Rocky Mountain National Park was disregarded for the greater part of a century in favour of tried-and-true beauties like the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Yosemite. However, significant increases in annual visitor numbers over the last 10 years have allowed Rocky Mountain National Park to climb the rankings to become not just Colorado’s most popular national park, but also the third most visited national park in the United States.
Rocky Mountain National Park has firmly established itself as Colorado’s crown gem, garnering a reputation as a true adventurer’s paradise. It’s easy to understand why, with its breathtaking alpine scenery, 100 towering peaks, and more than 350 kilometers of picturesque hiking paths. Here’s a step-by-step guide to seeing the best of the park.
Where is Rocky Mountain National Park?
Rocky Mountain National Park is located in northeast Colorado, about 90 minutes north of Denver, Colorado’s “Mile High City.” To the east and west of the park, respectively, are the charming villages of Estes Park and Grand Lake, while Boulder, Winter Park, Lyons, and Granby are all within driving distance.
How to get there?
One of the best aspects of the Rockies is how easily they can be reached from Denver. You can drive from Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park in less than two hours, whether you’re coming from the east or west side of town. The closest major airport to Rocky Mountain National Park is Denver International Airport (DEN). You can take a commercial shuttle service directly to Estes Park from here. You can also take the Greyhound bus service, which runs between Denver and Granby.
The months of June through September are the most popular for visiting Rocky Mountain National Park since the weather is favorable, all attractions and hiking routes are open, and the snow has melted. However, if you want to experience a true winter adventure, visit Rocky Mountain National Park between October and May.
Rocky Mountain National Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, rain, snow, or sun. However, due to seasonal closures of specific facilities and roads, you may not be able to visit all places depending on the weather and time of year. To minimize disappointment, it’s wise doing your homework before embarking on your vacation. Due to COVID-19, the park’s operations are now restricted. Check out Rocky Mountain’s Current Conditions for the most up-to-date COVID status and frequent updates.
Park Entrance Fee
Entrance costs to the park are $20 per person, $35 per vehicle, and $35 per motorcycle on a daily basis. These charges are valid for seven days. A $70 Rocky Mountain Annual Park Pass is good for a year from the date of purchase.
Things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park
This national park is a hiking paradise with over 355 miles of trails. While the park is noted for its rugged topography, accessible paths have been built in some of the region’s most scenic places. Lily Lake, just south of Estes Park, and the Coyote Valley Trail, on the park’s west side, are two of the park’s four wheelchair-accessible routes for visitors who are adjusting to the altitude, have visual impairments, or prefer level, smooth paths. Horseback riding is permitted on over 80% of the trail network. Sombrero Stables has a site in Estes Park as well as two stables within the park, one at Glacier Creek and the other at Moraine Park, both on the east side. In the winter, cross-country ski or snowshoe the routes, or sled in the approved area. Fly-fishing, rock climbing, stargazing, and animal viewing are among the other activities available. Here are a few highlights not to be missed.
Rocky Mountain National Park Hiking Trails
Coyote Valley Nature Trail
Dream Lake Trail
Alberta Falls Trail
Gem Lake Trail
Emerald Lake Trail
Deer Mountain Trail
Sky Pond via Glacier Gorge Trail
Chasm Lake Trail
Black Lake Trail
Where to stay?
Although this is one of the few national parks without an overnight lodging, five front-country campgrounds (starting at $30) are available. Longs Peak and Timber Creek Campgrounds are first-come, first-served, whereas Aspenglen, Glacier Basin, and Moraine Park fill up quickly (make reservations up to six months in advance). The only campground operational during the winter is Moraine Park, which is located near the park’s eastern edge and is provided on a first-come, first-served basis.
The greatest front-country camping is at Aspenglen, a short drive off Trail Ridge Road near the eastern Fall River entry. Douglas firs, lodgepole and ponderosa pines surround the 52 campsites. On the loop, there are five quiet walk-in tent sites. Show up early for one of the 26 tent-only sites at Longs Peak, which sits on the park’s southeastern border at an elevation of 9,500 feet and puts you within day-hiking distance of Chasm Lake and the park’s signature Longs Peak, which can be reached via the Keyhole Route after a 15-mile round-trip hike (discussed below). Because the Trail Ridge Store, located close to the Alpine Visitor Center, is the park’s only restaurant, carry all of your food with you.