While Trail Ridge Road tends to get most of the attention from park tourists, historic Old Fall River Road and the Horseshoe Park area of Rocky Mountain National Park offer some incredible opportunities to experience mother nature at her finest.
Horseshoe Park sits within in the montane ecosystem of forests and grasslands. The U-shaped valley was formed by a 500 foot thick glacier moving through the area about 15,000 years ago. When the glacier receded, it left behind a lateral moraine, the wetland meadows of Horseshoe Park, and deep depressions that are now Sheep Lakes, where bighorn sheep gather. The wetlands are also a sanctuary for a variety of birds and other animals like fox, elk, and mule deer.
From Horseshoe Park, Old Fall River Road zig-zags up Mount Chapin, through the lush wilderness, to Fall River Pass and the Alpine Visitor Center. It was the first road to provide visitors access to the incredible alpine world of the park’s high county. Only open in the summer due to snow, usually from July to September, the one-way drive is one that is not to be missed.
Things To Do In Fall River
Our exploration of the Fall River and Horseshoe Park areas of Rocky Mountain National Park began at the Fall River Visitor Center. We then headed into the park through the Fall River Entrance Station to visit Sheep Lakes, the Alluvial Fan, and the Horseshoe Park Overlook, and to drive Old Fall River Road.
Other places to visit in the area include:
- Lawn Lake: The Lawn Lake Trail follows the majestic Roaring River 4.5 miles (one way) to Lawn Lake and Crystal Lake.
- The Endovalley Picnic Area: A large, accessible picnic area off Old Fall River Road that has more than 30 picnic tables, 30 fire grates, and vault toilets.
- Fan Lake: A shallow, 20 acre lake at the base of the Alluvial Fan created by the massive and devastating 1982 Lawn Lake Flood.
- Aspenglen Campground: Aspenglen contains several drive-to family sites for tents and RVs. A few sites are more secluded, walk-to tent sites.
Here are our six favorite things to do in the Fall River and Horseshoe Park area of Rocky Mountain National Park for families:
01. Fall River Visitor Center
The Fall River Visitor Center is located just outside the Rocky Mountain National Park Fall River Entrance Station on US Highway 34, five miles west of the town of Estes Park. It shares a building and parking lot with the ginormous Gateway Store and Trailhead Restaurant.
02. Old Fall River Road
Following the steep slope of Mount Chapin, Old Fall River Road is a narrow, 11 mile dirt and gravel road, with numerous dropoffs, 16 tight switchbacks, and steep grades. Just wide enough for one vehicle, it has a maximum speed of 15 mph and no guard rails.
The road follows a route traveled long ago by Indian hunters. The drive starts at Horseshoe Park and Endovalley at 8,558 feet elevation, and ends at Fall River Pass and the Alpine Visitor Center at 11,796 feet elevation, with the temperature dropping 3-5 degrees for every 1,000 foot gain in elevation.
03. Chasm Falls
Sitting at 9,068 feet elevation, Chasm Falls is a 25 foot plunging waterfall about 100 yards off Old Fall River Road in Rocky Mountain National Park.
At the top of Chasm Falls, there is a parking area alongside the road for about 10 vehicles. This is also the trailhead for a 0.1 mile, out and back trail to an observation platform. The trail travels downhill and down some natural stairs to the observation platform near the base of the waterfall.
04. Sheep Lakes
At 8,524 feet elevation, Sheep Lakes is a large meadow with two small lakes in Horseshoe Park, a flat U-shaped valley located just west of the Fall River Entrance.
Sheep Lakes sits at the base of the mountains between the Fall River Visitor Center and the turn off for Fall River Road and the Alluvial Fan. It is a gorgeous, grassy meadow with two beautiful ponds that is frequented by bighorn sheep.
05. Alluvial Fan Waterfall And Picnic Area
Alluvial Fan is the perfect stop for a picnic lunch and a fantastic stop for families with kids who love to climb rocks and need to burn off some boundless energy. The cool water cascading down the rocks also makes it a great place to pull up a rock and relax.
The 42 acre Alluvial Fan was created in July 1982 when Lawn Lake broke through its terminal moraine and sent 300 million gallons of water crashing down the Roaring River.
06. Horseshoe Park Overlook
Horseshoe Park Overlook is a paved roadside pullout with informational displays on US Highway 34 near Deer Ridge Junction.
On the edge of this pullout, there is a giant rock outcropping you can walk on for incredible views of Fall River Canyon, Alluvial Fan, Sheep Lakes and the meandering Fall River in Horseshoe Park, snow-capped mountains, and Trail Ridge Road.
Know Before You Go
- The Fall River Visitor Center at Rocky Mountain National Park is located at 3450 Fall River Road, Estes Park, Colorado 80517 in Larimer County. It is open year-round from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm from late Spring through mid-Fall. It is closed for the winter except for select holiday dates and closed on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.
- Download the Fall River Area Trail Guide.
- Old Fall River Road was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.
- Before driving Old Fall River Road, stop in one of the Visitor Centers and grab a copy of the Old Fall River Road Guide for $1.00. It will point out everything you need to know about the sights along the drive and where they can be found.
- The 415 square mile Rocky Mountain National Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, weather permitting.
- Download one of the Rocky Mountain National Park brochures and the official park newspaper.