Why Visit Rocky Mountain National Park?
Rocky Mountain National Park is a fantastic destination to explore and immerse yourself in the mountains of the western United States. There is a lot you can see and do in the park, keep reading to find out just what. The Rocky Mountains are a famed US destination. The park itself is 415 square miles and unlike many other National Parks it easy to get to.
The weather here is a huge factor to consider with winter bringing a lot of snow and temperatures in ranging from the teens to the 30s. Summer highs are typically in the 60s with the nights bringing chilly temps in the 40s.
The park is very popular with crowds peaking in the Summer and Fall, especially on weekends. This can me crowds on popular trails and full parking lots and traffic in and around the park. Winter brings lower crowds and a whole new set of activities but it also means braving the cold and some trails and areas of the park may be closed due to snow.
I visited Rocky Mountain National Park as a part of a larger Western U.S. road trip. Starting in Salt Lake City, Utah through Idaho, to Grande Teton and Yellowstone in Wyoming. We went on to travel across Montana then visit Medora, North Dakota and Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota. We ended our trip with a visit to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and flew home from Denver. If you are interested in blogs about other locations on this trip see the links below.
Yellowstone National Park – https://4ears4eyesforthemagic.travel.blog/2020/12/01/guide-to-yellowstone-national-park/
Grand Teton National Park – https://4ears4eyesforthemagic.travel.blog/2020/11/17/a-visit-to-grand-teton-national-park/
Mount Rushmore National Park – https://4ears4eyesforthemagic.travel.blog/2020/11/19/guide-to-visiting-mount-rushmore/
How to Get To Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park is located in northern Colorado about a hour and a half from Denver.
If you are planning a visit to Rocky Mountain National Park you need a car. This means you would either drive from your home or fly to a nearby airport and then rent a car.
If you will be flying to the park you want to fly into Denver International Airport (DEN). This is a very large airport and a hub so you are likely to find many flight options. From the airport you are an hour and a half drive to the park and there are many car rental options from the airport.
Where To Stay
Unlike some national parks there are no overnight accommodations inside of Rocky Mountain National Park. There are five campgrounds, 4 of which allow vehicle camping in tent trailers, pickup campers, trailers, and motorhomes.
The park is also close enough to several areas to make it a day trip as part of a longer vacation. You can either stop on your way from one accommodation to the next or if you are using one location as a hub for your accommodation.
- Denver, CO – 1 Hour and 30 Minutes
- Colorado Springs, CO – 2 Hours and 30 Minutes
- Aspen, CO – 4 Hours and 30 Minutes
Staying Close to the Park – If you want to stay close by the park your best bet is to stay in the towns of Estes Park or Grand Lake.
Estes Park – This small mountain town is located right next to the East Entrance. Estes Park is home to several hotels, resorts, and cabin rentals for your stay. There are lots of restaurants to try and some local shopping. There is also a local theatre, brewery, mini-golf and lots of tour and outdoor activity options.
Grand Lake – Located right next to the West Entrance. Grand Lake is similar to Estes Park but smaller, with less visitors and fewer lodging, dining, and shopping options. But all of those things are still available plus a go-kart center.
Take a look at where in the park you wish to explore. What activities you plan to do and see which of the two towns will suit your needs best.
Getting Around The Park
Some of the most popular hikes and areas get crowded during the busy season. This can mean parking lots fill up. To help with that there is an internal shuttle thought the park. Follow the link to see your shuttle options.
What To Do In Rocky Mountain National Park?
There is a lot to do in Rocky Mountain. If you are just spending the day, passing through, or devoting a whole vacation there is a lot to fill your time. Make sure you have a plan though there is a lot to do but if you show up without a plan there is a lot you could miss.
Safety First the park recommends you carry bear spray and/or wear bear bells. Make sure you do your bear safety reading before visiting. Also note that you will not be able to take bear spray with you if you are flying but there are plenty of places that sell it in and around the parks.
I also advise that if you plant to hike you make sure you are in hiking shape before your visit. Practice with walks around your neighborhood or local hikes. Pick a trail that is equal to your skill level. No one wants to be soar and miserable during their vacation, be prepared and don’t over do it.
Hiking – There are tons of hiking options in Rocky Mountain. If you want to hike make sure you have a plan on where. Check out the National Parks website, and consider picking up a travel guide, I like Foders brand. Plan what hikes you want to do. Another resource is alltrails.com .
Scenic Drives – For those looking to enjoy the park with mobility concerns or with a travel party that is not up to a hike just a drive through the park is very scenic. Most roads in the park feature pull off and scenic overlooks where you can park quickly and hop out for a photo and the enjoy the view.
Ranger Programs – The National Park Rangers host programs free to the public. They are talks or walks throughout the park. These are a great way to learn and ask questions about the park and the nature in it.
Be sure to check out the parks schedule –
The wildlife in the park is a huge highlight. Many of the Ranger programs focus on the wildlife. For a guide to wildlife spotting see the Parks recommendations.
Junior Rangers – For the kiddos the National Parks Service has the Junior Rangers program. Stop into any of the visitors centers or visit the website before you go to get started. They have booklets full of activities for kids to do while you travel through the park.
Climbers, campers, fisherman, bicyclers, and horseback riders all have the opportunity to enjoy those activities in Rocky Mountain.
In the winter while much of the park is closed down there are some unique opportunities such as cross country skiing, snowshoeing and sledding.
Visitors Centers – There are several Visitors Centers around the park as well, some contain exhibits abut the park.
History Fans – Check out the Holzwarth Historic Site to see and experience a Homesteaders cabin.
Private Tours – There are a lot of tour options from many private companies offered if you want something more guided.
Food – There are several location for picnicking in this park. There is also one restaurant open from May to October, the Cafe at Trail Ridge and the attached coffee bar. Located next to the Alpine Visitor Center with the Trail Ridge Store. There is also very limited prepackaged foods sold in the gift shops at some of the Visitors Centers.
Learn More Here:
“Café at Trail Ridge features made-to-order sandwiches with organic breads, fresh, crisp salads, full-flavored soups, quick and easy snacks, addictively delicious desserts and thirst-quenching beverages.”
What We Did During Our Visit
We visited Rocky Mountain National Park as part of a much larger road trip. We were able to devote about a half a day to the park. We were driving in from Lusk, Wyoming which was about a 4 hour drive. We made a quick stop at the Beaver Meadows Visitor’s Center in Estes Park, which was quite nice and had shuttle service options. We entered the park through the East Entrance and made our way to Bear Lake. We pulled off on several scenic view points along the way as well and did a little exploring around them.
Bear Lake is a popular area of the park and we were very lucky to grab a parking spot as we were there in the middle of the day. There was shuttle service available. There were vault toilets in the parking lot are as well.
The lake itself was beautiful and the hiking path that circles it, Bear Lake Trail, was a very easy and flat hike. At least the part that we walked we did not circle the entire lake. This would be a great hike for families or those who are looking for something low impact.
I recommend a stop at Bear Lake during your visit.
After our hike we were out of time and needed to move onto our next destination. The drive out of the park and back to the East Entrance was scenic as well. We did experience some traffic getting back out and it seems odds but that is something you should factor into your travels at peak times inside the park. There is often only one narrow road and everyone is trying to get to the same place.
Who Should Visit
I think as part of a larger road trip a visit to Rocky Mountain National Park would be a hit with everyone. As discussed above there are things to see and do at all activity levels from horseback ridding to a scenic drive. A entire day is easily spent here but unless you are really planning to do a lot of activities inside the park I would not recommend more than 2 days. I recommend adding on a visit to Denver, and or Colorado Springs if you are not up for a huge road trip.
For families with little ones I would recommend this for those with children elementary aged and up if it will be part of a larger trip and you can tailor your activities to your kids and your family. A trip that would just focus on Rocky Mountain I would suggest middle school and up. I think for those with teenagers this would be a great opportunity for the family to unplug and have some quality time together in a place that it likely very different from your home town.
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