Some of the links below are affiliate links, which means we will earn a commission on the products or services you purchase using the links. There is no additional cost to you and the earnings help keep this website running. Read the Affiliate Disclaimer for more information.
The drive from Estes Park to Grand Lake through the Rocky Mountain National Park in late September is truly spectacular. No photos or words could do justice to the beauty and serenity the park offers.
We didn’t know this going in, but fall is a magical time at the park not only with the changing of the colors but also the mating of elks.
The experience of watching a bull elk assemble his harem as he marches through the meadow with his head high stopping occasionally to bugle is unforgettable and offers a true connection to the wild. The bugling is his way of attracting cows to join his harem and to intimidate rival bulls by communicating his size and strength. It was truly magical to experience this and something we will never forget.
We started our drive on 34 towards Estes Park and stop briefly to take in the reflections of the changing leaves around Estes lake. From there we took 36 to the Beaver Meadows entrance into Rocky Mountain National Park. The park entrance sign is on the right before entering the gate and there is a picture post to rest cameras on for timed photos.
The park ranger told us to allow 90 minutes to get to Grand Lake for a three hour round trip drive. Our drive ended up taking six hours with many breathtaking stops along the way and we still felt a bit rushed. Plan to spend the entire day at the park to enjoy the sights and wildlife.
Five minutes into our drive we spotted elks not too far from the road and stopped at a pull out to watch them. Little did we know this was just a glimpse into what we were going to see later in the day. We stopped at Rainbow Curve to take a break, enjoy the view and our lunch on our Jammock. The sun came out briefly which was welcomed since it was rainy and cloudy most of the day.
There were ground squirrels running along the ledge where people were standing. Leo even tried to eat one running close by.
As we made our way towards Grand Lake we stopped at Timber Creek campground to check it out for possible tent and RV camping in the future. The fee is 20 per night and the RV limit is 30 feet. We saw a few sites that could accommodate our RV although we would enter on Grand Lake entrance station because the drive from 36 through the park would be difficult in our RV.
Three hours later we made it to Grand Lake just outside the park and walked around the town with Leo. It’s a very quaint town with many shops and restaurants on the main road. Since it was a week day in October, most places were closed. We did find a cute coffee shop to grab a drink for the ride back through the park. The town has many grassy parks and is very dog friendly. We would love to come back in the summer to check it out and go out on the lake.
As we made our way out of the park around 5 p.m. the elks were everywhere. The roads were getting congested with people stopping in the middle of the road to watch them. This was the time we saw the harems and the bulls bugling.
It was a magical way to end our day at the park. More surprisingly, after we left the park and stopped by the visitor center, the parking lot was over run with elks. It was more than we could have expected and a memorable experience we will never forget.