Rocky Mountain National Park: The Complete Guide for 2020

Cristian Fry

Manchester, UK

For the better half of the last century, Rocky Mountain National Park was overlooked in favor of tried-and-true gems like the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Yosemite. But in the last ten years, substantial increases in annual visitor numbers has allowed Rocky Mountain National Park to creep up the list and become not only the most popular national park in Colorado, but the third most-visited national park in the US.

Rocky Mountain National Park has well and truly become the jewel in Colorado’s crown, earning a reputation as a real adventure seeker’s paradise. Thanks to its stunning alpine surroundings, 100 jaw-dropping peaks, and more than 350 miles of scenic hiking trails, it’s easy to see why. Here’s an in-depth guide to exploring the best of the park.

Where is Rocky Mountain National Park?

Rocky Mountain National Park,
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, US.

Located in northeast Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park is approximately 90 minutes north of Denver: Colorado’s “Mile High City.” Charming towns Estes Park and Grand Lake are found to the east and west of the park respectively, while Boulder, Winter Park, Lyons, and Granby are all within reach.

Rocky Mountain National Park Facts

Rocky Mountain National Park,
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, US.

Established in 1915, Rocky Mountain National spreads across a staggering 265,807 acres. And with elevations reaching up to 14,259 feet, this stunning national park is one of the highest you’ll find in the US. UNESCO designated this picturesque location as one of the first World Biosphere Reserves back in 1976. The park now attracts over 4.5 million visitors annually.

Rocky Mountain National Park Weather

Rocky Mountain National Park,
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, US.

The most popular months to visit Rocky Mountain National Park are between June and September, when you can enjoy pleasant weather, all attractions and hiking trails are accessible, and the snow has melted. But if you’re looking for an authentic winter adventure, it’s best to visit Rocky Mountain National Park is between October and May.

Getting From Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park,
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, US.

One of the best things about The Rockies is how accessible they are from Denver. Whether you’re heading from the East or West of the city, you can get from Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park in less than 2 hours by car. Denver International Airport (DEN) is the closest major airport to Rocky Mountain National Park. You can use the commercial shuttle service to reach Estes Park directly from here. Alternatively, you can use the Greyhound bus service, which serves both Denver and Granby.

Rocky Mountain National Park Hours

Rocky Mountain National Park,
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, US.

Come rain, snow, or shine, Rocky Mountain National Park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. However, depending on the weather and time of year, you may not be able to access all areas as certain facilities and roads are closed seasonally. So, it’s worth doing your research before setting off on your adventure to avoid disappointment. The park is currently under limited operations due to COVID-19. For recent COVID status and frequent updates, check out Rocky Mountain’s Current Conditions

Rocky Mountain National Park Entrance Fee

Rocky Mountain National Park,
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, US.

Daily park entrance fees are $20 per person, $35 per vehicle, and $35 per motorcycle. These fees are good for 7 days. A Rocky Mountain Annual Park Pass will cost $70 and is valid for one year from date of purchase.

Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park,
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, US.

With 355 miles of hiking trails, Rocky Mountain National Park is a go-to destination for backpackers and outdoor enthusiasts. Here’s a list of 15 of our favorite hiking trails in and around the park:

Easy, perfect for families:

  1. Coyote Valley Nature Trail (1.1 mile out-and-back)
  2. Dream Lake Trail (2 mile out-and-back)
  3. Alberta Falls Trail (1.6 mile out-and-back)
  4. Toll Memorial Trail (1.1 mile-out-and-back)
  5. Lily Lake Trail (0.8 mile loop)

Moderate, fairly strenuous:

  1. Gem Lake Trail (3.4 mile out-and-back)
  2. Emerald Lake Trail (4.1 mile out-and-back)
  3. Deer Mountain Trail (6 mile out-and-back)
  4. The Loch and Lake of Glass (10.1 mile out-and-back)
  5. Fern Lake Trail (9 mile out-and-back)

Difficult, experience recommended:

  1. Sky Pond via Glacier Gorge Trail (9.5 mile out-and-back)
  2. Chasm Lake Trail (9.4 mile out-and-back)
  3. Black Lake Trail (9.7 mile out-and-back)
  4. Flattop Mountain Trail (8.2 mile out-and-back)
  5. Twin Sisters Peak Trail (7.5 mile out-and-back)

Rocky Mountain National Park Lodging

Rams Horn Village Resort, Estes Park
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, US.

Rocky Mountain National Park Camping

Planning a night under the stars? Here are some of the best campgrounds and campsites in and around Rocky Mountain National Park:

  1. Aspenglen Campground
  2. Glacier Basin Campground
  3. Moraine Park Campground
  4. Longs Peak Campground
  5. Timber Creek Campground
  6. Ouzel Lake
  7. Fern Lake
  8. Olive Ridge Campground
  9. Meeker Park Overflow Campground
  10. Arapaho National Recreation Area

Hotels Near Rocky Mountain National Park

If you prefer some pampering and R&R after a long day outdoors, there are plenty of resorts, hotels, hostels, inns, cabins and B&Bs within a quick drive of Rocky Mountain National Park. Here are some of our favorites:

  1. The Landing at Estes Park
  2. Rams Horn Village Resort
  3. YMCA of the Rockies
  4. Alpine Trail Ridge Inn
  5. Wildwood Inn
  6. Blue Door Inn
  7. Discovery Lodge
  8. Boulder Brook on Fall River
  9. Appenzell Inn
  10. 4 Seasons Inn on Fall River

Rocky Mountain National Park Airbnb

If you’d prefer not to go camping or stay in a hotel, there’s always the option to stay in one of many incredible Airbnb properties based in or around Rocky Mountain National Park. Despite its small size, the charming town of Estes Park is one of the most popular areas to stay in an Airbnb. Estes Park has a huge variety of stunning accommodation options available whether you’re on a budget or looking to immerse yourself in pure luxury!

Rocky Mountain National Park Tours

Rocky Mountain National Park,
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, US.

From its vast array of wildlife to its breathtaking scenery, Rocky Mountain is the place to be if you’re looking to head off the beaten path. For those ready for adventure, a guided tour is definitely the way to go. From Green Jeep Tours to horseback riding to rock climbing, and everything in between, there’s something for everyone at Rocky Mountain. And with an experienced professional by your side, you’ll be left in the very best hands.

Rocky Mountain National Park Bucket List

Wildlife Watching at Rocky Mountain National Park

Toll Memorial Trail, Estes Park
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, US.

With plenty of stunning wildlife species calling Rocky Mountain home, it’s highly likely that you’ll stumble upon one of many incredible creatures during your visit. Keep your eyes peeled along your journey and you may witness deer, elk, moose, black bears, or perhaps even the extremely rare Pronghorn antelope if you’re lucky! Either way, it’s always worth paying close attention, particularly near dawn or dusk when you’re most likely to spot one of these iconic species.

Scenic Drives at Rocky Mountain National Park

Trail Ridge Road, Grand Lake
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, US.

While exploring Rocky Mountain National Park on foot allows you to discover all of its hidden treasures, you can experience the very best of this stunning destination from the comfort of your car. Head to Trail Ridge Road to immerse yourself in an epic journey along the highest continuously paved road in the US. Or, travel along Glen Haven Drive to encounter spectacular views of Twin Sisters Peak and Longs Peak. Whatever the weather, you’re sure to be in for a treat.

Stanley Hotel Tour at Rocky Mountain National Park

The Stanley Hotel, Estes Park
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, US.

Renowned for its charm, history, and stunning surroundings, the glorious Stanley Hotel in Estes Park is well worth a visit if you’re in search of a unique experience on your visit to Rocky Mountain. Fans of Stephen King will recognize this famed landmark as the setting for his hit novel The Shining, with day and night tours allowing you to learn more about this fascinating estate’s pop culture and spirit folklore.

Things to Do in Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park

Enjoy incredible views and jagged peaks at Emerald Lake

Emerald Lake, Emerald Lake
Emerald Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, US.

Explore Chapel on the Rock in the snow

Saint Catherine's Chapel on the Rock, Allenspark
Chapel on the Rock, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, US.

Hike up to Sky Pond and Sharktooth Peak

Sky Pond, Pond
Sky Pond and Sharktooth Peak, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, US.

Cozy up in downtown Estes Park

Estes Park, Estes Park
Downtown Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, US.

Watch the sun set on the Toll Memorial Trail

Tundra Communities Trailhead, Estes Park
Toll Memorial Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, US.

Cruise up to Alpine Visitor Center: the highest visitor center in the entire US

Alpine Visitor Center, Grand Lake
Alpine Visitor Center, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, US.

Pitch a tent at the charming Moraine Park Campground

Moraine Park Campground, Estes Park
Moraine Park Campground, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, US.

Enjoy a family-friendly walk up to Adams Falls

Adams Falls, Adams Falls
Adams Falls, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, US.

Get sky-high on the Rocky Mountain National Park: The Complete Guide for 2020

Estes Park Aerial Tramway, Estes Park
Estes Park Aerial Tramway, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, US.

Encounter breath-taking views along the Continental Divide Scenic Trail

Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, Grand Lake
Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, US.

Take Insta pics at the Forest Canyon Overlook

Forest Canyon Overlook, Estes Park
Forest Canyon Overlook, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, US.

Go kayaking on the picturesque Lake Estes

Lake Estes, Estes
Lake Estes, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, US.

Soak in the views from the top Mt. Ida

Mount Ida, Mt Ida
Mount Ida, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, US.

Walk among wildflowers on the Lily Lake Trail

Lily Lake Trail, Estes Park
Lily Lake Trail, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, US.