Rocky Mountain National Park: Everything You Need to Know

Rocky Mauntain National Park

Published: Aug 21, 2020

Whether you prefer scenic drives, rewarding hikes, rich culture and history or simply just being one with the wild, Rocky Mountain National Park has everything that you're looking for. The Rocky Mountain National Park offers the best views, the best activities, the best places to stay at, and the best hiking trails. Therefore, below is everything that you need to know about Rocky Mountain National Park.

Located within the front range of the Rocky Mountains and intersected by the Continental Divide, the Rocky Mountain National Park boasts of towering mountains, alpine lakes, diverse wildlife, various climates and environments ranging from forests to tundra's, all in one location. However, aside from the glorious wonders of nature, the park is also teeming with culture and history. 

The Rocky Mountain National Park Act was signed by, President Woodrow Wilson, on January 26, 1915. This, in turn, established the boundaries of the park that will be maintained and protected for generations to come. In 1976, UNESCO declared the park as a World Biosphere Reserve, a protected area that displays a balanced relationship between man and nature.

Why People Visit Rocky Mountain National Park

The Rocky Mountain National Park is considered as one of the most visited parks by the National Park system, ranking third in 2015. The park offers activities for various personalities; whether you're looking for a hike that can take you to the park's best views or you're merely looking for some quality time to be one with the park's lush wildlife, the Rocky Mountain National Park offers pleasure galore.

Because of the park's unique geographical location, it offers a variety of activities for everyone. The park is generally divided into five regions that are accessed by various trails. Located on the west of the Continental Divide is Region 1, which is known for moose and big meadows. Up high is Region 2, the park's alpine region, known for its spectacular views. Region 3 is located in the northern part of the park and is known for wilderness escape.

This region can be easily accessed via the Estes Park Area. Region 4, also known as the heart of the park, has the most visited and famous trails and trailheads. This area is also known for easy access, great views, and lake trails. Last but not the least, we have Region 5 located at the south of Estes Park. Within this region are the park's iconic fourteener, Longs Peak, and the Wild Basin area. This part of the park is known for its waterfalls and backcountry. 

Due to its diversity in both climate and geography, it's no wonder why Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the top national park destinations in the country. The sheer amount of possible activities to do at the park can be a bit daunting, especially if you want to make the most of your visit. In order to enjoy and to explore the park to its fullest, it's important to be prepared and to know what to expect from a trip to the Rocky Mountain National Park. Click here to see a map of the different regions.

Activities and Things to Do at Rocky Mountain National Park

The Rocky Mountain National Park boasts of tall peaks as high as 14,000 feet and 355 miles of hiking trails. The park is also teeming with a diverse collection of flora and fauna, some of which are considered as endangered and threatened species. Considering these as well as the diverse climate and geography of the park, visitors ought to be prepared for the variety of activities that can be enjoyed in the Rocky Mountain National Park.

Not sure what to prepare for? Here is a full list of the activities that you can do within the park, whether you're staying for a day or an entire week.

Rocky Mountain National Park's Scenic Drives

Maybe long hikes and being up close with the wildlife is a bit daunting for you but you still want to enjoy the beauty of the Rocky Mountain National Park. Lucky for you, unlike other national parks, the Rocky Mountain National Park has a road system that allows visitors to access various areas of the park in the form of a scenic drive.

The road system was created in such a way that it harmonizes with its surroundings. These roads can take visitors from lowland meadows to locations that are more than 12,000 feet in elevation. Along the drive, visitors are given the chance to take in the full glory of the park's magnificent terrain and breathtaking vistas. 

The park offers two iconic roads, Old Fall River Road and Trail Ridge Road. Whether you pick one or the other, both roads offer a unique experience that will surely leave you in awe.

Old Fall River Road

Old Fall River Road Rocky Mountain National Parck

Old Fall River Road in Rocky Mountain National Park

Old Fall River Road is the road that you want to take if you want to take the route that was travelled by hunters, long before the park was established. Rich in history, the Old Fall River Road is considered as the first auto route in the Rocky Mountain National Park. 

Old Fall River Road is primarily gravel and has no guard rails. With a speed limit of 15 miles per hour, the road is relatively safe but caution should be exercised, especially in narrow and curved areas. Beginning at Horseshoe Park, the old road leads travellers to Fall River Pass, 11,796 feet above sea level. Along the way, visitors can experience the park's wilderness and in some locations, the trees and subalpine forests are so close to the road that visitors can easily touch them with a stretch of their hands. 

Old Fall River Road will take you through a journey that has been travelled many years ago. A historic drive that allows you to be intimate with nature from the safety of your vehicle. The upward journey is a relaxing one; one that should be savored and remembered dearly.

Trail Ridge Road

Scenic Trail ridge road in Rocky mountain national park, Colorado

Scenic Trail ridge road in Rocky mountain national park, Colorado

Trail Ridge Road is Rocky Mountain National Park's highway to the sky, reaching elevations of up to 12,183 feet. It's also one of America's Byways in Colorado and a national designated All American Road, making it the highest continuous highway in the US. 

Similar to Old Fall River Road, the landscape architects who worked on this project made sure that little to no disturbance will be made on the road's surrounding areas. Trail Ridge Road was constructed as a replacement for Old Fall River Road because the latter was harder to use. Even before its completion, Trail Ridge Road was already tugging at the heartstrings of those who dare to experience its adventure. 

Trail Ridge Road covers 48 miles between Estes Park on the east and Grand Lake on the west of the Rocky Mountain National Park. The trail leaves the evergreen forest behind as it climbs along the tundra, offering breathtaking views, sightings of various wildlife, and alpine wildflowers.

The environment may seem a bit harsh because of the low temperature and short growing seasons, but when it's in bloom, the Trail Ridge tundra is painted green, yellow, red, pink, blue, purple, and white. Along the road are several pullovers where visitors can take their time and marvel at the sweeping views of the Rockies and its surrounding area. 

Considered as a “scenic wonder road of the world,” by the Rocky Mountains News, a drive along Trail Ridge Road truly is a memorable adventure. When talking about Trail Ridge Road, Horace Albright, former director of the National Park Service, remarked “It is hard to describe what a sensation this new road is going to make”. Go and feel that sensation yourself. Embark on the adventure that Trail Ridge Road oh so graciously offers.

Hiking in the Rocky Mountain National Park: Best, Easy, and Everything in Between

It's no surprise that one of the top activities in the Rocky Mountain National Park is hiking. The whole park has a total of 355 miles of hiking trails, perfect for every kind of hiker, whether you're a hiking noob and just visiting the park for a day or two or if you're already an expert who's looking for a challenge.

Before going on a hike, there are a few things that you need to consider and be prepared for in order for you to be able to make the most of your time in the Rockies.

The first thing that you need to consider when planning a hike is the altitude. The park's elevations range from 7,500 to 12,000 feet, which is why it is important to prepare your body for the change in altitude. To minimize the symptoms of altitude problems, drinking plenty of water, avoiding alcohol, not skipping meals, and getting enough rest should do the trick.

Another thing that you should consider in relation to elevation is the amount of sunlight that you would be getting. As you go higher, the atmosphere that light travels through decreases. This means that you'll be exposed to stronger ultraviolet light. It is advised to wear sunscreen and to have protective gear such as a hat, sunglasses, and long sleeved shirts, especially if you'll be out in the sun for extended periods of time.

Consulting with the park rangers is also a good thing to do before you go on a hike. They know the park and the hiking trails better than you do and they'll be able to provide you with valuable information that you'll definitely need.

Now that that information is out of the way, here are some of the hiking trails that you might want to check out when you visit the Rocky Mountain National Park.

Best and Suggested Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

They say that there is a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. When it comes to Rocky Mountain National Park, the hiking trails are the rainbows and the destinations are far more precious than a pot of gold. 
Here we have three kinds of hikes: lake hikes, waterfall hikes, and summit hikes. Choose your destination and enjoy the journey. 

Lake Hikes

Bear Lake

Bear Lake Rocky Mountain National Park

Bear Lake Rocky Mountain National Park

Trail Difficulty: Easy

First on the list of lake hikes is Bear Lake, one of Rocky Mountain National Park's most famous trails. During peak seasons, make sure that you start your hike early in order to avoid the huge crowds and to be able to find a suitable parking spot. As an alternative, the park offers free shuttle service to reach the trailhead.

This trail is a simple one. Beginning just beyond the Bear Lake Ranger Station, the trail just loops around the subalpine lake, following its shoreline. As you go along, you will pass through a forest of spruce, fir, lodgepole pine, and aspen. The trail also offers various peak sightings such as Hallett Peak, Half Mountain, and Longs Peak.

The trail is wheelchair accessible and considered to be relatively flat with a few steep sections. Benches and resting places are frequent along the trail, which makes it an ideal destination for the whole family.

Cub Lake

Trail Difficulty: Moderate

The next suggested lake hike is Cub Lake. The Cub Lake Trailhead can be accessed by cars, but keep in mind that the parking in the area is limited. Similar to Bear Lake, there is a free shuttle service located at Moraine Visitor Park that can take visitors to the trailhead. Most of the hike passes through the area that was damaged by the Fern Lake Fire, which happened in the fall of 2012.

The trail is fairly manageable, with just a short but steep climb before reaching the lake. If you decide to hike this trail in the fall, you will be travelling through woods painted in yellow and gold while being accompanied by grazing elks. In the summer, the surface of Cub Lake is covered in lily pads and a variety of ducks can be seen swimming in the cool water. Surrounding this beautiful and tranquil lake is a thick pine forest and a marshy shoreline and overlooking in the west is Stones Peak.

The Cub Lake Trail is often combined with the Fern Creek Trail, which ends at the Cub Lake Trailhead, ending your journey in a full circle. Click here to see the trail on a map.

Mills Lake

Trail Difficulty: Moderate

Named after Enos Mills, fondly referred to as the, “father of the Rocky Mountain National Park”, Mills Lake is a destination that you should not miss when you visit the Rocky Mountain National Park.

As you hike this scenic trail, you will pass by other popular hiking destinations such as the Alberta Falls. Before reaching your destination, you will arrive at two junctions where you should take a right, then a left to arrive at Glacier Gorge and Mills Lake. After a few more miles of hiking, you will find yourself in the presence of a beautiful subalpine lake nestled at the bottom of Half Mountain; you have arrived at Mills Lake.

Surrounding the lake are various outstanding peaks such as the Pagoda Mountain, Chief Heads Peak, Thatchtop Mountain, and Long Peak's Keyboard of the Winds. One of the activities that you can do in this area is fishing. Mills Lake is one of the fishable lakes in the park, known to contain rainbow trout, brook trout, and greenback cutthroats. Having picnics is another activity that you can do. This you can do specifically in the large rocky area at the edge of the lake.

Enos Mills said, “In years to come when I am asleep beneath the pines, thousands of families will find rest and hope in this park." Pay homage to this amazing man whose efforts protected these lands for years to come, by visiting the lake named in his honor. Click here to view the trail on a map.

Bluebird Lake

Trail Difficulty: Strenuous

Unlike the first three lakes mentioned, the hike up to Bluebird Lake is far more demanding and challenging. Starting in the Wild Basin Trailhead, which is one of the loveliest portions of the park, the hike will take visitors up to a lake that sits at an elevation of 10, 978 feet.

The hike up to Bluebird Lake winds through the central region of the Wild Basin. Along the way, you will pass by four waterfalls namely, Copeland Falls, an unnamed waterfall, Calypso Cascades, and Ouzel Falls. Once you reach the Bluebird Lake Trail Junction, about halfway to Bluebird Lake, the trail begins a steady climb along an area that was once devastated by the 1978 Ouzel Fire.

The area has been recovering steadily since then, with new trees growing on the mountainsides and wildflowers decorating the hillsides. The half-mile spur trail that leads to Ouzel Lake marks the beginning of the steep and rugged climb to Bluebird Lake, making this part of the hike the most challenging. Once you reach the Upper Ouzel Creek Backcountry Campsite, your destination is only half a mile away.

The Bluebird Lake is an incredibly beautiful alpine lake surrounded by the majestic peaks of the Rockies. Due west is Ouzel Peak, Mt. Copeland can be found towards the south, and Mahana Peak is located northwest of the lake. Although the Bluebird Lake Trail is more challenging than the other trails mentioned, the hike up is just as memorable, maybe even more so than the others. Click here to view the trail on a map.

Waterfall Hikes

Adams Falls

Trail Difficulty: Easy

Beginning at the East Inlet Trailhead, the hike to Adams Falls is a short and easy one that is perfect for families, even those with small children.

The first part of the hike is to travel through a portion of the East Inlet Trail that connects with the Adams Falls Trail. As you make your way to the main trail, notice how the East Inlet Trail was created in such a way that it blends with its surroundings, making little to no disturbances to the environment. This trail is an excellent example of the naturalistic design work of the National Park Service.

The journey to Adams Falls is through a forest filled with pines and aspen. Once you arrive at the falls, there will be an observation area where you can gaze at the entirety of the falls, which drops roughly 55 feet through a narrow rock gorge. From a taller vantage point, you should be able to see an even better view of the falls as well as Grand Lake. All in all, the hike to Adams Falls is a short but memorable one. Click here to see the trail on a map.

Alberta Falls

Alberta Falls Rocky Mountain National Park

Alberta Falls Rocky Mountain National Park

Trail Difficulty: Easy

Widely regarded as one of the best waterfall hikes in the Rocky Mountain National Park, a hike to Alberta Falls is something that you should not miss when you visit.

The hike to Alberta Falls begins at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead, which is located in the Bear Lake Road area. As you make your way to the falls, the surrounding areas will alternate between pine forests and aspen groves, making the trail ideal for an autumn hike. The 30-foot waterfall flows down a small gorge on Glacier Creek, offering hikers an excellent area for a picnic.

If you're planning to hike up to Mills Lake or to The Loch, make sure to stop by these beautiful waterfalls before you continue with your journey.

Cascade Falls

Trail Difficulty: Moderate

The hike to Cascade Falls is perfect for those who are looking for a hike that is not so easy but not so difficult as well, with the chance of spotting wildlife.

The hike begins at the North Inlet Trailhead, a part of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. In less than one mile from the trailhead, hikers will reach the North Inlet Creek. The western end of the Summerland Park, a fairly large montane meadow, is also located in this area. Wildlife such as moose's, deer's, elks, and several kinds of birds can be easily spotted in this section of the trail.

When you notice your surroundings becoming increasingly lusher and the evergreen trees appear to be much taller, you know that you're nearing Cascade Falls. You have two options when viewing the falls: from below and from above. The views are much better from above but the views from below are still stunning. It is important to be very careful when viewing the falls from whichever vantage point because one wrong move can prove to be fatal.

Ouzel Falls

Trail Difficulty: Moderate

A popular hiking spot for the waterfalls and its namesake, Ouzel Falls, is arguably one of the most beautiful falls in the Rocky Mountain National Park.

Similar to the Bluebird Lake Trail, the hike to Ouzel Falls also begins at the Wild Basin Trailhead. Before reaching Ouzel Falls, hikers will pass by three falls, namely Copeland Falls, an unnamed waterfall, and Calypso Cascades. Longs Peak and Mt. Meeker make their appearance once you're above the Calypso Cascades.

The 40-foot waterfall is truly an amazing sight to see. For a better view, you can travel off trail for a short distance, to get a better vantage point. It seems that the best spot to view the waterfall is no longer accessible because of a flood in 2013, which changed the topography of the area.

Ouzel Falls, Ouzel Creek, and Ouzel Lake are all named after the water ouzel, a small grey bird, also known as the American Dipper, that dives underwater in search of food.

Timberline Falls

Trail Difficulty: Strenuous

Among all the waterfall hikes listed, this is the hardest one yet, and definitely one of the best. Located in the Glacier Gorge area, Timberline Falls, and its accompanying hike will not lose to its equally amazing neighbors.

The hike up to Timberline Falls is a strenuous one, but along the way, the beautiful sceneries that you will pass by will surely comfort you. The first attraction that you will see is Alberta Falls, another popular hiking destination in the Rocky Mountain National Park. Once you reach the Loch Vale Trail, the more challenging part of the hike begins as you will need to climb several steep switchbacks. Don't forget to admire Icy Brook, which can be found cascading down the valley on your left.

As you continue with your hike, you will eventually arrive at Loch Vale or The Loch, a beautiful subalpine lake that is part of one of the most studied watersheds in the world. Various peaks decorate the surroundings of this lake, namely, Taylor Peak, Thatchtop Mountain, the Sharkstooth, and Powell Peak. After you pass the lake, the trail starts its climb again. Once you see the Timberline Falls from afar, prepare yourself because you will have to climb a series of rock steps that will cover roughly 200 feet in just 0.15 miles. Catch your breath and continue forward; your destination is right around the corner.

When you finally reach Timberline Falls, take in the full glory of the view, the falls, and the climb that you just accomplished. Look into the distance and see how far the falls cascade down the valley and catch a glimpse of The Loch as well. If you're still raring for an adventure, check out the Lake of Glass and Sky Pond, which are just a climb away from Timberline Falls. Click here to view a map.

Summit Hikes

Deer Mountain

Trail Difficulty: Moderate

Rocky Mountain National Park is home to multiple amazing peaks that attracts enormous crowds of people each year. If you're looking for a beginner and family-friendly summit hike, Deer Mountain is the perfect destination.

The hike up to the summit will mostly be in an open country. This hike offers majestic views of the park even before reaching the summit. At first, you'll see views of Little Horseshoe Park and the Mummy Range. After a few more miles, you'll be able to see Moraine Park, Longs Peak, Hallett Peak, and the mountains of the Continental Divide. Deer and Elk can also be seen grazing in these open meadows so keep an out for wildlife as you pass by.

Although most of the trail is fairly easy to climb, it climbs fairly steeply in the last few miles before you reach the summit. As expected, the views at the summit are simply amazing. From this vantage point, you will have a birds-eye view of Estes Park, Moraine Park, Longs Peak, Hallett Peak, the Mummy Range, and the mountains of the Continental Divide.

At only a little over 10,000 feet, Deer Mountain is perfect for those who are looking for a warm-up hike before taking on the taller peaks of the park. It's also perfect for families looking for an accessible summit hike with amazing views and picnic options.

Twin Sisters Peak

Trail Difficulty: Strenuous

The hike to Twin Sisters Peak offers the exciting opportunity of summiting two peaks in one hike. Some take this trail as a warm-up for bigger hikes but these peaks are worthy destinations on their own.

Aside from being higher in elevation, part of the original trail up to Twin Sisters Peak was damaged by the September 2013 flood, which devastated the Rocky Mountain National Park and its surrounding areas, effectively making this trail harder to navigate. The landslide area, which can be seen from Highway 7, washed out several switchbacks, affecting roughly 2,000 feet of trail. Keep an eye out for the cairns established in this part of the trail in order to not lose your way.

When you're nearing the two peaks, the trail becomes even more rugged, steep, and challenging as you climb talus and scree. Trekking poles are recommended for this part of the hike for easier and safer navigation. Once you reach the saddle between the Two Sisters, you'll have your choice of whether to climb one or both. The western peak is much easier to climb than the eastern one, making it the more popular choice. Either way, you'll have an amazing view of Longs Peak, Mt. Meeker, Estes Cone, and the Continental Divide. The sweeping views from the summit prove to be an amazing reward for a successful completion for summiting Twin Sisters Peak.

Flattop Mountain

Flattop Mountain and Emerald Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park

Flattop Mountain and Emerald Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park

Trail Difficulty: Strenuous

Discover why this peak is called Flattop Mountain in this challenging and amazing climb. The hike is composed of a trail that has access to other great peaks and it provides the opportunity for amazing panoramic views of the Rocky Mountain National Park.

The Flattop Mountain Trail is steep and the grade is moderately difficult. The first overlook that you'll reach is the Dream Lake Overlook where you can enjoy a great view of Longs Peak, while taking an extended break. Once you enter the scrub pine / krummholz zone, you'll begin to see outstanding panoramic views of Bierstadt Lake, Sprague Lake, and a majority of the Glacier Basin area. As you continue with the hike, you'll eventually reach Emerald Lake Overlook, which offers stunning views as well, especially that of Hallett Peak. From this point forward, the trail will begin to enter the barren and rocky terrain of the tundra.

In the last miles of the hike, the terrain will become less steep and will eventually level out. The trail to Flattop Mountain ends when you reach the junction with the North Inlet Trail and Tonahutu Creek Trail. This junction is considered as the summit of Flattop Mountain, even though there are no signs indicating that it is. Take a 360 view and enjoy Hallett Peak, Notchtop Mountain, the Mummy Range, Ptarmigan Point, and the Never Summer Range, all in one horizon.

Easy and Accessible Hikes and Trails in Rocky Mountain National Park

Sometimes, a challenging hike on rugged terrain seems like too much to do; especially when you just want to enjoy the scenery and your surroundings. Although Rocky Mountain National Park is famous for trails with steep terrain, there are trails that have been constructed for leisure walks that can be enjoyed by everyone.

These park trails are perfect for those who are planning to hike more challenging trails and need to adjust to the park's higher elevation. Groups with young children and visitors with visual impairments are also recommended to take these trails. Also, if you love walking on relatively flat terrain while enjoying the views, these trails are also perfect for you.

Coyote Valley Trail

The Coyote Valley Trail offers the opportunity to hike and to admire the beautiful Kawuneeche Valley, even on a wheelchair. The valley was previously used as a hunting ground by the Ute and Arapaho Indians. The word, “Kawuneeche,” is of Native American origin and in the language of the Arapaho Indians, it means, “Valley of the Coyote”.

The trail will take you to the Colorado River and you'll be able to see sweeping views of the Kawuneeche Valley, a prime moose and elk habitat. Deers, coyotes, beavers, hawks, golden eagles, osprey, kingfishers, otters can also be seen in this area. As you hike on, you'll have an amazing view of the Never Summer Mountains, Mt. Stratus, and Green Knoll.

There are several rest stops along the trail, which are the perfect spots to relax and admire the sweeping views of the Kawuneeche Valley. This trail is perfect for a spring hike because of the wildflowers painting the meadows in multiple colors.

Sprague Lake

Spargue Lake Rocky Mountain National Park

Spargue Lake Rocky Mountain National Park

The loop around Sprague Lake allows visitors to enjoy panoramic views of the Continental Divide while on a leisure walk around a serene lake. Albert Sprague, the namesake of the lake, was one of the original settlers of Estes Park. In 1939, he became Rocky Mountain National Park's first visitor who paid an entrance fee.

Similar to the Coyote Valley Trail, the hike around Sprague Lake is wheelchair accessible. The trail travels over a hard packed gravel surface that is relatively flat. If you hike this trail in the early morning, be sure to admire the reflection of the mountains in the 13-acre lake's surface.

Along the trail are several benches where visitors can relax and enjoy the peaceful scenery, while admiring the panoramic views of the Continental Divide, including Half Mountain, Thatchtop Mountain, Taylor Peak, Otis Peak, Hallett Peak, Flattop Mountain, and Notchtop Mountain.

Lily Lake

Conveniently located near Estes Park, the hike around Lily Lake is a popular trail choice for families. Enos Mills, the “Father of the Rocky Mountain National Park”, enjoyed his walks to Lily Lake and I'm sure that you will enjoy yours, too.

This handicapped accessible trail loops around Lily Lake and provides amazing views of the Estes Cone and Mt. Meeker and Longs Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park's two highest peaks. In the spring and early summer, wildflowers dominate the area.

Enjoy having a picnic in the presence of a beautiful lake while being surrounded by wildflowers. The Lily Lake trail surely is something worth seeing when you visit Rocky Mountain National Park.

Holzwarth Historic Site

The trail to Holzwarth Historic Site begins at a trailhead in the west side of the Rocky Mountain National Park, passes by the Colorado River and the Kawuneeche Valley, and ends in a preserved property that is a perfect representation of early dude ranching in the Rockies.

The Holzwarth Historic Site, formerly known as the Holzwarth Trout Lodge, was built by John Holzwarth Sr., a German immigrant who lost his job in 1917 because of the enactment of prohibition in Colorado. He decided to build a homestead at the foot of the Never Summer Mountains. This property will eventually grow and be known as the Holzwarth Trout Lodge. The family will eventually build Never Summer Ranch as well, a dude ranch located on the east side of the Colorado River.

The property was sold by John Holzwarth Jr. to the Nature Conservancy in 1974 to preserve the property for future generations. In 1975, the Nature Conservancy transferred the property to Rocky Mountain National Park.

The Rocky Mountain National Park is blessed with amazing landscapes and sceneries that can be admired from both above and below. Whether you're looking for your greatest adventure yet or if you just want to have a nice stroll and admire nature, I'm sure that you'll find the perfect trail and perfect destination in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Hiking Essentials

Now that you've been introduced to a number of amazing hikes and destinations in Rocky Mountain National Park, it's time to know what you need to prepare for maximum trail enjoyment and safety.

  • Map and compass.
    Being lost in the wild is not fun. To make sure that you don't lose your way, always have a map of the area / trail that you want to tackle as well as a compass for easier navigation. 
  • Extra food and water.
    Hiking on an empty stomach is not a good idea, especially if you're going somewhere high. Make sure to have plenty of food and water to sustain yourself throughout your whole journey. Bring your own reusable water containers and refill them at the park visitor centers.
  • Extra clothing.
    The weather in the park changes drastically. It's generally a good idea to have rain gear and clothing with long sleeves on hand to protect yourself from nature whenever you need to.
  •  Sunglasses, sunscreen and a hat.
    Ultraviolet light will be your enemy when you take on hikes located in higher elevations. Be sure to have these items on hand to protect yourself from the harmful rays of the sun.
  • Pocketknife
    A pocketknife is a versatile tool that is handy to have in multiple situations. Just make sure that it's secure and not in the reach of children.
  • Fire starters in waterproof containers (matches, candles, etc.).
    Similar to the pocketknife, keep these items out of the reach of children.
  • Whistle
    In case of emergencies, using a whistle to call for attention is more practical than shouting for help.
  • Flashlight with extra batteries and bulbs.
  • Space blanket: Have waterproof, windproof, and easy to carry items that can protect you from the harsh weather of the Rockies. 
  • First aid kit
    Accidents can happen at any time, which is why it's important to be prepared when that happens. Make sure to include personal medication when packing your first aid kit.

The Climb: Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park

Summiting the highest peak in Rocky Mountain National Park is a feat that will feel absolutely amazing to accomplish. Standing at an elevation of 14,259 feet, the route to the top is an extraordinary and exhilarating climb.

The most famous route to the summit of Longs Peak is the Keyhole Route. For those who want to take on this challenge, keep in mind that this route is a CLIMB, not a HIKE. Substantial preparation is needed for a safe ascent and descent.

General Safety Reminders

  • To avoid high altitude sickness, proper conditioning and acclimation to the altitude is important. Conditioning can be done by hiking trails that are progressively longer and strenuous.
  • Begin your climb early. It is advisable to start no later than 3AM because the hike averages 10-15 hours to complete. This time frame allows you to be back below the tree line before afternoon thunderstorms develop.
  • Know your limits. If you are tired or not feeling well, do not hesitate to turn around. The same goes for when the weather changes.
  • Solo travel is never recommended. Travelling in a group is ideal when climbing Longs Peak because of the added margin of safety.
  • Stay on the marked route; it is marked for a reason. Along the way, you'll find several markers for the easiest way to the top. Straying away from these markers will make your climb much more difficult than it should be.
  • Prepare plenty of food and water. Packing high energy snacks is a must, especially salty foods that can maintain your electrolytes levels. There are no water sources along the Keyhole Route; preparing a minimum of 3-4 quarts of water or sports drink is ideal.
  • Pre-existing medical conditions can be aggravated by high elevations. Don't hesitate to climb down to a lower elevation if you're not feeling well.
  • Wearing sturdy footwear is a must. Due to the nature of the climb, having sturdy footwear with a treaded sole and good ankle support will make your climb more comfortable.
  • Due to high elevations, ice and snow can be present any time. Always keep an eye out for the weather and make decisions accordingly.
  • Thunderstorms develop quickly. Don't forget to pack storm gear.
  • Descend quickly when a storm develops.
  • Prepare for a safe return. This is the most important part of the climb.
  • Click here for more details.

Essentials to Carry

List of recomended essentials to Carry with you.

  • Sufficient water and high-energy food
  • Layers of clothing (jackets, pants, insulating, and windproof clothing)
  • Sturdy footwear and extra socks
  • Storm gear
  • Hats and gloves
  • Sunglasses with UV protection
  • Sunscreen
  • First aid kit
  • Topographic map & compass/GPS
  • Flashlight or headlamp
  • Waterproof matches
  • Pocket knife
  • Whistle
  • Common sense!

The Keyhole Route

During the summer, when the conditions for climbing are optimal, thousands attempt to reach the summit of Longs Peak via the Keyhole Route.

The climb to the top begins at the East Longs Peaks trailhead. The trail ends when you reach the Boulder Field. To cross this terrain, you will have to scramble across the large boulders that fill the field. Once you reach the Keyhole, the ascent to the summit begins.

In case you forgot, the Keyhole Route is a CLIMB, not a HIKE. It's okay to call it a day when you reach this landmark. Don't push yourself too hard because after this point, the climb is going to be significantly harder.

From the Keyhole, you'll need to locate red and yellow bull's eyes that mark the best route to the summit. The first challenge is to travel along a cliff's edge on very narrow ledges. Carefully travel through this part until you reach the Trough. Take note of this point for easier navigation when you descend.

The Trough is a broad gulley filled with loose rock. Be mindful of other climbers and falling rocks when you're in this area. At the top of The Trough is a short and steep section that leads to the beginning of the Narrows.

The appropriately named Narrows requires you to travel through a narrow ledge to cross a sheer vertical rock face. Boulders and hand holds will assist you when you cross this ledge. Only a little bit more to go before you reach the summit.

The last obstacle before reaching the summit is the Homestretch. At this point, a polished granite slab is the only thing that is standing between you and the target. Use the bull's eyes as guides when you scramble on all fours on your way up. Ice and snow are additional challenges in this area, even in the summer.

After that challenging climb, you'll finally reach the summit of Longs Peak, the highest point in Rocky Mountain National Park. Savor your victory and gaze at the amazing views. Take your time to rest and prepare for your descent, the hardest part of the climb.

The climb to the top of Longs Peak via the Keyhole route may be difficult and challenging, but the rewards of a safe and successful climb make it all worth it. After a strenuous climb, you'll finally be able to cross out “summiting Longs Peak” from your bucket list.

RMNP Wilderness Camping

A visit to the Rocky Mountain National Park provides the opportunity to be one with nature, whether it's for a day or a whole week. A hike is a good way to appreciate the environment without having to sacrifice a lot for comfort, but if you want to experience nature to the fullest, wilderness camping is the activity that you're looking for.

Camping out in the wild and relying on your own skills to survive is a very rewarding and challenging activity. Preparation is very important to assure your safety as well as the safety of your companions. Rocky Mountain National Park is an amazing venue for wilderness camping, not only for its beautiful outdoors but also because of the protocols that are in place that keep both the camper and the environment safe.

Every visitor of the Rocky Mountain National Park is asked to be a, “keeper of the royal lands”, the historic charge given to park rangers. The park is a legacy that is handed down from generation to generation and it is our duty to make sure that it is preserved, and even improved, for generations to come.

If you're planning to give wilderness camping in Rocky Mountain National Park a try, here are some things that will help you to get started with your preparations.

Pre-Trip Preparations

When you're planning your trip, the first thing that you need to consider is where you'll be setting up a camp and how long your stay will be. When choosing a site, consider the abilities of the least experienced member of your group. You won't be able to go wilderness camping if you can't reach your campsite.

Another thing to consider is elevation. To avoid high altitude sickness, it is important to be properly acclimated to the elevation before engaging in possibly strenuous activities. Allowing your body to adjust to the park's elevation is recommended before setting out.

The weather is also something that you should prepare for. Mountain weather is very fickle, which is why it is important to check the weather forecast before you start your trip so that you know what to expect. Make sure to pack clothes that can protect you from the cold. Dressing in layers is a good way to manage your temperature because it allows you to bundle up or dress down with relative ease. Packing rain and storm gear is also advised.

To be able to camp overnight in the wilderness of the Rocky Mountain National Park, you need to secure a wilderness permit. Your permit serves as a contract that states your agreement to take care of the wilderness and to treat it with respect. The numbers of issued permits are limited, which is why it is better to reserve them beforehand. You can make a reservation online or you can do it in person by visiting the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center Wilderness Office or the Kawuneeche Visitor Center. The $30 Wilderness Administrative Fee for every trip reservation is not included in the Park entrance fee.

Before you set out, make sure to inform someone about your trip and give them a detailed itinerary, including when you plan to return. Consider the activities that you plan to do and assess whether you can continue with your plans. Pre-trip preparations are done in order to ensure your safety. Make sure to do them properly.

Trip Proper

Once you're certain that you have prepared everything that you need, you can finally begin your trip. As always, make sure to treat your surroundings with respect. When you hike to your destination, make sure to do so in a single-file line and avoid trampling the vegetation. Remember, it is important to make as little disturbances to the environment as possible.

Once you reach your campsite, make sure to follow the rules. Set your tent up in the designated areas and secure your food away from your camp. Make sure to always keep your area clean. In case of animal sightings, report them to park rangers as soon as possible.

Preparing meals should be done with the use of portable stoves. It is prohibited to create fires unless you're in a designated campsite with metal fire rings. The park has suffered damages from fires before and this rule is imposed to make sure that incidents like those won't happen again.

Drinking water should always be purified before consumption, to avoid the spread of waterborne diseases. The following methods can be used to purify your drinking water:

  1. Use a water filter systems that can eliminate giardia.
  2. Use purifying tablets or drops that can eliminate giardia.
  3. Boil your water for at least 1-minute, adding an additional 1-minute for every 1,000 feet above sea level.

Post-Trip

Before you finish your trip, make sure that you are leaving the wilderness in the same way that it was when you arrived. Leave No Trace during your visit by making sure to do the following:

  • Plan ahead and prepare.
  • Travel and camp on durable surfaces.
  • Dispose of waste properly.
  • Leave what you find.
  • Minimize campfire impacts.
  • Respect wildlife.
  • Be considerate of other visitors.

Being able to experience nature in Rocky Mountain National Park is a privilege. In turn, it is our responsibility to make sure that the park is respected and well taken care of. Following rules and regulations ensures your safety and the safety of the environment as well.

For a complete list of available designated wilderness campsites, please follow this link

Rocky Mountain National Park Wildlife

Wildlife Viewing

Rocky Mountain National Park's varied ecosystems house various wild animals that attract millions of visitors each year. From black bears to a federally endangered toad, the park's wildlife truly is a sight to see. 
Visitors must always remember that the animals seen around the park are wild animals. They can hurt you and you can hurt them as well. In general, it is advised to stay at least 75 feet away from the wildlife that you may encounter inside the park. Feeding and/or harassing them is also not allowed and is considered illegal in most national parks. Keep your distance from them and they will keep their distance from you.

Aside from the famous, “charismatic megafaunas”, Rocky Mountain National Park is home to nearly 60 other species of mammals, more than 280 recorded species of birds, six amphibians, one reptile, 11 species of fish, and countless insects.

If you want to increase your chances of spotting wildlife during your visit, you must be familiar with their habits and schedules. Most animals are active at dusk or dawn so time your activities accordingly. Elks and mule deer are common and can be seen anytime, mostly in open meadows. The appropriately named Sheep Lakes are favored by bighorn sheep from May to mid-August. Moose can be frequently found in the willow thickets along the Colorado River. Otters can also be found in the Colorado River but they are quite difficult to spot.

The wilderness of Rocky Mountain National Park is a great location for birdwatching. Birds such as Clark's nutcrackers, Steller's jays, golden eagles, and prairie falcons frequent Trail Ridge Road. If you visit streams, listen for the loud calls of American dippers. White-tailed ptarmigans are usually camouflaged in the tundras. They remain very still, which makes spotting them quite the challenge.

Wildlife viewing is an amazing activity, especially for children. It's a safe activity as well, as long as the park guidelines regarding wild animals are followed. Remember the best way to admire and appreciate the park wildlife from a safe distance, for your protection and theirs.

Wildlife Photography

Who would be able to resist snapping a few photos of the amazing animals in Rocky Mountain National Park? If you're planning on taking photos or videos of the park's wildlife, here are a few tips and tricks to make sure that you get as many amazing photos as possible.

  • Dusk and dawn are now your favorite times of the day. Wild animals are up and about during these times and the lighting is amazing as well.
  • If you want close-up views of the animals, use binoculars, spotting scopes, or telephoto lenses. Never approach wild animals.
  • Noise and quick movements can scare wild animals away. Stay still and quite so that the animals won't run away.
  • You'll frequently spot animals in the edges of the landscape (e.g. where the forest meets the meadow)
  • When taking photos from your car, make sure to safely pull off from the road.
  • If you don't have a tripod, use your body to stabilize your device when taking photos. Touch your elbows to your ribcage or rest your elbows in a steady surface to avoid blurry photos.
  • It's easier to follow wildlife with your eyes rather than your viewfinder/screen.
  • When taking photos, always consider the rule of thirds.

Fishing

Fishing is a popular activity in the Rocky Mountain National Park. Even the early settlers and visitors of the Rocky Mountains engaged in this activity.

Among the 156 lakes in the park, only 48 have reproducing populations of fish. Due to cold temperatures and lack of spawning habitats, most high altitude lakes do not contain fish.

There are at least 4 species of trout that can be found in the park waters. These are brown trout, brook trout, rainbow trout, and cutthroat trout. The greenback cutthroat, commonly found in waters east of the Continental Divide, is a Federal and State Threatened Species. Beginning in the 1970s, the park started restoring the populations of native cutthroat species in park waters.

Sport fishing is allowed in certain park waters. Guests who are 16 years old and above who want to fish in Rocky Mountain National Park are required to obtain a Colorado fishing license. To protect the park's fishes, special regulations are set in place. If you decide to go fishing, it is your obligation to know and follow these regulations.

Follow this link for more information about fishing in Rocky Mountain National Park. Follow this link to read the regulations.

RMNP Kids' Activities

Children are adventurers too, what better way is there to expose your kids to the great outdoors than to take them on a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park? Although the park is famous for its steep peaks and incredible hikes, there are plenty of activities that can be enjoyed by the youngsters.

If you have an infant, carry them in a front pack and hike anywhere. If it gets chilly, just tuck your baby inside your jacket. The park has numerous trails that can be easily hiked, even with a baby strapped to your body. The stunning scenery filled with amazing colors and the fresh mountain air will surely enthrall your little bundle of joy.

Toddlers are mini explorers that are always itching to go on an adventure. Bear Lake has a guidebook-guided trail that explains the natural and human history of the area. Plants and animals found in the water will surely catch your toddler's attention. The park is also home to various wildlife that will fascinate any child. For example, take them to Sheeps Lake in the summer to watch the big horn sheep.

Kids that are a bit older can go on even bigger adventures. There are plenty of hikes that can be accomplished by children. If your child is a budding mountain climber, the trail to Gem Lake is lined with boulders that are perfect for climbing. Any child that loves animals will love a hike to Cub Lake in the summer. Enjoy the amazing colors of the seasons and ask them to look for hummingbirds among the flowers. Teach them to hunt for animal tracks in the Cub Creek drainage, where they can also look for beavers that favor this area for their dams.

If you're looking for learning activities for your child, the park has a, “Rocky's Junior Ranger Program,” that teaches children in kindergarten through eight grade about park preservation, facts about flora and fauna, and environmental education. There are also several ranger-led programs that are tailored for children. Additional information about these activities can be found in any visitor center in the park.

The park has several hiking trails that are accessible for children. If you want to explore more of the alpine country with children in tow, you have the option to ride horses that will allow you and your children to explore more of the high country than they can on foot. 
In July, visit Estes Park for the Rooftop Fair and Rodeo. In winter, Grand Lake has a Winter Carnival that has events and activities that celebrate the snowy wonderland.

It's never too early to develop your child's love for nature. As early as possible, teach them about the amazing and important role that nature plays in their lives. A nature trip to the Rocky Mountain National Park will surely ignite your kid's love for the great outdoors.

Winter Activities

The Rocky Mountain National Park is open year round and offers various activities in winter. Despite the weather conditions, winter is a spectacular time to visit Rocky Mountain National Park.

Weather is always a factor that needs to be considered when planning your trip to the park. Just like the other seasons, the weather conditions are ever changing in winter. Always check the avalanche risk, snow levels, and trail conditions of the park before your visit.

In terms of equipment, be sure to layer up with insulating and waterproof clothing. Pack sunglasses, sunscreen, and plenty of water as well. Depending on the activity that you're planning on doing, you might need to bring additional equipment.

Snowshoeing

Ever thought about what your favorite trail looks like in the winter? Check it out and go snowshoeing, which is basically going on a hike in winter. Because of the snow in the trails, you will need to attach snowshoes to your boots for easier navigation. You can also bring poles to help with maintaining balance but they are totally optional. Don't forget to wear waterproof pants or gaiters to keep yourself warm.

Rangers also lead groups in snowshoe walks on both sides of the park from January through March, depending on the weather condition. A reservation is required to participate in this activity.

Skiing

If you're looking for a more physically challenging activity, you can go cross-country skiing. You can go skiing throughout the park but the west side of the park has more ideal terrain and snow level for the activity. You'll need to prepare skis and poles with large baskets as well as waterproof pants or gaiters.

Sledding

Sledding is an activity that you should not miss in winter. Hidden Valley, a gentle hill that is the bottom of the bunny slope of the former Hidden Valley Ski Area, is one of the perfect spots for sledding in the park. Sledders have right of way in this area so skiers, snowboarders, and snowshoers should exercise caution when passing by.

If you don't have your own equipment but still want to participate in the aforementioned activities, there are several shops in Estes Park and Grand Lake that offer equipment rental. Visit the websites of the respective towns for more information.

Wildlife viewing

Wildlife viewing is amazing in winter. The contrast between the animals and the white and snowy landscape is truly a sight to see. Large mammals such as elk, moose, and mule deer can be easily spotted during this season. Birds with striking colors are also commonly seen and can be easily spotted across the park.

With proper preparations and a little bit more equipment, a winter visit to the Rocky Mountain National Park is just as good and as memorable as any other visits during the year.

Where to stay

If you plan on visiting the park for multiple days, the only lodging option that you have is camping because there are no hotels, lodges, or cabins inside the park. If camping is not your thing, check out this article that contains information about hotels and lodging options in Estes Park and Grand Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park's gateway communities.

If you don't mind roughing it up for a couple of nights, Rocky Mountain National Park has five campgrounds that you can choose from. The Aspenglen Campground, Glacier Basin Campground, and Moraine Park Campground all require reservations while the Longs Peak Campground and Timber Creek Campground operate on a first-come, first-served basis.

Aspenglen Campground

The Aspenglen Campground is located near the Fall River entrance. There are several drive-to family sites for tents and RVs and a few more secluded walk-to tent sites. The campground is surrounded by a forest of douglas fir, lodgepole pine, ponderosa pine, and occasional Engelmann spruce. The open meadows are filled with grasses, shrubs, and seasonal wildflowers.

This campground requires reservations. You can reserve a site up to six months in advance. Follow this link for reservations.

Glacier Basin Campground

Douglas fir, lodgepole pine, ponderosa pine, and the occasional Engelmann spruce surround the Glacier Basin Campground providing equal amounts of sun and shade. The open meadows are also filled with grasses, shrubs, and seasonal wildflowers.

This campground requires reservations. You can reserve a site up to six months in advance. Follow this link for reservations.

Moraine Park Campground

The Moraine Park Campground is located near the Beaver Meadows Entrance on Highway 36. Situated in the north side of Moraine Park, the campground offers amazing views of the park and the surrounding mountains.


This campground requires reservations for the summer season. You can reserve a site up to six months in advance. In the winter season, only 64 out of the 244 sites are open and the campground operates on a first-come, first-served basis only. Follow this link for reservations.

Longs Peak Campground

Located approximately 20 minutes south of Estes Park on Highway 7, the Longs Peak Campground is a small tents-only forested campground, located at an elevation of 9,500 feet.

This campground operates on a first-come, first-served basis only.

Timber Creek Campground

Located along the Colorado River, approximately eight miles north of the Grand Lake entrance, the Timber Creek Campground is the only campground located on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. Most of the trees that surround the campground were removed due to a pine beetle infestation.

This campground operates on a first-come, first-served basis only.

The campground fees are as follows:

Summer Standard sites at all campgrounds $30 per night
Summer Group sites at Glacier Basin Campground $40 per night for small sites
$50 per night for medium sites
$60 per night for large sites
Winter Moraine Park Campground
(all other campgrounds closed)
$20 per night

 

Those with access and senior passes will receive a 50% discount on standard sites.

Some Additional Information

To be able to secure a campground, make sure to make a reservation in advance or arrive early to secure a spot. Most sites at reservable campgrounds are reserved in advance and the remaining campgrounds are usually filled by early afternoon.

There is a limit to how many nights you can camp at Rocky Mountain National Park. From May 1 to October 15, a visitor can stay for a total of seven nights parkwide. Between November 1 and April 30, a visitor can stay an additional 14 nights. In a whole year, a visitor is granted a total of 21 nights in the park.

For those who wish to take an RV or a trailer, keep in mind the length limit of each campground. For Aspenglen and Timber Creek, the limit is 30 feet. Glacier Basin's limit is 35 feet while Moraine Park's is 40 feet. The Longs Peak Campground is tent only.

Building fires is only allowed in metal fire grates. Fires or coals should never be left unattended and must be completely extinguished before leaving or going to bed. As for the firewood, it's sold at all campgrounds in the summer. The management also requests that visitors only use firewood bought in or near the park, as firewood from other areas may bring harmful insects that can spread in the park. Several fires have devastated the park before, so please exercise extra caution and follow the park guidelines.

Pets are allowed at campgrounds on the condition that they are on a leash that is not longer than six feet and attended at all times. Plus their owners must clean up after them. They are not allowed on trails, tundras, and meadows.

Lighting fireworks is prohibited in the park. Riding skateboards, rollerblades, scooters, or any similar devices is also prohibited. 
To make sure that you will have an amazing stay at any of the park's campgrounds, follow rules and regulations, be mindful of other visitors, and exercise good judgment in situations that require it.

Explore and Enjoy: Getting around in Rocky Mountain National Park

Getting Around

Getting around Rocky Mountain National Park is not limited to walking and driving. There are multiple ways to explore the park, whether you prefer motorized or non-motorized travel.

Car, Motorcycle, RV

Driving around is an easy way to explore Rocky Mountain National Park. Going on a scenic drive is definitely a recommended activity. Although driving may seem like a simple activity, driving in the mountains is a different story.

The speed limit in most park roads is 25-35 mph. When driving, keep an eye out for any wildlife that may wander in the road. If you want to stop and enjoy the view, make sure to use pull offs for your safety and the safety of other drivers as well. Elevation also poses a threat to your vehicles.

As always, before going on a drive, make sure to check the condition of your vehicle. The weather in the park is also something that you should check before you begin your journey as well as the condition of the park roads that you'll be using.

For more information about driving in Rocky Mountain National Park, check out this link.

Free Park Shuttle Bus

If you don't want to worry about parking, you can always take the Free Park Shuttle Bus to explore Rocky Mountain National Park. The shuttle bus operates along Bear Lake Road from May to early October.

What's amazing about this shuttle bus service, aside from the part that it's free, is that it helps you to cut down on vehicle emissions in the park. The shuttle service will give you access to many destinations and loop hikes along the Bear Lake Road corridor. You can enjoy the beautiful scenery without having to stress about traffic and parking.

For more information about the free Park Shuttle Bus service, such as routes and schedules, make sure to check this link.

Bicycle

Cycling around the park can be quite challenging because of elevation. Nevertheless, it's still an activity that is enjoyed by many, especially when rewarded with amazing sights and memorable experiences. Cycling in the Rocky Mountain National Park is indeed a breathtaking activity, literally and figuratively.

Cyclists inside the park are bound by traffic law and should exercise extra caution around other vehicles, especially on narrow roads. Travelling in a single file is also required.

Safety is always the main concern in all activities in the park. If you decide to go cycling, make sure to be equipped with all the necessary safety equipment. Weather and altitude should also be considered when planning your trip. Make sure to carry plenty of food and water to prevent altitude sickness.

Follow this link for more information about cycling in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Commercial Tours

If it's your first time visiting the park and you're not sure where to start with your explorations, you can always go on a commercial tour where everything is already organized. Whether you only have a couple of hours or if you're free the whole day, I'm sure there is a commercial tour for you.

For more information, check with the local communities of Estes Park and Grand Lake.

Other Ways

If you want to explore Rocky Mountain National Park the same way as it's early settlers did, saddle up and go horseback riding.

Horses, as well as mules, ponies, llamas, and burros, are allowed in about 80% of the total trail network in the park. Overnight camping with stock is also allowed in campsites designated for stock use.

For safety, always stay vigilant and keep the following possible hazards in mind: bridges and other water crossings, low branches, other people and stock on the trail, packs and other gear used by hikers and backpackers, and wildlife. Always be prepared for sudden changes in weather and always adjust your plans accordingly. Don't forget to carry first aid supplies and drinking water.

For more information, click on this link.

There are multiple ways to get around and to explore Rocky Mountain National Park. Whether it's on a vehicle or an animal, what will always stand out in your journey is the amazing land that you're travelling on. Always be responsible travellers whatever your mode of transportation may be.

Park Availability

Fees and Passes

Entrance passes and timed entry permits are required to enter all areas of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Entrance passes can be purchased at all staffed park entrance stations. Daily entrance fees are as follows: 

1-Day Pass - Automobile - $25.00
Valid for date of purchase. Covers single, non-commercial vehicle with capacity of less than 16 passengers.

1-Day Pass - Per Person - $15.00
Valid for date of purchase. Applies to walk-ins, bicycles, and non-commercial groups.

1-Day Pass - Motorcycle - $25.00
Valid for date of purchase. Covers one motorcycle.

Timed Entry Permits provide advanced daily reservations for private vehicles. The booking system is intended for arrivals, in blocks of two hours, beginning at 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. It includes advance payment of entrance fees, minimizing contact between park entrance station staff and visitors.

Reserve a timed entry permit online.

Annual and Lifetime Entrance Passes

If you're planning on visiting Rocky Mountain National park multiple times in a year, you should consider purchasing an annual pass or lifetime entry pass.

The Rocky Mountain National Park Annual Pass grants you unlimited entry to the park for one year from date of purchase. The pass costs $70 and can be purchased online.

The America the Beautiful - The National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands Passes cover entrance fees at national parks and wildlife refuges and standard amenity fees at national forests and grasslands, managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and US Army Corps of Engineers.

Follow this link for more information about the pass.

Commercial Tour Fees

Commercial tour vehicle fees are assessed based on seating capacity, not the actual number of passengers. Annual and lifetime passes cannot be used to pay for commercial tours. The fees are as follows:

1–6 people $25.00
7–15 $75.00
16–25 $100.00
26 & over $200.00

Fee Free Days for 2020

Entrance fees are waived for these days but timed entry permits are still required.

January 20 Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
April 18 First day of National Park Week / National Junior Ranger Day
August 25 National Park Service Birthday
September 26 National Public Lands Day
November 11 Veterans Day

Current Conditions

Certain areas of the park may be closed during your visit. To make the most of your time, make sure to check the park's current conditions before you begin your trip.

Road Conditions

Several factors such as construction and weather can lead to the closure of various park roads. Follow this link to check current road conditions.

Trail Conditions

If you plan on going on a hike during your visit, make sure to check the current condition of the trails that you want to take. This is important, especially when it comes to the equipment that you may need to use during your hike. Follow this link to check the current trail conditions.

Area Closures to Protect Plants and Animals

Certain areas of the park may be closed for weeks, months, or even the entire year, to ensure the safety of the park's resources. Closure notices are posted throughout the park. If you wish to receive updated closure information, just visit any park visitor center.

Entering closed areas is a violation of 36 CFR 1.5. Violators are subject to a fine of $5,000 and/or 6 months imprisonment.
For more information about area closures, please follow this link.

Weather

Due to elevation, slope, and exposure, Rocky Mountain National Park is known for extreme weather patterns. Checking weather conditions is always an important part of the preparations that you need to do before your trip to the national park.

Follow these links for weather forecasts in the area.

Rules and Regulations

There are a number of rules and regulations that are imposed on all visitors of Rocky Mountain National Park. Since the park is a federally managed and protected area, laws and regulations in areas of federal jurisdiction apply. In addition to these laws, there are park-specific rules that are intended to maintain public health and safety, protection of environmental or scenic values, provide for equitable use of facilities, protect natural and cultural resources, and avoid conflict among various visitor activities.

Park visitors are expected to know these rules and regulations and it is their responsibility to abide by them. These rules are set in place to protect the park, its inhabitants, and its visitors. Here are some of the more common issues or questions that arise with regards to park regulations:

  • Dogs, Cats, and Other Pets:
    Pets are not allowed on trails, tundras, and meadows. The only areas that they can access are established roads, parking areas, campgrounds, and picnic areas. They must also be kept on a leash that is not longer than six feet and attended at all times.
  • Overnight Camping:
    Camping is the only form of, “lodging,” inside the park. It is subject to a fee and can only be done in designated campgrounds and wilderness campsites. Campfires are only allowed in certain sites that are equipped with metal fire rings.
  • Cycling:
    Bicycles are allowed on all roads that are open to motor vehicles, unless otherwise stated. They are not allowed on trails except for a two-mile segment of the East Shore Trail near Grand Lake. Cyclists are expected to comply with all traffic laws, signs, and speed limits. Travelling in a single file is also required.
  • Motor Vehicles:
    The use of vehicles, including bicycles, is only allowed in designated roads that are used for travelling. Going off road or on trails is strictly prohibited.
  • Fishing:
    Individuals who are 16 years old and above are required to secure a Colorado fishing license to fish in the park.
  • Hunting:
    Hunting is strictly prohibited.
  • Firearms and Weapons:
    Open carry and transport of handguns and rifles is permitted. Concealed carry is permitted as well pursuant to a legal Colorado concealed carry permit and applicable state reciprocity laws. There are certain areas in the park (visitor centers, ranger stations, government offices) where firearms are not allowed in accordance with federal laws. Recreational target shooting or discharge of a firearm is not allowed. They are also not recommended as a form of wildlife protection strategy. Possession and carrying of other weapons (bow and arrow, crossbow, slingshot, gas or air propelled gun, etc.) is strictly prohibited. For specific gun laws, check with the State of Colorado.
  • Safety Around Wildlife:
    The safe distance from all wild animals is at least 25 yards. If you're planning to go wildlife viewing, do so from a safe distance. Approaching any animal within 25 yards is strictly prohibited.
  • Protection of Resources and Features:
    Natural and cultural resources or features of the park should be left undisturbed for others to enjoy. Injuring, defacing, removing, digging, destroying, possessing, or disturbing any of the park's resources or features is strictly prohibited.
  • Area Closures:
    Certain areas are closed for public safety and the protection of park resources. Please comply with all closure signs and notices.
  • Hiking and Tundra Protection:
    Visitors are urged to remain on trails and to avoid taking shortcuts for the protection of the fragile plants in the park, some of which take hundreds of years to grow. Inquire with rangers about, ‘Leave No Trace ethics,' and responsible use before going on a hike.
  • Saddle and Pack Animals:
    Horses, mules, ponies, llamas, and burrows are allowed on certain designated trails. The use of weed-free certified feed is required.
  • Drones:
    Unmanned aircraft are prohibited from launching, landing or being operated from inside the Park.
  • Marijuana and Other Controlled Substances:
    The park is subjected to federal laws, which prohibits the possession and/or use of controlled substances within its premises, including marijuana. For more information about applicable laws, please refer to the following resources: 

o United States Code, Titles 16, 18, 21, 54
o Code of Federal Regulations, Title 36, Chapter 1, parts 1 through 7
o Compendium of Superintendent's Orders


Rocky Mountain National Park truly is an amazing destination, whether you're looking for a chill day, enjoying the greenery or if you're looking for an adventure that will require you to be more intimate with nature. The sights are truly breathtaking and the park's beauty cannot be fully expressed with mere words; it's something that you must experience for yourself.


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