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Rocky Mountian National Park picture perfect for photographers

Updated on June 13, 2015
Rocky Mountain National Park:
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, USA

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Located between Grand Lake and Estes Park Colorado

Traveling to Rocky Mountain national Park

Driving instructions from the east

From Denver via Boulder/Hwy 36
Distance: 66 mi / 106 km
Time: 1.5 - 2 hours
Take I-25 north to Exit 217 US Hwy 36 west to Estes Park

From Denver via Hwy 66
Distance: 71 mi / 114 km
Time: 1.5 - 2 hours
Take I-25 north to Exit 243 Hwy 66 west to Estes Park

From Denver via the Peak to Peak Scenic By-way
Distance: 108 mi / 174 km
Time: 2.5 - 3 hours
Take I-70 west to Exit 244 US Hwy 6 to State Highway 119 to Nederland. From Nederland take State Hwy 72 to State Hwy 7 to Estes Park. GPS units typically will not show this route. Use a paper map.

From Loveland via Hwy 34
Distance: 53 mi / 85 km
Time: 1 hours
Take US Hwy 34 west to Estes Park

Driving Directions From the West

From I-70 West of Denver
Distance: 61 mi / 98 km
Time: 1.5 - 2 hours
Take I-70 to exit 232 (Empire) to US Hwy 40 to Granby to US Hwy 34 to to Grand Lake. During the winter, US Hwy 40 may be closed or have restrictions due to snow. Check with CDOT for conditions.

From Kremmling / Hwy 40
Distance: 42 mi / 66 km
Time: 1 - 1.5 hours
Take US Hwy 40 east to Granby to US Hwy 34 to Grand Lake.

Rocky Mountain National Park a slice of heaven and a photographer's delight

Nowhere else can you on a lazy 2 hour drive through the mountains where you will have the chance to capture photographs of deer, elk, moose, wild turkeys, owls, bighorn sheep, black bear, mountain lions, blue jays and all the other critters that call this wildlife wonderland home. Not to mention the wildflowers, starry nights and sweeping vistas of snow capped mountains of long ago.

Little bit about the park

Rocky Mountain National Park’s is roughly 415 square miles of some of the most remote mountain wilderness areas in the United States. Also, as you are hiking with your camera there is 300 miles, you read that correctly 300 miles of hiking trails to enjoy and get that feeling of mountain men and explorers that first walked the path. Connecting it all from Grand Lake to Estes Park is Trail Ridge Road the highest paved road in the world which crests over 12,000 feet, 1500 to 2000 above timberline. You will be able to stop at the numerous points and overlooks to experience and photograph the subalpine and alpine world. Learn more about Trail Ridge Road.

Roughly half way in between Grand Lake and Estes Park at the Alpine visiting center
Roughly half way in between Grand Lake and Estes Park at the Alpine visiting center

Mountain weather

Make sure you prepare for the worst weather and take precaution to keep your camera dry from the elements. Summer months up above timberline or an illusion at best. Snow and rain can and will happen during the summer months of June, July and August. All through the park as you make your climb to be above timberline there will be signs warning you of the dangers of the rapidly changing weather patterns that exist at that altitude. Being in a thunder and lightening storm at 12,000 feet will give you something to tell your grandkids about, it is something you will never forget. In the photo below at 10 am on July 3rd, 2014 I was visiting the Estes Park side of the Continental Divide in Rocky Mountain National Park and it was a nice sunny warm 75 degrees at 10:30 am big black stormy clouds rolled in, and the temperature then dropped 30 degrees and the rain fell in buckets. By noon there was 2 inch's of snow on the ground and the temperature was 27 degrees. I huddle in my Jeep with the heater on with my dog Hector and we ate our lunch and looked at the photography's I had all ready taken that day. At 12:45 pm the temperature again rose as the clouds, rain and snow moved on. When we finished our trip over Trail Ridge Road to Grand Lake side, it was a balmy 75 degrees at 2:00 pm. Learn more about the weather in Rocky Mountain National Park, click on this link Weather.


Photographing Wildflowers

I for one enjoy photographing wildflowers and in Rocky Mountain National Park there are so many different and varied ecosystems that are home to hundreds of different type wildflower species. I always carry this book that I purchased from for easy identification. I have included a few wildflower photos that I had taken over the last couple of years or so.

Mountain Iris

Scientific name: Iris missouriensis Family: Iris family (Iridaceae) Habitat: Found in moist montane meadows.

Alpine Sunflower

Scientific name: Rydbergia grandiflora Family: Aster family (Asteraceae) Habitat: Alpine meadows

Plains Pricklypear

Scientific name: Opuntia polyacantha Family: Cactus family (Cactaceae) Habitat: Dry, sunny montane slopes.

Photographing wildlife

My biggest joy in life is photographing wildlife. Every since I was a young lad and read Jack London "Call of the Wild" I was forever hooked on the wilderness trail. My first attempts of wildlife photography meet with disaster, mostly because I borrowed my Moms Polaroid Instamatic camera. But over the years I have developed a knack for locating wildlife and getting within range for some stunning shots, Rocky Mountain National Park is a photographer's dream for wildlife. RMNP great large-animal population makes it one of the United States top wildlife photographing destinations. More than 60 species of mammals, 280 recorded bird species, six amphibians, 11 species of fish; and countless insects and butterflies.

Locating elk to photgraph

Elk can be seen anytime and just about anywhere in the park. They also wander down into the towns of Grand Lake and Estes Park. During the summer the elk tend to stay above timberline moving down into the lower meadows in the fall, winter and spring. A popular viewing period being the fall rut, or mating season. Look for elk in meadows and where meadow and forest meet. Elk like to feed at dawn and dusk.

Elk with his felt on, photo taken in late May

Photographing elk in the last days of May, I cannot but help to think how tough they are to survive the brutal winter, only the strongest prevail. As they stand at the edge of the forest just within the meadow I can only imagine the bone chilling frozen knights behind it. Hiking Rocky Mountain National Park trials in May and June I have stumbled across their bodies, half drifted over with snow, no sign of any type of injury. Just succumbed to the bitter cold one night with ice working in their lungs.

Locating the Bighorn Sheep

I have seen Bighorn sheep just in one area of the park, but I am sure the roam other areas. I always locate them at Sheep Lakes from May through mid-August about half-way in between Fall River Road and the farthest northeast entrance to the park on the Estes Park side.

More Bighorn Sheep

I took this photo just north of Sheep Lakes on the mountain side right next to the road and park entrance.

Moose, Mountain Lions and Bears

I have never been able to get a professional quality photo of a moose. In wildlife photography, timing is everything. But I have seen moose in the deep timber and willow thickets along the Colorado River in the Kawuneeche Valley on the park's west side. They have been known to wander down into Grand Lake and walk down main street. I have never seen them on the Estes Park side of the Rocky Mountain national park. Bears seem to wander the same path and areas as the moose and stick close to the Kawuneeche Valley on the park's west side. Years ago while I lived in the Grand Lake area, I was in a saloon called Grumpy's on a Tuesday night and a bear came in through the front door. Stood up to his full height to view the room and the very silent crowd. The bear not noticing anything of interest turned around and left. I have on several occasions spotted mountain lions at the southern entrance on the Estes Park side.


I was able to capture this image of a soaring hawk just above the Kawuneeche Valley on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park just above the timber at about 10,00 feet altitude.

Be Safe

It always amazes me how people who are not familiar with nature and the wilderness put their health and life at risk while visiting the park. Just remember that no matter how peaceful the animals look while feeding and grazing they are still wild animals. Keep your distance and do not crowd the animals for yours and theirs safety. Watch from a distance. Use binoculars or a telephoto lens to get close-up views and photographs. Learn more about safely viewing wildlife.

Example on how not to photograph wildlife

This fellow walked in between myself (I was about 30 yards away) and this elk to videotape and in doing so put himself in harms way. Luck smiled on him this day and he walked away with his videotape. What is alarming to me is how he was clueless on the danger he had put himself in.

Plan a photographic adventure

I hope I have given you a little bit of insight on what a photographic paradise Rocky Mountain National Park. Plan your trip soon and remember to take your camera.


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