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Rocky Mountain National Park Wildlife Regional Event (September 20 – 23, 2023 )

September 20, 2023 - September 23, 2023

Leader | Travel and lodging | What to expect | General Information




Event Overview

Wednesday, September 20, at 5 p.m. to Saturday, September 23, 2023 at 1 p.m.

Registration and Meet & Greet
Wednesday, September 20, 2023 at 5 p.m.
Big Horn meeting room at Best Western Plus Silver Saddle Inn

Join professional and award-winning nature photographer, Dawn Wilson, on an adventure to explore Rocky Mountain National Park at the beginning of fall colors and the peak of elk rut season.

This regional event is scheduled during the beginning of fall colors in the upper elevations and the peak of the elk rut season in the mountain meadows. Wildlife encounters may include moose, elk, mule deer, coyotes, pikas, bighorn sheep, yellow-bellied marmots and more. Photo outings will occur at sunrise and sunset for the best morning and afternoon light on Thursday, Friday and Saturday (morning only) along with some exploring in different regions of the park during the day and lunch as a group in Grand Lake on Thursday and Friday. We will wrap up late Saturday morning with a group brunch in Estes Park.

NANPA is an authorized permittee of the National Parks Service.

$699 NANPA Members/$899 Non-members

Last Date to Register:  August 18, 2023

Maximum Number of Participants: 10



Dawn Wilson

Photo of Dawn Wilson

Dawn Wilson will be your leader for this event. Dawn, a resident of northern Colorado for more than 20 years, including six in Estes Park on the border of Rocky Mountain National Park. She holds a permit with Rocky Mountain National Park where she has guided for more than six years. As a result, she knows the best-of-the-best locations that this park has to offer for wildlife and landscape photography. Dawn is also a past President of NANPA and a co-host for The Nature Photographer Podcast. You can view Dawn’s unique images at


Travel and lodging

The base for this event will be at:

Silver Saddle Inn (Best Western Plus)
1260 Big Thompson Avenue
Estes Park, Colorado 80517-8929
Phone: (970) 586-4476

NANPA is holding a block of rooms for the event participants.

Room rates are $229 + tax (currently 14.2%) per night for rooms with 1 or 2 beds.

This rate is valid for the 3 nights of the regional event: check in September 20, check out September 23. The rate includes breakfast. Silver Saddle Inn will honor the group rate for up to 3 additional consecutive nights prior to the block dates. For additional consecutive nights after the block date the rate is 7% off the standard rate.

Participants will need to make their own reservation secured by their own credit card. When the individual reservation is made by a guest, the guest’s credit card will be charged for their entire reservation at the time of booking. The individual guest will have until August 20, 2023 to cancel. Individual reservations cancelled prior to August 20, 2023 will be refunded. Individual reservations cancelled after August 20, 2023 will be non-refundable. Reservation requests received after August 20, 2023 will not be eligible for the group discount.

The hotel is a 100% non-smoking facility. There is a bike path near the hotel for smoker’s use. If a guest is found to be smoking on the property, they will be assessed a $500 fine.

For hotel reservations, call the hotel directly at (970) 586-4476 and ask for a room in the NANPA Photography Event room block. 

To secure a room at the NANPA rate, reservations must be made before the August 20th cutoff.


Transportation to and from the hotel and during the event locations is not included and is the attendees’ responsibility.

  • Denver International Airport (DIA) is the closest airport. It is about a 90-minute drive from DIA to Estes Park. Several car rental companies and all major airlines operate at DIA. There is also a shuttle service that runs between Estes Park and DIA (Estes Park Shuttle).

  • Car Rental: Car rental is available at the airport. A regular rental car will be fine; we will not be driving on roads that require extra clearance or 4×4.


We will be starting each day from the Silver Saddle Inn in Estes Park, CO. Ride sharing is encouraged to reduce the size of our vehicle presence and improve the traveling / following experience. Parking at roadside wildlife sightings can be very limited. You are welcome to either drive or ride with someone. This is also a great way to meet people and make new friends during the event!  

Note that NANPA does not have insurance for carpooling arrangements and assumes no liability for them. Carpooling, ride sharing or anything similar is strictly a private arrangement among the participants. Participants assume the risks associated with this travel.


Anyone entering the National Park will be required to have a park pass.  Attendees are responsible for park entrance fees. If you have an annual pass (Annual, Senior, Military or Access Pass) bring it with you. If you don’t have one, please buy one in advance. Note, only one national park pass is needed per vehicle, another benefit of carpooling. 


All meals except Saturday brunch are on your own. The group brunch location will The Bird’s Nest café in Estes Park. 

Elk bull bugling. Photo credit: Dawn Wilson

Photo credit: Dawn Wilson

What to expect

Thursday September 20 to September 23, 2023

Registration and Meet & Greet

Wednesday September 20, 2023 at 5 p.m. in the Big Horn meeting room at 

Silver Saddle Inn (Best Western Plus)
1260 Big Thompson Avenue
Estes Park, Colorado 80517 


Your leader is familiar with the areas that you’ll be visiting, and locations will be based on what’s most photogenic at the time, wildlife activity, weather conditions, etc.  

Some of the locations that we will most likely photograph include:

  • Lily Lake: a beautiful alpine lake on the south side of the park; ideal for sunrise and sunset photography.
  • Bear Lake: a beautiful alpine lake on the southeast side of the park; ideal for sunrise and sunset photography. Also, one of the places for fall color at this time of year.
  • Sprague Lake: a beautiful alpine lake ideal for sunrise photography and moose viewing.
  • Moraine Park: the park’s largest meadow with opportunities for photographing scenic vistas, the Big Thompson River, the park’s tallest mountain
  • Longs Peak, and a variety of wildlife including elk, mule deer and moose.
  • Trail Ridge Road: this road, which follows a Native American path for crossing the high mountains, traverses the park and winds through forests and alpine meadows. Wildlife viewing opportunities may include bighorn sheep, pika, marmots and elk.
  • Kawuneechee Valley: located on the west side of the park, this long meadow is where the Colorado River begins and is home to herds of elk as well as a large population of moose.


On Wednesday night at 5 p.m. we’ll gather in the hotel meeting room for a “meet and greet” and orientation.

Please note schedules are fluid due to weather conditions, recent wildlife sightings and other variables. Sunrise is at approximately 6:45 am and sunset at approximately 7 pm. We may leave the hotel as early as 5:45 am for a sunrise shoot and eat breakfast in the field. There will be some opportunity for rest between shoots. There will be sunset shoots we will and return to the hotel in the evening by 8 or 8:30 pm.

On Saturday, after a morning shoot, we’ll have brunch as a group (included in the fee) at The Bird’s Nest. The event wraps up after brunch.

A more detailed daily itinerary will be available for registered participants.

Photo of a marmot on a rock. Photo credit: Dawn Wilson

Photo credit: Dawn Wilson

General Information

We will be based in Estes Park, Colorado during this regional event.

This event is designed for nature photographers at all levels of experience. For the best experience, please know your camera before you arrive, and bring your manual in case we need to look up something.

Assistance will be available in the field for those who wish to improve their photographic skills. If you already have plenty of photography experience, Dawn will ensure you get to the best locations at the best times to capture those perfect shots

Please keep in mind this NANPA Regional Event is designed to be a photo tour, not a photo workshop. In other words, there are no formal instruction sessions planned, there are no assignments, you will not be receiving any handouts or the like. That being said, your leaders Don and Gordon have experience as photography workshop leaders and are available to answer questions and give you guidance. If you need help, please advocate for yourself and speak up and ask for help – Don and Gordon are happy to help. Be aware that many of your fellow participants may also be accomplished photographers and may be able to help you too.  Part of the regional event experience is the camaraderie that comes from sharing experiences and lessons learned among participants. If you notice someone with the same or similar camera, perhaps they can help you with an issue you’ve been wondering about, and maybe you can return the favor.


Rocky Mountain National Park website.


There will be no mountain hiking unless requested. Most shooting locations will be very close to where we park. A couple will require a walk, but will be flat. The length of the walk will be up to the participant and how much they wish or are able to explore, there will be photographic possibilities along the way.


Weather – Historical average temperatures for site/area in time of year vary from a low of upper 30s in the mornings in town to a high of mid 60s during the warmest part of the day. The first snowfall in the park is typically late September or early October. On Trail Ridge Road, the temperatures can be 10 to 15 degrees cooler with the potential for more wind.

Clothing – Wear layers of clothes with sturdy shoes (no open toed shoes and preferably no sneakers).

Clothing for this time of year:

  • Warm coat and pants
  • Fleece over a base layer – can be added or removed as the temperature changes
  • Rain jacket and rain pants – for rain, snow and wind protection
  • Warm hat and gloves
  • Hiking boots – preferably waterproof
  • Wading boots or sandals – for photographing in the waters
  • Dress for the indoor sessions will be casual.


  • Camera – DSLR or mirrorless, full frame or cropped sensor.  Also, bring the camera manual should you need to consult it; a digital version on your phone works best to reduce weight in baggage and have available as cell coverage is minimal in the park. Cellphone camera as backup is better than no camera, great for videos and perfect to capture snaps of your group.
  • Lenses – There will likely be photo opportunities for your full range of lenses, from extreme wide angle to telephoto and macro.  We will use wide angle lenses like a 24-70 for the sunrise and sunset photos, and an 80-400 and 150-600 or long prime lenses for wildlife. If interested in macro photography, feel free to bring those along for interesting images of lichen, fall leaves and frost. 
  • Non-abrasive Lens Cleaning Cloth and Wipes.
  • Tripod – Sunrise, sunset, twilight and nighttime light levels are too low to photograph properly without a sturdy tripod.  A lightweight carbon fiber tripod with a ball head is recommended.
  • Lots of Memory Card Storage – I use fast 128GB cards, good for stills and video.
  • Camera Battery Charger and Extra Batteries.
  • Sensor Cleaning Tools 
  • Circular polarizing filter(s) to fit each of your lenses.
  • Neutral Density Filters, Graduated Neutral Density Filters 
  • Remote shutter release – You can use a locking cable release, a wireless remote, or the camera’s self-timer (except in BULB).    
  • Rain Cover – For camera and lens protection.  
  • Laptop Computer – for downloading, processing and viewing your images. And remember the card reader to transfer the files if you don’t do it wirelessly. 
  • Image Processing Software – Good choices include Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop, or Elements.
  • Back-up device – Such as an external hard drive.
  • Flash Drive – For sharing images.


  • Flashlight &/or Headlamp – preferably with a red light, or cover with a red filter, to limit distracting others during night photography sessions.
  • Battery-powered Alarm Clock/Watch – In case cell phone service isn’t available. It’s better to bring your own alarm than miss a morning shoot!
  • Cell Phone
  • Water bottle.
  • Energy bars or other snacks
    Mountain range in distance. Golden aspens in foreground. Photo credit: Dawn Wilson

    Photo credit: Dawn Wilson

Regional Event Cancellation and No Refund Policy:  

NANPA will not offer any refunds for registrations for this event regardless of when the cancellation is made or the reason for the cancellation. NANPA reserves the right to cancel any event or activity due to insufficient registration or any unforeseen circumstances. NANPA will offer refunds if NANPA has to cancel the event. It also has the right to substitute presenters if those originally scheduled cannot attend. Registrants may purchase event insurance as part of the registration process through NANPA’s partner, Allianz. More information on this option will be shown during the checkout process for the event registration.

NOTE:  If you do not purchase event insurance at the time that you pay for your registration, you will NOT be able to go back and purchase it with Allianz later.

If you choose to purchase travel insurance separately, you can do so with your own insurance carrier, or NANPA members can receive a special travel insurance rate through USI Affinity/Travel Insurance Services.

COVID-19 Policy

NANPA is committed to the health and safety of all participants and leaders at any of our events. We have taken steps to reduce the inherent risks surrounding any public location where people are present. We ask that you familiarize yourself with our COVID-19 health and safety precautions and requirements prior to your trip. Masks are discretionary unless required by a particular venue, location, or governmental authority. 

You should evaluate your own risks when determining whether to participate. By attending this event and signing the NANPA Regional Events Liability Release you acknowledge and agree that you assume the inherent risks associated with your attendance.

Most importantly:
If you have been feeling sick or have tested positive for COVID-19 within the last 10 days, PLEASE STAY HOME. If you have been exposed to someone, especially someone in your household, who has tested positive within the last 5 days, PLEASE STAY HOME.

NANPA follows the CDC rules and the rules of the state in which an event is held.  Those rules currently are:

NANPA will let you know if anything changes prior to the event.

We thank you in advance for your adherence and support as we work together to keep everyone safe. 

Thank You to NANPA’s 2022 Regional Events Sponsor


September 20, 2023
September 23, 2023
Event Category:
Event Tags:
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USA States/Territories
Type of event
On Location
Cost range
$699 - $899


Silver Saddle Inn (Best Western Plus)
1260 Big Thompson Avenue
Estes Park, CO 80517 United States
+ Google Map
(970) 586-4476
View Venue Website