Edited by: Jessica Merritt
& Keri Stooksbury
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Rocky Mountain National Park is in Colorado, high on the Continental Divide. This national park is part of the Rocky Mountains running from Canada to Mexico.
This magnificent park offers breathtaking views of the majestic mountains, free-roaming wildlife, sprawling meadows, incredible fir forests, alpine lakes, and tundra. Visitors of all ages and abilities love visiting, exploring, and appreciating Rocky Mountain National Park.
Rocky Mountain National Park is found in the heart of the Rocky Mountains in northeast Colorado near the cities of Estes Park and Grand Lake. The closest major city to the park is Denver, which is about an hour and a half from the park.
There are 2 airports in close proximity to Rocky Mountain National Park. Both options will get you close to the park and take about a 2-hour drive from the airport to the park entrance. Either of these airports would make an excellent choice for flying in for your park vacation.
Cheyenne Regional Airport is a great choice if you are planning a Rocky Mountain National Park vacation. Cheyenne Regional Airport only provides flights to and from Denver on United. This airport is about 2 hours from the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park.
Denver International Airport is located 30 minutes from downtown Denver. This airport is approximately 2 hours from the Rocky Mountain Estes Park entrance. Park shuttle services are available. This airport is serviced by American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, and United, along with many international airlines.
Many travelers want to experience the ultimate road trip and drive to Rocky Mountain National Park. There are 2 gateway communities for entering the park: Estes Park and Grand Lake.
If you are planning to drive in from Denver, you can access Highway 36, Highway 66, or the Peak-to-Peak Scenic Byway. If you are planning to come from Loveland, Highway 34 will get you to the park.
For those planning to drive to the park from the west, I-70 or Highway 40 will be the routes you want to take. Regardless of your route, it is important to stay connected and regularly check the Rocky Mountain National Park website to stay up to date on road closures and traffic conditions.
Amtrak does not have direct service to Rocky Mountain National Park or either gateway town near the park. However, you can get fairly close to the park and then take a taxi or bus to the park entrance.
Amtrak can take travelers to Union Station, which is in Denver. It takes about 2 hours to get to the park from Union Station. Upon arriving at the station, visitors can get bus tickets to take them to the park or choose a taxi or shuttle service.
A car is the most recommended way of getting around Rocky Mountain National Park. Having your own vehicle to explore the park allows you the freedom to spend as much or as little time as you would like at all the attractions on your must-see list.
The park offers several printable maps that feature the trails and attractions to help you map out your days in the park.
Another way to explore the park is to utilize the free shuttle service. This service is encouraged to reduce traffic through the park.
There are 3 shuttle routes, including the Hiker Express, Bear Lake, and Moraine Park. The shuttle service makes it easy for guests to get to and from their hotels in the nearby towns as well.
It is important to note that the shuttle does not take hikers to the western side of the park, nor does it travel across Trail Ridge Road. If you are hoping to see these places during your visit, you may want to drive your personal vehicle.
Hot Tip: Bear Lake and Moraine Park Shuttles are free, but the Hiker Express Shuttle requires advanced registration and costs $2 for 4 passengers.
Rocky Mountain National Park spreads over approximately 265,000 acres and is filled with 350 miles of trails, sparkling alpine lakes, fields of wildflowers, lush forests, and an array of wildlife. Each year, 4 million visitors come to this park to experience its magic.
Alberta Falls is a top attraction in Rocky Mountain National Park. This 30-foot waterfall is named after Alberta Sprague and is considered the most beautiful waterfall in the park.
Visitors can access the Glacier Gorge Junction Trailhead to take in the beauty of Alberta Falls and hike along the creek up an incline that gains 230 feet in elevation. Packing a picnic to enjoy while watching these breathtaking falls is a great way to rest and relax before heading back down the trail.
The Alluvial Fan is a stunning cascade of water flowing through a field of boulders. This fan-shaped area was created on July 15, 1982, when the Lawn Lake Dam gave way and flooded the park and a nearby town, Estes Park, with over 200 million gallons of water. Massive boulders were displaced, and the debris and water created the Alluvial Fan that we can still view today.
There are trails near Alluvial Fan, and in 2020 the trail to this attraction was designed so that it can be fully accessible to all visitors. This path also has a 56-foot bridge that crosses the Roaring River and beautiful views of Mummy Range, Endovalley, and Horseshoe Falls.
The Alpine Visitor Center is found on Trail Ridge Road and is the visitor center in Rocky Mountain National Park with the highest elevation. Many people call it the Visitor Center in the Sky.
There are many amenities at the Alpine Visitor Center, including food and drink, souvenirs, a short alpine-tundra trail, and remarkable views of the valleys and mountains. Alpine Visitor Center is an excellent choice for taking a break and refueling before getting back to your park adventure.
Another popular attraction in Rocky Mountain National Park is Bear Lake. This beautiful lake is near Estes Park and is found at 9,449 feet in elevation.
This alpine lake is one of the most frequently photographed areas of the park. It offers breathtaking views of the mountains and has a plethora of activities for visitors to enjoy, such as hiking, fishing, and picnicking.
Holzwarth Historic Site is a preserved ranch located in the Rocky Mountains that allows guests to take a step back in time and experience homesteader life during the 20th century. This historic site tells about the Holzwarth family, a family who moved to the Rocky Mountains in 1917. The Holzwarths earned a living by cutting ice for refrigeration and milling lumber.
Once Fall River Road opened, the Holzwarths realized they could make a better living by transforming their property into a dude ranch. This dude ranch later became the Holzwarth Trout Lodge.
Visitors would pay to come to stay in these rustic cabins in the mountains and enjoy dining, riding, and getting a taste of life in the Rocky Mountains. Today, the park offers tours of the Holzwarth Historic Site, where they tell the story of this family and life in the early 20th century.
Moraine Park Museum is located in a 1900s converted log cabin that is accessed by Bear Lake Road off Highway 36. This museum is brimming with exhibits on the natural environment of the park, including geology, wildlife, and history.
Moraine Park Museum sits at an elevation of about 81,000 feet, which means it is in the perfect location for taking in the surrounding views. This museum is open during the spring, summer, and fall. Those who take time to visit rave about their experience and leave with a new wealth of knowledge about Rocky Mountain National Park.
Hiking to Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lakes is one of the most popular things to do in Rocky Mountains National Park. This moderate-difficulty hike is 3.2 miles long and rewards adventurers with gorgeous views of these incredible lakes.
Nymph Lake is the smallest of the 3 lakes and seems more like a pond. Dream Lake is a crowd-pleaser as it offers picturesque views of the mountains, trees, and reflective water.
Emerald Lake is the most stunning lake to see. It is filled with turquoise water and surrounded by pine forests and snow-capped mountains. This lake is a sight to behold and will fill you with awe and inspiration.
Hot Tip: Hiking to these beautiful lakes is a fantastic way to explore Rocky Mountain National Park and discover the natural beauty that fills the area.
Old Fall River Road opened in 1920 and was the first auto route in Rocky Mountain National Park. This historic road offers visitors access to the high-country areas of the park.
This road is very different from Trail Ridge Road, as it is mostly gravel and one-way with several switchbacks. It is 11 miles long and takes visitors to well-known attractions such as Fall River Pass and Fall River Cirque.
This road is the perfect journey for those who want to take a quiet, slow tour through the country areas of the park.
Trail Ridge Road is frequently referred to as The Highway to the Sky. This 48-mile road reaches a peak elevation of over 12,000 feet and is an incredible way to see the Rocky Mountains. This road is notorious in the national park system as it is one of the greatest engineering feats of all the parks.
At the top of the road, visitors will find the Alpine Visitor Center, which is a great place to stretch your legs, check out the amazing exhibits, and grab a snack and a drink before continuing your scenic drive.
Trail Ridge Road is closed during the winter. If it’s a must-do on your list, be sure to visit during the spring, summer, or fall so that you can experience this amazing drive.
Estes Park, a wonderful gateway town to the Rocky Mountains, hosts a wide variety of events each year that are perfect for families, culture enthusiasts, and even chocolate and wine lovers. Here are some of the top activities in the Rocky Mountain National Park area.
These 2 events are wrapped up into 1 huge weekend of fun. This is a time to enjoy incredible food, live music, and exciting activities.
The Estes Park Winter Festival features lots of live music and activities, including a chili cook-off where contestants showcase their chili recipes and fight to win the title of the prize-winning chili. The Winter Festival is family-friendly and offers plenty to guests of all ages.
Winter Trails Day is held during the same weekend as Winter Festival. This event is hosted by Rocky Mountain National Park and has opportunities for visitors to have snowshoe fittings and try out products from winter sports outfitters. There are also lots of fun giveaways, so be prepared to walk away with a loaded goodie bag.
Each February, Estes Park hosts a delightful festival dedicated to fine wines and gourmet chocolates. This event is held at the Estes Park Convention Center and quickly sells out each year. So if you are wanting to visit Rocky Mountain National Park and indulge in wines and chocolate during your stay, be sure to get your tickets in advance.
Whiskey Warmup happens at the end of each winter when the weather is still icy. Guests are able to sample whiskey from the best distilleries in the state and enjoy live music and demonstrations from local experts on how whiskey is produced.
Everyone who loves the legend of Bigfoot will want to jump at the chance to visit Rocky Mountain National Park during Bigfoot Days. This event is held in Estes Park every July and offers guests opportunities to hear live bluegrass and country music, throw axes, climb walls, and gather with others who love hearing stories about this mythical beast.
Rocky Mountain National Park is open year-round, but there are preferred times throughout the year for different activities, depending on your vacation desires. Whether you are seeking a vacation filled with winter sports, wildlife, or solitude, you can rest assured that these are excellent recommendations for the best experiences at Rocky Mountain National Park.
For those who love the cold winter months, visiting Rocky Mountain National Park in the winter can be a truly enchanting time. The park is typically covered in snow by December, but the snowiest months are January through March.
The mountains stand majestically covered in snow, and there are amazing opportunities for snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and sledding. For extreme winter sports enthusiasts, there are thrilling opportunities for backcountry skiing, ice climbing, and winter mountaineering.
If you want to visit Rocky Mountain National Park and avoid crowds, the best times to plan a visit are between the months of November and April.
Summer and fall weekends are typically the busiest times in the park, but there is a significant drop in visitors when winter weather hits. The snow deters a lot of visitors during this time, but it truly is a magical time to explore the park.
If you can only plan a vacation during the summer months, there are some ways to avoid crowds. Hiking, exploring the less crowded western part of the park, and planning to visit during the early hours of the morning are all ways to have a less crowded park experience.
There are times throughout the year when visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park can get wonderful views of the wildlife that make their home in the park. Spring in Rocky Mountain National Park is the birthing season for several large mammals. Visiting in the spring may reward you with sights of newborn elk, mule deer, and moose.
The summer is a great time to see wildlife in the park, as they can be found soaking in the summer sun. Elk are often found in the meadows or above the tree line, bighorn sheep and mule deer can be found in the open meadows, and moose can be found in the western parts of the park in the willows.
Fall is mating season for many of the large mammals in the park. From mid-September to mid-October, large groups of elk can be spotted in one area, and you may even see them fighting to win over a large group of female elk.
Exploring Rocky Mountain National Park by climbing is an experience that will take you to a higher level of appreciation for this national park. Taking in the views from the top of the mountains is truly a remarkable experience.
If you want to plan a rock-climbing trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, the best times to visit are the late spring and summer months. If you come in the early spring, you will find that many routes are closed for the nesting season of raptors.
Hot Tip: Most routes will open for climbers in May. Be prepared with plenty of cold weather gear because you may run into quite a bit of snow at higher elevations.
Planning a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park in the off-season is the cheapest way to explore the park.
Visiting from November through January will reward you with awe-inspiring views of the park and mountains blanketed in snow, and you will also be able to save money on lodging and flights.
The park is less crowded during the winter, so your experience will be much different than coming during the peak season. While visiting during these cold months will allow you to see the winter wonderland version of the park, there will be several road and attraction closures.
Rocky Mountain National Park is an amazing place to plan a dream vacation. This park has much to offer with its sweeping views of the mighty mountains, sparkling lakes, sprawling meadows, and bountiful wildlife.
In addition, there are amazing options for lodging both inside and near the park, whether you prefer camping in the great outdoors or staying in a luxury resort.
There are no overnight accommodations in Rocky Mountain National Park other than campgrounds. This national park has 5 different campgrounds that can be reserved for tent camping, campers, and RVs. If you choose to camp in the park, permits are required.
Aspenglen Campground can be accessed by those who tent camp or those who camp in RVs and campers. This is a reservation-only seasonal campground, so be sure to plan your stay well in advance to avoid disappointment.
This campsite has trash collection, food storage lockers, and seasonal restrooms that can be used. Additionally, there are places to buy firewood and ice seasonally.
Glacier Basin Campground is found on Bear Lake Road. To utilize this campground, you must have a reservation. Glacier Basin Campground is perfect for tent camping or staying in an RV. There are 150 campsites available with a mixture of individual sites and group sites.
This campground has trash collection and food storage lockers available, along with places to purchase firewood and ice. There are also flush toilets that can be accessed seasonally.
For summer camping, Longs Peak Campground is available exclusively for tent camping only. This beautiful location is surrounded by forests and at an elevation of about 9,500 feet high. This campground doesn’t have any water or electricity, so bring your own drinking water and be prepared for a rustic camping experience.
Moraine Park Campground is found on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park and can be accessed from Bear Lake Road. This campground is now open year-round and welcomes tent campers and those who use campers and RVs. Sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
This location features trash collection, food storage lockers, restrooms with toilets, an amphitheater, and places to purchase ice and firewood. There are also sites where group camping is available.
Timber Creek Campground is located on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park and is the only campground on that side of the park.
Timber Creek is near the Colorado River and 8 miles from the Grand Lake entrance to the park. This site is perfect for tent camping or staying in an RV. The campground does not have hookups for electricity or water. There are 98 sites available for camping during the spring and summer seasons.
There aren’t any overnight accommodations for lodging in Rocky Mountain National Park, but there are 2 towns near the park that offer a variety of places to stay during your visit. Whether you are looking for a calm, serene town, or a lively, adventure-filled spot, you can rest assured that one of the nearby towns will be the perfect place to set up your home base.
Estes Park is the closest town to Rocky Mountain National Park. It is just 5 miles from the Beaver Meadows entrance.
This town is the ideal location for taking in the views of the rivers and mountains, spotting the abundant local wildlife, fishing, and picnics. In addition, there are organized activities that can be scheduled, such as horseback riding, ATV tours, spa treatments, and museums.
Estes Park has a lovely shopping and dining district located along Elkhorn Avenue and many popular attractions to visit, including touring the Stanley Hotel, the famous hotel that inspired Stephen King’s “The Shining.”
Another popular attraction in Estes Park is the Estes Park Aerial Tramway, where visitors can take in scenic valley views at the top of Prospect Mountain. Lodging accommodations range from simple cabins by the river to luxury lodges with superior amenities.
The town of Grand Lake is known as the Western Gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park and has something for everyone. This charming lakeside town offers breathtaking views of the Rocky Mountains, abundant wildlife, and lush greenery surrounding it.
Visitors enjoy a host of activities in this area, including golfing, horseback riding, and strolling along the historic boardwalk while checking out the local shops, galleries, and restaurants.
Winter in Grand Lake is an exciting time for tourists, as its other nickname is the Snowmobiling Capital of Colorado. Not only does Grand Lake offer snowmobiling opportunities, but the town also hosts snowshoeing and Nordic skiing.
Grand Lake has a variety of lodging options available, ranging from rustic glamping tents to luxury resorts. No matter what you are seeking as your Rocky Mountain home base, Grand Lake has everything you are looking for and more.
Rocky Mountain National Park has plenty of options for dining if you enjoy picnicking and admiring gorgeous views of the water, mountains, and landscapes. While there are no traditional restaurants located in the park, there are a couple of places where you can grab a quick bite on the go, as well as picnic areas galore.
The Café at Trail Ridge is a lovely café located in the Trail Ridge Store next to the Alpine Visitor Center. This café serves made-to-order sandwiches, salads, soups, snacks, drinks, and desserts. Café at Trail Ridge is a great place to rest from all your park adventures, relax, and refuel with some tasty treats while you take in the view from the top of the mountain.
Rocky Mountain National Park has dozens of picnic areas scattered throughout each part of the park. Each area features tables for dining, and most of the areas have fire grates to allow for cooking over the open fire. Some of the areas have restrooms nearby.
If you enjoy dining in nature, pack a lunch and a blanket and set out to find the perfect spot to enjoy your meal while taking in the beautiful scenery of Rocky Mountain National Park.
The Trail Ridge Coffee Bar is right next to the Café at Trail Ridge. This coffee bar has an impressive menu of freshly brewed coffees, hot teas, and snacks like smoothies and bakery items. Trail Ridge Coffee bar serves organic, Fair-Trade coffee and uses organic fresh fruits and vegetables in the dishes on their menu.
Rocky Mountain National Park has elevations ranging from 7,860 to 14 259 feet. Throughout the park, there are 77 mountain peaks over 12,000 feet high. When visiting these high elevations, it truly makes you feel that you are on top of the world.
Rocky Mountain National Park has an impressive museum collection of preserved artifacts that tell the history of the park. This collection includes 33,465 cultural items and 294 pieces of art, along with a great number of both biological and geological specimens. These exhibits are showcased in visitor centers throughout the park.
Visiting Rocky Mountain National Park is a great way to see a diverse array of wildlife. There are over 60 mammal species that make their home in the park. Animals often seen include bighorn sheep, elk, mule deer, and moose. There are also over 280 different types of birds that have been seen in the park and 11 types of fish.
Rocky Mountain National Park proudly boasts the nation’s highest continuous paved road. Trail Ridge Road reaches 12,183 feet at its highest point and is a 48-mile road filled with incredible views of the mountains.
The Continental Divide Trail runs straight through the middle of Rocky Mountain National Park. This 30-mile-long trail splits the park into its eastern and western sections.
Abner Sprague was the first visitor to pay the $3 park fee in 1939. Sprague was a local homesteader and one of the biggest advocates for the park. Sprague Lake, one of the park’s most popular areas in the park, was named after Abner.
Bighorn sheep can be spotted all around Rocky Mountain National Park. There are approximately 400 sheep who currently make their home in the park. Since these animals are so prevalent, they are the official symbol of the park.
This national park has 150 historic structures, several of which are featured on the National Register of Historic Places. Some of these historic sites include backcountry cabins and Holzwarth Historic Site.
This national park is a paradise for any fisherman. There are 156 lakes found in Rocky Mountain National Park containing 7 native and 4 exotic fish species. Some of these fish include cutthroat trout such as the Greenback and Colorado River cutthroat trout.
There are approximately 355 miles of hiking trails in Rocky Mountain National Park. These trails range in difficulty from easy strolls by the lake to steep mountain climbs.
Rocky Mountain National Park is an ideal location for a vacation filled with adventure and beauty. This is a trip you will want to revisit time and time again. Whether you are seeking the thrill of exploration or a serene way to disconnect for a while, you will find everything you are looking for and more at Rocky Mountain National Park.
Wildlife can be seen in many different places throughout the park. There are certain places to find specific animals. Bighorn sheep are easily spotted at Sheep Lakes. Near the willow thickets of the Colorado River, expect to see moose. Elk are typically found above the tree line. There are countless other species that are seen throughout the park on hiking trails or near streams and lakes.
Planning to visit Rocky Mountain National Park anywhere from 3 to 5 days is ideal. A 3-day trip allows enough time to drive the scenic roads and hike several trails. If you are a hiking enthusiast, 5 days would be a better option. This will give you plenty of time to hike some of the difficult trails and explore the park.
Visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park can purchase single-day passes or 7-day passes. A single-day pass for a private vehicle is $30, while a 7-day pass is $35. If you arrive by shuttle bus, bicycle, or on foot, you can purchase a single-day pass for $15. Another option is to buy a $70 annual pass that can be used for unlimited entry for a year.
Pets are allowed on established roads, picnic areas, parking lots, and campgrounds. If you bring your pet with you to any of these places, they must be on a leash no longer than 6 feet. Pet owners must clean up after their pets and supervise them at all times. Pets are prohibited on trails, in the tundra, and in the meadows.
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