Road Trip to Rocky Mountain National Park
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:
Phone the Park at 970.586.1206 for general questions.
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)|
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|
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
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
Steep, sharp 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 Park
Alpine Visitor Center
|Be prepared for rapidly changing weather conditions
||2 miles above sea level on Trail Ridge Road
|View from Rainbow Curve on Trail Ridge Road with Sheep Lakes in the center distance (Staff Photo - May 2021)
|Sign at Horseshoe Park
||Trail Ridge closed at Rainbow Curve, May 2021
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.
||Parking at Bear Lake: Full!
Visitors 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)|
|Climbing 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)|
|Herds of Elk Everywhere!
||The Stately Male Moose
|Meeting of tourists and Elk
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
||Amphitheater at Moraine Park Discovery Center
||Hiking and Camping
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
||Autumn colors in Rocky Mountain NP
Other Scenes of Rocky Mountain NP from our Road Trips to the Park
|Dirt road in Moraine Park
||Bighorn Crossing ... No Stopping!
The Alluvial Fan in Rocky Mountain National Park ... site of the 1982 dam break & rock fall
|Aspens in winter in Horseshoe Park near Endovalley
||Quiet drive on Trail Ridge Road before peak season
More Popular Travel Destinations & Vacations in Colorado
About the Town of Estes Park
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.