Julie United States 61 Comments

If you are planning your Rocky Mountain National Park itinerary, this is a great place to start.

Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the best US national parks to go hiking. With towering mountain peaks, alpine lakes and waterfalls, and the opportunity to hike along the Continental Divide, this park offers world-class hiking experiences. If you are an avid hiker, plan on spending at least three to five days in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Rocky Mountain National Park also offers a lot to do for those who aren’t big fans of hiking. Drive one of the highest roads in the USA, spot wildlife, walk the easier trails around scenic lakes and waterfalls, and be amazed at the beauty here.

We have visited Rocky Mountain National Park several times in the past. Most recently, in 2020, we spent one very busy week here, and learned a lot about this park.

In this post, get all of the information you need to plan your Rocky Mountain National Park itinerary. This includes the best hikes, the best experiences, how to get around, and where to stay.

About this Rocky Mountain National Park Itinerary

This itinerary is best from Memorial Day through mid-October, when Trail Ridge Road is open.

You can visit Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) all year, but sections of the park close once the snow begins to fall. In order to see and do everything we list in this itinerary, plan on visiting the park when everything is open.

With that being said, you should know that crowds are the largest during the summer months, especially July and August. They can linger into September, when fall colors continue to attract visitors and hikers. In 2021, RMNP was the fifth most visited park in the USA, receiving 4.4 million visitors.

While in Rocky Mountain National Park, please practice the seven principles of Leave No Trace: plan ahead, stay on the trails, pack out what you bring to the hiking trails, properly dispose of waste, leave areas as you found them, minimize campfire impacts, be considerate of other hikers, and do not approach or feed wildlife.

 

A Quick Geography Lesson

Rocky Mountain National Park is a relatively large park, with a total area of 415 square miles. Running north to south through the park is the Continental Divide and the highest mountain peaks.

Trail Ridge Road, the highest paved continuous road in the United States, cuts through the park from the east to the west. The Mummy Mountain Range, Lumpy Ridge, and several hiking trails sit to the north of Trail Ridge Road. The larger portion of the park sits to the south of Trail Ridge Road. The Continental Divide Trail connects some of the tallest peaks, such as Mount Ida, Flattop Mountain, Hallett Peak, Isolation Peak, and many more.

Bear Lake Road runs into the heart of the park. From here, you can park at the trailheads and hike some of the best trails in RMNP, like Emerald and Dream Lakes, Alberta Falls, Sky Pond, Mills Lake, and Hallett Peak.

Longs Peak is the highest mountain in the park, and the only fourteener in Rocky Mountain National Park. For hikers, it’s the ultimate adventure.

Estes Park sits to the east of the park. With its large collection of hotels and restaurants, this is a great place to stay when you visit Rocky Mountain National Park. Grand Lake sits to the southwest of RMNP and it is another place you can consider staying, but it will be a longer drive to most sites in the park. 

Map of RMNP

Map courtesy of the National Park Service.

How Many Days Do You Need in Rocky Mountain National Park?

Due to its large size and long list of noteworthy hikes, you need several days to explore Rocky Mountain National Park.

Ideally, plan on spending at least three days in Rocky Mountain National Park. This gives you enough time to drive Alpine Ridge Road, Old Fall River Road, and hike a few of the trails.

If you are an avid hiker, I recommend spending five or more days in Rocky Mountain National Park. This gives you enough time to acclimate to the higher elevation (very important if you live at a low elevation) before tackling some of the higher, tougher hikes (such as Mount Ida, Hallett Peak, or Longs Peak).

We spent one wonderful week in Rocky Mountain National Park in July. One week was perfect for us. This gave us enough time to hike at least one trail every day, with contingency time for bad weather. But even with a week here, there are still a lot of hikes left on our to-do list.

Lake of Glass

Lake of Glass, seen on the hike to Sky Pond

Important Things to Know Before You Plan Your Rocky Mountain National Park Itinerary

Timed Entry System

To visit Rocky Mountain National Park from May 27 to October 10, 2022, you will need to reserve a permit in advance.

This has been implemented to limit crowds at the busiest sections of the park during the peak visitation season (the summer months). If you do not have a reservation, you will not be allowed to enter the park. Reservations are made online on the recreation.gov website. Each daily reservation costs $2 per vehicle, which is in addition to the $25 daily entrance fee or $35 weekly fee per vehicle. Learn more on the official National Park Service website. Or visit recreation.gov to make your reservation.

There are two ticket types: Park Access + and Park Access.

Park Access +: This permit gives you access to everything in Rocky Mountain National Park. It includes Bear Lake Road and the hikes that start here (Bear Lake, Emerald and Dream Lakes, Alberta Falls, Sky Pond, Hallett Peak, and Sprague Lake). The permit is in effect from 5 am to 6 pm.

Park Access: This permit gives you access to everything in Rocky Mountain National Park except for Bear Lake Road. You can drive Trail Ridge Road, visit the Alpine Visitor Center, hike to Longs Peak and to Chasm Lake, and hike Gem Lake. The permit is in effect from 9 am to 3 pm. 

Elevation of Rocky Mountain National Park

This is one of the highest national parks in the USA. The elevation of the lowest sections of the park range from 5,600 to 9,500 feet. If you are coming from sea level, you will feel the effects of the altitude as soon as you do anything strenuous. At this elevation, it’s not enough to cause altitude sickness, but you will tire and get out of breath easily.

Many hikes top out over 9,000 feet, with some reaching up to 13,000 and 14,000 feet. If you are coming from a lower elevation and plan to hike to these taller peaks, you will need to spend a few days in the park, acclimating to the higher elevation, before you tackle these hikes.

Hike RMNP

The Continental Divide Trail to Mount Ida. Most of this hike is over 11,000 feet, in the alpine tundra, so it’s best to save this hike for when you are acclimated to the altitude.

Afternoon Thunderstorms

During the summer months, afternoon thunderstorms are very common. Clouds start moving in around noon with the storms occurring almost like clockwork between 1 and 3 pm. By 4 to 5 pm, the skies begin to clear.

Thunderstorms don’t happen every single day, but it is something that you need to plan for. If you plan to go hiking during July and August, you will have to assume that there will be a 2 pm thunderstorm.

To stay safe, start your hike early in the day so that you are finished, or at least below the tree line, by 1 pm. The longer and harder the hike, the earlier you will have to start. For Longs Peak, that means starting by 3 or 4 am.

In this Rocky Mountain National Park itinerary, many of days end by the early afternoon, because of these storms. If the skies stay clear, you can stay in the park and do more exploring. But more often than not, in the summer, afternoon storms will occur.

Parking at the Trailheads

Parking at the most popular trailheads fill up extremely early in the day.

Glacier Gorge parking lot and Longs Peak trailhead parking lot fill before sunrise. The parking lot at the end of Bear Lake Road is large but from here, you have access to numerous popular trails in RMNP, so it also fills fast. Get here by 7:30 am if you want a spot.

During the busy summer months, a free shuttle service is provided by the national park service. These shuttle buses connect Moraine Park and Bear Lake, with numerous stops in between. Learn more on the national park service website. 

Snow on the Trails

Snow can linger on the trails as late as July, especially for the trails at higher elevations. I recommend wearing waterproof hiking shoes or boots (not running or walking shoes) so that you have good traction. Hiking poles can help you keep your balance in the snow. If you plan to visit RMNP early in the summer, there is a good chance that you will encounter snow on some trails.

Also, it can snow every month of the year in Rocky Mountain National Park. In July, we hiked through a snowstorm on the way back from Sky Pond. 

Snow in July

Snow on the trail in July (hiking to Fern and Odessa Lakes from Bear Lake).

Rocky Mountain National Park Itinerary

One Day in Rocky Mountain National Park

If you only have one day in Rocky Mountain National Park, it will be a busy day. Keep your fingers crossed for clear afternoon skies.

With one day, I recommend going on a hike, starting at Bear Lake, and driving Trail Ridge Road (it’s awesome!). You will need a Bear Lake Road Corridor + Full Park Access Timed Entry Ticket (Park Access +) for this day.

Morning: Hike from Bear Lake Trailhead

Park at Bear Lake Trailhead. If you are coming from Estes Park, this drive takes 30 minutes. I recommend getting here early (ideally by 7:30 am) to make sure you get a parking space and to give yourself plenty of time today.

There are a lot of hikes that start at the Bear Lake Trailhead. I recommend the shorter, easier hikes if you are not acclimated to the altitude, aren’t a big fan of hiking, and/or have more than one day in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Bear Lake: 0.6 miles, easy, 30 minutes. This is a must-do in Rocky Mountain National Park. Only 0.6 miles round trip, this flat, easy trail circles around Bear Lake.

Bear Lake

Bear Lake with Longs Peak and the Keyboard of the Winds in the background.

Alberta Falls: 2 miles, easy, 1 to 1.5 hours. Hike to one of the most popular waterfalls in RMNP. Note: It’s a slightly shorter hike (1.7 miles) if you park at the Glacier Gorge Trailhead. If you plan to hike Sky Pond, Mills Lake, or Black Lake later in this itinerary, you will pass Alberta Falls, so there is no need to hike to it today.

Nymph, Dream & Emerald Lakes: 3.6 miles, easy to moderate, 2 to 3 hours. This is the hike that I recommend for today. This family friendly hike is a great intro to hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park. With its short distance and manageable elevation gain, it is a great first hike in the park, as you acclimate to the higher elevation.

Dream Lake

Dream Lake | Rocky Mountain National Park Itinerary

Nymph, Dream, Emerald & Bear Lakes: 4.2 miles, easy to moderate, 3 hours. Combine two of the above hikes into one great experience.

Nymph, Dream, Emerald, Haiyaha and Bear Lake: 6.2 miles, moderate, 4 to 5 hours. See five lakes in one hike. This hike adds on Lake Haiyaha, another very pretty alpine lake. Few people hike out this far so this is a great place to leave the crowds behind.

Odessa and Fern Lakes, Mills and Black Lake, Sky Pond, and Hallett Peak can all be hiked from this trailhead. However, I only recommend doing this if you are acclimated to the altitude, since these are strenuous hikes with big ascents.

Lake Haiyaha

Lake Haiyaha | Rocky Mountain National Park Itinerary

You can learn more about all of these hikes on our post 15 Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Afternoon: Trail Ridge Road

Once you are finished hiking, hop back into your car. It’s time for an amazing scenic drive in RMNP. From Bear Lake Road, turn left onto Highway 36 and continue on Trail Ridge Road.

Trail Ridge Road is 48 miles long, connecting Estes Park to Grand Lake. Eleven miles of this road is in the alpine tundra, which is over 11,000 feet. Alpine Ridge Road reaches its highest point at 12,183 feet. This is the highest continuous paved road in the United States.

This is a gorgeous drive. Along the way, there is a good chance that you will spot bighorn sheep and elk. The views from the overlooks are stunning. Don’t miss Forest Canyon Overlook, one of the best on the drive.

Forest Canyon Overlook Rocky Mountain National Park itinerary

Forest Canyon Overlook | Rocky Mountain National Park Itinerary

 

Rainbow Curve Overlook

Rainbow Curve Overlook | Rocky Mountain National Park Itinerary

Stop at Alpine Visitor Center, the highest visitor center in the US national parks.

From here, hike the Alpine Ridge Trail. It’s a very short hike (just over a half-mile round trip), but it will literally take your breath away. This hike starts just under 12,000 feet of elevation and it is a stair climb to the top. If you are not acclimated to the higher elevation, it is normal to get out of breath easily.

This is an essential hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. So, climb those stairs, catch your breath if you need to, and enjoy the awesome views from the top. You’ll be glad you did.

Alpine Ridge Trail

View from the Alpine Ridge Trail | Rocky Mountain National Park Itinerary

Past the Alpine Visitor Center, you can continue on Alpine Ridge Road and go all of the way to Grand Lake, if you like. For those with an interest in historical sites, make sure you visit the Holzwarth Historical Site and learn more about the life of Colorado homesteaders.

For full details on how to spend one day in Rocky Mountain National Park, read our post One Perfect Day in Rocky Mountain National Park.


Two Day Rocky Mountain National Park Itinerary

Day One

Morning: Hike Nymph, Dream, Emerald, and Bear Lakes from the Bear Lake Trailhead
Afternoon: Trail Ridge Road (if the weather is clear)

Timed Entry Ticket: Bear Lake Road Corridor + Full Park Access

Day Two

Timed Entry Ticket: Park Access (excludes Bear Lake Road Corridor) is sufficient unless you choose to hike to Fern and Odessa Lakes.

If you had afternoon thunderstorms on Day One, drive Trail Ridge Road in the morning. Visit the Alpine Visitor Center, hike Alpine Ridge Trail, and consider driving down to Grand Lake, visiting the Holzwarth Historic Site on the way. On the return drive, hike the Ute Trail to Tombstone Ridge. This easy hike offers spectacular views of Rocky Mountain National Park and it is great for all ages and ability levels. It is our favorite short hike in the park.

If the weather was clear yesterday, and you drove Trail Ridge Road, I recommend doing another hike this morning. On day two, as you are still acclimating to the altitude, I recommend one of these hikes:

Deer Mountain. 6.2 miles, moderate, 3 to 4 hours. This is a great hike for newbie hikers who want to summit a mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park. From the summit you have a great view over Moraine Park and Longs Peak.

Deer Mountain Hike

View from the summit of Deer Mountain

Gem Lake. 3.4 miles, moderate, 2 to 3 hours. This short, strenuous hike offers sweeping views over Estes Park and out to Longs Peak and it ends at a very pretty alpine lake.

Gem Lake Rocky Mountain National Park itinerary

Gem Lake | Rocky Mountain National Park Itinerary

Odessa and Fern Lakes. 7.5 to 10 miles, depending on the route you choose. If you are looking for a relatively uncrowded trail with the chance to visit multiple alpine lakes, this is a nice hike to consider. You can either hike to Fern Lakes and Odessa Lake as a point-to-point hike, starting at Bear Lake and ending at Moraine Park (or vice versa). You can also hike to Fern Lake out-and-back from either Bear Lake or Moraine Park.

Fern Lake

Fern Lake | Rocky Mountain National Park Itinerary

Spend the afternoon and evening exploring Estes Park.


Three Day Rocky Mountain National Park Itinerary

Day One & Day Two

Follow the Two Day Rocky Mountain National Park itinerary.

Day Three

Most people will be acclimated by this point, which means that you can hike almost any trail in the park. However, if Longs Peak is on your list, I recommend waiting one more day if you come from sea level. Also, if Longs Peak is on your list, watch the weather report for your visit. I recommend hiking Longs Peak on the day with the clearest weather. Ideally, you want a day with crystal clear skies and no chance of rain.

If you are an avid hiker, you are probably ready to hike some of the longer, tougher, more thrilling hikes in the park. Here are several to choose from.

Timed Entry Ticket: You will need a Bear Lake Road Corridor + Full Park Access permit (Park Access +) if you plan to hike Sky Pond, Hallett Peak, or Mills and Black Lake. You will need a Park Access (Excludes Bear Lake Road Corridor) permit if you plan to hike Chasm Lake or Mount Ida.

Sky Pond. 9.5 miles, strenuous, 4 to 6 hours. This is our favorite hike in RMNP. This hike has a little bit of everything…waterfalls, alpine lakes, high mountain views, and fun river and stream crossings. But the real reason for doing this is for the incredible view of Sky Pond, one of the most spectacular alpine lakes in the USA.

Sky Pond

Sky Pond | Rocky Mountain National Park Itinerary

Chasm Lake. 9 miles, strenuous, 4 to 6 hours. For the first part of this hike you will be sharing the trail with those on their way to Longs Peak. After the trail split, the hike gets easier and the views of Longs Peak and the alpine landscape is jaw-dropping. After one final short and strenuous climb you arrive at Chasm Lake.

Chasm Lake Rocky Mountain National Park itinerary

Chasm Lake | Rocky Mountain National Park Itinerary

Mount Ida. 9.8 miles, strenuous, 4.5 to 6.5 hours. This hike is much different than many other hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. You spend very little time below the tree line, so the views are incredible for most of the hike. Plus, this is a lesser known hike, so the trail gets a lower number of hikers than other hikes on this list. This tough hike follows along the Continental Divide, starting at 10,800 feet and tops out at 12,899 feet on Mount Ida. You will really feel the effects of the altitude. And once at top…what a view.! This is another one of our favorite hikes.

Rocky Mountains

View from Mount Ida | Rocky Mountain National Park Itinerary

Flattop Mountain to Hallett Peak. 10.4 miles, strenuous, 6 to 8 hours. This hike starts at Bear Lake and summits Flattop Mountain before arriving at Hallett Peak. You are now standing at 12,718 feet, with 360° views, which makes this one of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. This is a great warm-up for those who plan to hike Longs Peak.

Mills and Black Lake. 10 miles, moderate, 5 to 7 hours. Black Lake and Mills Lake are often labeled as two of the prettiest lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park. You will hike past Alberta Falls, wind around lovely Mills Lake, and end at Black Lake. Black Lake looks similar to Chasm Lake, as both of these alpine lakes are surrounded by jagged mountain peaks.

Mills Lake Rocky Mountain National Park itinerary

Mills Lake | Rocky Mountain National Park Itinerary


Four Day Rocky Mountain National Park Itinerary

Day One, Two & Three

Follow the three day Rocky Mountain National Park itinerary.

Day Four

You have a choice today: take a break from hiking and explore Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park, or hike another trail.

Option #1: Old Fall River Road and Estes Park

Old Fall River Road is an 11-mile long gravel road that runs one-way from Horseshoe Park (near Estes Park) and ends at the Alpine Visitor Center.

This road opened in 1920 at it was the first road that led into Rocky Mountain National Park.

If you like scenic drives and going off-the-beaten-path, you’ll love this drive. The scenery is beautiful, as you gradually twist and turn through the mountains to get to the Alpine Visitor Center. Along the way, it’s a quick stop to see Chasm Falls.

Old Fall River Road

Old Fall River Road | Rocky Mountain National Park Itinerary

Note: You do not need a 4×4 for this drive. The road is well-graded and suitable for standard cars. However, Old Fall River Road is only open during the summer months. Get updates on road conditions on the national park service website. 

From the Alpine Visitor Center, drive Alpine Ridge Road back to Estes Park. If you did not do it yet, you have the option to hike the short but sweet Ute Trail to Tombstone Ridge. Yes, I know, I said no hiking today, but I couldn’t resist adding this one in. 😊

Tyler Rivenbark

Tombstone Ridge | Rocky Mountain National Park Itinerary

Spend the rest of the day in Estes Park. There are many things to do here. Take a tour of the historic Stanley Hotel, ride the Aerial Tramway to the peak of Prospect Mountain, go shopping, walk the Riverwalk, visit Lake Estes, play mini-golf, or visit a winery or brewery. For a longer list, read our post about Estes Park.

A Park Access (Excludes Bear Lake Road Corridor) timed entry ticket is sufficient for this day. 

Lake Estes Rocky Mountain National Park itinerary

Lake Estes | Rocky Mountain National Park Itinerary

Option #2: Go for a Hike

Hike one of the trails that I mentioned earlier in this itinerary, or click here to see our list of 15 great hikes to do in Rocky Mountain National Park.

If the skies are clear, the weather forecast is favorable, and Longs Peak is on your bucket list, go for it today.

Rocky Mountain National Park


Five or More Days in Rocky Mountain National Park Itinerary

If you have five or more days in Rocky Mountain National Park (lucky you!), you can spend the mornings hiking and the afternoons relaxing in Estes Park or wherever you might be staying.

We spent seven days in RMNP and every day we did at least one hike. It does get tiring, but these trails are so much fun and offer such a wide variety of views and experiences that it never gets monotonous or boring.

For five days or more, follow our four day itinerary and for each additional day that you have, add on another hike.

If you are an avid hiker, your itinerary will look something like this:

Day 1: Nymph, Dream & Emerald Lakes plus Trail Ridge Road and the Alpine Ridge Trail
Day 2: Deer Mountain in the morning, Estes Park in the afternoon/evening
Day 3: Sky Pond
Day 4: Continental Divide Trail to Mount Ida
Day 5: Longs Peak
Day 6: Rest day from hiking (Old Fall River Road and activities in Estes Park)
Day 7: Chasm Lake

If you have no desire to fill each day with a hike, your itinerary will look something like this:

Day 1: Nymph, Dream & Emerald Lakes plus Trail Ridge Road and the Alpine Ridge Trail
Day 2: Gem Lake in the morning, Estes Park in the afternoon
Day 3: Sky Pond
Day 4: Old Fall River Road and Estes Park
Day 5: Mills and Black Lakes
Day 6: More activities in Estes Park
Day 7: Deer Mountain

There are a million different ways to put together a Rocky Mountain National Park itinerary, and how you choose to do so really depends on your interests, the time of year you plan to visit the park, and the weather.

I think it’s a good idea to have a basic plan of what you want to do while at RMNP but be flexible. Watch the weather, enjoy the time you spend in the park, and you might find you want to hike more, or less, than you expected to.

Rocky Mountain National Park is a beautiful place so we hope you have a wonderful time here.

The Loch Rocky Mountain National Park itinerary

The Loch. You can hike here from Glacier Gorge or Bear Lake Trailhead. If you hike to Sky Pond, you will hike through the Loch to get there.

US National Parks Guide

When to Visit Rocky Mountain National Park

The best time for this Rocky Mountain National Park itinerary is from Memorial Day through mid-October, when Trail Ridge Road is open. During this time, you will be able to drive through the park, with access to all of the hikes and overlooks.

When Trail Ridge Road closes, there will be no access to the west side of the park, if you are staying in Estes Park. That means you will not be able to visit the Alpine Visitor Center, hike the Ute Trail to Tombstone Ridge, drive Old Fall River Road, or visit some of the best overlooks in the park.

Rocky Mountain National Park is open all year. Once the snow begins to fall, you can still hike many of the trails that we list, but you will need snowshoes. During the winter months, cross-country skiing is also a popular activity. You can follow this itinerary during the winter months with some modifications. For many visitors, the winter months are their favorite time to visit RMNP. The park is quieter and with the snow, it is a winter wonderland. 

Elk Rocky Mountain National Park itinerary

Elk on Trail Ridge Road | Rocky Mountain National Park Itinerary

Where to Stay

In Rocky Mountain National Park

If you want to stay in the park, you will be limited to campgrounds. There is no lodging inside Rocky Mountain National Park. Aspenglen, Moraine Park, and Glacier Basin are the most popular campgrounds and these get reserved well in advance. Longs Peak and Timber Creek Campgrounds are easier to get reservations.

In Estes Park

With numerous hotels and restaurants, and a great location near the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park is a great place to stay.

The Stanley Hotel. This historic hotel is one of the top places to stay in Estes Park. This is the hotel that inspired Stephen King to write The Shining.

The Stanley Hotel offers a wide range of rooms. The rooms within the main hotel building get mixed reviews. Some visitors complain of noise and hot temperatures in the summer (there is no air conditioning). The Aspire rooms are higher-end, modernly decorated rooms but many people state that they are overpriced for what you get.

I recommend staying at The Residences. Take your pick from one, two, three, and four bedroom houses that come equipped with a full kitchen. Each residence is individually managed, so some are better than others. We stayed in a 3-bedroom house, #402, and it was perfect. Plenty of room, good WiFi, nice furnishings, and beautiful views from our balcony. I highly recommend this particular residence.

WorldMark Estes Park. This very highly rated property offers two-bedroom apartments that can accommodate up to six people. It is located just outside of Estes Park, on the south side, an excellent location for driving into the park.

The Inn on Fall River & Fall River Cabins. This property is located west of Estes Park on Fall River Road, so you will have a longer drive to get into the heart of the park. However, this property gets rave reviews. You can stay in a cozy cabin with a river view or a well-decorated suite. There is even a three-bedroom house that can accommodate up to nine people.

For more information about where to stay and where to eat, read our Guide to Estes Park. 

Emerald Lake Rocky Mountain National Park itinerary

Emerald Lake | Rocky Mountain National Park Itinerary

Practical Information

Park Hours: Park entrances are open 24 hours a day, 365 days per year.

Park Fee: $25 per vehicle, valid for 1 day. $35 per vehicle, valid for one week. If you plan to visit multiple national parks, consider purchasing the America the Beautiful Pass ($80 and valid for all of the national parks for one year).

Timed Entry Permit: If you have plans to visit the park in the summer months, don’t forget to reserve your permit in advance. Learn more here.

Get updates on trail closures and park conditions on the National Park Service website. 

Frequently Asked Questions

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

If you plan to do a lot of hiking and drive Trail Ridge Road, plan on visiting Rocky Mountain National Park between Memorial Day and mid-October. Just be aware that this is also the busiest time to visit Rocky Mountain National Park.

If you want low crowds and don’t mind cold temperatures and snow, plan your visit from November through May. The park is much less crowded at this time, but Trail Ridge Road is not open and many, if not all, of the hiking trails can be snow covered. At this time, cross country skiing and snowshoeing are the main things to do in the park.

To see fall colors and the elk mating season, plan your visit from mid-September through mid-October.

What should you not miss in Rocky Mountain National Park?

In the summer months, the best things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park are hiking, driving Trail Ridge Road, taking a stroll around Bear Lake, driving Old Fall River Road, and mountaineering. In the winter months, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing top the list.

How crowded does Rocky Mountain National Park get?

In 2021, Rocky Mountain National Park was the 5th most visited national park in the United States, with 4.4 million visitors. The vast majority of these people visited the park between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

The park has gotten so popular that in 2020 a timed entry system was put into effect. Between the end of May through early October, you must reserve a permit to visit the park. This helps control crowd levels on the roads and hiking trails.


If you have any questions about planning your Rocky Mountain National Park itinerary, let us know in the comment section below.

Where Are You Going Next?

If your visit to Rocky Mountain National Park is part of a bigger road trip through Colorado, here are some articles to help you plan your trip.

ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK: For a full list of our Rocky Mountain National Park articles, plus important planning tips, check out our Rocky Mountain National Park Travel Guide.

BEST OF ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK: For a list of top experiences, read our article Best Things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park. We also have a guide to the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park and how to spend one day in RMNP.

COLORADO ITINERARY: With 10 days in Colorado, road trip to all four national parks (Rocky Mountain, Great Sand Dunes, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, and Mesa Verde), linking them together with some very scenic drives.

MESA VERDE: Learn about the best things to do and how to plan your visit in our Guide to Mesa Verde National Park.

BLACK CANYON OF THE GUNNISON: One of the best things to do on the South Rim is to drive South Rim Drive to the overlooks of the Black Canyon. If you are an avid hiker, don’t miss the Gunnison Route, a trail that takes you from the rim to the Gunnison River.

GREAT SAND DUNES: In our article Best Things to Do in Great Sand Dunes National Park, we cover the top experiences, plus how to plan your time, where to stay, and more.

USA TRAVEL INSPIRATION: For more great ideas on where to go in the United States, check out our article Best USA Road Trips, which has 18 sample itineraries for your next big adventure. You can also see more travel itineraries on our Travel Itineraries page and our National Park Itineraries.

Learn more about the national parks in our Guide to the US National Parks. And for FREE checklist of the US National Parks, take a look at our article US National Parks List.

Rocky Mountain National Park Itinerary Guide

Itinerary for Rocky Mountain National Park

 

Note: This post contains affiliate links. When you make a purchase using one of these affiliate links, we get paid a small commission at no extra cost to you.

All rights reserved © Earth Trekkers. Republishing this article and/or any of its contents (text, photography, etc.), in whole or in part, is strictly prohibited.

Comments 61

  1. Avatar for prps
    prps

    Thanks for the article
    I am planning to travel below hikes/places in 3rd week of june. I am travelling solo. Is it safe?. Anything to keep in mind? Do we have others using the trails even in the mornings?

    Deer mountain
    Alpine ridge trail
    Trail ridge drive
    Ute trail to tomb bridge
    Alberta falls
    Nymph, dream and emerald lake
    Haiyaha
    Bear lake
    Sprague lake loop
    sheep lakes
    lily lake loop
    chasm falls
    Gem lake
    Mills lake

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      Rocky Mountain is very safe for a solo traveler and yes, in the mornings, there will be people on these trails. In fact, it is such a popular place to visit that you now need a timed entry permit to enter. We have info on this post on how to do this, so make sure you get your permit for each day that you plan to be in the park. Cheers, Julie

  2. Avatar for Joe
    Joe

    Hi Julie !!

    Do you think August is a good time to visit RMNP? Since I like to hike, I am guessing maybe 3 solid days? or maybe 4?
    I was thinking June but am guessing some of the hikes up about 10k feet would still have snow?

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      Yes, August is a great month to hike in RMNP. We were here in early July, so all of the photos on our website were taken around the first week of July. We still had some snow in a few spots at the higher elevations. In June, there still could be snow at the higher elevations, and it really depends on how much snow the area gets this spring. So August is a safer bet if you want to hike snow-free. Do 4 days if you can…there are a LOT of hikes to choose from here. Cheers, Julie

      1. Avatar for Joe
        Joe

        Thanks so much !
        In July I will be doing Glacier NP – so the hikes there should warm me up for RMNP 🙂
        QQ – For RMNP, I noticed you mentioned the need for the extra pass (outside of America the beautiful) – Are those passes setup in a way that they last 3 straight days (like how Yosemite or Glacier) or just limited to one day?

        1. Avatar for Julie Post
          Author
          Julie

          Are you referring to the timed entry ticket? If so, you need one for each day that you plan to visit RMNP. There are two options and option #1 (Bear Lake Road and the rest the park) is the best option since it gives you access to the entire park. Cheers, Julie

          1. Avatar for Joe
            Joe

            Ah one for each day, got it – Ty !!
            So you basically log on in July when they open it up for dates in August and quickly pick 2-3 dates?

          2. Avatar for Julie Post
            Author
            Julie

            Yes. Since you will know your exact dates, I recommend making your reservations on July 1 so you get the permits for each day you will be in RMNP.

          3. Avatar for Joe
            Joe

            Hi Julie !
            Since the timed slots are only 2hrs long, if i end up not doing any hikes on the bear lake corridor and i plan on being inside the park around 6a – I can get away w/o having to get any timed entries – right? They said if you skip bear corridor, timed entry is only needed between 9a-3p.

          4. Avatar for Julie Post
            Author
            Julie

            That is correct. If you do not plan on visiting the Bear Lake Corridor, and you plan to enter the park before 9 am, you do not need a permit. For example, if you hike Deer Mountain at 6 am, you do not need a permit. Once you pass through the entrance booth, you have access to that area of the park (for example, if you are coming from Estes Park and enter through the Beaver Meadows entrance before 9 am, you do not need a permit and can tour the park, with the exception of the Bear Lake Corridor, for the rest of the day). Cheers, Julie

          5. Avatar for Joe
            Joe

            Thanks Julie,
            Also seems like the bear lake corridor timed entry begins at 5a.
            So if i am staying at Estes, that’s a 10-15mins drive to the Beavers meadow entrance (where I am assuming they check for the timed entry thing?)
            So if i leave Estes at 4.30a – I think i should be past that entrance by 4.45a or so and can avoid having to buy the time entry – correct?
            As it is, I like to hike early to avoid the crowd

          6. Avatar for Julie Post
            Author
            Julie

            Yes, leaving that early should work. You need to make it through the Beaver Meadows entrance and where they check permits for the Bear Lake Corridor (I think that is the junction of Bear Lake Road and US-36 but I am not 100% about this) before 5 am. I don’t know if it is too late, but you could always try to get a permit so you don’t have to start super early. And bring a headlamp…you’ll be hiking before the sun comes up. 😊

          7. Avatar for Joe
            Joe

            Thanks ! I think August’s dates open on Jul 1 but i will be at Lassen NP around then (so idk about internet coverage and the morning ones usually fly out fast).
            BTW I reach Denver around 12.30pm on a Tuesday in mid August, that puts me in Estes Park area at about 3:30pm (waiting for rental/lunch/traffic). So on Tuesday, do you think I can salvage some hiking? I am there all day Wed,Thur and Fri (in mid August)

          8. Avatar for Julie Post
            Author
            Julie

            On that Tuesday afternoon, you might be able to go hiking, depending on the thunderstorm situation. We spent a week there in July and had a thunderstorm in the afternoon about 50% of the time, starting between 1 and 4 pm. So, keep your fingers crossed for clear skies! Have fun in RMNP! Cheers, Julie

          9. Avatar for Joe
            Joe

            Hi Julie !! I was able to snag early AM Bear lake for 3/4 days i am going to be at the park (believe it or not, i snagged it from atop Lassen peak which was the only place i got 5g !!). I definitely recommend Lassen NP if you haven’t been there. I climbed 3 different volcanoes in 3days and it was lovely.

          10. Avatar for Julie Post
            Author
            Julie

            Yay!! That’s awesome that you got Bear Lake permits and that’s so COOL that you got them while on Lassen Peak (yes, I can’t wait to visit that park). Sometimes, when the permits open up, you just have to grab them, no matter where you are in the world (we got our Narrows permit for Zion while rock climbing Svolvaergeita in Norway 😊). I hope you have an awesome time in RMNP and happy hiking! Cheers, Julie

          11. Avatar for Joe
            Joe

            Hi Julie !!

            It is close to my Rocky Mtn NP trip (going there next week tue-sat), I wanted your opinion for this following itinerary and if it is doable
            1) Tuesday afternoon: I will be at RMNP around 4pm. Do you think I can do Nymph, dream and emerald lakes (or at least 2 out of those 3?). Evening back at Estes park at my hotel.
            2) Wed morning: Sky pond. Afternoon/Evening – Trail ridge road/Alpine ridge trial. Evening at the hotel
            3) Thur Morning: Mt Ida. Afternoon/Evening – spending it around the visitor center, or back at Estes Park
            4) Fri Morning: Chasm lake. Afternoon/Evening – free to do whatever
            5) Sat Morning: Prepare to drive back to the airport for afternoon’s flight.

            Do you think this is doable? For reference, I was able to do Highline trail from the loop all the way to Grinnell viewpoint, Ptarmigan tunnel and Grinnell Glacier including Grinnell lake, hidden lake overlook, virginia waterfalls over 3 full days at my recently concluded Glacier NP trip.
            or are there better/rewarding hikes that i can sub in instead of the above listed ones?
            Ty in advance for your help as usual 🙂 !

          12. Avatar for Julie Post
            Author
            Julie

            I think your itinerary looks great. For your afternoon activities, just keep your fingers crossed that you won’t have afternoon thunderstorms on those days. But it looks like you have some free time on Thursday and Friday afternoon in case an afternoon gets rained out earlier in the week. And if you hike fast, you should have no problem getting to all 3 lakes on Tuesday afternoon. You have included all of our favorite hikes in RMNP so I think your list looks good! I hope you have a great time! Cheers, Julie

          13. Avatar for Joe
            Joe

            Thanks Julie !!

            QQ – for those noon thunderstorms, are they quick showers? ie last an hour or so and go away? Or is it pretty bad and long lasting?
            For now, the forecast does call for afternoon thunderstorms from what i can see on weather.com

          14. Avatar for Julie Post
            Author
            Julie

            It depends. In our experience, they typically just last an hour or two. But one afternoon, they went until dinner, off and on. Hopefully in your case they will be quick! Cheers, Julie

          15. Avatar for Joe
            Joe

            Just wrapped up my RMNP trip, ty so much for your help with the itinerary. I lucked out and it didn’t rain on the 3 main days i was hiking (there was some rain on the day i came in but even that stopped around 4p and i was able to do nymph to dream to emerald and bear lake hike that evening). The only thing to note is that each day I started the hike between 4a-5a (especially because some parking lots like the Glacier gorge one and Long’s peak one get filled up by 5a). Mt Ida, Sky pond and Chasm lake(timed this to catch sunrise there) were epic hikes with great views. The various view points along trail ridge road were worth the stop overs as well (especially Forest canyon overlook and the small hike behind Alpine visitor center)
            Thanks again !!

          16. Avatar for Julie Post
            Author
            Julie

            I am so glad you had great weather and a great trip! That’s crazy how early parking lots fill up, too. And you must have really been moving to catch sunrise at Chasm Lake. Thanks for writing in!! Cheers, Julie

  3. Avatar for Roy Swinehart
    Roy Swinehart

    Julie,

    Earth Trekkers is my starting point for every hiking vacation. I love all of the information you provide and find your advice extremely helpful.

    Is there any need for an SUV or non-standard vehicle to access any of the trailheads for your recommended hikes?

    Thank you,
    Roy

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      That’s a great question! For every hike that we list, you do not need an SUV or non-standard vehicle. Even for Old Fall River Road, a 4×4 or SUV is not necessary, as long as road conditions are good, and you can get updated info on this either on the NPS visitor center or at one of the visitor centers. Have a great time in RMNP! Cheers, Julie

  4. Avatar for Alan Silverstein
    Alan Silverstein

    Good job on this article (that popped up in my newsfeed). I’ve lived down the hill and explored RMNP a lot for 44 years. This is a well-rounded, well-written, and nicely illustrated summary for newbies.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
  5. Avatar for AL PLAZA
    AL PLAZA

    Hi Julie! What would be the best time to hike RMNP after labor day? I want to avoid crowds and yet have good weather ( no snow). l plan on 7 days there. Al

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      That’s a tricky question to answer. Snow can start to fall in September. Crowds are still big in September, both to see fall colors and the elk mating season. Crowds will begin to quiet down in October, but snow on the trails becomes a lot more likely. So, after Labor Day, you might have some of both (snow and crowds). You could plan your visit for the end of September and keep your fingers crossed that the weather cooperates. Cheers, Julie

  6. Avatar for Ryan
    Ryan

    You’re itinerary is great, thanks for this! Is there anything you recommend to bring on the hikes? Outside the usual water, bug spray, sunscreen, etc? Thank you!

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      Hiking poles are a good idea for some of the tougher hikes (Sky Pond, Chasm Lake) if you have knee issues or if there is snow on the trail. Waterproof hiking shoes or boots are a great idea too, since snow is a possibility on some of these trails, all year. And I think that RMNP just got its first snow storm of the fall season. And bring a camera 😊, it’s a beautiful park! Cheers, Julie

  7. Avatar for Anu
    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
  8. Avatar for Mel
  9. Avatar for Joe Pearlman
    Joe Pearlman

    I am not the hiker I used to be [did Kili in 04] so a moderate/ mildly strenuous 8 miler more my speed now.

    What do you think about Deer Mtn, Mills Lake and Loch Vale [sp?]. Those are the 3 that were recommended to me.

    Thanks in advance

    Joe Pearlman
    Charlotte NC

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      Mills Lake and Loch Vale are very nice and might be perfect for you. If you think you can go farther, and if skies are clear, consider going all of the way to Sky Pond. It’s our favorite hike in RMNP. But it’s only worth it if skies are clear. On our first attempt it was cloudy and we could barely see the lake and we couldn’t see the spires of rock around the lake at all. But this is a strenuous hike and longer than your 8 mile cut-off.

      If you choose to skip Sky Pond, you can combine Loch Vale and Mills Lake into one hike. From Glacier Gorge parking lot (get there super early…people are rolling into the park before 5 am if they don’t have a timed entry ticket so parking lots are filling up earlier this year), hike to Mills Lake. Go back to the fork and then take the trail to Loch Vale. You will reach Loch Vale before the final climb to Sky Pond. Looking at the trail signs on our Sky Pond guide, it looks like hiking the spur only to Loch Vale adds 1.6 miles total. I think that puts the Mills Lake + Loch Vale hike somewhere around 7.6 miles total.

      We also really liked the Ute Trail to Tombstone Ridge. It’s a short, easy hike in the subalpine tundra so you have 360 degree views on the entire hike. Emerald and Dream Lakes are great but crowded. Deer Mountain is nice because the views at the top, but we thought that the trail to get there was a little bit boring, at least compared to the other hikes we did in RMNP.

      Cheers, Julie

  10. Avatar for Sophia
    Sophia

    How likely is someone to get altitude sickness at RMNP? For reference, my family will be traveling to all the Colorado national parks in late July for around two weeks. We are going to put RMNP last so we have time to get used to the altitude, because we are from the East Coast. Would that help mitigate some of the altitude sickness? Thank you!

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      If you end at RMNP, you should not have any issues with altitude sickness, unless you hike Longs Peak on your first day here (but even that would be highly unlikely). Altitude sickness is rare in RMNP, unless you are hiking to peaks over 12,000 feet and are not acclimated. For reference, we live in Maryland, visited RMNP as our first Colorado park last summer, hiked to Emerald Lake and Fern Lake on our first day here, and had no issues whatsoever. Put your higher hikes in the second half of your RMNP visit and you should be fine. Have a great trip! Cheers, Julie

Load More Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.