Few places can rival the charm and splendor of Estes Park, Colorado when it comes to capturing the breathtaking beauty of nature through the lens. Nestled in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, this picturesque town offers many awe-inspiring photography locations that will leave any shutterbug in awe. This comprehensive guide will take you on a visual journey through some of the most recommended photography locations in Estes Park, Colorado.
Rocky Mountain National Park: A Photographer’s Paradise
Rocky Mountain National Park is undoubtedly the crown jewel of Estes Park’s photography offerings. Spanning over 415 square miles, this national park is a haven for nature enthusiasts and photographers alike. You’ll find diverse landscapes here, from towering mountain peaks to serene alpine lakes and lush meadows.
1. Nymph Lake, Dream Lake & Emerald Lake: Reflections of Tranquility
If you’re seeking that perfect reflection shot, look no further than Dream Lake. Nestled high in the Rockies, this pristine lake offers mirror-like reflections of the towering Hallett Peak and Flattop Mountain. The best time to capture this ethereal beauty is during the early morning hours when the water is calm and the sky is painted with hues of pink and orange.
If you’re up for a short trek, the Emerald Lake trail rewards you with breathtaking views of Hallett Peak, Flattop Mountain, and Longs Peak.
The adventure begins at the Bear Lake Trailhead and showcases three enchanting lakes: Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, and Emerald Lake. This “Out and Back Trail” spans 3.3 miles if you go all the way, with an elevation gain of around 700 feet, making it ideal for beginner- to intermediate-level hikers. Prepare your wide-angle lens and get ready for an unforgettable hike!
2. Trail Ridge Road: A Scenic Drive
Trail Ridge Road is the ultimate choice for those who prefer to capture panoramic vistas from the comfort of their car. At just over 12,000 feet in elevation, it is the highest continuous paved highway in North America, providing photographers with sweeping views of the Rocky Mountains, including Longs Peak and the Never Summer Mountains.
The entire road is smoothly paved, making it easily accessible to any vehicle. Along the way, you’ll be captivated by breathtaking views of tundras, snowy peaks, alpine flora, and wildlife. The sunsets in this area are truly magical, providing ample opportunities for stunning photographs.
Every photographer should have a range of lenses, from standard to telephoto, in their bag. Due to the elevation gain, it’s important to stay hydrated and prevent altitude sickness by bringing plenty of water. Please note that Trail Ridge Road is only open during specific seasons. Click here to learn more about Trail Ridge Road and its year-round partial opening.
3. Moraine Park: A Wildlife Wonderland
Estes Park isn’t just about landscapes; it’s also a paradise for wildlife enthusiasts. Moraine Park, situated in the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park, is where you can photograph various animals, including elk, mule deer, and bighorn sheep. Keep your telephoto lens ready for some incredible close-ups of these magnificent creatures.
Moraine Park boasts a breathtakingly diverse landscape, showcasing majestic mountains, meandering rivers, lush evergreen forests, and picturesque valleys. It’s conveniently close to Estes Park and offers multiple entry points. While this natural wonder can be enjoyed anytime, sunrise unveils a genuinely captivating spectacle as the east-facing mountains come alive in the soft hues of dawn.
This location offers many perspectives and angles to capture, making it ideal for photographers equipped with both wide and telephoto lenses. Additionally, during the fall season, Moraine Park is renowned as one of the prime spots to witness the mesmerizing Elk rut.
Prepare to be spellbound by the wonders of Moraine Park – a true gem in its own right.
4. Gem Lake Trail: A Hidden Gem
For the adventurous photographers, the Gem Lake Trail offers a rewarding hike leading to one of the most secluded gems in the Rockies. Though moderately challenging, the trail is a fantastic opportunity to capture the rugged beauty of the mountains, unique rock formations, and the shimmering Gem Lake at the summit.
5. Bear Lake: Serenity at Its Best
Bear Lake is another iconic location that should be on every photographer’s list. Surrounded by a dense forest of pine trees and with the imposing Hallett Peak as its backdrop, this serene alpine lake is a fantastic spot for capturing the tranquility of nature. The reflections in the clear waters are mesmerizing.
To reach Bear Lake, take the Beaver Meadows entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park and continue along Bear Lake Road until the trailhead parking lot. This picturesque lake offers some of the most breathtaking views in the park and serves as the starting point for a range of hikes suitable for adventurers of all levels of experience. While a wide-angle lens is sufficient to capture the beauty of this place, it might also be wise to bring a telephoto lens in case you encounter any wildlife, such as a majestic moose.
6. Timber Lake: Hidden Gem in the Backcountry
Timber Lake, though a bit off the beaten path, is a hidden gem that promises remarkable photographic opportunities. The journey to this secluded lake takes you through dense forests, and the reward is a pristine mountain lake surrounded by towering peaks. The untouched beauty of Timber Lake is a dream come true for landscape photographers.
The trail to Timber Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park starts at the Timber Lake Trailhead, approximately 9.3 miles north of the Grand Lake Entrance and 10.6 miles south of the Alpine Visitor Center.
Timber Lake is a 12-mile roundtrip hike with an elevation gain of 2,349 feet. At the time of writing, the slide area is relatively small and should not pose a significant obstacle for hikers with moderate hiking or scrambling experience.
Embark on the hike as you meander through a serene lodgepole pine forest. The trail gracefully ascends the western slopes of Jackstraw Mountain, offering captivating views of the Never Summer Mountains and the picturesque Kawuneeche Valley peeking through the verdant canopy. As you make your way up the mountain, immerse yourself in the breathtaking scenery that unfolds while embracing the tranquility of the surrounding woods.
7. Lily Lake: A Tranquil Oasis
Lily Lake is a tranquil oasis that provides an ideal setting for capturing the serenity of Estes Park. Surrounded by lush vegetation and framed by the towering peaks of the Rockies, this small lake is a favorite spot for birdwatchers and photographers alike. The reflections in the calm waters are simply enchanting.
Because of its easy access, Lily Lake can see a lot of tourist traffic in the summer. If you’re willing to overlook the popularity of this attraction, it has some fantastic lakeside views. Take a short walk around the lake’s perimeter, or climb higher on the Lily Ridge trail to get aerial views of the surrounding landscape. To prepare appropriately for this photo adventure, all that’s needed is a broad or standard-perspective lens.
This trail has excellent parking and is a 0.8-mile loop, with a total of 36 feet of elevation gain
8. Alluvial Fan Bridge: The Power of Nature
The Alluvial Fan Bridge offers a unique perspective on the forces of nature. A catastrophic flood in 1982 formed this area, creating a dramatic landscape of boulders and rushing water. Photographers can capture nature’s raw power and resilience in this striking location.
Situated along the road to Endovalley, the Alluvial Fan presents a magnificent sight—a cascade of water gracefully flowing through a boulder field. This natural wonder underwent reconstruction in 2020, with the trail leading to it meticulously designed to ensure full accessibility. From the western approach, the path gently meanders, guiding you to a 56-foot bridge that spans the Roaring River, granting access to the eastern side of the Alluvial Fan.
Regardless of your hiking prowess, everyone can relish the awe-inspiring vistas encompassing the Mummy Range, Horseshoe Falls, and Endovalley. Take a moment to appreciate the interpretive signage that reveals the formation of this geological splendor. In 1982, a breach in the earthen dam at Lawn Lake released a devastating torrent, carrying away vegetation and debris that eventually gave birth to what we now know as the Alluvial Fan.
The boulder field and sediment enveloping the Fan are lasting reminders of that catastrophic event. Restroom facilities are near the west parking area and the Lawn Lake trailhead. And I mustn’t forget to mention that in autumn, the transformative hues of the aspen groves in Endovalley paint a vivid spectacle, so don’t forget to bring your camera!
9. 3M Curve: A Photographer’s Delight
3M Curve on Trail Ridge Road is a must-stop for photographers looking for that quintessential Rocky Mountain shot. From this vantage point, you can capture the grandeur of the mountains as they stretch out before you. The views are breathtaking whether you visit at sunrise, sunset, or under a blanket of stars.
This location is conveniently on the side of the road after entering Rocky Mountain National Park from the Beaver Meadows entrance. There is often plenty of parking, and it is a brief hike to beautiful scenery.
10. Sprague Lake: A Calm Retreat
Sprague Lake is a peaceful retreat offering a serene nature photography setting. Surrounded by lush greenery and the Continental Divide as a backdrop, this lake is a favorite for photographers seeking a tranquil escape. Wildlife is abundant here, making it an excellent spot for capturing birds and other critters.
For breathtaking mountain views from an easily accessible lake, look no further than Sprague Lake. Just off Bear Lake Road, this hidden gem offers a well-maintained trail looming around its shimmering waters. Rise and shine early to catch a sunrise here, and you’ll be rewarded with a feast for the eyes: vibrant colors and stunning scenery. Capture the whole scene with a wide lens or play with perspective using a telephoto lens to accentuate the mountains and forests in the backdrop. Enjoy nature’s wonders at their finest!
11. Hidden Valley Creek Nature Walk: A World of Details
For macro and nature photographers, the Hidden Valley Creek Nature Walk is a treasure trove of intricate details. In this serene setting, explore the world of wildflowers, small creatures, and the delicate balance of nature. Patience and a keen eye are rewarded with stunning close-up shots.
Discover the stunning 2.2-mile out-and-back trail near Estes Park, Colorado. Renowned for its challenging terrain, this route typically takes 1 hour and 45 minutes to conquer. Immerse yourself in birding, hiking, and snowshoeing amidst unparalleled serenity, as encountering fellow explorers is rare. With its year-round accessibility, this trail emanates timeless beauty. Please note that dogs are not permitted on this trail, so leave your furry friends at home.
12. Old Fall River Road: The Road Less Traveled
Old Fall River Road offers a different perspective on Rocky Mountain National Park. This unpaved road takes you through lush valleys and cascading streams, offering a unique opportunity to capture the park’s quieter, more rustic side. The road is typically open from July through September, making it a seasonal delight for photographers.
As the first road to be built in the Rocky Mountain National Park’s interior, Old Fall River Road offers a scenic drive through breathtaking natural landscapes. You’ll encounter captivating sights such as the Alluvial Fan, lush aspen groves, and unique rock formations along the way. Drive up to the Alpine Visitor Center or return to the Fall River Road entrance for a memorable journey.
For the ultimate experience, plan your visit during the fall season when the aspen leaves transform into a stunning array of colors. Be sure to bring a variety of lenses and equipment to capture the abundance of picturesque opportunities. It’s worth noting that Old Fall River Road is closed to cars during the fall, but there are alternative ways to explore and appreciate its beauty.
Discover all the other exciting ways to enjoy the sights and sounds of Old Fall River Road here.
13. Ouzel Falls and Calypso Cascades: A Waterfall Wonderland
For those drawn to waterfalls’ beauty, Ouzel Falls and Calypso Cascades are two gems you won’t want to miss. Lush forests surround the trails leading to these cascades and offer excellent opportunities to photograph the dynamic flow of water over rocks and through moss-covered landscapes.
The hike to Ouzel Falls begins at the remote Wild Basin Trailhead, nestled in the southeastern corner of Rocky Mountain National Park near the small communities of Meeker Park and Allenspark. To get there from Estes Park, drive 12.6 miles south on Colorado Highway 7 until you reach the junction with Wild Basin Road, where you’ll turn right. After traveling 0.4 miles, take another right turn into the park. The Wild Basin Trailhead awaits you approximately 2.2 miles down a narrow, two-wheel drive gravel road.
This scenic hike offers a variety of attractions, including the beautiful Copeland Falls and Calypso Cascades. Lower Copeland Falls, the first highlight on this route, is just over three-tenths of a mile from the trailhead. The upper falls are located another one-tenth of a mile upstream along the North St. Vrain Creek. A convenient side trail allows you to visit the lower and upper falls without backtracking.
Once you pass the falls, the trail crosses over Sandbeach Creek. After about 1.3 miles from the trailhead, you’ll come across a spur trail leading to five backcountry campgrounds, offering seven campsites. To continue towards Calypso Cascades, stay to the left at this junction.
Around 1.6 miles further, you’ll encounter an unnamed waterfall, which should not be mistaken for Calypso Cascades, situated another two-tenths of a mile up the trail. They are known to be a spectacular sight during the spring run-off.
The Calypso Cascades commences from the secluded Wild Basin Trailhead in the southeast corner of Rocky Mountain National Park. Situated near the quaint towns of Meeker Park and Allenspark, the trailhead is reachable from Estes Park by driving 12.6 miles south on Colorado Highway 7, then turning right at the Wild Basin Road junction. After 0.4 miles, make another right turn into the park. The Wild Basin Trailhead is approximately 2.2 miles from the park entrance on a narrow, two-wheel drive gravel road.
Numerous destinations await explorers venturing from the Wild Basin Trailhead. The initial stop on this route is Lower Copeland Falls, just over three-tenths of a mile from the trailhead. Continuing upstream along the North St. Vrain Creek for about one-tenth of a mile brings you to the upper falls.
A side trail conveniently connects the lower and upper falls parallel to the main trail. After visiting Upper Copeland Falls, this path offers a way to return to the main trail without retracing your steps.
Moving beyond the falls, the trail crosses over Sandbeach Creek. About 1.3 miles from the trailhead, you will encounter a spur trail that grants access to five backcountry campgrounds, boasting seven individual sites.
Stay left at this junction to proceed to Calypso Cascades. Around 1.6 miles into the hike, you will pass an unnamed waterfall, which should not be mistaken for Calypso Cascades. The true cascades await you another two-tenths of a mile further up the trail.
14. Estes Park Aerial Tramway: Birds-Eye Views
Take a ride on the Estes Park Aerial Tramway for a different perspective. As you ascend, you’ll be treated to breathtaking panoramic views of the town, the surrounding mountains, and the vast Colorado plains. It’s an ideal spot for both landscape and cityscape photography.
Estes Park, Colorado, is a photographer’s dream destination, offering an abundance of captivating locations to capture the natural beauty of the Rocky Mountains. Whether you’re an amateur photographer or a seasoned pro, these recommended photography spots will leave you spellbound. So, grab your camera, pack your gear, and embark on a photographic journey through the picturesque landscapes of Estes Park. Your next masterpiece awaits.