The Complete Guide to Camping in Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountains National Park

If you’ve been considering a camping trip to the mountains, there is no better place to start than Rocky Mountain National Park. Located in Colorado’s Front Range, the park is close to Denver and Boulder, making it a perfect destination for tourists flying in and locals alike.

Rocky Mountain National Park has plenty to offer for endless days of adventure. Whether you’re looking to hike, climb, fish, learn or just enjoy the peace that comes with setting up camp, you’re sure to have an excellent time. The views are spectacular, wildlife abundant and nearly every day is sunny and beautiful.

The park is very busy during the warm months, which are typically June, July and August. If you’re not interested in snow, July and August will be the months to visit. The mountains have a very unpredictable climate and it regularly snows well into June. So keep this in mind when you’re planning the perfect camping trip, as you’ll want to book your campsite a handful of months in advance. 

If you plan to car camp, a reservation is important. If you plan to backpack, you’ll need to secure a backcountry permit for the sites you want to stay in. Note that backcountry permits need to be picked up before you hit the trail at the ranger station of your choice. 

When camping in Rocky Mountain National Park (or camping anywhere!) it’s very important to follow the principles of Leave No Trace in order to keep our wild spaces beautiful, pristine and safe. Click here to learn more about Leave No Trace. Just a small amount of effort will make a massive difference to the future of everyone’s outdoor experience.

Check out our picks for the Best Places to go Camping in Colorado.

About Rocky Mountain National Park

Beautiful Colors in the Rocky Mountains National Park
Beautiful Colors in the Rocky Mountains National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park was established as this country’s 9th National Park in 1915. This park encompasses 415 square miles, 250,000 acres of which are designated as true wilderness! Rocky’s elevations vary between 7,860 feet to 14,259 feet, making it one of the highest parks in the nation.

This amazing park also features Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous paved highway in the country. This incredible road is 48 miles long and connect Estes Park (east) to Grand Lake (west) in one of the most glorious drives you will ever experience. Over one third of Rocky is alpine tundra and well above tree line. This landscape is extremely fragile and quite alien to most people, making it truly something to behold. 

A stand-out in the park is the looming Longs Peak with proudly stands above everything at 14,259 feet! Out of the 58 14ers (14,000+ feet peaks) in Colorado, Longs is the 15th tallest. Many visitors to the park attempt to summit Longs Peak only to find they have sorely underestimated what it takes to succeed in a summit bid. This is a true mountaineer’s mountain, so if a long and challenging morning isn’t for you, consider a Chasm Lake hike. Chasm Lake is a gorgeous alpine lake that rests at the base of Longs. 

RMNP has over 300 trails, 150 lakes and 450 miles of stream. What does this mean other than just numbers? It means this park is epic. It is truly a spectacle of the natural world and of adventure!

Camping

Mountain Landscape in Rocky Mountain National Park

So you’ve decided to camp in Rocky Mountain National Park. You’ve picked out your activities for the trip and are ready to lock down your campsite. There are three reservable car camping campgrounds in the park and two first come/first serve car camping campgrounds in the park. 

I’ll discuss those in detail below, along with some of the top backcountry campsites you can reserve. So whether you’re looking for a relaxing camp or an epic adventure, we’ve got you covered!

Car Camping

Make sure you have everything you need with our car camping checklist when car camping in Rocky Mountains National Park.

Aspenglen 

Aspenglen campground is a popular choice near the Fall River entrance of the park. It’s a heavily forested area that offers 52 sites to choose from, five of which are walk-to’s, meaning they’re a little more secluded than a typical pull-in site. RV’s are welcome in this campground. There is a seasonal bathroom at this campground along with food storage lockers and firewood for sale. 

The times I have camped in Aspenglen were wonderful! It’s not unusual to see bighorn sheep nearby and there is plenty of space for the kiddos to run wild.

Glacier Basin

Rocky Mountain National Park’s Glacier Basin campground is a great choice for car camping that offers amazing views of some of the park’s mountains. This campground has a mix of sun and shade, 150 sites, space for RVs and even has some group sites! 

Running along this campground is a beautiful meadow. So if you like wildflowers and wildlife, this campground might be just the ticket. It’s also located near some of the park’s best hiking! 

Moraine Park

Sunset at Moraine Park
Sunset at Moraine Park

This campground is the most well-known in the park. With 244 sites and some of the best views of this rugged landscape, anyone would be happy to camp here. If you’re seeking privacy, there are 49 walk-in sites in this campground. RVs are also welcome. 

This campground is located near the Beaver Meadows entrance, located on the north side of the park. This is the most common entrance visitors use, making this campground very easy to access and find. Moraine Park campground is known for its elk and other wildlife. 

If this is your first time setting up camp in the mountains, Moraine Park would be a great choice. 

Timber Creek

The Timber Creek Campground is the only campground on the west side of the park. To access this side of the park you would most likely enter through Grand Lake. Another way to get to this campground would be to take Trail Ridge Road to the west side. 

This area had a large infestation of mountain pine beetle years ago and most of the trees around the grounds had to be removed, so there is no shade here. However, this campground is situated right on the beautiful Colorado River, making it an excellent choice if running water is something you find to be serene. 

Timber Creek campground has 98 sites and RVs are welcome. This side of the park is very near and dear to my heart. It is less busy than any other area of the park, offers a larger variety of trail and hosts some of the largest elk herds in the area. You also would have a strong chance of seeing moose here. 

Backcountry

Before hitting the Rocky Mountains National Park backcountry, check out our guide on How to plan a Backpacking Trip.

Big Pool

Secluded campsite at Big Pool
Secluded campsite at Big Pool

To camp at Big Pool, you will go to the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park. The trail to this site is a moderate backpacking trip of 5 miles and 620 feet of elevation gain. You follow the North Inlet Trail, which takes you past the breathtaking Cascade Falls area. 

There are only two campsites in the Big Pool area, so you can count on privacy and solitude being part of the plan. I have stayed at Big Pool a couple times and each time I was the only camper. These sites are far enough off the trail that you won’t be bothered by hikers, but close enough that the creek is nearby; meaning you’ve got a super easy to access water source. 

Do note that bears are regularly in this area of the park. My advice is to keep a pile of pine cones around to start flinging if one wanders into camp. 

Lake Verna

If you want to camp at a high elevation, say hello to Lake Verna! 

At 10,280 feet, this campsite has you setting up on tundra. To get there you’ll be gaining nearly 2,000 feet of elevation in just under seven miles. Do keep in mind that at this elevation, snow usually sticks around until the second week of July. This trail begins at the East Inlet Trailhead. 

If you’re seeking peace and quiet, rest assured you will find it here. There is one campsite at Lake Verna. Along with the spectacular views, you can expect to see marmots and elk. There is nothing quite like an alpine lake, and waking up at one is something else entirely!

Mill Creek Basin

If you want to backpack in, but also want to keep things pretty mellow, Mill Creek Basin is probably the answer to what you’re seeking. With a hike in of just 1.8 miles with 600 feet of elevation gain, you’ll be setting up camp in no time. 

There are two sites here, so you might have a neighbor, but rest assured they’ll be looking for some solitude as well. To access this campsite, use the Hollowell Park trailhead. 

A bonus at this site is a privy! Most backpacking sites in Rocky Mountain National Park do not have a privy, so I consider Mill Creek Basin to be Glampacking. Is glampacking a thing I just invented? Yes, I think it is! 

Don’t Miss This!

While you’re enjoying the area, be sure to swing by and explore Estes Park to the east and Grand Lake to the west! These two mountain towns are on opposite sides of the park and both offer a ton of awesome places to eat, things to do and sites to see. These towns are lovely year-round and have hotels to stay in if that’s more your speed. Because let’s face it… even the most seasoned campers like to take it easy sometimes!

Estes Park

Estes Park, Colorado
Estes Park, Colorado

I have spent a great deal of time in Estes Park during my 30 years of life, so skip the blogs and websites that tell you what the best things in town are and let me break it down for you.

Coffee on the Rocks

I know you love coffee. We all love coffee! This little shop has the best in town and is owned by a very kind local who’ll make you the best burrito in the area as well.

Red Rose Rock Shop

Located right next to Coffee on the Rocks, it would be nuts to not swing by this rad little shop. They have a massive selection of rocks, minerals, fossils and other treasures unique to the area. Inside this shop you’ll also find Dick’s Rock Museum, which is pretty wonderful.

Claire’s on the Park

This restaurant has amazing food. It’s as simple as that. Most places to eat in tourist towns are cheap and fast. Claire’s is delicious and mellow. It’s also got some spectacular views. 

Estes Park Museum

This tiny museum packs a lot into a short visit. Be sure to step out of the main building to explore the 1908 Cobb-Macdonald cabin and the National Park Service Headquarters Building. Both of which are rich pieces of history of the American West.

Grand Lake

Grand Lake Colorado
Grand Lake, Colorado

Grand Lake might just be one of the most underestimated little mountain towns around! I was lucky to live on this side of the park for years and can tell you if you don’t visit Grand lake, you’re missing out. With wide open views, big skies and a host of wonderful things to see and do, this town is one of my very favorites. Here’s what I recommend you check out while you’re there!

Kauffman House Museum

Kauffman House was built in 1892 and was a hotel run by the Kauffman family until 1946! It is the only remaining log hotel in Grand Lake that was built before 1900. This museum is on the National Register of Historic Places and is simply wonderful. If history is your thing, you’ll be blown away.

Sagebrush BBQ & Grill

I usually avoid recommending places that are really busy most of the time, but Sagebrush is worth the wait every time. The food is great, the wait staff is super friendly and the atmosphere is down to earth. This is a great restaurant for after a big day on the trail, as the portions are big and beautiful.

The Beach

I know, I know. You came to Rocky Mountain National Park to be in the mountains. But here’s the thing. Grand Lake has a sandy beach that is also in the mountains. So if you’d like a surreal day soaking up the sun on a beautiful beach with views of massive mountains, don’t miss this. You can also rent stand up paddle boards and various boats!

A Final Note About Rocky Mountain National Park Camping

Moose in Rocky Mountain National Park

Camping in Rocky Mountain National Park is an incredible experience, no matter how you like to camp. Whether you like to make it hard and strenuous or prefer running water and a mattress, there is something for you. 

RMNP is a special park with views for days and wildlife so abundant you’ll remember it for a lifetime. The endless trail systems offer any number of landscapes to be explored, from flat meadows to class-4 mountaineering routes up some of this country’s tallest peaks.

I strongly recommend calling and speaking with a ranger to get your camping trip set up. A ranger can alert you to current park conditions, help you choose the best trails and activities for your family and get you all set with a campsite reservation. 

Rocky Mountain National Park offers many ranger-led programs each week that I recommend for any family. Even if you just do one! These are generally kid friendly and not too time consuming. The rangers in this park are very knowledgeable and kind. They’re an exceptional resource and love to help you have a great time.

To camp in Rocky Mountain National Park is a wonderful gift. So get to planning! Start your gear list or get that RV all set to hit the road. The mountains are calling and the park is waiting for you.

Check out our other National Park Camping Guides.

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