National park in Colorado, United States

Rocky Mountain National Park is a national park in the Front Range region of the state of Colorado. The park's borders lie within three counties, Larimer, Boulder, and Grand, and it is surrounded by Roosevelt, Arapaho, and Routt National Forests. The Continental Divide cuts almost directly through the center of the park, creating two areas with very different landscapes - a drier and heavily glaciated eastern side, and a wetter, more forested western side. Both areas offer excellent spots for high altitude alpine hiking, backpacking and rock climbing as well as ample opportunity for spotting wildlife. The park is dominated by Longs Peak one of Colorado's 54 "Fourteeners" at 14,259 ft (4,346 m), and dubbed the "Monarch of the Front Range."

Mt. Meeker & Longs Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. Over a third of the park is above timberline.

Understand edit

History edit

Evidence of Native American peoples visiting the park date back almost 10,000 years, mainly from the Ute and Arapaho communities. Several expeditions visited the area in the early to mid-19th century, including one by Joel Estes in 1859 after which he and his family established a homestead that would soon become Estes Park, the resort town on the east side of the park. After a small mining rush on the western side of the park in the early 1880s, a 14-year-old boy by the name of Enos Mills moved to the area and began to extensively document the region's geography and ecology through essays and books. He began to lobby Congress to establish a national park in the area surrounding Longs Peak, a mountain he had climbed over 40 times by himself. On January 26, 1915, President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill that established the creation of Rocky Mountain National Park. The 1930s brought a building boom to the park during the Great Depression, during which time the Trail Ridge Road was constructed through the park, which remains today the highest continuous stretch of highway in the United States.

Landscape edit

A Clark's Nutcracker at Rainbow Curve.

Rocky Mountain National Park sits on the Continental Divide, separating the park into two distinct regions. The eastern and more developed side of the park is dominated by striking valleys and cirques that were formed through heavy glaciation and is a good starting point for first-time visitors. The western side of the park is wetter, is heavily forested and is less developed, but still contains excellent trekking and backcountry opportunities. Most areas of the park sit well above 9,000 ft (2,700 m) with mountains along the Continental Divide topping off at above 12,000 feet. The 13,000-foot Mummy Range rests on the northern side of Rocky Mountain National Park with two roads skirting long it's southern edges; a one-way, dirt road that winds up the Fall River called the Old Fall River Road; and a section of Highway 34 known as the Trail Ridge Road. The Never Summer Mountains sit on the western side of the park and consist of 10 distinct peaks, all rising well over 12,000 feet, and contain the headwaters for the Colorado River. One of the most dominating features in the southeast area of the park is Longs Peak at 14,259 feet, which is surrounded on all sides by several peaks well about 13,000 feet, including Mt. Meeker, Mount Lady Washington, and Storm Peak.

Flora and fauna edit

For wildlife seekers, Rocky Mountain National Park offers some fantastic opportunities to view the variety of animals that live inside its borders. Elk, deer, chipmunks, ground squirrels, beavers, porcupines, foxes, and coyotes are all commonly seen in meadows and in and around lakes and streams. Marmots seem to be ubiquitous above the tree line, especially on well-hiked trails around Longs Peak. Hawks and eagles are often seen soaring above the glacier gorges in search of critters that hide among the rocks and colorful tree birds such as blue jays and cardinals fly in the lower altitudes. Hummingbirds have a tendency to fly close to where people - and their food - are sitting. Less common animal sightings include black bears and the rare mountain lions, although the former will manage to hang out if human food is accessible. Moose mainly stay on the western side of the park and Bighorn Sheep - a rare but exciting find - stay above the tree line and can sometimes be seen off the Trail Ridge Road.

Wildflowers seem to be everywhere throughout the park, including the popular Indian Paintbrush and Columbine, Colorado's state flower. One of the most spectacular sights in the mid to late fall is to walk through a grove of Aspen trees as their leaves change from green to gold. Ponderosa and Lodgepole pines are the dominate conifer trees in the area, although in the early 2000s, many died due to an outbreak of pine beetle infestation.

Climate edit

Considering the park's high altitude, the weather trends closer toward moderate four-season climate than edging on the extremes. Winters bring heavy snowfall, and although there is rarely a deep-freeze the park gets significantly less visitors. Summer are the high season with warm temperatures ranging in from mid 70s-80°F during the day, but dropping into the low 40s°F to near freezing. Thunderstorms are constantly looming in the early to mid afternoon during the summer, but clear off quickly by evening, bringing crisp and cool weather.

Rocky Mountain National Park
Climate chart (explanation)
Average max. and min. temperatures in °F
Precipitation+Snow totals in inches
The above measurements are for Estes Park. Temperatures in the mountains can be 10-15°F (5-7°C) cooler.
Metric conversion
Average max. and min. temperatures in °C
Precipitation+Snow totals in mm

Orientation edit

Highway 34 connects Grand Lake and Estes Park across the Continental Divide, giving you awesome views of the western and eastern sides of the park. A great stopping point along the road is the Alpine Visitor Center at the Fall River Pass, which sits at almost 11,800 feet. Colorado Route 7 runs from Estes Park to the south, passing by several trailheads, including those for Lily Mountain, the Twin Sisters, the Longs Peak Ranger Station and the Wild Basin. Many visitors use Bear Lake or Glacier Gorge as their starting point into the park, both of which can be accessed via the Bear Lake Road. The Beaver Meadows and Moraine Park visitor centers are popular destinations for getting oriented with the park's layout, the former having been designed by students of American architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Visitor information edit

  • Park website
  • 1 Alpine Visitor Center (at Fall River Pass at the junction of Trail Ridge and Old Fall River roads), +1 970 586-1206. Open daily 9AM-5PM May to mid-October. The highest elevation visitor center in the National Park System, situated at 11,796 feet (3,595 meters), with views of mountain peaks and glaciated valleys. This visitor center offers ranger-led walks in the Land Above the Trees and exhibits on the alpine tundra. There is a book store and snack shop as well as accessible restrooms and vault toilets.    
  • 2 Beaver Meadows Visitor Center, 1000 US Hwy 36, Estes Park (at the southeastearn entrance to the park, on U.S. Route 36, three miles from the town of Estes Park). Open daily 8AM-6PM (reduced hours off season, closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Day). Offers a 20-minute film on the park (show times on the hour and half-hour throughout the day). Rangers can also provide information on what to do in the park. Free wifi, a bookstore offers items for purchase, and there are handicapped accessible restrooms available.    
  • 3 Fall River Visitor Center (on U.S. Route 34, 5 miles west of the town of Estes Park, near the Fall River Entrance to the park). Open all year. Offers exhibits about park wildlife, children's exhibits, and rangers can provide tips about what to do in the park. Exhibits on wildlife survival and management are accompanied by life-sized bronze sculptures. A bookstore offers items for purchase. Handicapped accessible and family restrooms are available. Closed in winter select holiday dates.  
  • 4 Kawuneeche Visitor Center (one mile north of the town of Grand Lake on U.S. Route 34 at the entrance to the park). Open all year (closed Christmas Day). Offers daily ranger walks and illustrated programs on Saturday night. A 20-minute film on the park is also shown on request. Displays include a topographical relief map of the park and exhibits about the Colorado River and its people. A bookstore offers items for purchase and handicapped accessible restrooms are available.  
  • Moraine Park Visitor Center (off the Bear Lake Road, 1½ miles from the Beaver Meadows Entrance). Open early May 1 mid-October. Offers natural history exhibits and a half-mile nature trail. There is also a bookstore with items for purchase.

Other sights edit

Get in edit

Map of Rocky Mountain National Park

By car edit

From the west: The Kawuneeche Visitor Center is one mile north of the town of Grand Lake on US-34. Grand Lake can be reached from I-70 via US-40 which runs through Empire and over the Berthoud Pass.

From the east: The Beaver Meadows Visitor Center is three miles from downtown Estes Park near the terminus of US-36 and can be reached via several roads. SR-7 runs from Boulder via Lyons and Allenspark along the east side of the park, passing the Longs Peak Ranger Station and intersects US-36 in Estes Park. SR-66/US-36 run from Denver through Longmont up the Big Thompson River canyon. US-34 also intersects US-36 in Estes Park via Loveland and continues on into the park toward the Fall River Visitor Center.

Rental cars are available at the Denver International Airport. If you aren't driving, the Estes Park Shuttle offers reasonable one-way and round-trip rates from DEN to downtown Estes Park.

While the park is open year-round, the Trail Ridge Road closes in the winter and may not open until the late spring or early summer, depending on the snowpack.

By plane edit

The nearest major airport is Denver International Airport (DEN IATA) about 1 hour and 45 minutes away from the park, with connecting service to most major US cities. A smaller option is Eagle County Regional Airport (EGE IATA) near the skiing resorts of Vail and Beaver Creek; however, service to this airport is usually seasonal and confined to the winter months.

By foot edit

There are an extensive number of trails entering the park on all sides including the 3,100 mi (5,000 km) long Continental Divide Trail.

Fees and permits edit

Entrance fees are required for the park, and are valid either for one day or one week, depending on the pass purchased. If you drive in early in the morning or late at night the fee booth will probably be unmanned. Fees as of 2022 are:

  • $15 1-Day Pass - Per person on foot/bike
  • $25 1-Day Pass - Motorcycle
  • $30 1-Day Pass - Automobile
  • $30 7-Day Pass - Motorcycle
  • $35 7-Day Pass - Automobile
  • $70 Rocky Mountain National Park Annual Pass

In addition, between late May and mid-October visitors may also need a Timed Entry Permit booked in advance. Reservations can be made through the Rocky Mountain National Park Timed Entry system. Permits may sell out quickly.

There are several passes for groups traveling together in a private vehicle or individuals on foot/bike that provide free entry to Rocky Mountain National Park and all national parks, as well as some national monuments, national wildlife refuges, and national forests:

  • The $80 Annual Pass (valid for twelve months from date of issue) can be purchased by anyone. Military personnel can obtain a free pass by showing a Common Access Card (CAC) or Military ID.
  • The $80 Senior Pass (valid for the life of the holder) is available to U.S. citizens or permanent residents age 62 or over. Applicants must provide documentation of citizenship and age. This pass also provides a 50% discount on some park amenities. Seniors can also obtain a $20 annual pass.
  • The free Access Pass (valid for the life of the holder) is available to U.S. citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities. Applicants must provide documentation of citizenship and permanent disability. This pass also provides a fifty percent discount on some park amenities.
  • The free Volunteer Pass is available to individuals who have volunteered 250 or more hours with federal agencies that participate in the Interagency Pass Program.
  • The free Annual 4th Grade Pass (valid for September to August of the 4th grade school year) allows entry to the bearer and any accompanying passengers in a private non-commercial vehicle. Registration at the Every Kid Outdoors website is required.

The National Park Service offers free admission to all national parks on five days every year:

  • Martin Luther King Jr. Day (third Monday in January); next observance is January 20, 2025
  • The first day of National Park Week (third Saturday in April); next observance is April 19, 2025
  • The National Park Service Birthday (August 25)
  • National Public Lands Day (fourth Saturday in September); next observance is September 28, 2024
  • Veterans Day (November 11)

Get around edit

Expect steady traffic on Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous paved road in the United States.

By car edit

Most of the major trailheads in the park are accessible by car and have parking lots depending on the popularity of the route. While parking is relatively ample in the early mornings, many lots are full by mid-morning during the peak summer months. The Trail Ridge Road and Old Fall River Roads are closed during the winter and usually don't reopen till late spring at the earliest. Access to Moraine Park and Bear Lake via the Bear Lake Road are open year-round and plowed.

There are several entrances to the park which do not have fees on the east side of the park:

  • Longs Peak Ranger Station road (dead ends at the Longs Peak Ranger Station and trailhead)
  • McGraw Ranch road (dead ends at McGraw Ranch and Cow Creek trailhead)
  • Lily Lake Visitors Center parking lot (on the right side of SR-7 heading south from Estes Park
  • McGregor Ranch Gem Lake entrance (parking lots near Lumpy Ridge trailhead)

By shuttle edit

Starting around Memorial Day Weekend and going through the end of September, Rocky Mountain National Park operates a free shuttle bus service which enables you to access many destination and loop hikes along Bear Lake Road, including Sprague Lake and Glacier Gorge to cut down on traffic congestion and limited parking. Shuttle buses run between many trailheads, Moraine Park Visitor Center, and Moraine Park and Glacier Basin Campgrounds.

There are two routes: The Bear Lake Route and the Moraine Park Route. Both routes are based at the Park & Ride shuttle bus parking area across from the Glacier Basin Campground. The first bus departs from Park & Ride at 7PM. and the last bus leaves at 7PM. The last bus of the day leaves Bear Lake and Fern Lake Trailheads at 7:30PM. The Bear Lake Route shuttle makes the round trip between the Park & Ride and Bear Lake. These buses run every 10 to 15 minutes. The Moraine Park Route shuttle makes the round trip between the Park & Ride and the Fern Lake Trailhead bus stop. These buses run every 30 minutes.

On foot edit

To experience the true beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park means getting out onto some of the 355 mi (571 km) of trail that wind in, around and over the Continental Divide, Wild Basin, Mummy Range, and more.

By bike edit

Cycling through the park offers riders a chance to take in some of the scenery and striking vistas at a casual pace; however, some may be daunted by the high altitudes and steep climbs on the main roads. Elevations range from 8,000 feet to 12,183 feet (2,400 to 3,700 m). There are 60 miles (97 km) of hard-surfaced road with a five to seven percent grade. Most of the roads in the park have little to no shoulder, with the added challenge of dealing with heavy summer traffic. Early mornings or late evening rides may minimize conflict with other vehicles. Be vigilant for thunderstorms in the early to late afternoons, where lightning can create a serious hazard.

Winter cyclists will have access to Upper Beaver Meadows Road, Moraine Park Campground, Endovalley Road, Aspenglen Campground and High Drive. For a unique cycling experience, check with the park information office for specifics on the Old Fall River Road (gravel surface) and Trail Ridge Road (paved), which are open to bicycles early in the summer season, before they open to vehicles.

Off-road mountain biking is prohibited inside the park.

See edit

Fireweed sprouts next to a jumble of downed trees along Old Fall River Road.
  • Holzwarth Historic Site (On the west side of Trail Ridge Road/US Highway 34, about seven miles north of the Grand Lake Entrance Station.). Tour a 1920's-era dude ranch for a taste of early homesteading and tourism. Buildings are open for tours during the summer. Otherwise, visitors may view the exteriors of the buildings and the grounds. The lodge buildings are reached by a half mile walkway from the parking lot. A walking path connects the various buildings.

Do edit

Hiking edit

The park offers 359 mi (578 km) of trail to hikers, backpackers and horseback riders. Difficulty levels range from the half mile wheelchair accessible jaunt around Bear Lake to the backbreaking 'Mummy Kill', recommended only for those with years of mountaineering experience or a death wish. A few of the most memorable hikes are listed below. Many of the trails in the Eastern Part of the Park can be reached via shuttle buses. Snow conditions should be considered before hiking as higher elevations will be snow-covered later into the year.

Easy hikes edit

  • 1 Bierstadt Lake. (Trailhead is shuttle bus accessible.) A beautiful morning hike, this Lake is situated on top of Bierstadt Moraine giving brilliant views of Longs and the Front Range. As three routes converge on this lake, all of which lead to Shuttle Bus serviced trailheads, this hike can be done many different ways or even tacked onto a bigger venture. Arguably the best route is from the Bear Lake Trailhead to the shuttle parking lot as this 4.5 mi (7.2 km) stroll is mostly downhill. Walk down, take the bus back up.    
  • 2 Lily Mountain. This short hike leads to the top of a foothill near the edge of the park that gives a great view of the front range. A 3-mile hike, the trail is really close to the edge of the park which spoils some of the wilderness feeling you can get far inside the park, however the view from the top is more than worth it. The Lily Mountain Trailhead can be found a little ways south of Estes Park along Route 7.  
  • Emerald Lake. (Trailhead is shuttle bus accessible.) A beautiful tarn in the shadow of Hallets and Flattop, the hike up with take you past three other lakes (Bear, Nymph, and Dream) on route from the Bear Lake Trailhead. Although this trail can get crowded, an early morning start can give you relative solitude on what many people conclude is the best short hike (under four miles) in the park.

Intermediate hikes edit

The falls at the Alluvial Fan, an area still recovering from a massive landslide that occurred in 1982.
  • Sky Pond. (Trailhead is shuttle bus accessible.) Definitely the most crowded hike given its difficulty in the entire park with good reason. The vast number of features along this hike make it a favorite of many with two waterfalls and three lakes surrounded by increasingly shear and spectacular mountains. If there seems to be a lot of people, do not be discouraged. Beyond Timberline Falls the number of hikers reduce, as many are turned away by the short scramble up the side of falls. The Hike leaves from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead and is 9 miles long.
  • Fern Odessa Loop. (Trailhead is shuttle bus accessible.) This 7 mi (11 km) trail consists of hiking from the Bear Lake Trailhead down to the Fern Lake Trailhead and taking the shuttle buses back. Not only will you not need to backtrack on this trail, it has several optional side hikes such as Spruce Lake that you can take if you are feeling better than expected. Look forward to hiking across some snowfields as the northern flank of Flattop seems to gather a lot of them.
  • Flattop and Hallett. (Trailhead is shuttle bus accessible.) The easiest peak in the park is Flattop Mountain, a 9 mi (14 km) round trip up from the Bear Lake Trailhead. Although the route up is spectacular, the summit is less so though making the half-mile walk to Hallett Peak more than worth it. However, even though it is the easiest of the main summits in the park, even Flattop must be respected. People have died on this hike, mostly because they summitted too late and the weather closed in.

Difficult hikes edit

  • Bluebird Lake. One of those destinations which is absolutely assured to make you gasp in amazement the first time you see it. Not only is the Lake itself magnificent the hike up is fantastic as well passing by three major waterfalls and magnificent views. The only question is if you can walk the 9 mi (14 km) round trip distance from Wild Basin Trailhead and back.
  • The CCY. Also known as 'Chapin, Chaquita, Ypsilon' takes in three peaks in less than 9 mi (14 km), rising to 13,514 ft (4,119 m). Rising from Chapin Pass Trailhead on Fall River Road this hike is a local favorite with spectacular views of the entire park. Be wary of the volatile weather of the Mummy Range and do not be afraid to turn back with dark clouds approaching. Getting stuck up here in a storm is no picnic.
  • Shelf and Solitude Lakes. (Trailhead is shuttle bus accessible.) Considered by many the best alpine lake hike in the book, and for good reason. This hanging valley off Glacier Gorge is truly a magical place, but the approach is dfficult at best. A nine mile round trip jaunt from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead on Bear Lake Road the last mile to the lakes leaves the main trail at an easily missed turnoff before climbing an extremely steep slope. If you are unable to find the turn off do not feel bad about continuing on the main trail to Black Lake, a spectacular lake in its own right.
  • Longs Peak via the Keyhole Route. A classic 16-mile route allowing you to conquer this 14,259 ft (4,346 m) peak, the roof of Rocky Mountain National Park. This hike requires an early start from the Longs Peak Trailhead (head south on Route 7 from Estes Park), early as in 4AM. The last portion of the ascent crosses high above glacier gorge and will either permanently cure, or reinforce, your fear of heights. However, this section is not as dangerous as it seems. The largest danger manifests itself through the unprepared hikers who throng to this trail and have no business being on the mountain.

Insane hikes edit

  • Continental Traverse. This hike begins at the Milner Pass Trailhead and continues from there along the continental divide before descending via the Flattop Mountain Trailhead to Bear Lake Trailhead 20 miles (32 km) later. You must be in prime physical condition, be completely acclimated, start at an absurdly early hour, and have extremely good luck as far as weather goes in order to make this work. If you can make this work you will see some areas of the park which very few people get to see, but if weather forces you off the ridge get ready for a long slog to the Kewaunchee Valley to get out.
  • 3 McHenrys Peak. (Trailhead is shuttle bus accessible.) Climb up past Black Lake in Glacier Gorge and past where the trail ends. Go higher and even higher past Frozen Lake. Climb over Stone Man's Pass, which except for a few weeks in late August requires crampons. Then continue up the mountain over extremely exposed class three climbing. That is McHenrys Peak. This 13,327 ft (4,062 m) peak is the most difficult non technical (and that's pushing it) peak in the park. However, this 16-mile hike is considered a gem to those with the wherewithal to complete it, unlocking some of the most spectacular views in the Front Range.    

Buy edit

Most of the visitor centers offer books and other items for purchase, and there is a gift shop next door to the Fall River Visitor Center.

Eat edit

Snacks are available for purchase at the Alpine Visitor Center, and there is a snack shop located next door to the Fall River Visitor Center. There are no sit-down restaurants inside of the park, but the neighboring towns of Estes Park and Grand Lake have numerous options.

Drink edit

There is no wine or alcohol for sale anywhere in the park. Beverages may be purchased at the snack bar next to the Fall River Visitor Center or at the Alpine Visitor Center. Water is available at the entrance station and visitor centers, and during summer months at the campgrounds.

Sleep edit

Lodging edit

The view of Grand Lake from the Grand Lake Lodge porch. Built in 1919, the lodge is a classic example of Victorian stick architecture.

There is no lodging within the park, but the nearby towns of Estes Park and Grand Lake have numerous options.

  • Grand Lake Lodge, 15500 U.S. 34, Grand Lake, Colorado (east of Trail Ridge Road near Grand Lake, Colorado), +1 970-627-3967. On an island of private land within the park, and a short distance from the Southwest entrance and Kawuneeche Visitor Center.

Camping edit

There are 5 drive-in campgrounds and 2 group camping areas in the park (one group campground is winter only, one is summer only). Three campgrounds, Moraine Park, Glacier Basin, and Aspenglen, take reservations, as does the group-camping area at Glacier Basin. Other park campgrounds are first-come, first-served, and fill on most summer days. There are no electric, water or sewer hookups at any campsites. The water is turned off in the winter at all year-round campgrounds but drinking water is available at entrance stations and open visitor centers.

  • 1 Aspenglen Campground (located on U.S. Highway 34 just west of the Fall River Entrance Station). At 8,200 ft (2,500 m) elevation, with 52 sites. The campground is seasonal, opening early May 1 and closing in late September. Douglas fir, lodgepole pine, ponderosa pine and the occasional Engelmann spruce forests the campground, offering equal amounts of sun and shade. Grasses, shrubs and seasonal wildflowers fill the open meadows. Aspenglen contains several drive-to family sites for tents and RVs. A few sites are more secluded, walk-to tent sites. Reservations accepted and recommended. Recreational vehicle and trailer length limit is 30 feet. The A Loop is for tents only, including walk-ins, the B Loop does not allow generators allowed, and the C Loop allows generators. $30 per night (2020 rates).
  • 2 Glacier Basin Campground (on Bear Lake Road approximately 6 miles south of the Beaver Meadows Entrance Station). Located at 8,500 ft (2,600 m) elevation with 150 sites. The campground is seasonal, opening in late May and closing mid-September. A pleasant mix of Douglas fir, Lodgepole pine, Ponderosa pine, and the occasional Engelmann spruce forests the campground, offering equal amounts of sun and shade. Grasses, shrubs and seasonal wildflowers fill the open meadows. Reservations accepted and recommended. Recreational vehicle and trailer length limit is 35 feet and shuttle bus access is available. $30 per night (2020 rates).
  • Glacier Basin Group Sites. Reservations accepted and recommended. This group campground is tent-only. The small sites (#1 & 13) fit 9 - 15 people and a maximum of three vehicles. The medium sites (#2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 11 & 12) fit 16-25 people and a maximum of four vehicles. The large sites (7, 8 & 9) fit 26- 40 people and a maximum of five vehicles. There is no limit on number of tents, but no more than five vehicles per site are allowed. $40 per night (Small Group), $50 per night (Medium Group), $60 per night (Large Group) (2020 rates).
  • 3 Longs Peak Campground (located approximately nine miles south of the town of Estes Park on Route 7). At 9,500 ft (2,900 m) elevation and open year-round, this tent-only campground has 26 sites. All sites are first-come, first-served (no reservations taken). The trailhead to Longs Peak and other destinations is a short distance away. $30 per night (2020 rates).
  • 4 Moraine Park Campground (in a ponderosa pine forest above the meadows of Moraine Park on Bear Lake Road approximately two and a half miles south of the Beaver Meadows Entrance Station). At 8,160 ft (2,490 m) elevation, this campground is open year-round and has 245 sites. Reservations accepted and recommended from late May to early October, and it is first-come, first-served the remainder of the year. There is a recreational vehicle and trailer length limit is 40 feet. Trails from the campground connect to numerous other trails, and shuttle bus access is available. This campground is well-situated for exploring the eastern part of the park and is very clean. There are no showers at the campground you have to go in to Estes Park - find them at laundromat in the same shopping centre as the Safeways. $20 per night - Winter, $30 per night - Summer (2020 rates).
  • Moraine Park Group Sites. Open winter only, this tent-only group site is first-come, first-served. The small sites fit 10 - 15 people, medium sites 16-25 people, and large sites 26 - 40 people. There is no limit on number of tents, but no more than 5 vehicles per site are allowed. $3 per person.
  • 5 Timber Creek Campground (along the Colorado River in the Kawuneeche Valley on U.S. Highway 34 approximately 10 miles north of Grand Lake). At 8,900 ft (2,700 m) elevation with 98 sites. This campground is open year-round starting in late May. It is first-come, first-served, with no reservations taken. Timber Creek Campground is the only campground on the west side of the park. A mountain pine beetle infestation caused most of the trees to be removed, so there is no shade at campsites. There is a recreational vehicle and trailer length limit of 30 feet. $30 per night (2020 rates).

Backcountry edit

In the summer months, herds of elk move into the high country to graze above timberline.

You must have a backcountry and wilderness permit to camp overnight in the park's backcountry or wilderness. You can pick one up at the Headquarters Backcountry Office or at the Kawuneeche Visitor Center. To minimize impacts on the park's resources, the number of permits issued is limited. You may obtain day-of-trip permits in person year round. You may make reservations by mail or in person anytime after March 1 for a permit for that calendar year. You may make reservations by phone from March 1 to May 15 and anytime after October 1 for a permit for that calendar year. By Backcountry/Wilderness Permits, Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park, CO 80517.

You can also call the backcountry office at +1 970 586-1242 to reserve a permit. For all reservations:

  1. Include your name, address, zip code and telephone number.
  2. List an itinerary with dates corresponding to campsites or crosscountry area where you plan to stay. If you plan to stay in a crosscountry area, indicate the areas and elevation where you wish to camp.
  3. Specify the number of people that will be in your party. (Limit of 7 per party for individual campsites and crosscountry areas. Limit of 12 per party for group campsites.)
  4. There is a $20 administrative fee for permits during peak season periods (non-refundable). Fees are not to be sent when requesting reservations, but are payable (by cash or check only) when the permit is issued.

During the busy summer months, if you have a permit reservation, you must pick up the permit by 10AM on the first day of your planned backcountry or wilderness stay, otherwise, the permit will be cancelled in its entirety, and given to other backpackers. If you know you will not be using your permit, please cancel your reservation as soon as possible.

Stay safe edit

Due to climate change, pine bark beetles have killed large swathes of pines throughout the park. On windy days, beware of falling trees and "widow maker" branches.

The greatest danger to most park visitors is due to altitude. The entire park is above 7,500 feet and ranges as high as 14,259 feet, so it is important to take time to acclimate before undertaking strenuous activities. Even driving at high elevation can affect sensitive individuals. Altitude sickness symptoms include shortness of breath, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, rapid heartbeat and insomnia. Also note that high elevation increases the chance of dehydration, severe sunburn, and the aggravation of pre-existing medical conditions. Drink several quarts of water per day to ward off dehydration. Wear and reapply sunscreen often. If you begin to feel sick or experience any physical problems descend to lower elevations.

Be aware of the weather. A bright, sunny day can turn windy and wet within a matter of minutes with high winds and driving rain or snow. Be prepared for changing conditions by dressing in layers and always carrying gear appropriate for both cold, wet weather and bright, sunny conditions. If caught in a lightning storm above treeline get away from summits and isolated trees and rocks and find shelter (but avoid small cave entrances and overhangs) and crouch down on your heels.

Other park dangers include wildlife - never feed wild animals, and always give them their space. Animals are unpredictable, particularly if they feel threatened, and even a deer is capable of killing a human. To protect against larger predators like bears and mountain lions make noise while hiking to avoid startling an animal, and use bear-proof containers to store anything with a scent; this includes food, toothpaste, deodorant, empty food wrappers, or anything else that might attract a bear's interest.

Park streams may contains giardia and other water borne diseases, so always purify water before drinking. Be careful on snowfields, particularly on steep slopes where avalanche dangers may be high.

Go next edit

  • Estes Park - This mountain town borders the park to the east of the park, offering lodging, food and shopping options.
  • Grand Lake - Bordering the park to the west, this town also offers amenities for travelers.
Routes through Rocky Mountain National Park
Ends at  Granby  W   E  Estes ParkLoveland
END  NW   SE  Estes ParkDenver

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