Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado

Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most popular national parks in the United States, greeting more than 4.5 million annual visitors with rugged postcard-perfect peaks, glistening lakes and webs of trails through various ecosystems.

By: Colorado.com Staff Writer
Updated: July 12, 2024

Rocky Mountain National Park Basics

Located between Estes Park and Grand Lake, the 415-square-mile high-country playground draws family vacationers, hikers, wildlife watchers, rock climbers and photographers all year.

Rocky Mountain National Park is just under a two-hour drive from Denver and an hour’s drive from Boulder. The park boasts a wide range of activities that include summiting 14,256-foot Longs Peak, camping in the expansive backcountry, hiking to waterfalls and alpine lakes and, of course, wildlife viewing.

Know Before You Go: Fees & Timed-Entry Permits

The park does charge an entry fee that ranges from $15 to $30 (and it’s free if you have a valid U.S. Park Pass). In addition, there’s also a reservation system in place during its peak season of October to early May that requires timed-entry permits. Learn about Rocky Mountain National Park’s timed-entry permit system

Pro tips: A seasonal Bustang route will take you to Estes Park and the national park from downtown Denver from late May to early October. Additionally, the park will be running a Hiker Shuttle seven days a week from late May through early September and weekends through October. The shuttle runs from the Estes Park Visitor Center to the RMNP Park & Ride Transit Hub, where you can transfer to other park shuttles. A park-entrance pass and reservation for the Hiker Shuttle are needed. Learn more on the park's website

Though the park is open year-round, certain sections are closed seasonally due to snowfall and hazardous conditions or to protect wildlife habitats. Check for RMNP closures before you head out

Colorado Wildlife at Rocky Mountain National Park

More than 3,000 elk, 400 bighorn sheep and numerous mule deer and moose live in the park. For the best photography lighting and opportunities to spot massive bugling elk, head to Moraine Park just after sunrise. View bighorn sheep at Sheep Lakes from May to mid-August and try to catch a glimpse of RMNP’s elusive moose population along the Colorado River in the Kawuneeche Valley on the park's west side.

Find tips for keeping both you and Colorado’s wildlife safe

In addition to big game, the park is also home to many smaller creatures. It’s likely you’ll hear the chirping whistle of yellow-bellied marmots before you see them, especially at the Alpine Visitor Center on Trail Ridge Road. Throughout the park, you might also spot pika scrambling through alpine rocks, along with chipmunks, snowshoe hare and tufted-ear Abert’s squirrels.

Rocky Mountain National Park is also prime birding territory, with nearly 300 species calling the park home or a migratory stopover. White-tailed ptarmigan are snowy white in the winter, and their summer features are a mottled brown that helps them blend in with lichen-splashed rocks. Pygmy nuthatches flutter through pine trunks looking for seeds, while American Dippers walk submerged on stream bottoms. Other airborne creatures include numerous raptors, owls, hummingbirds and a delightful rainbow of butterflies (we’re talking 141 species).

Learn more about Colorado wildlife

Rocky Mountain National Park Hikes

Soak up the beauty of the park’s landscape on some of its 355 miles of hiking trails. Choose from flat lakeside walks to steeper, more challenging mountain climbs.

The easy .6-mile Bear Lake Trail is a popular hike featuring an interpretive nature trail hugging a subalpine lake at the end of Bear Lake Road. Or trek a moderately challenging 4 miles round trip to Lake Haiyaha — a mountain-rimmed gem that turned a milky sapphire color after a 2022 rockslide.

For a stunning waterfall hike, make your way 1.6 miles (round trip) through stands of aspens and scenic overlooks to Alberta Falls to see its waters rushing and tumbling 30 feet into Glacier Creek. Ouzel Falls offers scenic beauty with a bit more challenge, coming in at 5.4 miles round trip with nearly 1,000 feet of elevation gain.

Accessible trails lead you to jaw-dropping vistas of the Continental Divide, past historical sites and along wildflower-dotted routes. In 2022, the Sam Schneider Legacy Foundation donated an all-terrain wheelchair to the park, making it even easier to explore. (The chair must be reserved by calling Estes Park Mountain Shop at 970-586-6548.) Learn more about accessibility in the park

Explore eight of the best hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park


Trail Ridge Road

Visitors come from far reaches to travel America’s highest continuous paved highway. The route is not for the queasy and open only between Memorial Day and Labor Day, pending the towering walls of winter snow have melted. The two-lane Trail Ridge Road takes explorers across the Continental Divide, past weathered tundra overlooking sweeping valleys and into the peaks at 12,183 feet. As you go, you’ll catch glimpses of shimmering alpine lakes, cloud shadows racing across meadows and herds of elk.

The ribbon of a road covers the 46-mile stretch between Estes Park on the park’s east side and Grand Lake at the park’s western entrance. Along the way, you’ll find plenty of spots to stretch your legs for a hike and some photo ops. Pop into the Alpine Visitor Center for cool souvenirs, snacks and a bathroom break.

Hotels Near Rocky Mountain National Park

You’ll have no shortage of options when it comes to finding a place to stay. The most noteworthy hotel near RMNP is The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park — a Colonial Revival beast that inspired Stephen King’s The Shining. But you’ll also find plenty of other choices, whether you want a pine-log lodge, a cozy mountain cabin or a more contemporary hotel. Grand Lake, the park’s quieter western entrance, also boasts a bevy of beds, ranging from lakeside properties and mountain chateaus to motels and vacation rentals.

Check out hotels near Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park and Grand Lake

Nearby Towns to Explore

Loveland, Lyons, Longmont, Estes Park, Grand Lake, Granby, Kremmling

Helping Hands

Locals and return visitors love RMNP so much that they volunteer more than 150 hours a year (each!) as park ambassadors, gladly donating their time to operating visitor centers, improving trails and park upkeep. Find out how to get involved with volunteer efforts

Want More?

Read about Colorado's three other national parks

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