Last Updated: 8/12/21 – Rocky Mountain National Park Guide
There are a number of absolutely breathtaking mountain ranges in the United States and the Rocky Mountains in the Western part of the country are some of America’s most beautiful. Perhaps nowhere else in the country is this beautiful mountain range better showcased than in Rocky Mountain National Park in the state of Colorado. That is why I was beyond excited to create my Rocky Mountain National Park Guide to share this beautiful park with you. Though with so many wonderful things to say about the park, it was hard to know where to being. With a range of elevation between 7,600-feet (2,316 meters) and 14,259-feet (4,346 meters) inside the park, the diversity of landscapes and wildlife that you will see while visiting Rocky Mountain National Park is truly awe-inspiring. In addition to a myriad of other wildlife, the park is home to over 280 different bird species, an abundance of elk, and the bighorn sheep that have become a symbol of this alpine park.
Rocky Mountain National Park is a magnet for climbers and outdoor adventurers who want to explore the park’s many high peaks. This includes Long’s Peak, which at 14,259 feet ( 4,346 meters) is the tallest peak in the park and among Colorado’s most challenging 14ers to summit. If you aren’t a fan of back-country hiking or alpine adventures, you will be pleased to know that Rocky Mountain National Park is also home to America’s highest continuous paved road, which allows visitors to enjoy the higher elevations within the park without having to even break a sweat. All of these fantastic things to see and do in the park help explain why Rocky Mountain National Park continues to be one of America’s most popular national parks year-after-year. With over 3 million visitors a year, the park is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Western United States.
In this Rocky Mountain National Park Guide, I am going to give you all of the information you need to plan a successful trip to see the Rocky Mountains National Park. I cover the best times to visit and the best ways to get there so that you can maximize what you are able to see and do on your trip. In addition, I outline the top things to see and do while you are there and where the best places to stay and eat are. With this information in hand, you can be confident that your trip to Rocky Mountain National Park will be one that you remember for the rest of your life.
How to Get to Rocky Mountain NP
Rocky Mountain National Park is located in Northern Colorado, very close to the city of Denver. In fact, if you are planning on visiting Rocky Mountain National Park from outside of the United States, the easiest way to visit is undoubtedly to fly into Denver International Airport (DEN) and then to Estes Park, Colorado, which is located just outside of the park. The roughly 66-mile (106-kilometer) drive will take you roughly 1.5-hours.
If you are planning on visiting other areas in the Western United States and are planning on driving to Rocky Mountain National Park during your trip, I have included a table in my Rocky Mountain National Park Guide below that outlines the driving distance and time to Rocky Mountain National Park from other large cities in this region of the United States.
|Denver, CO||66 miles||1hrs 24min|
|Rapid City, SD||379 miles||6hrs 19min|
|Moab, UT||381 miles||6hrs 21min|
|Albuquerque, NM||512 miles||7hrs 38min|
|Salt Lake City, UT||498 miles||7hrs 41min|
|Oklahoma City, OK||738 miles||10hrs 35min|
|Las Vegas, NV||776 miles||11hrs 40min|
|Boise, ID||793 miles||11hrs 50min|
|Phoenix, AZ||848 miles||13hrs 31min|
While road-tripping is a hallmark of American travel, especially when visiting the country’s national parks is part of the itinerary, I am well aware that long drives are not for everyone. If you would prefer to fly out to the Western United States to begin your adventure, there are a number of other large cities in the region that have large airports. If you are planning a trip to the Rocky Mountain region or the Western United States in general and would like to review some airport options, I have included a map of some of the major cities in the region besides Denver that you can fly into to start your adventure.
At 265,461 acres (414.78 sq mi; 1,074.28 km 2) in size, Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the larger parks in the Continental United States. This can make seeing everything you want to see an exercise in logistics, even if you have a well-constructed plan. In order to help familiarize you with the park so that you can better prepare your itinerary before arriving at the park, I have included a Rocky Mountain National Park map for you to review below. You will be given a park map at the entrance, but it may help your planning efforts to download the park map PDF that I included below to start your planning ahead of your arrival.
Top Things to See and Do in Rocky Mountain NP
One thing that the Rocky Mountain National Park is definitely not in short supply of is amazing things to see and do. In fact, there are so many beautiful landscapes and fun adventures that you can have in the park and surrounding area that I recommend spending at least a few days exploring the park if possible. If you don’t have a few days, I would absolutely recommend getting to the park early and spending as much of the time you have in the park. If you would like some recommendations of the top things to see in the park, I have included a list of my favorite things to see and do in the park in my Rocky Mountain National Park Guide below.
|Trail Ridge Road|
|Bear Lake Nature Trail|
|Endovalley / Old Fall River Road|
|Forest Canyon Overlook|
|The Alpine Visitor Center|
Trail Ridge Road
Reaching roughly 12,183-feet ( 3,713-meters) at its highest point, the Trail Ridge Road is the highest continuous paved road in the United States. However, the Trail Ridge Road is much more than a road. This roughly 48-mile long road is one of the best ways to get a panoramic view of the beautiful Rocky Mountain National Park. With breathtaking viewpoints, of which there are roughly eleven, visitors are able to get up above the tree line and enjoy the spectacular mountain vistas without having to summit up one of the park’s many peaks. If you are interested in seeing where this amazing road takes you within the park, I have included a map for you to review in my Rocky Mountain National Park Guide below.
NOTE: The Trail Ridge Road is closed during the winter months, so please keep this in mind when you are planning your trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. I would suggest checking the Park Service website for road conditions before heading to the park to make sure the road will be accessible during your visit.
One of the biggest draws to Rocky Mountain National Park for outdoor adventurists is the challenge of summiting Longs Peak, which at 14,259-feet ( 4,346 meters) is the 13th highest peak in Colorado and the highest peak inside the park. While Longs Peak may not be the tallest mountain in Colorado, it is one of the most technically challenging of the state’s 53 fourteen thousand foot high peaks, also known as 14ers. If you are considering summiting the Longs Peak Keyhole Route, you should make sure that you are prepared with the proper gear and plan on camping out near the trailhead so that you can get an early start in the morning. This will ensure that you are able to summit and get back down safely while there is still light.
Grays and Torreys Peaks, which are located relatively close by the park are taller peaks, but much easier to summit. If you are interested in doing some challenging hiking, but are worried that Longs Peak is too technically challenging for you, I would suggest that you consider summiting those peaks instead. They are located close together and can both be summited on the same hike, which is an added bonus.
Download the Longs Peak Keyhole Route Brochure
In addition to the breathtaking vistas, mountain lakes, and beautiful waterfalls that the park is known for, Rocky Mountain National Park is also home to a wide-array of wildlife. This abundance of wildlife is another reason that the park has become so popular. Not only is there a wide-array of bird species that can be spotted in the park, but a number of North America’s most popular mammals can also be seen by visitors on occasion. This includes, but is not limited to, Rocky Mountain elk, bighorn sheep, black bears, moose, marmots, coyotes, mule deer, mountain lions, and the adorable little pika. If you visit the Alpine Visitor Center, which is located near the highest point of the Trail Ridge Road, you have a very good chance of spotting elk grazing in the alpine meadows.
If you are comfortable getting out of your car and doing a little walking, there are a number of breathtakingly beautiful alpine lakes that can be explored within Rocky Mountain National Park. While they are all beautiful, Sprague Lake is one of my favorites. Not only is the lake beautiful, but it is also relatively easy to access. If you are looking to escape the crowds and find a little tranquility, the short hike to the lake is a great way to find some quite and enjoy the beauty of the park.
Bear Lake Nature Trail
If you would like to get out and do some hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park, but don’t have a lot of hiking experience, then one of the best trails that I can recommend is the Bear Lake Nature Trail. This loop trail takes you around the stunning Bear Lake and is an easy hike to complete for even the most novice of hikers. You can take your time as you hike and enjoy the beauty of the lake and the surrounding woods. If you’re lucky, you might even spot some of the native wildlife inside the park. If you would like more details on the Bear Lake Nature Trail, I have included a map for you to review in my Rocky Mountain National Park Guide below.
Endovalley / Old Fall River Road
If you are up for some adventure while visiting Rocky Mountain National Park, one of the prettiest scenic drives that you can take in the park is the Old Fall River Road in the northern section of the park. If you do get out on the Old Fall River Road, you can expect to see some of the most stunning mountain vistas that you will find in Rocky Mountain National Park. In addition, you will have the chance of seeing such park features as the Chasm Falls and the Fall River Pass. Take your time and enjoy the views and the tranquility as the road passes thru some of the most breathtaking landscapes in the park.
NOTE: The road is closed during the winter months, so you will need to visit between late spring and early autumn if you would like to check out this scenic drive. The road isn’t paved, so you will want to make sure you check the Park Service website for road conditions before deciding to try driving the road. It isn’t as rough as some of the other alpine roads that you will find in Colorado, but it can be difficult to navigate without 4WD if the weather conditions have been wet.
My favorite waterfall in Rocky Mountain National Park is, without a doubt, the breathtakingly beautiful Alberta Falls. Located just a short distance from Bear Lake, the trail to Alberta Falls is a relatively easy out-and-back that is fit for hikers of all experience levels. The falls are located just off the trail and there are multiple different vantage points where you can view this beautiful waterfall. If you would like more details on the trail to Alberta Falls, I have included a map for you to review in my Rocky Mountain National Park Guide below.
Forest Canyon Overlook
There are a lot of beautiful viewpoints located off the Park Ridge Road inside Rocky Mountain National Park. While the viewpoints at the higher altitudes near the Alpine Visitor Center get most of the attention, an often under-appreciated viewpoint that I love is the Forest Canyon Overlook. The viewpoint sits right along the Continental Divide and provides easy access to the roughly 30-mile long Continental Divide Trail, which runs down the middle of the park and splits it into its Eastern and Western sections. If you have the time, hiking some of the trail is a very fun experience. The Continental Divide is one of the park’s most popular attractions because of its significance. It is the invisible line that runs down the Rocky Mountain Range, determining whether water flows off the mountains in an eastward or westward direction.
While Chasm Falls isn’t the biggest waterfall in Rocky Mountain National Park, it is still a beautiful waterfall. While accessing the waterfall only requires a short hike, you will need to navigate the unpaved Old Fall River Road to get there. The road is closed during the winter months, but even when it is open it can be difficult to navigate for vehicles without 4WD when conditions have been wet. I would suggest checking the Park Service website on road conditions before you visit the park to see if the road is open and accessible to vehicles without 4WD.
The Alpine Visitor Center
No visit to Rocky Mountain National Park is complete without stopping by the Alpine Visitor Center to get a taste of the high altitude that the park is known for. Not only are the vistas from the visitor center out-of-this-world beautiful, but inside the visitor center you can learn about the high altitude habitat for creates such as the yellow-bellied marmot, Rocky Mountain elk, and other creatures that frequent the slopes and alpine meadows of the park’s highest points. If you are lucky, you might even get to spot some elk feeding near the road by the visitor center, such as I did. If you do visit, please be aware that there is often snow by the visitor center year-round because of the altitude and temperatures can be rather chilly, especially when it is windy. So make sure you have a jacket with you when you visit.
When to Visit Rocky Mountain NP
Average Temperature (°F)
Because of its location in the Northern United States at high altitudes, Rocky Mountain National Park can get quite cold during the winter months. The park also gets quite a bit of snow during the winter, which can make travel within the park quite cold. If you are visiting to do some snow shoeing or other winter activities, this might be exactly what you are looking for. However, if you are visiting to do some hiking and spend quite a bit of time outdoors, you might want to avoid the months of November thru March as it can be quite chilly. The weather during the summer months is quite pleasant, but this is also the busiest time of year in Rocky Mountain National Park. If you would like to avoid the crowds, but also have nice weather, the shoulder months of April, May, September, and October might be your best bet.
Average Precipitation (Inches)
Believe it or not, the summer month of August is typically the wettest month of the year in Rocky Mountain National Park. If you are planning on visiting during this month, I would make sure you plan accordingly. As you can see in the chart below, the driest months of the year are typically the stretch between October and March. The winter months can be fun in Rocky Mountain National Park, but aren’t the best times of year to hike at high altitude or to summit Longs Peak. If you are planning on participating in these activities, I would target mid-autumn or early summer as they tend to not only be dryer months, but the weather is typically more reliable for alpine hiking and climbing.
Average Visitors (Visitors Per Day)
Because Rocky Mountain National Park is such a popular park, it can get quite busy during certain parts of the year. While it is a big park and it is easy to escape the crowds if you get out of your car and do some hiking in the back-country, you will probably need to navigate crowds and wait for available parking spots if you visit during the peak months of the year. The winter months in Rocky Mountain National Park are typically quite, but things start to get busy as summer begins in the month of June. By the mid-summer month of July, the crowds in the park are usually quite large before dying off as kids start heading back to school in September. If you would like to visit while the weather is nice, but don’t want to deal with the large crowds, I would suggest targeting the shoulder months of May, September, and October. The weather is usually fairly nice during these months, but you won’t have to worry about crowding parking lots and trails.
Other Things to See Near Rocky Mountain NP
In addition to all of the amazing things to see and do inside Rocky Mountain National Park, the state of Colorado has some other amazing parks and landscapes that I think outdoor travel enthusiasts would really love to explore. If you are looking for some additional destinations in the area to add to your travel itinerary, I have included some recommendations in my Rocky Mountain National Park Guide for you to review below.
|Great Sand Dunes National Park|
|Grays and Torreys Peaks (14,000 foot climbs)|
|Mesa Verde National Park|
Where to Stay Near Rocky Mountain NP
When visiting the national parks and monuments of the United States, it is a really neat experience to camp out during your visit. Some of the best campgrounds in America can be found inside the country’s national parks and monuments and the surrounding areas. If you are interested in camping out during your visit, I have included a map and list of some recommended campgrounds for you to review in my Rocky Mountain National Park Guide below.
If camping is not your speed, you need not worry as there are a variety of good hotels for you to choose from in the area as well. If you are in the process of planning your trip to Rocky Mountain National Park and are looking for recommendations on hotels in the area, the closest city with hotel accommodations is Estes Park. In order to assist you in finding a hotel that meets your needs, I have included a map and list of recommended hotels and different price points for you to review in my Rocky Mountain National Park Guide below.
Rocky Mountain NP Resources
When planning any trip, you can never have too many resources at your disposal. In addition to the information I have provided you in this guide, I have linked to a number of other official resources from the US National Parks Service in my Rocky Mountain National Park Guide below for you to use to plan your trip as well.
- Fees and Passes
- Permits and Reservations
- Shuttle Bus Routes
- Park Maps
- Park Campground Info
- Scenic Drives
- Visitor Centers
- Nearby Attractions
- Park Plants and Animals
Activities Near Rocky Mountain NP
There are a lot of beautiful and amazing things to see in Rocky Mountain National Park, but there are also a lot of really fun activities that you can do during your visit as well. If you are starting to plan your trip and are looking for some fun activities to enjoy while you are at the park, I have included some suggestions for you to review in my Rocky Mountain National Park Guide below.
|Snowshoe Gear Guide for Adventure Travelers|
Rocky Mountain NP Photo Gallery
In addition to being one of the most breathtaking mountain parks in the United States, Rocky Mountain National Park is also one of the most beautiful places in America for landscape photography. If you would like to see some of the many wonderful photographs that I have taken during my visits to Rocky Mountain National Park, please check out the photo gallery that I have included in my Rocky Mountain National Park Guide below.
If you would like to view some more of my top photos from this trip, as well as photos from some of my many other travel adventures, make sure you are following me on Instagram as well!
Wonderful guide, Josh. We stayed at Estes Park KOA and found it perfectly adequate. Would stay there again. My sister lives in Fort Collins and said parts of Estes Park were evacuated due to fire a while back. I do hope they escaped damage – RMNP, too.
I was super impressed with Estes Park! I had been to Rocky Mountain NP before, but never made it to the city. What a great location your sister lives in!!
Your first map in the article, showing the location of Rocky Mountain National Park on the national map, incorrectly shows it located in Wyoming. It should be one state further south, in Colorado.
Thank you Conrad. It has been updated. Much appreciated!