National Park

The best lookout point in Rocky Mountain National Park is Forest Canyon

The idea for the walk came to me last weekend while I was taking care of some Sunday night obligations in downtown Estes Park. I had been in town for over a month and had just purchased an annual pass for Rocky Mountain National Park. So I figured there couldn’t be a more suitable first use than catching a weekend’s sunset before dusk.

The answer to the best vantage point was only a Google search, which was flooded with references to Forest Canyon which overlooks Trail Ridge Road.

You can access Trail Ridge Road through the RMNP Fall River Gate entrance, and from there it’s a straight shot. 15 miles up the winding wooded road, passing Beaver Ponds and Rainbow Curve Overlook and veering right into a cliff parallel to a parking lot marked with a sign that says “Forest Canyon Overlook”.

The temperature has dropped nearly 20 degrees from what it was at the base of the park, so it’s in your best interest to pack layers if you venture to the viewpoint.

A few hundred yards from the lookout, a herd of elk grazed on the tundra, their young huddled against their hips. Since fall in Colorado means elk rut, chances are this will be accompanied by the echoes of the howling bull elk as he instinctively sets in motion.

By the time I reached my destination, a mixture of freezing rain and fog had polluted the view and the handful of tourists crowding the lookout were dropping like flies, myself included.

I decided to try a point at a higher elevation and did the moment trip to the top of Trail Ridge Road. Upon reaching the new vantage point, the fog and rain had ceased and the clouds lifted to make way for a soulful view. The setting sun painted the sky a pale orange hue with a silhouette of layered mountain peaks and a winding asphalt road in the foreground.

I walked down a path that crossed the protected tundra to get a better view, and as I still watched the scene in humble amazement, I heard a woman scream at something behind me.

“Look, it’s a rainbow in the sky, the rain let out a rainbow!” exclaimed the woman.

I turned to see the towering bow stretching from one mountain base to the next. Although he only stayed for a short time, the harlequin reflection acted as a symbolic crown adorning the picturesque scene before him.

I stayed just long enough to see a few mule deer passing through the tundra and even got to see a friendly pika navigating the various rocks scattered at my feet.

When the sky turned black and the stars framed, I retreated from view and returned to the duties of the day. A worthwhile efficient hike for anyone looking to catch an RMNP sunset before Trail Ridge Road closes for the winter.

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter, The Adventurist, to receive outdoor news straight to your inbox.