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Road Trip to Rocky Mountain National Park

Entrance sign at Rocky Mountain National Park ... Established in 1915

Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) is located in Colorado, and consists of 415 square miles of spectacular mountain environments.

A highlight of the park is Trail Ridge Road which crests at over 12,000 feet. The park also features over 300 miles of hiking trails, lakes and a variety of wildlife.

Nearly one-third of the park is above treeline. The park includes 72 named peaks above 12,000 feet.

The Rocky Mountain National Park Act was signed by President Woodrow Wilson in 1915, establishing the park boundaries and protecting the area for future generations.

In 2020, Rocky Mountain National Park was the fourth most visited national park in the country.

Rocky Mountain National Park is open. As of early June, 2021, the entire length of Trail Ridge Road is also open, unless weather conditions require temporary closing for snow removal.

We have enjoyed multiple trips to the park over the years, and include in this review some of our travel tips, experiences and recommendations.

Changes in Park Access in 2021

Rocky Mountain National Park has implemented a new pilot temporary timed entry permit reservation system beginning on May 28, 2021.Park staff are managing for significant increases in visitation to public lands in Colorado, including Rocky Mountain National Park, along with continued Covid-19 concerns, ongoing park seasonal staff shared housing challenges and residual fire impacts in some areas of the park from historic fires in 2020.

There are two types of permit reservations available:

  • The first permit is for Rocky Mountain National Park, excluding the Bear Lake Road corridor.
  • A second permit is required for the Bear Lake Road Corridor.

Read the details of the permit reservation system on the
official website of Rocky Mountain National Park

Phone the Park at 970.586.1206 for general questions.
For recorded Trail Ridge Road status, phone 970.586.1222.

 

For more information about RMNP, visit the Rocky Mountain National Park official website at the National Park Service or phone 970.586.1206 for general park questions. For recorded Trail Ridge Road status, phone 970.586.1222.

Also, view the Rocky Mountain NP Web Cams for current images of entrances and other areas within the park.

The quiet green meadows and deep blue skies at Rocky Mountain National Park (Staff Photo - May, 2021)
The quiet green meadows and deep blue skies at Rocky Mountain National Park


Elk in Rocky Mountain National Park
Elk in Rocky Mountain National Park

Location and Access to Rocky Mountain National Park

The park is located adjacent to Estes Park, and about 70 miles northwest of Denver. The Continental Divide runs northwest to southeast through the center of the park atop the high peaks.

The Park offers five visitor centers, and is one of the world's most popular natural attractions, with attendance exceeding 4.5 million visitors a year.

Park access is via entrances at Estes Park on the east side of the park: the Fall River Entrance Station on U.S. Highway 34 and the Beaver Meadows Entrance Station on U.S. 36.

The Grand Lake Entrance Station is located on the west side of the park via U.S. Highway 34.


Interactive Map of the Rocky Mountain National Park


Map of RMNP Roads, Visitor Centers, Trailheads and Campgrounds

Click on the map below for a full size image from the National Park Service (NPS) website
Map of Rocky Mountain National Park roads, lakes, campgrounds and visitor centers

 

Lodging Options Near the Park

Park campgrounds book well in advance, so reservations are encouraged as early as possible before your trip.

Hotels and vacation rentals are available on the east side of the park in the Estes Park area, and on the west side at Grand Lake.

Lodging in Estes Park along the Fall River
Lodging in Estes Park along the Fall River


Staying on the East Side of the Park?

Estes Park area vacation rentals and cabins

Estes Park hotels and motels

Estes Park Vacation Travel Guide at TripAdvisor ... Things to Do, Restaurants, Rentals

Staying on the West Side of the Park?

Grand Lake area vacation rentals and cabins

Grand Lake hotels and motels

TripAdvisor Reviews

Staying a Bit Further from the Park?

Read reviews and make reservations at 27 hotels in Boulder, Colorado

Read reviews and make reservations at 33 hotels in Loveland, Colorado


Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park seen on our GPS display
Trail Ridge Road, U.S. 34, in Rocky Mountain NP as seen on our GPS display

Trail Ridge Road

Trail Ridge Road is a paved, 48 mile long scenic highway which connects the park entrances in Grand Lake and Estes Park.

It features switchbacks and hairpin curves, and rises to a height of 12,183 feet above sea level. The road is open seasonally in non-winter months.

Leaving from either side of the park, the road climbs 4,000 feet in a matter of minutes. Numerous pull-outs and vistas are provided for visitors.

The road, numbered as U.S. Highway 34, is the highest continuously paved highway in the United States.

It provides visitors thrilling views, wildlife sightings and spectacular alpine wildflower exhibitions, all from the comfort of their vehicle.

Near the peak of Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park ... Dangerous snowfields ahead -  Keep off steep slopes Near the peak of Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park

Steep, sharp curves and tall snow poles on Trail Ridge Road before the start of winterSteep curves and tall snow poles on Trail Ridge Road before the start of winter

Trail Ridge Road crossing the tundra, above the tree line, in Rocky Mountain National ParkTrail Ridge Road crossing the tundra, above the tree line, in Rocky Mountain National Park

Alpine Visitor Center

The Alpine Visitor Center on Trail Ridge Road at Rocky Mountain National Park


The Alpine Visitor Center is located near the summit of the road at 11,796 feet. It features a snack shop, bookstore, gift shop and lovely views of the Rocky Mountains.

The Alpine Visitor Center on Trail Ridge Road ...Elevation 11,796 feet


Open only when the Trail Ridge Road is open, usually from late May until the end of October.

Be prepared for rapidly changing weather conditions
Be prepared for rapidly changing weather and driving conditions in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
2 miles above sea level on Trail Ridge Road
2 miles above sea level on Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park ... 10,560 feet

 

 

View from Rainbow Curve on Trail Ridge Road with Sheep Lakes in the center distance (Staff Photo - May 2021)
View from Rainbow Curve on Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, with Sheep Lakes in the center distance
Sign at Horseshoe Park
Sign at Horseshoe Park in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
Trail Ridge closed at Rainbow Curve, May 2021
Trail Ridge closed at Rainbow Curve, May 2021

 

Bear Lake

Bear Lake is one of the most popular areas of the park. Consequently, it can get crowded. Plan accordingly, arrive early or better yet take the shuttle. In 2021, advance reservations are required to access the area during certain times of the year, and time of day. Shuttle bus access is recommended.

Bear Lake
Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
Parking at Bear Lake: Full!
Parking lot full at Bear Lake
Visitors shuttle bus in Rocky Mountain National Park
Shuttle bus in Rocky Mountain National Park


Old Fall River Road

The Old Fall River Road is a one-way, dirt road ascending the park, and closed in winter. We have driven the road on multiple occasions, and highly recommend it for unsurpassed views of the natural surroundings. It terminates near the Alpine Visitors Center.

The entrance area to the Old Fall River Road ... closed in winter (Staff Photo - May 2021)
The Old Fall River Road in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado is closed in winter
Climbing Old Fall RIver Road
Climbing Old Fall RIver Road
Nearing top of Old Fall RIver Road
Nearing top of Old Fall RIver Road


Watching Wildlife in the Park

Animal life in the park is plentiful, with elk, bear, moose, big horn sheep, deer and many types of smaller wildlife and birdlife.

Wildlife can be seen everywhere, anywhere! Popular areas include Moraine Park and Upper Beaver Meadows ... both feature narrow (mostly paved) roads with parking alongside in designated areas.

Big Horn Sheep in Rocky Mountain National Park (Staff Photo - May 2021)
Big Horn Sheep in Rocky Mountain National Park
Herds of Elk Everywhere!
Herd of elk in a peaceful meadow in Rocky Mountain National Park
The Stately Male Moose
The Stately Male Moose
Meeting of tourists and Elk
Tourists and elk meet on the road in Rocky Mountain National Park
Chipmunk
Chipmunk in Rocky Mountain National Park
Marmot
Marmot in Rocky Mountain National Park
Wild Turkey
Wild Turkey in Rocky Mountain National Park

A mature male elk watching over his herd in Rocky Mountain National Park
A mature male elk watching over his herd in Rocky Mountain National Park


Other Things to See and Do in Rocky Mountain National Park

Popular activities include hiking, walking, nature studies, geology exploration, fishing, wildlife photography, cycling, camping, hiking and climbing.

The headwaters of the Colorado River are located in the park's northwestern region. The area is popular for hiking and camping.

During the summer and on holidays, traffic in the park can swell. During times such as these consider parking your vehicle and using the park's shuttle bus service.

Also, view the Rocky Mountain NP Campground Info Page for information on camping and campgrounds in the park.

Endovalley Picnic Area
Endovalley Picnic Area in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
Amphitheater at Moraine Park Discovery Center
Steps to the Amphitheater at Moraine Park Discovery Center in Rocky Mountain National Park
Fishing
Fishing in Rocky Mountain National Park
Hiking and Camping
Hiking and Camping in Rocky Mountain National Park

 

Read reviews about things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park from TripAdvisor travelers


Weather in Rocky Mountain NP

The high country of Rocky Mountain National Park is noted for extreme weather patterns, which can rapidly change.

Higher elevation areas within the park receive twice as much precipitation as lower elevation areas, generally in the form of deep winter snowfall.

Below 9,400 feet, temperatures are often moderate, although nighttime temperatures are cool.

Spring weather is subject to unpredictable changes in temperature and precipitation, with potential for snow along trails through May.

On the upper reaches of Trail Ridge Road it is typically windy and 20 to 30 degrees colder than Estes Park or Grand Lake.

Visit the Rocky Mountain NP Website - Weather for current and forecasted weather conditions in the park.

Snow, and blue skies, in Rocky Mountain National Park
Snow, and blue skies, in Rocky Mountain National Park
Autumn colors in Rocky Mountain NP
Autumn colors in Rocky Mountain NP

 

Other Scenes of Rocky Mountain NP from our Road Trips to the Park


Dirt road in Moraine Park
Dirt road in Moraine Park  in Rocky Mountain National Park
Bighorn Crossing ... No Stopping!
Bighorn Crossing in Rocky Mountain National Park

The Alluvial Fan in Rocky Mountain National Park ... site of the 1982 dam break & rock fall
The Alluvial Fan in Rocky Mountain National Park ... site of the dam break and rock fall in 1982

Aspens in winter in Horseshoe Park near Endovalley
Aspens in winter in Rocky Mountain National Park
Quiet drive on Trail Ridge Road before peak season
Quiet drive on Trail Ridge Road before peak season in Rocky Mountain National Park


About the Town of Estes Park

Stone sign at the entrance to the town of Estes Park in Colorado

The largest town near Rocky Mountain National Park is Estes Park, located on the east boundary of the park.

The mountain village of Estes Park is located 7,522 feet above sea level, nestled in the heart of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Shops, galleries and boutiques line the main street, which has a quaint, small-town feel and ambiance.

Situated at the east entrance to RMNP and surrounded by protected land, Estes Park offers travelers the best of outdoor recreation, real wildlife experiences, and hometown hospitality.

Its year-round, permanent population is about 6,000 residents. The town is named after Missouri native Joel Estes, who founded the community in 1859.

The town is served by U.S. Highway 34, which connects with Granby to the west, and Loveland and I-25 to the east. U.S. Highway 36 runs eastward to Boulder from RMNP. State Highway 7 extends to Boulder and points beyond, and is part of the Peak-to-Peak Scenic Highway.

Read more about Estes Park on this website.

For More Information

Rocky Mountain National Park official website at the National Park Service or phone 970.586.1206 for general park questions. Recorded Trail Ridge Road status: 970.586.1222.

 


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