First-timer’s guide to visit Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park Oct 2020-00705

Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the top 5 most visited parks in the USA. Visitors are drawn to this stunning place for its dreamy scenery – a combination of alpine lakes, snowy peaks, and lush trees.

A trip to Rocky Mountain National Park will definitely make you feel recharged, as the park has various things to do, including easy strolls with impressive landscape, strenuous hikes to test your endurance, and a memorable scenic drive through the Continental Divide.

This post has all you need for planning a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, including how to get here, the best time to visit the park, hotels nearby, and other tips for your days here.

This post may contain affiliate links. By purchasing through these links, I may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.

Guide to visiting Rocky Mountain National Park

Where is it and getting here

Rocky Mountain National Park is located on the northwest side of Denver, Colorado. You can reach it via two entrances: the town of Estes Park, on the east side, and the town of Grand Lake, on the west.

The nearest city to stay in and to visit Rocky Mountain National Park is Estes Park, where you’ll find hotels, lodges, restaurants, stores, and bars.

If you aren’t in Colorado and need to fly here, you can fly to Denver International Airport, rent a car, and then drive for approximately 2 hours until you get to the Estes Park area.

I personally use and recommend RentalCars for my trips as it allows me to choose the best price amongst the top car rental companies.


How to get around the park

If you are visiting Rocky Mountain National Park in the summer or fall, you’ll be able to count on the free shuttle service that operates around Estes Park and the Bear Lake Area.

However, the shuttle only operates after 7 am. So, if you want to have an early start, it’s better to have your own car.


Best hotels near Rocky Mountain National Park

Since the closest city to Rocky Mountain National Park is Estes Park, in it you’ll find many hotels and inns to stay in.

Here are some of the best hotels to stay at when visiting Rocky Mountain National Park:

  • The Stanley Hotel – a historic hotel that inspired Stephen King’s book The Shining and one of the best places to stay near Rocky Mountain National Park.
  • The Landing at Estes Park – located very close to the park’s entrance, this riverside lodge offers great views.
  • The Ridgeline Hotel – a comfortable hotel surrounded by the mountains and with many amenities, such as an indoor heated pool and fitness center.
  • YMCA of the Rockies – offers a variety of lodging experiences, including cabins, rooms, yurts, and camping.
  • Alpine Trail Ridge Inn – an affordable option, this motel is located 5 minutes from the park and features a heated outdoor pool.
  • Della Terra Mountain Chateau – a boutique inn with romantic, adults-only suites with private balconies and a hot tub.
  • The Estes Park Resort – located by the lake and is one of the best luxury hotels near Rocky Mountain. If you are going with a group and can splurge, go for the amazing and cozy cabins.

Also, you can camp inside the national park in campgrounds such as Aspenglen Campground, Glacier Basin Campground, and Moraine Park Campground.

Just make sure to check the camping availability before going.

How much is the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park

The daily access to the Rocky Mountain National Park is US$ 30 per vehicle, US$ 15 per person, and US$ 25 per motorcycle.

If you live in Colorado and/or are planning on visiting the park more than once, you can get the Rocky Mountain National Park Annual Pass for US$ 70 per vehicle.

Now, if you want to visit more national parks in the US, you should consider buying the  America the Beautiful – The National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass. It costs US$ 80 and is valid for one year (starting at the date of purchase).

In addition, if you’re planning on visiting Rocky Mountain from May 27 and October 10, 2022, you’ll also need an entry permit to access the park between the hours of 5 am and 6 pm, including Bear Lake Road; and between 9 am to 3 pm, not including Bear Lake Road.

The permit fee is US$ 2; you can book and pay for a time slot here.


How many days to visit the park

There is always a lot to do in Rocky Mountain National Park, so you can stay an entire week and still have plenty to do.

If you are short on time, in 2 days, you can have an overview of the park, visit Bear Lake, and cruise along the scenic drive.

If you have 3 days, you can see the highlights (such as Bear Lake and Emerald Lake) and drive along the Trail Ridge Road – an impressive 48-mile scenic road considered Colorado’s “highway to the sky”.

Weather and best time to visit Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park is open year-round, depending on the weather. Summer and fall are jam-packed because it’s the best time for hiking and driving along Trail Ridge Road.

And since most visitors go to the park from June to September, if you want to beat the crowds, then the best time to visit the park is from October to May.

We were in the park in late September, and it wasn’t very crowded – we started the hikes before sunrise and made sure to leave early afternoon.


Things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park has fantastic hikes ranging from easy to strenuous.

If you want some easy hike/stroll, check out Bear Lake (one mile, round trip), and Dream Lake (2.2 miles, round trip).

For a moderate hike, Odessa Lake (8 miles, round trip via Bear Lake) and Fern Lake (7 miles, round trip) are the best. They both lead to crystal clear lakes surrounded by mountains.

Now, if you are looking for a strenuous hike with unforgettable views, then Chasm Lake (8.5 miles, round trip) and Sky Pond (10 miles, round trip) are the ones for you.

You can find a complete list of Rocky Mountain National Park hiking trails by accessing the park’s site.

Also, one great activity within Rocky Mountain National Park is to drive along the Trail Ridge Road – a 48-mile scenic road with an elevation of more than 12,000 feet. The drive offers some unique and magnificent views along the Continental Divide.

You can read my 3-day itinerary to Rocky Mountain National Park which takes you on the best hikes in the park.


What to pack

Considering the hikes are the highlights of Rocky Mountain National Park, you definitely have to bring your hiking gear.

Hiking boots, clothes that include an insulated jacket, rain jacket, hiking pants/leggings, and wool socks must be part of your packing list. Hiking poles can be beneficial, too, if you use them.

If you are camping, you’ll also want to bring your tent, tent pad, sleeping bag, cooler, food supply, and other personal items.


What is the best time to visit Rocky Mountain National Park?

Though the park is open all year, different seasons can bring distinct experiences.

October to April are the best months to visit the park to avoid summer crowds. In contrast, May to September brings many hiking options and the possibility of driving through the Trail Ridge Road.

How many days do you need at Rocky Mountain National Park?

You should spend at least 2 days in Rocky Mountain to see the park’s main features.

Ideally, spending 3 days at the park to see the best of it on a 3-day itinerary is better.

If you are very into hiking, 5 to 7 days should be perfect.

If you have questions about visiting Rocky Mountain National Park, drop them in the comment section, and I’ll be happy to get back to you.

And if you want to visit more places in Colorado, head to Boulder, Vail, or Aspen.


Read more US National Parks posts


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I am Elen, and I help 9-5ers plan their next getaway. I curate travel experiences, from places to sip a coffee to stays in boutique hotels, so you can save time when planning your next vacation. Here you will find travel guides, tips, and the best itineraries for your next trip.

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