Located in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado sits one of the most popular parks in the national park service. With soaring mountains, alpine lakes, and scenic drives, Rocky Mountain National Park is a joy to explore.
This is one of the best US national parks to go hiking. Towering mountain peaks, alpine lakes and waterfalls, and trails that cross the Continental Divide create world-class hiking experiences.
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.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN NP STATS
Founded: January 26, 1915
Annual Visitors: 4.3 million in 2022, making it the 4th most visited park this year.
Size: 270,000 acres
Entrance Fee: $25 per vehicle, valid for 1 day. $35 for a weekly pass.
Notable Fact: In 1976, UNESCO designated this park as one of the world’s first Biosphere Reserves.
Top Experiences in Rocky Mountain National Park
Bear Lake. Bear Lake is one of the most popular places to visit in Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s a short, easy stroll around the lake, making it a great hike to do for all ages and ability levels.
Drive Trail Ridge Road. This is the highest paved through road, not only in Colorado, but also in the entire US national park system. It reaches its highest point at 12,183 feet and along the way, there is a good chance that you will spot bighorn sheep and elk.
Forest Canyon Overlook. This is one of the best overlooks located along Trail Ridge Road. At this viewpoint, you will be standing at 11,716 feet and have panoramic views of Longs Peak, Stones Peak, Hayden Gorge, and Gorge Lakes.
Go Hiking. There is no better way to experience Rocky Mountain National Park than from a hiking trail. With 355 miles of hiking trails, there are plenty to choose from. We list the top hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park later in this guide.
Visit Alberta Falls. This is one of the most popular waterfalls to visit in the park. To get here, it is a 1.7-mile hike that takes an hour or two.
Drive Old Fall River Road. This one-way, gravel road is 11 miles long and it takes about one hour to drive it. It’s a beautiful, off-the-beaten-path scenic drive and along the way, you can also visit Chasm Falls.
Moraine Park. Moraine Park is one of the best places in Rocky Mountain National Park to see wildlife. Herds of elk can be found grazing in this valley.
Holzwarth Historic Site. In 1917, John Holzwarth and his family, immigrants from Germany, built a small cabin on this site. Visitors to the park can tour the property to learn more about the life of Colorado homesteaders.
Go Mountaineering. With numerous peaks over 12,000 feet, 20 of these which sit above 13,000 feet, this park attracts climbers from around the world. Activities range from bouldering to easy climbs to multi-day climbs up vertical cliffs. In the winter months, ice climbing is an option.
Go Cross-Country Skiing. From December through May, when much of the park is covered in snow, you can explore the park by snowshoeing or cross-country skiing.
Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the highest national parks in the USA. There are sixty mountain peaks over 12,000 feet and many of these top out over 13,000 feet. Longs Peak, at 14,259 feet, is the only fourteener in the park.
The Continental Divide runs through the park. You can cross the Continental Divide by foot or by driving Trail Ridge Road, the highest paved through road in the national park system.
Approximately one-third of Rocky Mountain National Park is alpine tundra. Above 11,000 feet, trees disappear, temperatures drop, and many people will feel short of breath, due to the high altitude.
Articles about Rocky Mountain National Park
Top 10 Hikes
Nymph, Dream & Emerald Lakes. This trio of lakes is one of the most popular hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park. With its short distance and manageable elevation gain, it makes a great intro to hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Odessa & Fern Lakes. The hike to Odessa Lake and onward to Fern Lake is a relatively low-traffic trail in Rocky Mountain National Park, so if you are looking for a relatively uncrowded trail with the chance to visit multiple alpine lakes, this is a nice hike to consider.
Chasm Lake. Longs Peak forms the backdrop of this alpine lake. It’s a tough hike to get here but the massive, rocky mountains peaks, waterfalls, and wildlife along the trail make this one of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Bear Lake. This is the shortest, easiest trail in the park. It is less than a mile in length and loops around beautiful Bear Lake.
Sky Pond. This hike is fun from start to finish. With waterfalls, alpine lakes, high mountain views, and river and stream crossings, it’s our favorite hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. Plus, Sky Pond is one of the most breathtaking lakes we have seen.
Ute Trail to Tombstone Ridge. This is our favorite short, easy hike in Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s mostly flat, but since you are walking across alpine tundra, you have 360° views of the park for almost the entire hike.
Continental Ridge Trail to Mt. Ida. For much of the hike you are walking along the Continental Divide. Once you reach the summit of Mt. Ida, you are standing at an elevation of 12,899 feet and the entire park stretches out before you.
Gem Lake. This short, strenuous hike is worth it for two reasons…to visit a lovely alpine lake and for sweeping views of Estes Park and Longs Peak.
Deer Mountain. This is a great trail for new hikers who want to summit a mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park. It also makes a great acclimatization hike if you just arrived in Colorado and want to warm up your legs and cardio system, before tackling hikes like Chasm Lake, Flattop Mountain, or Mt. Ida.
Flattop Mountain & Hallett Peak. This challenging hike starts at Bear Lake and rapidly gains elevation once you are on the Flattop Mountain Trail. The trail continues to Hallett Peak, where you will have 360° views of the park.
How Many Days Should You Spend in Rocky Mountain National Park?
Due to its large size and abundance of hiking trails, you need at least a few 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 at least five 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).
However, if you only have one day in Rocky Mountain National Park, you can still have a great visit. Hike one of the trails in the morning and spend the afternoon on Trail Ridge Road.
Best Time to Visit Rocky Mountain NP
If you want full access to the park, which includes driving Trail Ridge Road and Old Fall River Road, plan your visit for the summer and early fall, when these roads are typically open.
The summer months are the busiest months to visit Rocky Mountain National Park, but with warm temperatures and great weather, this is also one of the best times to go hiking.
Crowds can linger into autumn, as the leaves change color and pleasant weather continues to attract hikers.
Once the snow arrives, usually by mid to late autumn, crowds begin to diminish. Temperatures are low in the winter, but so are the crowds. This is a great time to explore Rocky Mountain National Park crowd-free and try out snowshoeing.
In the spring, warmer temperatures melt the snow and visitation picks up. Snow can linger on the higher trails into July, depending on snowfall levels for that year.
Where to Stay
Inside of Rocky Mountain National Park, there are numerous campgrounds to choose from.
Outside of the park, Estes Park is the best place to stay. With a wide range of hotels to choose from, including the famous Stanley Hotel, plus many restaurants, this small town is a great place to make your home base for exploring the park.
Get restaurant and hotel recommendations in our Guide to Estes Park.
Timed Entry Permit
To visit Rocky Mountain National Park from May 26 to October 22, 2023, 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 entrance fee per vehicle. Learn more on the official National Park Service website. Or visit recreation.gov to make your reservation.
Colorado Road Trip Idea
Colorado is an excellent road trip destination. On one road trip, you can visit four national parks: Rocky Mountain, Mesa Verde, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, and Great Sand Dunes. These national parks can be linked together with multiple scenic drives.
We have a detailed 10-day Colorado road trip itinerary that can be easily modified to suit your travel style and available time. The best time for this road trip is in the summer and early fall, when all of the roads are open.