Entrance sign to Rocky Mountain National Park

A Traveler’s Guide to Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park consistently ranks in the top five most-visited national parks in the United States, and it’s easy to see why. Nestled in the heart of the Colorado Rockies, Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) offers visitors an exhilarating blend of natural beauty, rugged wilderness, and adventurous activities.

As a Colorado native, I also have a personal connection to the park—my family has visited almost every summer since I was born, so I’ve seen the park change over the years. (Most recently, thanks to the East Troublesome fire.)

Fallen burned tree at Rocky Mountain National Park photographed after East Troublesome fire.
Scars after East Troublesome fire (Sarah Kuiken)

While I may be biased, I think RMNP is the perfect playground for RVers, campers, and adventure travelers who love hiking, mountaineering, paddling, skiing, or just about anything else you could want to do outdoors.

This guide will help you make the most of your visit, whether you’re behind the wheel of your RV or lacing up your hiking boots.

What to Know About Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park has some serious street cred. It’s one of the highest national parks in the US, with over 60 peaks above 12,000 feet. The Continental Divide also runs right through the park, and you can traverse it either on foot or by driving Trail Ridge Road, the highest paved through road in the national park system.

Related Reading: U.S. National Parks – Quick Guide and Free Checklist

Moose and baby at our campground (Sarah Kuiken)

Pro Tips for Visitors

Here are some tips for visiting Rocky Mountain National Park, based on many firsthand visits.

Drive Trail Ridge Road

This 48-mile drive will take you from Estes Park on the east side to Grand Lake on the west. Eleven miles of the drive are above treeline, giving you stunning views of the surrounding peaks. Driving Trail Ridge is also a great way to see bighorn sheep, elk, and maybe even moose. At the top of Trail Ridge, stop at the Alpine Visitor Center (the highest in the country) and walk along the short Alpine Ridge Trail.

Keep an Eye on the Sky

Mountain weather changes quickly, and it’s easy to miss a storm cloud brewing behind a nearby peak until it’s too late. Check forecasts, start long hikes early, and always carry gear to keep you safe and dry in the event of a storm.

Stay Hydrated

RMNP is at high elevation no matter where you go, which can impact even the healthiest of adventurers. Running out of water can cause dizziness or nausea. So always be sure to fill up your water bottle before heading out and drink lots of water during your time outdoors.

Give your body time to acclimate to the higher elevation before attempting any serious climbs. And, even if you know there are natural water sources available, be sure to pack your best water filter to avoid risk of dehydration.

Permits and Reservations

RMNP requires a reservation to enter the park during the high season (May 26-October 22 at the time of writing), so book your entry slot ahead of time. If the date you want sells out, check back the day before after 5 p.m. when more tickets are released.

If you can’t get a timed entry, you can also arrive early or late—you won’t need a reservation to enter the park before 9 a.m. or after 2 p.m. (Note that different times apply for Bear Lake, which has a separate reservation system.)

If you plan to fish, climb, or backpack, check the permitting rules and plan ahead to secure your spot.

Road Closures

Ridge Road is closed during winter, so if you’re going in the shoulder season, check ahead for updated road conditions.


As I mentioned, RMNP is one of the most-visited national parks in the country, so plan on crowds. Parking gets tough, especially in some of the smaller lots, so arrive early or late in the day to score a spot.

If you’re exploring from Estes Park, you can also take a shuttle into the park. However, there is no public transportation from the Grand Lake side.

For Dog Lovers

Dogs aren’t allowed on any of the trails in the park, but there’s national forest on all sides where they can roam. Check AllTrails for options near you.

Husky dog sitting on paddle board on Grand Lake at Rocky Mountain National Park.
Credit: Sarah Kuiken

East Side Highlights: Estes Park

The town of Estes Park is by far the most popular jumping-off point for visiting RMNP. From Estes Park, you can enjoy shuttle transportation to the park and a wide variety of hotels (including the Stanley Hotel of The Shining fame), Airbnbs, and campgrounds.

As such, Estes Park is pretty touristy and gets crowded in peak season—but don’t let that stop you from visiting! Estes Park has a lot to offer, including breweries, restaurants, and a very walkable main street.

Hiking Trails

Bear Lake

Bear Lake is probably the most popular trailhead in the park—so much so that it now has its own reservation system. There’s something here for all skill levels, as a variety of trails leave from this point. The three-mile hike to Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lakes is one of the most popular activities launching from this TH.

Alberta Falls

Alberta Falls is one of the park’s most popular waterfalls. It’s also a short and easy hike from the Glacier Gorge parking lot, not even two miles round-trip.

Longs Peak

If you’re up for a challenge, Longs Peak is a 14er (14,259 feet, to be precise) that attracts experienced adventurers seeking a thrill. The 15-mile Keyhole Route to the summit is iconic but demanding, including class 3 scrambling and traverses with exposure. People have died trying to summit Longs Peak, so it’s not for the faint of heart.

Entrance sign to Rocky Mountain National Park
Entrance sign to Rocky Mountain National Park (Sarah Kuiken)

Other Activities

  • East Portal trailhead: East Portal offers access to a network of mountain bike-friendly trails. The Sourdough Trail is a fan favorite, featuring varied terrain.
  • Wild Basin area: Remote trails and stunning scenery, ideal for multi-day backpacking trips. Make sure to score a backcountry permit before you head out.
  • Glacier Creek: Known for its abundant trout, fly fishers love this area.
  • Hidden Valley: Hidden Valley is a favorite in the winter, providing perfect terrain for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.


There are several private RV parks on this side, but you also have two options for RV camping inside the park: Aspenglen and Glacier Basin. (Moraine Park Campground on the north side of Moraine Park is currently closed due to construction of the East Utility Project.)

Aspenglen offers no amenities behind campsites and stays open year-round. Glacier Basin has a dump station and potable water and is open from May to mid-September. None of the RV parks in RMNP have hookups at your campsite, so come ready for dry camping.

West Side Highlights: Grand Lake

On the west side of the park—the side most impacted by the East Troublesome fire—is the small mountain town of Grand Lake. This side is quieter and less touristy than Estes Park, with a more authentic mountain feel.

You won’t find quite as many amenities on this side, so don’t look for shuttles or big hotels here. But what Grand Lake lacks in infrastructure, it makes up for in natural beauty.

Hiking Trails

  • North Inlet: A peaceful hike without much traffic, leading to stunning lakes and meadows.
  • East Inlet: This trail takes you to Lone Pine Lake, known for its picturesque landscapes.

Other Activities

  • Tonahutu Creek Trail: Mountain bikers love the challenging terrain and rewarding views on this trail, which is best suited for experienced riders.
  • Continental Divide Trail: This is an unforgettable long-distance backpacking experience. Just remember your permit and bear canister.
  • Paddling: The town’s namesake is a real mountain lake and the perfect spot for canoeing, kayaking, or stand up paddle boarding.
Woman and man in separate kayaks on Grand Lake at Rocky Mountain National Park.
Kayaking Grand Lake (Sarah Kuiken)


Timber Creek is the only campground on the park’s west side. Pine beetles decimated the trees here long before the fire—but on the plus side, you have unobstructed views of the mountains.

Timber Creek is open to both tent campers and RVs for dry camping, with potable water and a dump station onsite. Fishing enthusiasts will love its proximity to the Colorado River.

Final Thoughts on RMNP

Rocky Mountain National Park is more than just a destination; it’s an experience. Whether you’re hiking up challenging trails, biking through rugged landscapes, fishing in serene waters, or camping under starry skies, RMNP offers an adventure for everyone. Remember to respect the natural environment and enjoy the unparalleled beauty of this Colorado gem.

Winter landscape in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Beautiful winter scenery in Rocky Mountain National Park (Sarah Kuiken)

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