Lake Louise in Canada

Your Rocky Mountains Bucket List: 5 Must-See Spots

If I had to name one region of this amazing world that has impacted me more than any other, it would have to be the Rocky Mountains trip I took with my family.

My deep connection to this region started waaaay back in 1996. My wife and I honeymooned in Estes Park, Colorado and explored Rocky Mountain National Park, soaking in all of the area’s grandeur for a full week while staying in a small cabin. What an amazing memory!

But that was just the start of my love affair with this unrivaled mountain range. I’ve got plenty more to talk about, so let’s not waste any time jumping into this Rocky Mountains Trip Bucket List!

Top Spots to Visit in the Rocky Mountains

With my enthusiasm and experiences, it might be tough for me to limit this bucket list to five spots. But I am going to do my absolute best (with maybe a bonus spot at the end) so I don’t completely overwhelm you.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

I bet you didn’t see this one coming, right? Yeah, big surprise.

This spot has to lead off the list since it was my introduction to this region…a “kickstart to the soul” kind of introduction, if you know what I mean.

For years, I had dreamed of getting to Colorado and finding all of the treasures hidden there. Other than one short stop in Durango as a kid, I had not had the privilege.

So when I had the chance to plan this “trip of a lifetime” for our honeymoon, I knew exactly what that trip would look like. (Confession: If Julie had planned it, it would have involved a beach…but don’t worry, because I’ve converted her to a mountain girl now. Mostly. Only took 22+ years.)

We both immediately fell in love with Estes Park, a quintessential mountain town on the doorstep of Rocky Mountain National Park. As we drove our rental car through the streets of Estes, we occasionally had to yield to herds of elk wandering the streets. Before we even entered the national park, we were blown away.

Mountain peaks and valley in Colorado
Todd Bonner/TREKKN

Our Unforgettable Visit to Rocky Mountain National Park

Fast forward about 13 years and we found ourselves living in Littleton, Colorado with our three kids, only about a two hour drive from the national park. It was October, the leaves were aglow with Autumn colors and Julie and I decided it was time to really introduce our kids to the wonders of the Rockies. That short day trip was simply epic.

We didn’t even realize it when we decided to make the trip, but we showed up at the park right at the peak of elk rutting season, and boy were those big fellas putting on a show! Males squaring off just 25 yards from us, determined to be victorious and impress the ladies. We simply couldn’t stop talking about that amazing trip for many months afterward.

Our family has made multiple trips back to the park since then, our most recent in late September 2018 near the end of our full-time RVing adventure. Every single visit has been mind-blowing, soul-shaking, and just all around astounding.

Summer Brings the Crowds

You just cannot go wrong with a visit to Rocky Mountain National Park in the summer or autumn. Just be aware that a summer visit will absolutely be far more crowded, and Estes Park can get a little complicated to navigate with that huge influx of visitors. Especially pulling a travel trailer behind you down those tiny streets! Still worth it 100%, but it requires a bit more patience and planning.

Related Reading: Best Time to Visit Yosemite National Park

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Calm lake and mountains seen within Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park (Todd Bonner/TREKKN)

As we traveled in our RV during 2017 and 2018, we made two separate trips to the glorious Tetons of Wyoming.

Our first trip to Grand Teton National Park in the summer was a shorter one than we might have preferred. We only had three nights in the area, and on top of that we ended up at an RV park (in Dubois, WY) that was a full hour or more from any major stop within the park that we would want to explore.

A Lot of Driving

Needless to say, we ended up doing a bit more driving in our beefy RAM 2500 long bed truck than I would have preferred. But hey, I’m the one who planned and booked the whole thing. No one to blame but myself and my never ending desire to manage expenses.

Besides, it was a beautiful drive to say the least. I will never forget when we came up over a rise in the road and got our first glimpse of that majestic, jagged range. There was a collective roar of awe and excitement in our truck. You just can’t beat a family moment like that. Such a stunning view!

What Makes These Perfect Peaks So Unique?

Do you know why the Tetons are so visually stunning? Because there are no foothills leading up to them! They just erupt out of the earth and head skyward without any warning. This makes them clearly stand out in our memories from any other mountain range we experienced in our travels.

That first experience in 2017 was good enough to bring us back for another five days in the fall of 2018, and this time we snagged a camping spot inside the park. That visit included some epic photographs and unforgettable hiking experiences (including being pursued by a bull moose on the trail!). Treasured family memories for sure.

Your Rocky Mountains Trip Bucket List: 5 Spots to See ASAP
Todd Bonner/TREKKN

Don’t miss your chance to experience the jaw-dropping drama of Grand Teton National Park as soon as you can! This was my oldest son’s top pick for favorite RVing spot out of all the stops we made. Take his word for it, my friend. It will make your Rocky Mountains trip absolutely unforgettable.

*Side note: You can’t visit this park without taking a stroll down the streets of picturesque Jackson, WY (just south of the park) and soaking up the vibe. Just take a look at what Julie had to say about this fantastic spot, and take her advice to eat at Hand Fire Pizza as well during your visit.

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

You might not be aware that Yellowstone and Grand Teton are neighbors (and BFFs). You drive straight from one park into the other without leaving a national park. As far as I know, that’s the only spot in the nation where this situation exists. So it’s kind of a “2-for-1” deal to add to your Rocky Mountains trip bucket list.

Yellowstone is probably the most well-known, and most iconic, national park of them all. Is there anyone that doesn’t know about Old Faithful? I kind of doubt it. (By the way, it’s not really as “faithful” as you might have heard. Arrive with a measure of patience because it has a mind of its own.)

Grand Prismatic Spring

But oh my cow, if you think that Old Faithful is going to be the highlight of your trip to Yellowstone National Park, think again. Just take a look at Grand Prismatic Spring. You might begin to understand what’s in store for you in this massive national park.

Grand Prismatic Spring

Unlike any other national park that we visited, Yellowstone simply feels other-worldly. At times we literally felt like we were exploring the exotic surface of some alien planet! With geysers and steam shooting off all around you, it’s easy to lose yourself in what feels like the latest sci-fi film or something. That alone makes it a unique and worthwhile experience.

Related Reading: Your Guide to RV Parks in Yellowstone National Park

It’s a Bison Jam!

Add in loads and loads of wildlife and you have a recipe for wonder and amazement. I can say without a doubt that we saw far more wildlife (primarily elk and bison) during our last visit to Yellowstone than at any other stop during our travels. At one point, we were literally in a bison traffic jam!

Bison crossing the road in Yellowstone National Park
Todd Bonner/TREKKN

The herd of bison just took over the road as their personal migration path (which it is) and lazily strolled against the flow of (stopped) traffic, walking between vehicles and literally just inches from the side of our truck. It was absolutely unbelievable and exhilarating! Try not to smile when that happens to you.

Are you sold yet? If not, I can’t help you. But the bottom line is: Take this 2-for-1 deal and explore Grand Teton along with Yellowstone for your next Rocky Mountain adventure.

Glacier National Park, Montana

During the Grand Teton section above, I mentioned that that park was #1 on my oldest son’s list of favorite spots. Well, I have seen some amazing stuff, including the Tetons, but nothing has been able to knock Glacier National Park out of the #1 spot in my mind.

Again, we got the chance to visit this “Crown of the Continent” (a very appropriate nickname) twice during our travels: First in the summer of 2017 when we spent a week exploring, and again in the fall of 2018 for a full two weeks. And now, I want to spend every fall for the rest of my life in Glacier National Park.

Fall is my favorite season to begin with, but after experiencing the turning of the leaves during our early September visit to Glacier, my appreciation for autumn and this park went to a whole new level.

Related Reading: Glacier National Park Photography Bucket List

Lake at dusk in Glacier National Park
Todd Bonner/TREKKN

The National Park Service gives such a great verbal snapshot of what you will experience in this location:

Come and experience Glacier’s pristine forests, alpine meadows, rugged mountains, and spectacular lakes. With over 700 miles of trails, Glacier is a hiker’s paradise for adventurous visitors seeking wilderness and solitude. Relive the days of old through historic chalets, lodges, and the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road.

National Park Service

Where to Stay?

During our two visits, we stayed in three different RV parks. One was located near the West entrance of the park (in Coram) and two near the East entrance (in St Mary). While all of our experiences have been fantastic, I would absolutely choose the very simple and unassuming Heart of Glacier RV Park for my dollar.

It had everything we needed and nothing we didn’t need. That means I didn’t pay for something I didn’t use. The RV Park is located in a peaceful setting near Glacier National Park. It’s unbelievable. Literally within a 2 or 3 minute drive, you will arrive at the East entrance of Glacier. I would say naming the RV Park Heart of Glacier is not a stretch.

Full rainbow over lake in Glacier National Park
Todd Bonner/TREKKN

Glacier National Park

This is it, my friend. Glacier is the pinnacle of the national park experience in my book. And my book is getting pretty thick.

Banff National Park, Alberta Canada

For this last spot, we are going to step outside of the United States for a minute and head north of the border into a Canadian wonderland. We feel it will be good for international relations. Oh, and it was far too spectacular to leave out of any list about the Rocky Mountains.

After experiencing spots 1-4 in a 6-week stretch in the summer of 2017 (insane, right?), we knew that we couldn’t allow that pesky border to stop us from seeing one more epic location in the Canadian Rockies: Banff National Park.

Banff is one of those places where you look at the pictures and say to yourself, “It can’t look that incredible in person, right? Surely someone just doctored these pictures up and the real experience might be a let-down.” I had some of those thoughts in my mind going in. And they were rapidly decimated once we set foot in the park.

Passports for the Border Crossing

Side note: Before we left on this adventure, we decided it would be worthwhile to obtain passports for everyone in the family so that our RV border crossing experiences could run as smoothly as possible. Needless to say, we have no regrets about that decision to spend the extra money on passports.

Lake Moraine in Yoho National Park
Todd Bonner/TREKKN

The color of the water in Lake Louise and Moraine Lake is beyond words. The pictures actually do capture it well, but there is nothing like laying eyes on it in person for the first time. I am certain I spent most of my time at these two lakes just shaking my head in disbelief at the beauty and perfection before me.

Lake Louise in Canada
Todd Bonner/TREKKN

Two Unforgettable Experiences in Paradise

We had an outstanding time in this area. We stayed at Beaver Dam Golf, a fantastic RV Park outside of Calgary, and spent a few nights at an Airbnb on the edge of the park. (You absolutely have to spend some time in Calgary on your trip.


Spend some time in Calgary. It’s about 90 minutes or so from the park. But, I can nearly guarantee your experiences there will stand out in your memories for years to come.

First, we decided to splurge and take a ride on the Lake Louise Summer Gondola, complete with an unbeatable view and a gourmet lunch at Whitehorn Bistro. On the ride up, we spotted a grizzly mom and two cubs just below where the restaurant is located. What a joy to watch those three natural wonders. The whole experience was surreal. We were in awe of this magical place.

Second, my two boys and I decided to set out on a hike to experience a remote tea house within the park. That Plain of the Six Glaciers hike, and the tea house experience at the top, is absolutely one of my most treasured memories of our time on the road.

Find Gratitude On Your Rocky Mountains Trip

My family and I got to experience every single one of these locations in the span of about four weeks during the summer of 2017. It’s the stuff dreams are made of, and I cannot begin to describe to you the level of gratitude that I feel for the experiences we have been able to have together, the beauty we have witnessed and breathed in.

As I write this, I have my oldest child, Hannah, finishing up her junior year of college a few hours away. My oldest son, Josiah, is leaving for a job in Alaska in two days. Life marches on, children grow and mature and begin their own lives. But we will always have these memories of our times together in this continent’s most awe-inspiring locations.

We hope you experience at least a taste if not more of the glory offered by visiting the Rockies.

I hope this crazy-long post has inspired you to make it a reality to visit at least one of these Rocky Mountains trip bucket list stops as soon as you can. You will never regret the forever memories you make.

Rocky Mountains Trip

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