As a photographer in Colorado, I am always excited to shoot in Rocky Mountain National Park.
I never hesitate to suggest it as an option for engagement sessions. Not only is there a ton of amazing variety in backdrops, there are also so many places to explore. And whether you want a location where you can hop out of the car and get amazing views, or you want to do a little exploring or hiking, there is something for everyone.
I’ve put together the following guide to highlight some of my favorite spots for photos sessions, as well as fill you in on some of the logistical things you should think about when planing your session.
**Considering eloping or getting married in Rocky Mountain National Park? Check out my full guide to the designated ceremony spots in the park (and yes, you need to reserve a designated ceremony spot for ALL weddings).**
Engagement Session Options Along Bear Lake Road
Bear Lake Road is one of the most well-traversed roads with in RMNP and with good reason. There are tons of great trailheads along this road, and some of the parks most beloved hikes exist here.
You’ll find a plethora of great options for your engagement session along Bear Lake Road.
To note: RMNP requires timed entrance tickets in the summer season and you will ALSO need a timed entry reservation to access Bear Lake Road from 9:00am – 3:00pm in the summer for all of your personal trips into the park.
Pro Tip: With my annual photography pass, I’m able to get us access to both the park and Bear Lake Road without a reservation.
Sprague Lake is one of my favorite spots for engagements because of it’s easy access. The parking lot is located a few miles down Bear Lake Road, and unlike the parking lot at Bear Lake, it’s not typically full.
From the parking lot it’s a short walk to the lake itself, where a flat, approximately 1/2 mile packed dirt trail will lead you around the lake.
There is a dock on one side of the lake that serves as the designated ceremony spot at the lake, but there are so many other spots to explore too. I love the towering evergreens around the lake, which gives you some good filtered light in morning or early afternoon.
There are multiple spots where you can find mountain views around the lake, and depending on the time of day, you might even catch the alpenglow on the peaks.
In the winter you can walk out on the lake, which gives you an even better view of the peaks.
The only thing to be aware of is that it can often be extremely windy at the lake, so if you’re exploring in the winter, be prepared with warm clothes.
What season should you do your engagement session at Sprague Lake?
If you want something similar in feel to 3M Curve, but want to add in a water feature, Tuxedo park is kind of a hidden gem. It’s a picnic area along Bear Lake Road, but you can easily shoot on both sides of the street from the parking lot. Across from the picnic areas are some hilly ares with tall grass and evergreens. And then you can walk down to the stream and spend time playing on the rocks or getting your feet wet.
Not to mention there are some beautiful views of the Estes Park foothills from the area right next to the parking lot.
I like to pair Tuxedo park with another location in the park for a full RMNP engagement experience.
Alberta Falls is an easy, 1.6 mile, out and back hike that is accessible in any season. Reaching the falls is a nice payoff if you want to hike the whole trail, but there are also plenty of awesome spots in the first 1/2 mile of the trail that are great for photos.
Some of the features include a wooden bridge, some beautiful stairs along the trail, and a gorgeous aspen grove. The aspen grove is awesome in the fall, but is also gorgeous in the winter with it’s bare trunks.
If you wanted to do two spots in the park for your session, I would recommend only exploring as far as the aspen grove along this trail, and then heading to your other spot. Otherwise, this trail is a nice length to get good variety and have some fun for your entire session.
Check out the All Trails Report for the Alberta Falls Trail.
What season should you do your engagement session at Alberta Falls?
If you’re looking for another hike with a good payoff at the end, Dream Lake is a great option. The approximately 2.2 mile out and back trail is one of the most popular in RMNP and is known for it’s spectacular views at Dream Lake. There are tons of great spots along the way to take in different scenery and backdrops and then ways to explore the lake once you arrive.
The trail is accessible in all seasons, though in winter you’ll want to check on trail conditions. Snow packs down on the trail and sticks around, so microspikes are recommended from the early days of snowfall until almost May (or sometimes later). If there has been fresh snow, snowshoes might be needed.
The parking lot at Dream Lake can fill up quickly, as this is one of the most popular hikes in the park. In the summer shuttles run from an off site lot to the trail head to help with crowded parking conditions.
For the best chances to avoid crowds, I would recommend hitting the trial early in the day, or late in the afternoon.
It’s also worth noting that it can be quite windy at Dream Lake, so if the weather isn’t particularly warm on the day of your session, you might want to consider brining extra layers.
Check out the All Trails info for Dream Lake.
What season should you do your engagement session at Dream Lake?
Check out these sessions for inspiration:
Moraine Park is a gorgeous spot that is easily accessible from the Beaver Meadows entrance of the park. A few miles down Bear Lake Road is the pulloff to Moraine Park and campground. You don’t have to drive far down this paved road to see why this spot is so beautiful.
Wide open meadows perfectly draw your eyes towards the mountain views, and a picturesque stream runs the full length of the meadow.
I love using this spot at the start of a session, before venturing up to higher altitudes for sunset.
Pro Tip: Be aware that Moraine Park and the meadows are closed for Elk mating in the fall, so it’s best to check the RMNP website to make sure that the park is available when you want to do your session.
Need more inspiration? Check out this summer engagement session at Moraine Park.
Engagement Session Options Along Fall River Road
If you enter the park via the Fall River Road entrance station, you’ll have the option to drive along Fall River Road, which opens up a few new options for photo sessions. Fall River Road intersects with Trail Ridge road, so it’s an easy jaunt up to higher elevation if you plan to end your session above treeline at sunset.
Pro-tip: This entrance station is usually less crowded than the Beaver Meadows Entrance Station, so I often recommend meeting at the Fall River Visitor Center for summer sessions
Lawn Lake Trailhead
A client introduced me to this spot a few years ago and I instantly fell in love with it. The trailhead parking lot is located on the Fall River Entrance side of the park. You’ll pass several other good pull offs along Fall River Road, but keep going until you see the Lawn Lake Trailhead.
The options from here are great with lots of variety. There is a great spot to get down by the river and take advantage of beautiful river rocks. You can even wade in the river if you don’t mind cold toes! There is tall grass, mountain views, and several gorgeous groves of aspens that we can utilize.
And if you take the trail right from the parking lot, you get great evergreen trees as your background.
As a fun historic note, the dedication ceremony for Rocky Mountain National Park happened at this spot.
Sheep Lake has a similar feel to Moraine Park, with open meadows and sweeping mountain views. It’s located right along Fall River Road, with decent parking and easy access.
The biggest difference between Sheep Lake and Moraine Park is that you’re photographing next to a lake instead of a stream.
This spot is gorgeous in the fall, and is the perfect kickoff to a longer session that includes another destination within the park.
Engagement Session Options on Trail Ridge Road
There are a couple of other spots within the park that are great for engagement sessions. These spots fall along Trail Ridge Road, which is the main highway that dissects the park and connects Estes Park on the East, with Grand Lake on the West.
Trail Ridge Road is popular for sunset because if you go up high enough, you’re above tree-line and can have amazing views of the mountains as the last light falls below the peaks. You also get to stretch your sunset time right to the very end, given your height in elevation.
It is really important to remember, though, that above tree-line the landscape is high altitude tundra, which is extremely fragile and takes decades to grow back when damaged. It’s a MUST that we follow the signs to protect the landscape.
There are spots where you are asked to “tread lightly”, and I will ask you to step on rocks as much as possible to protect the landscape. And there are other spots where you will be asked to “stay on the trail” and we will follow these rules.
To Note: It takes about 45 minutes to drive to the top of Trail Ridge Road from either of the entrance station, so if you want to explore at high altitude, planning a good photo timeline is a must.
3M Curve is one of the designated ceremony sites for weddings in Rocky Mountain National Park, but I also love it for engagement sessions. The landscape of tall grass, low shrubs, and evergreen trees gives tons of variety. And you have a great view of Long’s Peak in the background with sweeping mountain views.
I will often suggest we start a session at 3M curve, as it’s close to the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center entrance to the park. Then it’s an easy jumping off point to explore another easily accessible location within the park.
Hidden Valley Picnic Area
Hidden Valley Picnic Area is usually a pull off spot on our journey up Trail Ridge Road. The mix of aspens and evergreens is spectacular in the fall and there are easy places to stop and grab a few photos with the fall color.
We can spend more time here, too, depending on our timeline and schedule.
Many Parks Curve
Many Parks Curve is one of the most popular stops along Trail Ridge Road. There is a designated parking lot just past the viewpoint and it’s almost always crowded. I don’t mind stopping there for a shot or two along the rocks, but you do have to be conscious of the other people around you.
If you want to avoid crowds, consider visiting this spot at sunrise.
Forest Canyon Overlook
Forest Canyon Overlook is one of the other most popular stopping spots along Trail Ridge Road, and this one comes after you’ve risen above treeline. It’s a popular spot for visitors to take in sunset, so it’s often fairly crowded.
This is one spot that you must absolutely stay on the trails (and in fact, the trail to the overlook is paved).
In my opinion, this isn’t the best option for photos, as you are limited with your angles due to the trails. Plus it can be challenging to work around people.
But if the weather isn’t cooperating or one of the other options above treeline doesn’t work out, Forest Canyon is always a good back up plan for high altitude photos.
Note: sometimes Trail Ridge Road is closed at Forest Canyon Overlook.
Pull-off Along Trail Ridge Road
There are several jaw-dropping locations where you are able to pull off Trail Ridge Road and explore. I have a couple of favorite spots that allow us to walk along the rocks and take in the sunset with amazing views of Longs Peak. Depending on the weather the day of, we could explore one or more of these spots, but I like to leave the actual selection of a spot until the day of the session so I can see how the light is playing out.
Alpine Visitor Center
Though the Alpine Visitor Center isn’t technically the highest point in the park (you’ll see signs for that a couple miles before you reach the visitor center), it is the highest National Park Visitor Center in the US. The parking lot is huge, so there is never an issue to stop, and from here there are two different ways to explore for photos.
First, you could choose to take the stone steps to the overlook above the visitor center. This is a fun cardio challenge, but we can take the walk as slow as we need to. From the top you get 360 degree views of the mountains of Rocky Mountain National Park, so I think it’s often worth it to see. There are strict rope barriers that prevent people from walking past the paved overlook onto the tundra, but there are enough ways to photograph the view from the overlook (and photoshop can help erase the ropes!).
Second, you could walk across the street from the parking lot of the visitor center and pick up the Ute Trail. It’s an easy access point to take in sunset on the side of the mountain that faces west.
If you continue past the visitor center and start the decent off the mountain towards the entrance in Grand Lake, you’ll pass the continental divide at Milner Pass. While I won’t suggest this spot for a couple starting their session in Estes Park, if you’re planning to do your session on the Grand Lake side, it’s an awesome option. There is water, beautiful evergreens, and the entire spot feels a bit more lush than other spots you might find in the park.
Engagements at Lily Lake (outside of RMNP)
Lily Lake is the one part of Rocky Mountain National Park (on the Estes Park side) that is outside of the entrance gates. That reason alone makes it a good option for sessions in the summer because it allows you to avoid the lines at the main entrance gates.
There are two parking lots here and they do fill up, but it’s often not long until a spot opens up.
The packed trail around the lake is only about a 1/2 mile long, and easy to do in most foot ware, any time of year. It’s especially pretty in the late afternoon in the summer.
Pro tip: There is cell phone service at Lily Lake, which is in contrast to most parts of RMNP where service is spotty. If you’re planning a proposal in RMNP, I like Lily Lake as an option because communication is easier.
Other tips for planning your engagement session
Check out these other blog posts for tips on planning your engagement session!