A Short Guide to Rocky Mountain National Park
Updated: Dec 30, 2021
We all need some time away from the city, away from people... just an escape into the outdoors. The best way to do this is to visit a national park! I was lucky enough to get away for a bit and enjoy Rocky Mountain National Park. It was my first time visiting, so I really didn't know what to expect. I decided to put together a guide so you don't make the same mistakes I did.
Spend several days in the park
Rocky Mountain NP is so big, there's absolutely no way you can experience the whole thing in one day. I recommend exploring a different section of the park each day. I completed one trail (seemed like 1/100th of the park) in half a day. Even if you visit the park for just a day, know that you won't be able to see or do it all if you plan on hitting the trails.
With all of the hiking you will be doing, don't forget to pack at least some snacks! You'll need the energy for sure! If you know you will be at the park all day, pack a lunch like a ham and cheese sandwich in a little ice chest or a PBJ sandwich (no ice chest needed). Also, pack plenty of water!! It's super important to stay hydrated, especially at high elevations.
There are shuttles in one part of the park (near Bear Lake) that take you to and from a parking lot, Glacier Basin, Sprague Lake, and Bear Lake. The shuttles are there because there isn't enough parking at the Bear Lake trailhead. You may get lucky and find a parking spot at the trailhead, but don't worry if you don't get a space there. The shuttles are very easy to use and convenient. I parked at Sprague Lake, took a little bus to the park and ride, and then another to the Bear Lake trailhead. The shuttles run fairly often so you shouldn't have to wait long.
The chipmunks in the park will come up to you, climb on your backpack, and eat your food. Just a remind that they are wild animals, meaning don't feed them or pet them. You may also see bears, snakes, elk, etc., so just remember to keep your distance.
Plan according to the season
Due to snow, some roads/parts of roads close during colder months. Check for road closures before planning your journey around the park! Be prepared for different types of weather at all times of year (even snow in the summer). If you visit in the fall (mid-September through mid-October), you can hear male elk bugling to intimidate rivals during mating season. It's really cool to listen to the elk and Rocky Mountain NP is the perfect place to hear!
Because I only completed the Bear Lake trail to Emerald Lake, I can only talk about that one. Even though it is a popular trail, it is totally worth it! It's around 3.5 miles with a total elevation gain of about 700ft. You pass by several lakes (Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, and Emerald Lake) and you have the opportunity to hop on other trails to see more lakes and some waterfalls! I took the little jot over to Alberta Falls and then headed back to the bus stop. The roundtrip hike to Emerald Lake, the little hike to Alberta Falls, and then the trip back to the bus stop took me a couple of hours (with rests at each lake). Make sure to rest occasionally while hiking!
When I put directions to Rocky Mountain National Park in my phone, I didn't realize that it took me to an entrance for a different part of the park and I couldn't get through to the area that I wanted to be in. Because we wanted to go to the Bear Lake area, we eventually found our way over to the entrance closest to Estes Park. I didn't have a bunch of time to spend in the national park because I had a timed entry slot from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. and the wrong directions caused me to arrive after my slot. I was still allowed to enter the park, but it took time to find parking and eat lunch before hitting the trails. That being said, make sure you have directions to your desired park entrance (based on the area of the park that you plan to explore)!
I enjoyed Rocky Mountain National Park waaaaay more than I expected and I am so ready to return to the park and explore more! Rocky Mountain NP was the 6th national park that I have visited and I can say that it is definitely one of the most unique ones I've seen! Whether you love hiking or you just like taking in incredible mountain views, it should be on your list of national parks to visit!