All About Rocky Mountain National Park

All About Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park in Northern Colorado has some of the most colossal mountain peaks anywhere around. The scenic views that the national park has to offer are virtually unrivaled by anywhere else in the United States. 

Mountain stream at Rocky Mountain NP
Photo by Akash Dutta on Unsplash

With alpine lakes and abundant wildlife flourishing throughout the park, there are spectacular sights to be had all around.

The most popular sightseeing road in the park, Trail Ridge Road, ascends above an altitude of 12,000 feet. 

The austere beauty and wide open spaces that Rocky Mountain National Park has to offer make up virtually any hiker’s dream environment. Several of the hiking trails also stretch above an elevation of 12,000 feet.

Each year, hundreds of thousands of RV adventurers visit this national park to experience the dramatic elevation changes and unique biosphere here. 

Visitors can also see evidence of the different ways that people have used the land over time, from prehistoric big game drives to modern day recreational tourism. There is plenty to see and do at Rocky Mountain National Park, making it easy to spend a week or more in the area.

That’s why we’ve put together this comprehensive guide for RV enthusiasts seeking to visit Rocky Mountain National Park.

Read on to learn more about the history, how to get to the park, campgrounds in the area, popular attractions, and more!

The History of Rocky Mountain National Park

The stunning geologic scenery of Rocky Mountain National Park is the result of complex systems of activity over two billion years. Some of the oldest rocks in the park are estimated to be around 1.8 billion years old.

In the Paleozoic Era, the region around the park was submerged in a shallow sea. Later on, in the Mesozoic Era, about 70 million years ago, the Rocky Mountain uplift began.

As the climate became cooler, massive glaciers moving through the area cut hard into the rock. These glaciers created deep U-shaped valleys and icy mountain lakes, leaving scars within the mountain peaks which can still be seen today.

Human history began within the park when Paleo-Indians traveled along what is now Trail Ridge Road in search of food to hunt and forage. For thousands of years, the Ute and Arapaho people inhabited the land, living amongst the massive mountain peaks.

In 1820, an expedition was led by Stephen H. Long, who approached the Rocky Mountain area from the Platte River. He was one of the first European-American settlers to lay eyes on the Rockies, paving way for settlers to start arriving in the mid-1800s.

Many of the Native Americans who resided in the area left voluntarily by 1860, as an increasing number of settlers began to set up homesteads in the area.

When claims of gold and silver broke in the 1870s, prospectors began showing up in droves to the Rocky Mountain range. Due to the massive influx, railroads, lodges, and dirt roads were established to accommodate the larger amount of settlers.

Although the prospectors eventually abandoned their claims, the park saw tons of development over the next few decades.

In 1915, congress passed a bill which sought to establish conservation efforts to the region. On January 26, 1915, President Woodrow Wilson signed the bill into law, thereby establishing the region as Rocky Mountain National Park.

Getting to Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park is located roughly 80 miles northwest of Denver in north-central Colorado. The park is situated between the tows of Estes Park to the east and grand Lake to the west.

At the moment, entrance passes at this national park are a little different than your standard 7-day entrance pass at most other national parks. The 7-day pass is temporarily unavailable until further notice.

There are still 1-day entrance passes available for visitors. The cost is $25 for automobiles and motorcycles, and $15 for walk-ins and bicycles.

Annual and lifetime passes are still accepted as well. The “America the Beautiful” annual pass is definitely a good buy if you plan on visiting a number of national parks and federal recreation sites within the year. They can be purchased for $80 at any national park visitor’s center.

There are also senior lifetime passes available for $80, and senior annual passes available for $20.

Rocky Mountain National Park is the third most visited national park in the country with over 4.6 million visitors last year. It’s well-recommended to arrive early in the day if you plan on beating the traffic and seeing as much as you can of the park.

The best time to visit is between June and September when temperature highs reach the 70s. The park is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, but some park roads are closed seasonally. It’s also always a good idea to check the weather forecast before visiting.

If you’re driving in from Denver, the ride should only take an hour and a half. It’s a fairly easy drive and the park is hard to miss. Your best bet is to take US-36 W all the way into the park to enter from the east. You’ll also be able to stop in at the beaver Meadows Visitor Center to learn more about some of the history and top attractions in the park.

From Grand Junction, on the western end of Colorado, the fastest route is to take I-70 E for most of the drive. The route is a little over 200 miles and will take roughly four hours. From I-70 E, take exit 157 for CO-131 N. You’ll have to do a little maneuvering once you reach CO-9 N by taking a few additional turns, but your goal is to get on US-40 E. Follow this road to US-34 E and onwards to the western Grand Lake entrance of the park.

There are four total entrances to Rocky Mountain National Park: Grand Lake, Wild Basin, Fall River, and Beaver Meadows. The Beaver Meadows entrance is, by far, the most popular, due to its accessibility. Although, each of the other park entrances offer incredibly scenic viewpoints and shorter lines to enter the park.

RV Camping near Rocky Mountain National Park

Exploring Rocking Mountain National Park in your home on wheels is made convenient with multiple RV campgrounds to choose from. Whether you plan on camping within the park, or outside of the park, there are great options all around.

Four of the five campgrounds within the national park have accommodations set up for RV adventurers. Keep in mind that each of these campgrounds do not offer hookups, similar to most other U.S. national parks.

Out of the four RV campgrounds within the park, three of them require reservations. If you’re able to book in advance, Moraine Park, Glacier Basin, and Aspenglen all offer stunning interior views of the park. Moraine Park accommodates RVs up to 40 feet in length, Glacier Basin allows RVs up to 35 feet, and Aspenglen accepts rigs up to 30 feet.

The only first-come-first-served RV campground in the park is Timber Creek, which allows RVs up to 30 feet in length. This is also the only campground on the west side of the park, meaning you’ll have early access to less frequented destinations within the park. There are 98 sites available, but it’s always a good idea to arrive at the crack of dawn if you plan on staying in this campground.

If you are seeking hookups, no worries! There are plenty of great options outside of the park as well. Campgrounds with water, power, and sewer hookups can be found just outside of the park in nearby gateway towns to the park.

One of the top rated campgrounds near the eastern entrance to the park, in the town of Estes Park, is Paradise on the River. They offer full hookups, free Wi-Fi, showers, and laundry facilities. The campground is only a 2-minute walk to a shuttle leading into the park, meaning that you won’t have to brave the scenic alpine roads in your RV.

If you plan on visiting from the west, you might also want to consider either Elk Creek Campground, or River Run RV Resort. Both campgrounds are located in the splendid mountain town of Grand Lake, just a few miles from the western entrance to the national park. River Run RV Resort is also one of the newest campgrounds in the area. This pristine campground has so much to do in your free time, that you might find it difficult to leave.

If any of these campgrounds book up before you’re able to make a reservation, a quick search of additional campgrounds in the area of Grand Lake or Estes Park should yield dozens of results.

Attractions at Rocky Mountain National Park

There are innumerable options for a day well-spent within Rocky Mountain National Park. From wildlife watching, scenic drives, hiking popular trails, learning about the history of the park, or settling in for a nice picnic, you’re guaranteed to make memories that will last a lifetime.

One of the most popular attractions in the park is Trail Ridge Road. When the road debuted way back in 1932 it swept the nation for its incredibly scenic viewpoints. That same sentiment continues today as visitors make their way across the 11 mile road at an elevation of more than 12,000 feet. It’s truly an experience that feels other-worldly.

Along the Trail Ridge Road, it’s possible to pull-off and look out over the Continental Divide. This truly remarkable experience allows you to take in the views from mountain peaks separating the eastern and western portions of the United States.

If you brought your hiking shoes, there are trails offering opportunities for casual strolls and trails that even the advanced hiker may find challenging. Since there are 350 miles of hiking trails throughout the park, it’s always a good idea to stop in at a visitor’s center beforehand to pick up a few maps. It might even be advisable to check in with a ranger to hear their recommended hikes.

Some ideal easy hikes include the Bear Lake loop trail, and the Alberta Falls trail. Keep in mind that these tend to get pretty busy in the summer months though. If you’re looking for something a little more challenging and less busy, try the four-mile hike out to Lake Haiyaha.

The headwaters of the Colorado River also spring from the park’s northwestern region. This same river flows through the Colorado Plateau and through the Grand Canyon, before reaching Lake Mead on the Arizona-Nevada border. It’s possible to hike out to the rugged landscapes where this river starts its journey.

Regardless of where you go in the park, there are also tons of opportunities for observing wildlife that calls Rocky Mountain National Park home. Expect to see bighorn sheep, elk, deer, squirrels, butterflies. Be sure to keep watch for mountain lions and bears as well.

In the fall, visitors flock to the park when crowds of elk gather in the park for their annual mating season. The elk have an extraordinary mating call known as a bugle which is worth witnessing at least once in life.

A Monstrous National Park 

If there was one word to describe Rocky Mountain National Park, it’s that it is simply monstrous.

These gigantic mountains have inspired the human imagination for thousands of years. Everywhere you look, there is another natural marvel waiting to be observed. 

Rocky Mountain National Park
Photo by Quinn Nietfeld on Unsplash

Whether you’re a painter, a photographer, a hiker, or just an all-around adventurer, Rocky Mountain National Park is sure to knock your socks off. It’s no reason that RV enthusiasts love camping in and around this amazing national park.

During your visit, be sure to keep in mind that this is alpine country. The elevations are high and it’s always advisable to take your journey slow, bring plenty of water, and to pay attention to your body.

Rocky Mountain National Park is open year-round. This means that you have access to a variety of activities depending on which season you visit in. 

So, what are you waiting for? It’s time to pack up your RV and head out to northern Colorado. 

The Rockies are sure to impress, far beyond what any picture could offer. Happy trails!

If you’re looking for more National Parks, check out our National Parks Guide checklist.