What You Absolutely Need to Know Before Visiting Rocky Mountain National Park

Here are the top things you need to know before visiting Rocky Mountain National Park. Before you pack your bags and buy your plane tickets, make sure that you know these essential pieces of information.

Reserve Your Permit!

The first thing you need to know is that the national park has implemented a timed-entry-permit system to limit the number of people allowed into the park during the busy season. You’ll want to be sure that you have reserved your permits before you arrive, or you may find that you can only gain entry very early in the morning or later in the evening. Learn all the details about this new requirement.

Mountain Weather is Different

While much of the United States may be enjoying warm spring weather in March, April, and May, these can be the snowiest months of the year. It is not uncommon to experience one- or two-foot snowfalls even in late May. While it is beautiful, many people arrive unprepared. The same is true in the autumn. You could experience a snowstorm any time after mid-August. By mid-October it is well and truly winter in Rocky Mountain National Park with icy cold winds and snow. Even in the months of June, July, and August you can experience chilly temperatures in the higher elevations of the park. You can expect many of the higher trails to be covered in snow until mid-June. Also, during the summer there are often intense electrical storms in the afternoons, and you should not be above tree line, in open meadows or near lakes during these storms. To avoid being caught in an electrical storm hike early in the day. In short, be prepared for weather that is very different from what you’ll find in Denver or anywhere else in the United States. Don’t forget to bring warm clothes, no matter when you visit. Learn more about what to expect during each month of the year.

Trail Ridge Road in the spring

Book Early

Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the nation’s most popular national parks. As a result, everything tends to book months in advance. Don’t show up expecting to find a hotel room, camping site, or even a remote wilderness tent site. All these options start filling many months in advance. Visit our lodging page for more information.

Pets Not Allowed on Park Trails

Many visitors come with their furry hiking partner with dreams of summiting peaks together only to find that dogs and other pets are not allowed on any of the national park hiking trails. They are limited to park roads, picnic areas, and a few other locations. Learn more about visiting the park with dogs.

Prepare for Elevation

Rocky Mountain National Park begins at an elevation of over 7,600’ (2,316m) above sea level and goes up from there. Plans to immediately hit the trail and summit peaks often clash with reality. The elevation will impact your ability to catch your breath even while doing simple tasks, until your body adjusts. This may take a few days. Plan to start slowly. Also be aware that ignoring symptoms of altitude sickness and climbing to higher elevations can be potentially life-threatening. Learn more about preparing for a visit to high elevation.

Greet the Sun
A view from up high in the tundra

Come by Car

Visitors from overseas are often surprised to find that a car is required when visiting Rocky Mountain National Park. While it is possible to book a shuttle bus from the Denver airport to Estes Park and there are shuttle systems in Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park, you will find these systems inadequate for getting to many places in the park. The park shuttle system only accesses the Bear Lake Corridor and does not cover Trail Ridge Road, Wild Basin, or many other areas of the park. Learn more about transportation in and around the national park. Consider renting an electric car to limit impact on this fragile environment.

Expect Limited Phone Connection in the Park

There is very limited cell phone connection inside Rocky Mountain National Park. While you may be able to connect when near the edges of the park and in Estes Park and Grand Lake, as you get deeper into the park you will often have no connection at all. Because of the poor cell connection in the park, do not plan on relying on your phone for navigation or for emergencies. When hiking, bring a physical map and compass with you and know how to use them. Also, be sure to let someone know where you are going and when to expect your return. This is the cardinal rule for hiking in the wilderness and is especially important when you don’t have cell connection.

Wild Life is Wild

Rocky Mountain National Park is home to numerous animals large and small. They roam freely through the park and sometimes even through the middle of the towns at the edge of the park. This can be a highlight for many visitors, but watching wildlife must be done thoughtfully. These are wild animals and if you get too close you may get hurt. Every year people ignore this and are charged by an elk, moose, or other animal. Read here about some of the best practices for watching wildlife.

The Bugle

Leave it Better Than You Found It

While being in the mountains makes one feel as if they are finally free and can let go of all worries, we all need to take steps to ensure that our visit does no harm to this special place. In fact, we should all aim to leave it better than we found it. Simple things like ensuring that we pickup any trash that we see, that we leave the wildlife undisturbed, that we stay on the paths in the delicate alpine tundra, and use the provided toilets before we begin our hikes can go a long ways toward ensuring that Rocky stays wild and natural. Consider taking The Rocky Pledge which is a commitment to follow a few simple guidelines to help protect this park. Rocky gives us all so much, in return we need to do our part to take care of it.

Early October snow at Sprague Lake