Find out all you need to know about transportation in and around Rocky Mountain National Park. Learn about getting to Rocky, the shuttle system, driving in the park, and parking in Estes Park.
How to Get Around Rocky Mountain National Park
A large percentage of those who visit Rocky Mountain National Park fly to Denver International Airport (DIA). It is served by numerous airlines and has direct flights to locations across the globe. Whether you are coming from Atlanta or Zurich, you’ll have no trouble reaching DIA.
Denver International Airport is located about 20 miles (32 km) from downtown Denver and 60 miles (97 km) from Rocky Mountain National Park. It is about a 90-minute drive to the eastern edge of the park from the airport. The fastest way to get to the park from the airport is via the E-470 toll road, up I-25, then west on highway 66, and from Lyons head up Highway 36 to Estes Park.
While it is possible to take a shuttle, Uber, or other service to Rocky Mountain National Park, it is strongly recommended that you rent a car, as public transportation in and around the national park is very limited. You will not need a 4-wheel drive vehicle or any off-road capabilities to drive any of the park roads during the summer season. Any standard car will do, though we encourage you to consider renting an electric vehicle to help cut down on noise and pollution in the park. There are numerous electric car chargers in Estes Park and also a couple of electric car chargers in Grand Lake. If you are visiting during the winter, we recommend renting an all-wheel-drive vehicle (not 4-wheel drive) as they are more suitable for snowy conditions.
Charter Bus Companies From Denver
If you have a large group to transport, consider chartering a vehicle. There are two companies that operate out of Denver that specialize in connecting you to a vehicle that suits you and your group's needs, at competitive rates. Chartering an appropriately sized vehicle will make keeping your group together during travel easy.
If you are looking for reliable group transportation around the Centennial State, Denver Charter Bus Company is the way to go.
GOGO Charters makes group transportation easy. With a large selection of charterbus and minibus rentals, they'll match you with the perfect vehicle for your trip.
Bus From Boulder (Bustang)
Another alternative for getting to Rocky Mountain National Park is to take a new bus service offered from Boulder, Colorado. From late May through October 2nd there is a bus that leaves from Table Mesa Park-N-Ride on weekends and holidays. It costs just $5 and stops at the Estes Park Visitor Center before continuing on to the Park & Ride Transit Hub in Rocky Mountain National Park where you can connect with the park's shuttle system in the Bear Lake Corridor. Your bus ticket includes a timed-entry permit, but you must already have a park pass. Find all the details here.
Park Shuttle System
From late May through mid-October there is a shuttle system for the very busy Bear Lake corridor. It begins and ends at the Park & Ride Transit Hub, approximately five miles (8 km) south of the Beaver Meadows Entrance to the park. (Note: You will need a timed-entry permit with Bear Lake access to use the shuttle system.) There are two routes along this corridor.
The first route, known as the Bear Lake Route, runs from Park & Ride Transit Hub to Bear Lake with stops at the Bierstadt Lake Trailhead and the Glacier Gorge Trailhead. Buses leave every 15 minutes from 6:30am until 7:30pm.
The second route, known as the Moraine Park Route, runs from Park and Ride to Moraine Park with stops at Sprague Lake, Hollowell Park, Tuxedo Park, Moraine Park Campground, Cub Lake Trailhead, and Fern Lake Bus Stop. These buses run every 30 minutes from 6:30am until 7:30pm.
Visit the national park's shuttle page for more details.
Hiker Shuttle from Estes Park
In 2022, the National Park Service in conjunction with the Town of Estes Park are re-implementing the Hiker Shuttle. This bus will take you from the Estes Park Visitor Center to the Park & Ride Transit Hub in Rocky Mountain National Park where you can connect with the park shuttle system that runs in the Bear Lake Corridor, as described above. Learn all about the Estes Park Hiker Shuttle.
Driving in Rocky Mountain National Park
Most of the roads in the park can only be accessed by personal car as the shuttle only covers a very small portion of the park. Driving in the national park is generally easy as most roads are quite wide, well-paved, and have numerous spots where you can pull over to enjoy the view.
There are a couple of exceptions to this. Trail Ridge Road runs from the east side of the park near Estes Park to the west side of the park near Grand Lake. This road climbs over 4,000 feet (1219 m) of elevation before steeply descending the other side. There are many windy turns on this road and there are some areas where the road clings to the side of the mountain with steep drops. Those who are nervous around heights may want to leave the driving to someone else for the higher portions of this road. The most challenging sections are found between Rainbow Curve and the Alpine Visitor Center.
The other exception to the rule of easy driving is Old Fall River Road. It also leads high up into the tundra. This is a one-way dirt road with many very tight twists and hairpin turns. It also has its share of steep drops. This road is normally well-graded and so any normal car should not have any trouble driving it. Large vehicles or trailers should avoid this road.
One of the things you should keep in mind when driving in Rocky Mountain National Park is that it is the home of thousands of wild creatures. Be prepared for deer, elk, turkey, or other animals to step out into the road at any time. Drive around them slowly and carefully. At the same time, you should remember that these roads are for getting places. Trail Ridge Road is an actual highway connecting Estes Park and Grand Lake. So, if you want to enjoy watching animals or enjoy the view, don’t stop in the middle of the road and block traffic. Drive to the next pull-over and walk back to enjoy the view. Everyone who was behind you will be grateful.
Driving and Parking in Estes Park
Driving in Estes Park can be a little challenging as it is a small town with a lot of visitors. To help address the bottleneck of people driving around and around looking for parking, the Town has implemented a paid parking system in the downtown area. Park your vehicle in one of these spaces and then find either a pay station or a sign which lists the various ways you can pay. As well as the pay station, there is app for your phone called Park Mobile which is very easy to use. Alternatively, there is a number that you can text to pay for your parking place. The nice thing about using the app is that you can put more time on your parking place wherever you are right from your phone, if you plan to stay longer than you paid for.
If you’d like to avoid paying for parking, there are alternatives. The first is to park in the large parking garage behind the town visitor center. It is multi-story and often has space. From there you can walk on the paved riverwalk and be in town in just a couple of minutes. Another option is to park at the Fairgrounds. There is almost always space here and a free town shuttle comes by regularly to take you the short distance into town.
During the busy season, the town of Estes Park operates a free shuttle service that serves the center of town and some of the main hotels. Here's a map for the 2022 summer shuttle service in Estes Park.
(Map created using: QGIS.org, 2021. QGIS Geographic Information System. QGIS Association. http://www.qgis.org)