Avoid some of the most common visitor mistakes by learning some simple hacks that will make your experience to Rocky Mountain National Park as good as it can possibly be.
Tips and Tricks for Rocky Mountain National Park
If this is your first time visiting Rocky Mountain National Park, you need to know the ins and outs of how things work. In this section you’ll learn a few secrets that can make your trip much more enjoyable.
Arrive early or late
Most people arrive to the national park between 7am and 10am. This results in large crowds at the entrance station and waits of up to an hour to enter the park. The best way to help avoid the crowds is to visit during the off hours. You certainly won’t be the only one doing this, but it will be less busy. In fact, I recommend arriving in the park as early as you can, since the best hiking and views in the park are generally found in the early morning. Also, you are less likely to encounter the intense and dangerous afternoon thunderstorms that are common during late June through mid-August. Just remember to have your timed-entry permit booked for an early entry.
You may also choose to leave the park during the middle of the day and then return in late afternoon or early evening. This is another good time to enjoy the park with fewer people.
The park is busiest right before timed-entry starts for the day (9am) and right after it finishes (3pm). At these time you can expect huge lines at the entrance station. In the afternoon, you can expect long lines to start building by 2:30pm. These lines can be very long. If you have a permit, it is best to either get in before the lines build or to return at least one hour after the permit time ends when the lines will have had the chance to dissipate.
Bring Food and Drink
You cannot buy any food or drink within park boundaries except at the Trail Ridge Gift Store on the top of Trail Ridge Road, which is only available during the summer season. It is therefore wise to bring your food and drink with you. Consider bringing a packed lunch or a sandwich from one of the delis in Estes Park or Grand Lake. Some lodges also offer packed lunches. Take advantage of this as it can be very busy trying to get back into the park if you leave to get food.
There are numerous picnic areas around the park. Some of the nicest ones are in Beaver Meadows, Hidden Valley, Endovalley, Sprague Lake, and in the Kawuneeche Valley. Always remember to pick up every little scrap of trash when you leave.
Another alternative is to enjoy lunch in Grand Lake. It is usually much quieter on the west side and you can often get back into the park with only a short wait.
It is essential that you bring plenty of water with you. At these high elevations you will dehydrate quickly, so you’ll want to drink water regularly. Do not drink water directly from lakes or streams unless filtered or treated first.
Expand Your View
Rocky Mountain National Park has some places that are incredibly popular: Bear Lake, Sprague Lake, Dream Lake, Sky Pond, etc. You can expect these areas to be among the busiest in the national park. It is tempting to think that you simply have to put up with the crowds. However, there are some alternatives that are equally beautiful and less crowded.
For instance, spend a day on the west side of the park and enjoy some of the wonderful trails to be found over there. Hike some of the trails in Lumpy Ridge, Beaver Meadows, Hidden Valley, Endovalley, or along the edges of the park.
Bring a warm jacket and rain jacket
The temperatures at higher elevations can be much colder that the surrounding towns. If you plan to drive up Trail Ridge Road, bring appropriate clothing. It can be significantly cooler at (elevation), so having a warm jacket and sometimes even a hat and gloves in mid-summer will show you to be an experienced visitor. Also, be prepared for changing weather in the mountains. Bring a rain jacket.