A Novice Hiker’s Guide To Rocky Mountain National Park

Even newbies can get adventurous in America’s majestic, high-altitude natural playground.

rocky mountain national park hikes
Photo: Rocky Mountain National Park official site

Love the outdoors but don’t have all the gear? Or perhaps you have it all but have no idea. A visit to the Rocky Mountains might seem daunting if you’re a rookie hiker, given its extreme altitude and all the Colorado talk of “fourteeners” – mountains rising above 14,000 feet that are pro-hiker bucket list ticks. Only one fourteener is inside Rocky Mountain National Park, Longs Peak. But you’re probably not planning on tackling that. Instead, there are plenty of shorter, more manageable walks and hikes for the less experienced – and if you are hiking-averse but still want to see the gorgeous wildlife, glaciers and prairies, there are also some cruisy, scenic drives worth taking that will cover plenty of the 1,074 kilometre-squared park, allowing you to get across the incredible diversity of its terrain.

Here is our guide to the Rocky Mountain National Park for anyone *not* so keen on packing a four-day trek’s worth of dehydrated meals.

rocky mountain national park hikes
Photo: My Colorado Parks

Easy Hikes

Bear Lake Loop

This is one of the most popular hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park, so beware of crowds if that’s not for you. But it is popular for a reason – it’s easy at 0.8 miles (around 1.2 kilometres), and it’s really, really beautiful. 

Big Meadows

For those after a longer hike and the chance to spot some of the Rocky Mountain National Park wildlife, the Big Meadows track will suit. At 3.6 miles in total (approximately 5.7km), it runs through dense forests and past fields known as hotspots for moose and elk.

Tundra Communities Trail

Keen to get up into the heights of the park? Starting at Rock Cut on the Trail Ridge Road (more on that later), the Tundra Communities Trail sits at over 11,000 feet above sea level. It may only be 1.1 miles (just under 2km), but given the altitude, it’s crucial you pack plenty of water and take breaks – oxygen levels are significantly depleted at this height, so even a light walk will leave you puffing. 

Driving The Trail Ridge Road

As America’s longest continuous paved road, you can’t visit Rocky Mountain National Park and not cruise along this iconic byway. While the road is winding and, at some points, very narrow with steep cliff sides, it’s still a relatively easy drive if you’re confident on the right side of the road. Take it slowly, and you won’t be sorry.

The route is easy to find using a mapping app, and once you’re on it, it runs right through from Deer Ridge Junction to Grand Lake, reaching its highest point of 12,183 ft (3,713 metres) at Fall River Pass.

There are several must-visit stops along the way.

Gore Range Overlook

Just past the Alpine Visitor Centre (worth a stop if you need a snack or warm drink) is Gore Range Overlook, which showcases the ice-topped mountains and incredible heights of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Rainbow Curve

This is one to visit as the sun is setting if you have time! The incredible colours wash over the craggy mountains and treetops, creating a spectacular photo opportunity.

Deer Ridge Junction

Whether you’re starting here or ending your drive, be sure to stop and check for elk and moose, which frequent the prairies of Deer Ridge Junction often (and may be responsible for a little traffic as other tourists try to get their snaps!).

rocky mountain national park hikes
Photo: The Stanley Hotel Official Site

Where To Stay

Estes Park is the easiest town to base yourself in when visiting Rocky Mountain National Park. An easy, hour-and-a-half drive from Denver, it’s got plenty of restaurants, cafes and boutique shopping options and is filled with cosy accommodations, too.

The Stanley Hotel

Does The Stanley Hotel look familiar? That’s because it served as the inspiration for Stephen King’s acclaimed novel, The Shining. So you’ve probably seen it on a few “iconic hotels of the world” lists (although the film starring Jack Nicholson used an Oregon hotel for its exterior). It’s also reputed to be haunted if that’s your thing. But if luxury is what you’re after, The Stanley Hotel is easily the most bougie in Estes Park – and with that history, the most storied as well.

StoneBrook Resort

The award-winning StoneBrook Resort has all the Americana, great outdoors vibes you could want, from wood-panelled cabins with fireplaces to outdoor patios right on the Fall River. Some even include private outdoor hot tubs for soaking those tired legs after a long day’s hike.

Hotel Estes

One of the more budget-friendly options, Hotel Estes, has great views of the Rockies and comfortable rooms a short drive from the centre of town. Breakfast is included, and if you’re lucky, there might even be S’mores on offer of an evening.

rocky mountain national park hikes
Photo: The Egg of Estes

Where To Eat

While Estes Park isn’t flooded with fine dining options, would you even want it to be? At the end of a busy day outdoors, some good food (and maybe a spicy margarita) is easy to find, and that’s what matters.

The Egg Of Estes

Hands-down, the best breakfast spot in Estes Park. Everything on the menu is good, but we’ve got a soft spot for the omelettes, which are huge and have more than enough protein to sustain you on your adventures. Don’t skip the house-made hot sauce – and pick up a bottle to take home; you won’t regret it.

Ed’s Cantina & Grill

Ed’s Cantina & Grill dishes up delicious Mexican fare and is conveniently in the centre of town. The margaritas are a must-try if you’re a fan, and take care with the salsa if you’re not a fan of spicy – but if you are, you’re in for a treat.


There is fine dining in Estes Park, and one of the most famed is SEASONED. An independent, chef-owned restaurant that focuses on seasonally available produce and local suppliers expect delicious, comforting fare like meatballs and polenta, chicken confit and salmon cakes.

The writer travelled on behalf of Colorado tourism. Find out more about Colorado here.

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Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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