Guide to Rocky Mountain National Park
The United States is home to nearly 60 national parks. With over 300 miles of trails, 147 lakes and 450 miles of streams, Rocky Mountain National Park has become the fourth most visited national park in the country. The park is also home to 124 named peaks — 20 of which are over 13,000 feet — and straddles the Continental Divide allowing access to both the east and west slopes of the Rocky Mountains.
The park has much more to offer than incredible mountain scenery. Over 280 species of birds, 11 fish, 142 species of butterflies and 1100 plants call the park home. Lynx, wolverines, bears, bighorn sheep, coyotes, deer, elk, moose and mountain lions are among the 66 mammals living in the park.
There is almost too much to do in Rocky Mountain National Park. This introductory guide to the park has everything you need to know to enjoy all the beauties the park has to offer. And, if you don't feel like crunching all those numbers, it will help you narrow down your must-do list.
Need To Know
Entrance Fees and Passes
1-Day Car Pass – $20.00
1-Day Per Person Pass – $10.00
1-Day Motorcycle Pass – $20.00
7-Day Car Pass – $30.00
7-Day Per Person Pass – $15.00
7-Day Motorcycle Pass – $25.00
Rocky Mountain NP Annual Pass – $60.00
Rocky Mountain NP/Arapahoe National Recreation Area Joint Annual Pass – $70.00
America the Beautiful Pass with entrance to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites – $80.00
The park offers free days periodically throughout the year. Remaining free days this year:
August 25 – National Park Service Birthday
September 30 – National Public Lands Day
November 11-12 – Veterans Day Weekends
Rocky Mountain NP is open 24 hours a day. Rangers are only at the entrance station during regular business hours so arrive before 8 a.m. to avoid fees.
From June 25 – September 11 a free daily hiker shuttle runs from the Estes Park Visitor Center to the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center and the Park & Ride on Bear Lake Road. Weekend service continues September 17 – October 10. The first bus leaves the Estes Park Visitor Center at 7:30 a.m. The last bus departs from the Park & Ride at 8 p.m. Entrance into the park is free for anyone on the shuttle.
Once at the Park & Ride two shuttles carry hikers out to trailheads from 7 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. May 28 – October 10. The Moraine Park Shuttle makes stops at Sprague Lake/Glacier Creek Livery, Hollowell Park, Tuxedo Park, Moraine Park Discovery Center, Moraine Park Campground, Cub Lake and Fern Lake. The Bear Lake shuttle stops at Bierstadt Lake, Glacier Gorge and Bear Lake.
Shuttles do not run on the west side of the park or across Trail Ridge Road. Shuttles do not have bike racks.
Camping is available in the park at designated locations only. There are five campgrounds — Aspenglen, Glacier Basin, Longs Peak, Moraine Park and Timber Creek — as well as numerous backcountry locations. Aspenglen and Glacier Basin are only open during the summer. Reservations are highly encouraged. Reservations are encouraged for Moraine Park during the summer but the campground is first-come, first-served during the winter. The Longs Peak and Timber Creek campgrounds are open year-round and are first-come, first-served.
Between June 1 and September 30 campers are limited to seven nights in the park. The limit is raised to 21 nights the remainder of the year. Backcountry permits are required for all other camping locations. Visit recreation.gov for reservations.
Weather in the mountains can be unpredictable. It isn’t uncommon for certain elevations to see snow in July. Keep an eye on forecasts for Estes Park, Grand Lake and the Alpine Visitor Center on Trail Ridge Road. Even if the weather is stable the temperature difference between the trailhead and your destination can vary greatly. Dress in layers.
With unpredictable weather comes uncertain trail conditions. Depending on winter storms— or spring — certain trails can still be covered in large snow fields in July. Rocky Mountain NP keeps their website up to date with conditions for certain areas. Be aware the further in and higher up you go the greater chance there is to see snow on the trails.
Some deeper trails only have social trails rather than full paths.
The park is home to four species of trout including brook, rainbow, greenback and Colorado River cutthroat. Fishing is allowed in most areas of the park. A Colorado fishing license is required — options include annual, five-day and one-day. A Habitat Stamp fee of $10 is also required with the first fishing license purchase of the year.
Fishing is prohibited in certain areas of the park. Some areas are catch-and-release only.
Cell phone service is very limited in the mountains and in RMNP. Know where you are going and make sure someone else knows where you are and how long you expect to be gone. Before you go download an area map from an app such as AllTrails or use the free maps from the entrance station. Even experienced hikers and locals get lost.
If you plan to hike alone in less traveled areas it is a good idea to take a bear bell so you don’t sneak up on any wild animals. If bear bells aren’t your style some hikers prefer to talk or sing to themselves.
Please stay on the trails to prevent degradation of the surrounding flora. Practice the Leave No Trace principles and remember to take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but footprints.
RMNP is too big and has too many options to include everything here. This area guide is an intro to some of the best and least seen gems the park has to offer. Featured hikes are listed by distance for easy picking of what might work best for individual fitness and time.
Many trails connect with other areas. If you want to go further or see more take a friend and park a car at two different trailheads. Make sure you know the correct route to connect the two trailheads so you don’t get lost.
All distances listed here are one-way.
Trail Ridge Road/Fall River Road
If you aren’t one to hike Trail Ridge Road and Old Fall River Road are excellent options for a beautiful drive. Fall River Road is not for the faint of heart. The narrow, one-way, dirt road runs from the Lawn Lake trailhead to the Alpine Visitor Center and is closed most of the year. Both roads offer pull offs and lookout points. Trail Ridge Road has more options and views. There are several hikes off both roads worth exploring if you have the time.
Iceberg Lake — Trailhead: Lava Cliffs Pullout — Distance: 0.2 miles
Lava Cliffs — Trailhead: Lava Cliffs Pullout — Distance: 0.3 miles
Thousand Falls — Trailhead: Endovalley Picnic Area — Distance: 0.3 miles
Chasm Falls — Trailhead: Endovalley Picnic Area — Distance: 1.5 miles
Timberline Pass — Trailhead: Ute Crossing — Distance: 1.9 miles
Forest Canyon Pass — Trailhead: Alpine Visitor Center — Distance: 2.3 miles
Mount Chapin — Trailhead: Chapin Pass — Distance: 2.4 miles
Mount Chiquita — Trailhead: Chapin Pass — Distance: 3.0 miles
Ypsilon Mountain — Trailhead: Chapin Pass — Distance: 4.0 miles
Mount Ida — Trailhead: Poudre Lake — Distance: 4.9 miles
Other Hikes to Try:
Between 2012 and 2016 Rocky Mountain National Park saw a 40% increase in visitation. In 2016 the park saw over 4.5 million visitors — many of whom go to Bear Lake. Despite having an overflow lot in addition to the main parking lot the area gets so congested rangers turn cars around at the base of Bear Lake Road. During peak times the lots can fill up as early as 9 a.m. If you choose to go to Bear Lake arrive by 8 a.m. to make sure you actually get in.
Other trailheads in the area fill up almost as quickly. There are very few places — unless you plan on a longer hike — where you can actually be alone with nature.
Eagle Cliff Mountain — Trailhead: Moraine Park Museum — Distance: 0.5 miles
Bierstadt Lake — Trailhead: Bierstadt — Distance: 1.3 miles
Chaos Canyon Cascades — Trailhead: Bear Lake via Lake Haiyaha Trail — Distance: 1.8 miles
Mill Creek Basin — Trailhead: Hollowell Park — Distance: 1.9 miles
Glacier Falls — Trailhead: Glacier Gorge — Distance: 2.3 miles
Jewel Lake — Trailhead: Glacier Gorge — Distance: 3.1 miles
Flattop Mountain — Trailhead: Bear Lake — Distance: 4.4 miles
Shelf Lake — Trailhead: Glacier Gorge — Distance: 4.7 miles
Andrews Glacier — Trailhead: Glacier Gorge — Distance: 4.8 miles
Odessa Lake — Trailhead: Fern Lake — Distance: 4.8 miles
Blue Lake — Trailhead: Glacier Gorge — Distance: 5.5 miles
Lake Helene — Trailhead: Fern Lake — Distance: 5.7 miles
Notchtop Mountain — Trailhead: Bear Lake — Distance: 6.1 miles
McHenrys Peak — Trailhead: Glacier Gorge — Distance: 7.1 miles
Chiefs Head Peak — Trailhead: Glacier Gorge — Distance: 7.8 miles
Other Hikes to Try:
This range is the largest area in RMNP and has seven named peaks over 13,000 feet. But Mummy Range has many different hikes and destinations to choose from. There is something here for every level — from the easy paved walk up to Alluvial Fan, the family go-to of Gem Lake and the exhausting experience of doing the Mummy Kill.
The Cow Creek parking is a limited selection of roadside spots. Arrive as early as possible. Parking at Lumpy Ridge is generally guaranteed and trails connect to Cow Creek if parking is full there.
McGregor Mountain — Trailhead: Fall River Visitor Center — Distance: 1.2 miles
MacGregor Falls — Trailhead: Lumpy Ridge — Distance: 3.2 miles
Balanced Rock — Trailhead: Cow Creek — Distance: 4.0 miles
Ypsilon Lake — Trailhead: Lawn Lake — Distance: 4.7 miles
Sugarloaf Mountain — Trailhead: Stormy Peaks — Distance: 5.3 miles
Chiquita Lake — Trailhead: Lawn Lake — Distance: 5.5 miles
Lawn Lake — Trailhead: Lawn Lake — Distance: 6.3 miles
Mummy Mountain — Trailhead: Lawn Lake — Distance: 7.2 miles
Crystal Lake — Trailhead: Lawn Lake — Distance: 7.9 miles
Fairchild Mountain — Trailhead: Lawn Lake — Distance: 8.8 miles
Rowe Peak — Trailhead: Lawn Lake — Distance: 9.1 miles
Lake Louise — Trailhead: Dunraven — Distance: 10.9 miles
Other Hikes to Try:
Bridal Veil Falls
West Creek Falls
Wild Basin is located south of Longs Peak off Highway 7 and is in a secluded area of the park. A single dirt road takes hikers back to the main Wild Basin trailhead. Other pull offs and trailheads — such as Finch Lake and Sandbeach Lake — lay along the road. This area is more water than many other areas in the park. Many of the trails follow streams and many destinations are lakes and waterfalls. There is plenty of room to explore here and take in the incredible views and wildflowers.
Lookout Mountain — Trailhead: Horse Creek — Distance: 3.2 miles
Sandbeach Lake — Trailhead: Sandbeach Lake — Distance: 4.2 miles
Mertensia Falls — Trailhead: Wild Basin — Distance: 6.2 miles
Mount Meeker — Trailhead: Sandbeach Lake — Distance: 6.5 miles
Lion Lakes — Trailhead: Wild Basin — Distance: 6.9 miles
Mount Copeland — Trailhead: Wild Basin — Distance: 7.0 miles
Pipit Lake — Trailhead: Wild Basin — Distance: 7.2 miles
Fan Falls — Trailhead: Wild Basin — Distance: 7.4 miles
Boulder-Grand Pass — Trailhead: Wild Basin — Distance: 7.8 miles
Mount Alice — Trailhead: Wild Basin — Distance: 8.8 miles
Other Hikes to Try:
Longs Peak is a daunting mammoth of a mountain that is both enticing and intimidating. Don’t let it overshadow some of the other amazing hikes that start at its trailhead. The trail up to Longs and the other destinations along the way offer many incredible views of the Beaver and the surrounding area. Be aware that hikers headed to the summit of Longs arrive between midnight and 3 a.m. The parking lot can often fill up quickly. Either plan to do the shorter hikes later in the day or start the longer hikes at zero dark thirty.
Eugenia Mine —Trailhead: Longs Peak — Distance: 1.4 miles
Moore Park — Trailhead: Longs Peak — Distance: 1.8 miles
Peacock Pool — Trailhead: Longs Peak — Distance: 3.9 miles
Chasm Meadows — Trailhead: Longs Peak — Distance: 4.0 miles
Mount Lady Washington — Trailhead: Longs Peak — Distance: 4.2 miles
The Loft — Trailhead: Longs Peak — Distance: 5.2 miles
Longs Peak — Trailhead: Longs Peak — Distance: 7.4 miles
Other Hikes to Try:
There are many easier hikes off Highway 7 that are perfect for casual day hiking. This area includes national forest land and expands into Allenspark and Estes Park. This provides perfect and easy access to post hiking refuel. Go for an early and stop by Meadow Mountain Cafe in Allenspark for lunch. They are open Wednesday - Monday until 2 p.m.
Oldman Mountain — Trailhead: Old Ranger Drive — Distance: 0.3 miles
Lily Lake — Trailhead: Lily Lake — Distance: 0.8 miles
Emerald Mountain — Trailhead: East Portal — Distance: 0.8 miles
Lily Mountain — Trailhead: Lily Mountain — Distance: 1.8 miles
Kruger Rock — Trailhead: Hermit Park — Distance: 2.0 miles
Homer Rouse — Trailhead: Fish Creek — Distance: 2.4 miles
Homestead Meadows — Trailhead: Lion Gulch — Distance: 2.8 miles
Storm Pass — Trailhead: Lily Lake — Distance: 2.8 miles
Twin Sisters — Trailhead: Twin Sisters — Distance: 3.4 miles
Crosier Mountain — Trailhead: Crosier Mountain Gravel Pit — Distance: 3.8 miles
Other Hikes to Try:
This side draws fewer visitors and tourists than the east side of RMNP. You'll enjoy more solitude here if that is what you're looking for. The western slope sees more precipitation than the east so scenery tends to be more green and lush. After a day of hiking explore nearby Grand Lake.
Adams Falls — Trailhead: East Inlet — Distance: 0.3 miles
Lake Irene — Trailhead: Lake Irene Picnic Area — Distance: 0.5 miles
Green Mountain — Trailhead: Green Mountain — Distance: 1.7 miles
Big Meadows — Trailhead: Green Mountain — Distance: 2.0 miles
Cascade Falls — Trailhead: North Inlet — Distance: 3.6 miles
Timber Lake — Trailhead: Timber Lake — Distance: 5.0 miles
Granite Falls — Trailhead: Green Mountain — Distance: 5.3 miles
Lone Pine Lake — Trailhead: East Inlet — Distance: 5.3 miles
Lake Verna — Trailhead: East Inlet — Distance: 6.9 miles
Bench Lake — Trailhead: North Inlet — Distance: 7.3 miles
Ptarmigan Mountain — Trailhead: East Inlet — Distance: 7.6 miles
Andrews Peak — Trailhead: East Inlet — Distance: 8.2 miles
Other Hikes to Try:
The southwest corner of RMNP is the most isolated and primitive. There are trails that start around the boundaries of the park but these destinations require more off-trail hiking. A lack of well-maintained trails also makes for longer mileage. If you choose to explore this area make sure to come prepared. Check out the safety section of this guide for more tips.
Watanga Lake — Trailhead: Roaring Fork — Distance: 4.8 miles
Shadow Mountain — Trailhead: East Shore — Distance: 5.6 miles
Adams Lake — Trailhead: Roaring Fork — Distance: 6.5 miles
Twin Peaks — Trailhead: Roaring Fork — Distance: 6.5 miles
Mount Adams — Trailhead: Roaring Fork — Distance: 6.6 miles
Mount Bryant — Trailhead: East Shore — Distance: 7.3 miles
Never Summer Mountains
The Arapahoe Indians named this range ni-chebe-chii — never no summer — for the beautiful colors and scenery the area provides. The mountains here are volcanic rather than the standard granite found in most of the park. Because of this the rotting rock makes hiking more difficult. The challenge makes the hikes very worthwhile though as you will find more solitude here to be alone with nature.
Coyote Valley — Trailhead: Coyote Valley — Distance: 0.5 miles
Lake Agnes — Trailhead: Lake Agnes — Distance: 0.8 miles
Thunder Mountain — Trailhead: Never Summer — Distance: 2.0 miles
Lulu Mountain — Trailhead: Never Summer — Distance: 2.6 miles
Specimen Mountain — Trailhead: Poudre River — Distance: 3.2 miles
Lulu City — Trailhead: Colorado River — Distance: 3.5 miles
Snow Lake — Trailhead: American Lakes — Distance: 3.9 miles
Parika Lake — Trailhead: Bowen/Baker — Distance: 5.4 miles
Pinnacle Pool — Trailhead: Colorado River — Distance: 5.7 miles
Red Mountain — Trailhead: Colorado River — Distance: 6.2 miles
Blue Lake — Trailhead: Bowen/Baker — Distance: 6.9 miles
La Poudre Pass — Trailhead: Colorado River — Distance: 7.0 miles
Bowen Pass — Trailhead: Bowen/Baker — Distance: 8.4 miles
Other Hikes to Try:
Lake of the Clouds