Why September Is Our Favorite Month To Visit Rocky Mountain National Park

The Aspire Team
October 25, 2023

Let’s just get this out of the way upfront: There is no bad time of year to check out RMNP, but we wholeheartedly believe September is the best month to visit Rocky Mountain National Park.

If you’ve visited our blog before, you already know that we absolutely love September. But this time, we wanted to get a bit more specific and give our best argument for why you should take a trip (or, better yet, a tour with us) to Rocky Mountain National Park this year. 

Here’s why.

September Offers Perfect Hiking Weather In Rocky Mountain National Park

Colorful aspen trees changing to yellow as a path cuts through the forest in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Not too hot, not too cold, perfectly right in the middle — September has it when it comes to hiking weather. The trails will be clear of snow and start to have that incredibly satisfying crunch of fall’s first leaves underfoot. You’ll get crisp mornings, warm afternoons, and chilly evenings thanks to altitude ranging from 7,600’ to 14,259’.

While Denver might still be quite hot, the Rockies will typically be quite a bit cooler — just don’t skip the sunblock — altitude amplifies the sun! It’s that perfect shoulder season to start your morning hike with a long sleeve and tie it around your waist when you heat up. You can even break out that puffer jacket or vest to pair with your shorts and Chacos! You’ll fit right in around here — it’s the unofficial September in Colorado “ready for fall but not ready to give up summer” uniform!

The Elk Rut & Wildlife Viewing

A bull elk sounds his bugle call to attract the cow elk.

September in Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park means love is in the air for local wildlife! Just listen for the somewhat haunting bugle used by male elk (bulls) to attract the ladies (cows). You might even catch some males fighting with their antlers to assert their dominance.

Yes — the tail end of September is the beginning of the mating season, known as the elk rut and we know just where to go to spot them in, ahem, action! You might even spot deer, moose, or bighorn sheep!

Fall Festivals In Estes Park

Estes Park serves as the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park and has plenty to offer for before, after, or even if you don’t even venture inside the park! And September is our absolute favorite time to visit because the town is abuzz. 

Festival season kicks off with the annual Longs Peak Scottish Irish Highland Festival (Sept. 8-10), which has celebrated the heritage, sounds, taste, and arts of the Scottish and Irish cultures for over four decades. This is followed two weeks later by the Autumn Gold Festival (Sept, 23-24), with “bands, brats, and beer” held in honor of the changing of the seasons as the Aspens turn golden. Finally, Elk Fest, or Elktober (Sept, 30 - Oct. 1) features Native American dancing and storytelling, a bugling contest, and more to celebrate the elk rut.

These festivals are reason alone to take a drive out to Estes Park, but seriously, while you’re there, you might as well check out some of the majestic park (just don’t forget about the timed entry system*).

*NOTE: If you book a tour with us, we make sure the timed entry is arranged!

The Fall Foliage

A changing yellow aspen grove sits below a snowy peak in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Yes, yes, we’ve touched on it a few times, but Rocky Mountain National Park is truly one of the best places in the country to witness the changing of the seasons. Estes Park even throws an annual festival to celebrate the leaf-changing glory! And we think it’s well-deserved.

Call us basic, call us whatever you want — but the beauty of the changing colors in one of the most serene places on earth completely takes RMNP to another level.

Fun fact: Each aspen grove has its own hue when its leaves change, making them distinct from each other and creating a vibrant color palette across the park. 

Trail Ridge Road Is Still Open

It’s not here for a long time, but it sure is here for a good time. Barring any early snowstorms, Trail Ridge Road remains open during September until the park closes it later in the fall. The highest continuously paved road in the U.S., Trail Ridge Road connects Estes Park to Grand Lake at the park’s western entrance. Our guides watch anxiously for it to open in late spring and try to sneak in for one last tour before it closes up for the season.

We won’t go as far as saying all of the good stuff in Rocky Mountain National Park is off of Trail Ridge Road, but… it does offer the best bang for your buck without having to drive to the far reaches of the park.

Many of RMNP’s most popular hikes and attractions are off Trail Ridge Road, and there are many turnouts and lake parking lots that offer great wildlife viewing opportunities. 

Ready For a Fall Adventure In Rocky Mountain National Park?

Road lined with yellow trees lead into Rocky Mountain National Park.

We sure are! How about you?

You’ll feel the extra enthusiasm and pep in the step from our guides if you book a September tour, and it’s not just their coffee kicking in! The changing of seasons in RMNP truly is magical and pictures just won’t do it justice — you have to come see it for yourself!

And we’ve got options for you! Whether you want to stretch your legs on the trails or just take an incredible ride and see the sights from the comfort of one of our luxury vans, choose your adventure below. :


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