecting off mirror-like water, but also because it’s just super easy to get to.

For the best photographic opportunities we will want to try and get there by dawn.  Yes, that’s a real early leave time from Golden, but it will be worth it as the West facing mountains glow with the morning light from the East.  Also the morning air is still giving the lake a perfect glass effect which will deteriorate as the air begins to warm and move.

Alberta Falls

A short distance from Moraine Park and only a 1/2 mile hike from the road we can check out Alberta Falls.  Water Falls are always a lot of fun for photographers to shoot.  Be sure to bring your neutral density filter and tripod to help stretch out the water with long exposures.  We can continue up the trail a couple miles past the falls for more photo opportunities at Glass Lake, Mills Lake and The Loche.  If we go that far however; be prepared for a good ten miles of hard hiking if you want to hit all three attractions.

Moraine Park

This large meadow is the very definition of serenity and calm.  The Big Thompson River flows slowly back and forth as the river wanders off toward the mountain peaks that fill the Western view.  As is nearly always the case, dawn and dusk are the best times to be there.   In the morning the Eastern sun will add a beautiful glow onto the mountain faces on the West side of the meadow.  In the evening the mountains create amazing silhouettes in front of colorful skies.  It’s best if there are some clouds above the mountains as they will usually turn a bright red and add some depth to your photos.

Another reason to hit Moraine Park early is to catch the elk.  While elk are common throughout the park, and can be found most any time of day, your images will take on a whole new presence as the elk move through morning fog without a bunch of tourists and cars getting in the way.  Also morning will find fly fisherman making use of the waters.  That can make some very nice photo opportunities (A lone fisherman with the amazing mountain backdrops).

Not far from Moraine Park is the Upper Beaver Meadows area.  This is a good location to photograph the ever present Longs Peak which can be seen from all around the park.  This 14,000+ foot peak dominates the landscape

Bear Lake Trail Head

This hike is a perfect way to see four amazing high altitude lakes in one enjoyable hike.  Each lake is unique in appearance and character.

Bear Lake: is located right beside a parking area and can be reached by anybody.   This is one of the easiest attractions to reach in the park and thus one of the most popular.  In the warmer months we will really want to get there early.  Not only to make use of the morning light (as is nearly always the case in scenic photography), but also to avoid the crowds.  In the winter this is one of the few locations we can easily visit during the winter months without snowshoes and some serious snow hiking) (see above photo).

Nymph Lake: A beautiful yellow lily named Nymphaea polysepala makes its home on the deep blue waters of Nymph Lake. Breathtaking views of Longs Peak and Hallett Peak can be found whether you are looking up or down (this lake reflects like a mirror when the wind is low).

Dream Lake: In summer this is a great easy family hike. Just like Nymph Lake before it, Dream Lake can perfectly mirror the large peaks surrounding it (see photo on right).  Within two hours of sunrise will give you the best shots.

Emerald Lake: The trail to Emerald Lake passes Nymph Lake and the north shore of Dream Lake. Below the saddle between Hallett Peak and Flattop Mountain at 10,080 ft, the mountains rise steeply from the shore.


Rocky Mountain National Park (upper areas)

Trail Ridge Road

This road is a “must see” during our photography tour.  It is closed a good portion of the year due to heavy snow so we cannot access this are in the winter.  The road takes us well above treeline as it snakes its way along the mountain ridges.  Expect to spend a long time covering a short distance since every few turns we will want to jump out and take photographs.  Notable locations to take photos are Gore Range Overlook and Forest Canyon Overlook.

In addition to the amazing views, we WILL run into a bunch of wildlife.  We are virtually guaranteed some great photographs of elk, marmots and eagles.  In addition there is the occasional run in with foxes, beavers and moose.

Chasm Falls

This attractive waterfall can be found along the Old Fall River Road.  The falls are located alongside the road itself so no hiking of worth is needed.

  • Time of Year: Year Round.
  • Tour Length: 1 or 2 days (8-9 hrs / day)
  • Difficulty: Easy to Difficult (depends on itinerary)
  • Landscapes: Rocky Mountains, waterfalls, mountain streams & lakes.
  • Wildlife:  Elk, big horn sheep, mountain goats, pika, ermine, marmots, eagles.