Every time I have been to the park I hav been with a different friend, family member, or hiking partner to explore this rugged wilderness with, and every time I am left feeling thankful and blessed to be so close to some place so special.
Living in Denver gives me many opportunities to see truly incredible places near home, and Estes Park, where Rocky Mountain National Park is located, is one of those magical places. Sadly, I don’t come here enough, but when I do, it is a special occasion.
There are many ways to travel throughout the park - by car, bus, foot, bike, or even horseback, I am going to lay out the ways I have traversed through the park and give some insider recommendations!
Know Before You Go:
New in 2020 and remaining through 2021 is a permit system to enter the park. You must have a timed entry permit to make it through the Ranger's gates.
Permits can be purchased, here: https://www.nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/timed-entry-permit-system.htm
Summer Vs. Winter
Rocky Mountain National Park is open year round from the east side, or Estes Park entrances, but certain roads close at the start of winter and the entrances from Grand Lake become far less in the winter. This includes leading up to The Alpine Visitors Center, which is also closed in winter. (It took me seven trips to the park to time make it there!)
I personally do not think you can go wrong in either season, but one time of the year definitely has more open and accessible - and that would be summer.
To handle the influx of people in the summer, there are more visitors centers and restrooms open, and the towns are bustling with people and open shops. It's a plus and minus to have people and operating businesses, but its nice when you are with other tourists just bumping around!
Things really pick up after Memorial Day and stay busy through August. I personally like May (if you are okay with the chill!)
Driving Around The Park:
The easiest way to the most of the park is drive yourself! There is a bus you can take from point to point but I have never personally ridden.
I recommend starting from Estes Park and working over towards Grand Lake, or even turning around at The Alpine Visitors Center or at the winter gate of Highway 34. There is a lot more to do near Estes Park, and as of 2020 the wildfires have really closed off the western park of the park.
I usually just drive clockwise around Highways 36 and Highway 34 and only one time did I make it up the road during the right season to go to The Alpine Visitor Center.
Watch more from the time I drove my grandparents through the park! This is the only time I have ever drive all the way through to the Grand Lake side.
Hikes I Have Been On Inside The Park:
I say “trail”, because we would find out that we were not following the trail at all! Instead, we were just following another group's shoeprints in the snow. We knew that the lake is at the top of the hill, so we kept trekking and eventually made it to our destination and back onto the proper trail.
Bear, Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lakes
We had intentions to hike all day and see as much as we could, but an afternoon storm drove us back to the trailhead just after noon.
At Loch Lake, the winds were released, and we found ourselves in a tornado of whipping gusts. It didn't stop us from strapping on our skates and trying out the ice. The ice was extremely bumpy, because the water froze in place as the wind pushed it into waves. Needless to say, it was difficult to skate on, and compared to my friend Natalie who was a collegiate hockey player, I was an embarrassment! We let the wind push us around the ice until we nearly froze. Then, we took off our skates and quickly made it back to our cars.
Each of my experiences inside the park has been such an adventure, and I cannot wait to go back and explore even more. The park has so much more hiding inside its thousands of protected acres, and I cannot wait to see what I discover next time!
See more from Colorado's other National Parks on my "Parks Page"
Talkin' 'bout Tacos:
I'm Taylor, aka Tacos! I am sharing my journeys and experiences from across the world hoping to inspire travel and adventure in all who read.