Rocky Mountain National Park offers a variety of free ranger programs for all ages. You can find the current schedule in the park newspaper, which is available at any visitor center or entrance station. The park newspaper is also available online.
Before you peruse the schedule, let us give you an overview of what is offered:
Nothing beats sitting in Moraine Park Campground Amphitheater on a clear night, with the shadows of the mountains above you and the stars overhead. Cuddle up under a blanket with your loved ones and listen to the ranger program while the little kids get sleepy and you sip hot chocolate from a Thermos. Nothing beats it, I tell ya.
Evening campfire programs are probably the most popular programs in the park. During the summer, campfire programs are given at most of the campgrounds every night, and they are also given nightly at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center (near Estes Park) and weekly at the Kawuneeche Visitor Center (near Grand Lake).
You do not have to be camping in the park to attend one of these programs. You can get a list of topics (the programs are different every night) at any visitor center or by calling the park at (970) 586-1206.
In the summer, they also sometimes offer a campfire marshmallow roast and sing-along on the west side of the park, or catch the cowboy sing-along in downtown Estes Park (not put on by the National Park Service).
During the spring and fall, evening programs are offered more sporadically – it changes every year, depending on who’s in the White House! 🙂 During the winter, there are Saturday evening programs at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center, but the topics tend to be geared toward a local, adult audience. The Kawuneeche Visitor Center offers evening programs sporadically in winter.
These talks last about 30 minutes and are given at several locations in the park. If you are visiting in the summer, a good talk to catch is the bighorn sheep talk at Sheep Lakes (on Hwy 34 just inside the Fall River Entrance). You will get to touch bighorn sheep horns and fur, and, if you’re lucky, you’ll get to see a bighorn sheep.
The Alpine Visitor Center, near the ‘top’ of Trail Ridge Road, is home to a variety of talks. The best one to catch is anything that tells about animals on the tundra; the names of these programs change each year. Another interesting one, mainly for the adults, is the talk about the history of Trail Ridge Road.
They sometimes offer a bear talk; last I looked it was at the Fall River Visitor Center. It’s another good choice.
If you are visiting in fall, be sure to catch the elk talk that is given nightly in Horseshoe Park. You will definitely see elk during this talk, since the talk is given during the mating season, and the elk are everywhere!
Most of the guided walks in the park are very easy strolls. Perpetual favorites are the beaver walk on the east side of the park, or the tundra walk at the Alpine Visitor Center (dress warmly!). You can also take wildflower walks, history walks, and geology walks.
The more adventurous should look at the offerings on the west side of the park, as they tend to offer programs that involve more vigorous hiking.
If you can catch a night walk, these are a lot of fun. Budget restrictions have prevented the park from offering them as often as they used to. They usually do a full moon walk in winter; it’s a coldie but a goodie!
These ranger programs change each year, but the puppet show is terrific if you can catch it. Check the newspaper for other programs. The kids’ programs are almost always good.
If you’re traveling with kids, or if you’re a kid at heart, be sure to check out the Junior Ranger Program. You can pick up a Junior Ranger Book at any of the park’s visitor centers or online at the link above. Complete all the activities in the book (one of which is attending a ranger program) and you will earn a Junior Ranger badge! It’s a small, plastic ranger badge look-alike, and it’s free!
Once you complete the book, stop into any visitor center, where you will be quizzed by a ranger about what you learned. If you pass, which I’m sure you will, they will award you a badge with pomp and circumstance and have everyone in the vicinity give you a round of applause (unless you opt out, but why?).
Some parks put age restrictions on their Junior Ranger Programs, but Rocky doesn’t, thank goodness. The youngest I ever awarded a badge to was four years old, and the oldest was eighty!
Make sure to arrive at all ranger programs a few minutes before the start time so that you can find parking and/or get a good seat. Also make sure that you are appropriately dressed, especially for any sort of outdoor program. An hour and a half on the tundra can get verrrrrrry cold, and a short rain shower might dampen your enthusiasm… It’s a good idea to have water and snacks, and always wear sunscreen!
If you’ll be in the area for awhile and want to catch the very best programs, try this: go into any visitor center and find one of the younger, college-age rangers. Ask them what three programs they would take their parents to if their parents were visiting. I can almost guarantee this will launch an enthusiastic explanation of the best ranger programs!
We hope you’ll take advantage of the free ranger programs that Rocky Mountain National Park has to offer – they’re one of the best parts of a visit to a National Park!