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Rocky Mountain National Park Information

Updated on July 11, 2011
Calypso Cascades, Rocky Mountain National Park, photo by the author
Calypso Cascades, Rocky Mountain National Park, photo by the author

Rocky Mountain National Park (RNMP) is one of the most beautiiful parks in the United States.

RNMP is located in North Central Colorado, about a 2 hour drive from Denver.

The park covers more than 250,000 acres, and contains the highest continuous highway in the United States: Trail Ridge Road (Highway 34), which connects the towns of Estes Park and Grand Lake and reaches a maximum elevation of 12,183 ft (3,713 m).

Rocky Mountain National Park offers many activities for visitors, including hiking, wildlife watching, snowshoeing, and scenic drives.

Getting There

Three highways enter or pass through the park:

From Denver or the east, take Highway 34 or 36.

From the west or south, take I-70 to U.S. Rt. 40., then to U.S. Rt.34.

You can also take the train to Denver or Granby, or the plane to Denver, though there is no public transportation between either city and the park.

Rocky Mountain National Park:
Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park, CO 80517, USA

get directions

Where to Stay

RNMP has five campgrounds. Moraine Park and Glacier Basin and their respective group campgrounds take reservations, while Aspenglen, Longs Peak, and Timber Basin are first-come, first served. Longs Peak is tent-only, the others accept motor homes, within size limits. Aspenglen and Glacier Basin are seasonal, the others are year-round.

If you like your creature comforts, your best lodging options are probably Estes Park and Grand Lake:

Estes Park

Estes Park has a large selection of lodging options, from luxury condos to motel rooms, bed and breakfasts to log cabins. My family has stayed in a number of mid-range options, including Ram's Horn Resort, Castle Mountain Lodge, and McGregor Mountain Lodge, on our various visits to the park and have been pleased with all of them, as well as our stay at Sylvan Dale Guest Ranch, about half an hour back through the canyon towards Loveland.

We've been a little less thrilled with the dining options, though if you're looking for a good steak, you won't be disappointed. In our quest for halfway decent vegetables, we've become regulars at Nepal's Cafe off Elkhorn Avenue.

Elkhorn Avenue is a shopper's dream, though if you're there for the hiking like we are, the crowds of tourists can get a little oppressive.

Grand Lake

Honestly, since we're usually coming in to Estes after a ten hour drive or a two hour drive plus plane/train ride with a toddler, we haven't been to Grand Lake in years. It's only an extra hour or two, but we'd rather be hiking. One of these days, we really need to remedy that.

Since we prefer snowshoeing, we're happy on the drier eastern side of the park, but if you're planning a winter visit to RNMP and want to ski, Grand Lake is the place to go.

Near Bear Lake, photo by author
Near Bear Lake, photo by author

Hiking in RNMP

Rocky Mountain National Park has 355 miles of hiking trails, though every ecosystem and at every level of difficulty.

For a beautiful level hike, try Lily Lake, a mile-long, wheelchair accessible circle around a pretty mountain lake.

Bear Lake Trailhead is the park's most popular, and it offers a number of beautiful, if somewhat crowded, hikes. An easy 0.6 miles nature trail circles Bear Lake, while another short climb takes you to Nymph and Dream Lakes.

Nearby Glacier Basin also offers some beautifultrails, of which our favorite (so far) is The Loch, a moderate hike which passes beside the beautiful Alberta Falls.

Wild Basin is home to one of my very favorite hikes, which starts with an easy stroll to Copeland Falls and continues for a moderate difficulty hike to the stunning Calypso Cascades (see the photo at the top of this hub) and then on to Ouzel Falls. Calyspo Cascades is also a fun snowshoe hike.

Another enjoyable snowshoe hike is The Pool in the Moraine Park area.

My favorite evening hike is Gem Lake, which is at a lower elevation than the other hikes I've listed. It passes through relatively open forests of ponderosa and aspen on its way to a rather unprepossessing mountain lake. The pleasure is in the journey here: there are several spectacular overlooks of Estes Valley. We've found that Gem Lake is a good hike to take on our first day in the park - it's challenging enough to be challenging, easy enough that it doesn't cause problems with altitude sickness while we're still acclimating.

For the truly adventurous hiker, the Long's Peak trailhead offers a numberof challenging hikes, including the famous peak itself, which is a non-technical climb for a short period in the summer. Chasm Lake offers a nice challenge for those who aren't quite that adventurous.

Two more moderately difficult hikes to consider are Deer Mountain and Twin Sisters, which both offer fine views.


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    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      10 years ago from Houston, Texas

      You are so fortunate to live so close to RMNP and be able to take in these spectacular sites as often as you and your family have been able to do. At least I have gotten to see it while on vacation. We spent one night in the Grand Lake area...also beautiful! Enjoyed this hub. Would love to take in some of those hikes you mentioned someday.

    • Adventure Colorad profile image

      Adventure Colorad 

      10 years ago from Denver,CO

      As a Colorado native, RMNP is one of my favorite locations. My wife and I try to visit the park at least a couple times every year.

    • despereaux profile image


      11 years ago from Madison, WI

      A very nice overview. Seems to me RMNP is overlooked by many so it's great you wrote about it. It is truly beautiful and should be on everyone's list of national parks to visit.


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