Rocky Mountain National Park Travel Guide

December 15, 2021

Rocky Mountain National Park Travel Guide

Where can you go to wander along mountain streams, view thundering waterfalls, experience towering peaks, and tiptoe through lush valleys shared with sheep and elk? You’re in Rocky Mountain National Park with 77 peaks above 12,000 feet, 450 miles of streams and rivers, and 150 lakes. You can still experience solitude in this vast place, despite the 4.6 million visitors each year! 

RMNP is a rugged place, straddling the Continental Divide. Even if you consider yourself a mountain adventurer, it's pretty important to spend your first day acclimating to the altitude. Make sure to drink plenty of water throughout your day, and enjoy the park at a slower pace. This will set you up for the rest of your adventure. 

Get to Know Rocky Mountain National Park

Region: Rocky Mountain
State: Colorado
URL https://www.nps.gov/romo/index.htm 
Webcams: https://www.nps.gov/romo/learn/photosmultimedia/webcams.htm 
Established: January 26, 1915
President: Woodrow Wilson
By the numbers: 

  • 4.6 million+ visitors per year (2019)
  • 265,000+ acres
  • Lat. 40.36618, Long -105.56081
  • 8 park entrances
  • 7 visitor centers
  • Highest elevation 14,259 ft.
  • Lowest elevation 7,630 ft.

alpine visitor center sign

Entrances 

There are four main entrances to RMNP and four access points for specific trailheads. We’ve noted the pay stations and trailheads on the map below.  

Grand Lake - approach the park from the west side and see the quaint shops and restaurants in this area. Stop by the Kawuneeche Visitor Center and explore the headwaters of the Colorado River.  

Beaver Meadows - this entrance is the best palace to get information, maps, backcountry permits and catch the park bus. 

Fall River - this entrance gives you access to Estes Park but is faster than waiting in line at Beaver Meadows. 

Wild Basin - This entrance is located in the south east section of the park and is the least crowded of them. Rd 115 turns into a gravel road and is one lane in places. It is not suitable for RV travel but is okay for cars and other vehicles. Access to the Wild Basin Trailhead with many backcountry campsites. 

Four other access points are available south of Estes Park. Access trailheads at Lily Lake Trailhead, Twin Sisters Trailhead, Lumpy Ridge Trailhead, and Long Peak Ranger Station.

Visitor Centers

Alpine Visitor Center - located on Trail Ridge Road, which is closed in the winter, this VC is open Memorial Day weekend through Mid October, 9 am to 4:30 pm daily. 

Beaver Meadows Visitor Center - located on Moraine Ave/Park Entrance Road, this VC is open year-round with some reduced hours in fall, winter, and early spring. Daily 9 am to 6 pm.  

Kawuneeche Visitor Center - located near the Grand Lake Entrance to the park on Trail Ridge Road. Reduced hours in the fall, winter, and spring, otherwise open daily 9 am to 5 pm 

Fall River Visitor Center - located on Fall River Rd/Hwy 34, tis VC is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm 

Holzwarth Historic Site - is located on Ditch Road, west of Trail Ridge Road/Hwy 34. Open year-round, 24 hours a day. View interpretive exhibits and bench seating. 

Moraine Park Discovery Center - is a historic visitor center located in Moraine Park on Bear Lake Rd, and is open late spring to mid-fall, approximately Labor Day to Columbus Day. It features historical and interpretive exhibits, an information desk, and toilets.  

Sheep Lakes Information Station - located on Fall River Road is open 24 hours a day, year-round. It features interpretive exhibits, scenic photo spots, and a tactile exhibit. 

Entrance Fees 

Reservations are currently required to enter the park from May 28 to October 11, 2021. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, you will need a TIMED ENTRANCE PERMIT to access Rocky Mountain National Park during the peak times of 9 am to 3 pm. Go HERE for more information about the timed entry system. https://www.nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/timed-entry-permit-system.htm They do hold 25 percent of the permits and make them available for purchase the day prior at 5 pm.  

Entrance Passes are good for entry for the day of purchase and must be used with a timed entry reservation permit. Credit and Debit cards only - no cash.

  • $25 non-commercial vehicle. Less than 16 passengers
  • $25 one motorcycle 
  • $15 on foot, bicycle
  • $70 RMNP Annual pass good for one year  

Call ahead to find out how the Senior Pass, Fourth Grade Pass, US Armed Service Veterans, and Gold Star Families Pass work with the reservation system. (970) 586-1206. 

Park Hours and Access  

Rocky Mountain National Park is open daily, 24 hours a day, year-round, although activities and services are limited at night and at certain times of the year.  

Summer and fall are the busiest seasons and many parking lots will be full. Use the free park shuttle busses to get around Bear Lake Road. Check the NPS website for details about the roads and weather during the season you will be visiting. https://www.nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/conditions.htm 

Open all year? Yes, with some road closures for each entrance, dependent on weather.

Closest Airports:

If you are not close enough to drive to Rocky Mountain National Park, try flying into one of several airports, each within 2 hours driving time, and then renting a car.

Denver International Airport (DEN) Approximately 81 miles, it is a 1 hr 37-minute drive to the Estes Park entrance. Address: 8500 Pena Blvd, Denver, CO 80249 

Cheyenne Regional Airport (CYS)  Approximately 90-miles, it is a 2 hour drive to the Estes Park entrance. Address: 4020 Airport Parkway West, Cheyenne, WY 82003 

Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (BJC) is 54.7 miles and 1 hr. 20 minutes from the Estes Park Entrance. Address: 11755 Airport Way, Broomfield, CO 80021 

Laramie Regional Airport (LAR) is 112 miles and 2 hrs. 14 minutes north of the Estes Park entrance. Address: 555 N General Brees Rd, Laramie, WY 82070

woman with a backpack looking at view of bear lake in rocky mountain national park

Things To Do

There are many opportunities for outdoor activities and appreciating wildlife inside the park. Tale some quiet time for birding, wildlife viewing, and of course photographing the beautiful mountain scenery.

There are two stables located within the park: Glacier Creek Stables and Moraine Park Stables. Horses, mules, ponies, llamas, and burros are allowed on park trails. Approximately 260 miles of trails are open to commercial and private horse use, which makes up about 80% of the total trail network in the park.

Enjoy getting around the park with a guided tour from Estes Park or venture out on your own by exploring the many hiking trails, bicycling, backcountry exploration with campsites, or find a fishing spot in one of the many stocked lakes and streams. . 

Rocky Mountain NP has adventure year-round. Enjoy the park in winter by going cross country skiing, snowmobile riding, or snowshoeing.

How Much Time Do You Need to Explore RNMP?

Most people recommend at least three days to get acquainted with all Rocky Mountain National Park has to offer. If you have one day in the park, take in one hike and drive the Trail Ridge Road, stopping at several of the turnouts, especially Continental divide, Many Parks Curve, and  Forest Canyon Overlook. 

If you have 3 days get ideas from this itinerary from Alpine Trail Ridge Inn  https://www.alpinetrailridgeinn.com/our-blog/your-3-day-itinerary-to-rocky-mountain-national-park/ 

If you have 5 days to spend in RMNP, check out some of the ideas from Visit Grand Country  https://www.visitgrandcounty.com/trips/itineraries/week-long-trip-in-rmnp  

My Bucket Journals Top Rocky Mountain NP Picks

  • Drive Old Fall River Road
  • Snap a picture of Chasm Falls
  • Picnic in Hidden Valley
  • Hike Bierstadt Lake
  • Hike Alberta Falls
  • Take Lily Lake Loop
  • Take Sprague Lake Loop
  • Explore Holzwarth Historic Site
  • Explore Alpine Tundra Trail

uneven ground on glacier ridge trail to alpine lake rocky mountain national park

Hike the Trails 

Rocky Mountian NP has 355 miles of hiking trails. Some are considered strolls and others are trails with peaks to climb. When planning a hike, remember that many of Rocky Mountains trails are more than 7,000 feet above sea level. Most areas retain snow until late May or early June.  

https://www.nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/hikes.htm 

You can find a hike for every level of experience, from paved paths to rugged back-country adventures. We’ve listed some of the most common areas to explore below, and also pinpointed them on the map. Check the USPS website for trail conditions and area closures here  https://www.nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/hiking.htm and learn about all the hikes here https://www.nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/list_hiking_trails.htm  

  • Bierstadt Lake - 2.8-mile round trip, 566 feet elevation gain, gravel and dirt path. Moderate
  • Emerald Lake - 4.1 miles round trip, 744 feet elevation gain, gravel and dirt path. Moderate
  • Alpine Tundra Trail - .06 miles round trip, 260 feet elevation gain, paved path. Easy 
  • Alberta Falls - 1.2 miles round trip, 160 feet elevation gain, gravel path. Easy
  • Bear Lake - .05 miles round trip, 20 feet elevation gain, paved path. Easy
  • Copeland Falls - .06 miles round trip, 15 feet elevation gain, gravel path. Easy
  • Coyote Valley Trail - 1 mile round trip, 10 feet elevation gain, paved path. Easy
  • Chasm Lake - 8.6 miles round trip, 2,456 feet elevation gain, rugged path. Allow 2 to 4 hours to complete. Strenuous
  • Odessa Lake - 8.8 miles round trip, 1.865 feet elevation gain, rugged path. Strenuous
  • Timber Lake Trail - 9.6 miles round trip, 2,060 feet elevation gain, rugged path, Moderate-Strenuous

view from trail ridge road in rocky mountain national park

Scenic Drive

Trail Ridge Road - US 34 covers 48 miles between Estes Park in the East and Grand Lake on the west side of the park. It offers thrilling views, plenty of wildlife sightings and gives you the experience of viewing the forests, tundra, and vistas that make RMNP spectacular. This is one of ten America’s Byways in Colorado and designated an All American Road. Allow at least half a day to stop and turnouts, snap pictures, and breathe the mountain air! 

Old Falls River Road - This road connects with Trail Ridge Road at the Alpine Visitor Center. It is considered the first automobile route to the high country in Rocky Mountain National Park. It is primarily gravel, one-way uphill, and rises to 11,796 feet above sea level. Suitable for all vehicles, Old Falls River Road has a steep grade of 16% uphill and a speed limit of 15 miles per hour, so you can savor the sites and experience. Be aware - this road has no guardrails, so passengers who are sensitive to heights may not enjoy the ride. 

https://www.nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/scenic-drives.htm 

Lodging Near the Park 

There are no overnight accommodations inside of Rocky Mountain National Park, but there are many options in nearby Estes Park and Grand Lake. These range from vacation rentals and cabins to hotels with kitchenettes to accommodate family gatherings.  

We’ve added a few lodges that look to be amazing experiences to our online map below, but there are many choices. Look for more options at VisitEstesPark.com https://www.visitestespark.com/lodging/ and GoGrandLake.com https://gograndlake.com/member-category/lodging/ 

moose swimming in a mountain lake

Campgrounds inside Rocky Mountain National Park 

There are five developed campgrounds inside of Rocky Mountain NP, each offering an exploration of different areas of the park. Use the map below to find locations and links to their individual websites. Make reservations at recreation.gov or call 877-444-6777. 

  1. Aspenglen Campground - elevation 8,196 feet (2498m) - is located near the Fall River Entrance. It has 52 sites total and several are drive-to family sites for tents and RVs. Toilets and potable water are available seasonally.
    Address: US-34 & Old Fall River Rd, Estes Park, CO 80517 Ph 970-586-1206
  2. Glacier Basin Campground - elevation 8,500 feet (2590m) - is located near Estes Park and Glacier Creek and is close to the RMNP Park & Ride. Toilets and potable water are available seasonally.  There are 150 total sites, 73 are tent only.
    Address: Highway 36 West, Estes Park, CO 80517 Ph 970-586-1206
  3. Moraine Park Campground - elevation 8,160 feet (2487m) - is located near the Beavers Meadow entrance. It has 244 sites, with 101 being tent only. Vault toilets are available year-round, potable water is seasonal.
    Address: US-36, Estes Park, CO 80517 Ph 970-586-1206
  4. Longs Peak Campground - elevation 9,500 feet (3000m) - is located about 20 miles south of Estes Park on Hwy 7. There are 26 tent-only sites available. Vault toilets are available year-round, potable water is seasonal.
    Address: Longs Peak Rd, Estes Park, CO 80517 Ph 970-586-1206
  5. Timber Creek Campground - elevation 8,900 feet (3000m) - is the only campground on the west side of he park. There are 98 sites, with 30 of them being tent only. There is little shade available because this site was hit hard by a mountain pine beetle infestation and the trees had to be removed. Address: Grand Lake, CO 80447 970-586-1206 

In addition, there are 120 designated Backcountry Wilderness campsites within the park. You’ll need a wilderness permit and reservation to stay at these sites. View the Wilderness Camping guide as you are planning your trip  https://www.nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/wild_guide.htm and see all the possibilities in this downloadable map. Many of these only have one or two sites available so planning ahead is imperative. https://www.nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/upload/BCO-Map-20160205-clean-reduced.pdf

Get Connected

The National Park Service App (NPS App) features downloadable information for all the national park sites in the country, including Rocky Mountain National Park. It includes an interactive map, and information to make your trip smooth and more interesting.  

Visitor TIP 

Cellular service within the park is extremely limited. In order to make use of the app while in RMNP, follow these simple steps before you arrive: 

  • Download the app.
  • In the app, select the "Settings" option.
  • Tap the choice "Download Offline Content." 

This gives you access to most of the app content (except alerts, calendar updates, and real-time updates, although accessing those items before leaving service will keep that information available in the app) Even without cellular service, the app will be able to share your location on the map and bring up all site content.

Online Map of the Park

Use our interactive map to plan your trip and view details about visitor centers, campgrounds, lodging, walking tours, and attractions 

How to Use This Map: Click the tab in the top left-hand corner of the map to view the layers. You can click the checkmarks to hide or show layers. If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each point of interest.  

If you click the star next to the title of the map, this map will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.

 

 

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 rocky mountain national park travel guide pin graphic with beautiful mountains and lake






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