Road Trip to Rocky Mountain National Park

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

Rocky Mountain National Park 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.

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

Elk with huge antler rack posing for tourists in Rocky Mountain National Park
Elk with huge antler rack in Rocky Mountain National Park


Location and Access to Rocky Mountain National Park

Elk in Rocky Mountain National ParkElk in 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.


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

A series of switchbacks on Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National ParkA series of switchbacks on Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park

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


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

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

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


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.

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

Alpine Visitor Center on Trail Ridge Road during spring snow melt
Alpine Visitor Center on Trail Ridge Road during spring snow melt


 

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.

Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado

Another view of Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park
Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado

Parking lot at Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park ... full to capacity!
Parking lot at Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park ... full to capacity


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 Old Fall River Road in Rocky Mountain National Park
The Old Fall River Road in Rocky Mountain National Park

Automobiles and bikers ascending the Old Fall River Road ... seen here from the Alpine Visitors Center
Automobiles and bikers ascending the Old Fall River Road ... seen here from the Trail Ridge Visitors Center


Watching Wildlife in the Park

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

Herd of elk in a peaceful meadow in Rocky Mountain National Park
Herd of elk in a peaceful meadow 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
Tourists and elk meet on a crowded road in Rocky Mountain National Park
Tourists and elk meet on the road in Rocky Mountain National Park


During fall periods, the meadows at Rocky Mountain National Park are closed to protect elk
During fall periods, the meadows at Rocky Mountain National Park are closed to protect elk


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 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.

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

Shuttle bus in Rocky Mountain National Park
Shuttle bus in Rocky Mountain National Park


Lodging Options in & near Rocky Mountain National Park

Park lodging books 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.

Staying on the East Side of the Park?

Estes Park area vacation rentals and cabins

Estes Park hotels and motels

Staying on the West Side of the Park?

Grand Lake area vacation rentals and cabins

Grand Lake hotels and motels

 

Read reviews and make reservations at 20 hotels in Boulder, Colorado


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

Interactive Map of the Rocky Mountain National Park

Weather in Rocky Mountain NP

Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park in ColoradoBear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park

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.

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

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

 

 

Aspens in the fall ... Rocky Mountain National Park
Aspens in the fall ... Rocky Mountain National Park


Early fall colors in Rocky Mountain National Park
Early fall colors in Rocky Mountain National Park


Hazy blue skies over the meadows in Rocky Mountain National Park
Hazy blue skies over the meadows in Rocky Mountain National Park

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



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.