Most of the major trailheads in the park are accessible by car and have parking lots depending on the popularity of the route. While parking is relatively ample in the early mornings, many lots are full by mid-morning during the peak summer months. The Trail Ridge Road and Old Fall River Roads are closed during the winter and usually don’t reopen till late spring at the earliest. Access to Moraine Park and Bear Lake via the Bear Lake Road are open year-round and plowed.
There are several entrances to the park which do not have fees on the east side of the park:
- Longs Peak Ranger Station road (dead ends at the Longs Peak Ranger Station and trailhead)
- McGraw Ranch road (dead ends at McGraw Ranch and Cow Creek trailhead)
- Lily Lake Visitors Center parking lot (on the right side of SR-7 heading south from Estes Park
- McGregor Ranch Gem Lake entrance (parking lots near Lumpy Ridge trailhead)
Starting around Memorial Day Weekend and going through the end of September, Rocky Mountain National Park operates a free shuttle bus service which enables you to access many destination and loop hikes along Bear Lake Road, including Sprague Lake and Glacier Gorge to cut down on traffic congestion and limited parking. Shuttle buses run between many trailheads, Moraine Park Visitor Center, and Moraine Park and Glacier Basin Campgrounds.
There are two routes: The Bear Lake Route and the Moraine Park Route. Both routes are based at the Park & Ride shuttle bus parking area across from the Glacier Basin Campground. The first bus departs from Park & Ride at 7PM. and the last bus leaves at 7PM. The last bus of the day leaves Bear Lake and Fern Lake Trailheads at 7:30PM. The Bear Lake Route shuttle makes the round trip between the Park & Ride and Bear Lake. These buses run every 10 to 15 minutes. The Moraine Park Route shuttle makes the round trip between the Park & Ride and the Fern Lake Trailhead bus stop. These buses run every 30 minutes.
To experience the true beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park means getting out onto some of the 355 miles of trail that wind in, around and over the Continental Divide, Wild Basin, Mummy Range, and more.
Cycling through the park offers riders a chance to take in some of the scenery and striking vistas at a casual pace; however, some may be daunted by the high altitudes and steep climbs on the main roads. Elevations range from 8,000 feet to 12,183 feet (2,400 to 3,700 m). There are 60 miles (97 km) of hard-surfaced road with a five to seven percent grade. Most of the roads in the park have little to no shoulder, with the added challenge of dealing with heavy summer traffic. Early mornings or late evening rides may minimize conflict with other vehicles. Be vigilant for thunderstorms in the early to late afternoons, where lightning can create a serious hazard.
Winter cyclists will have access to Upper Beaver Meadows Road, Moraine Park Campground, Endovalley Road, Aspenglen Campground and High Drive. For a unique cycling experience, check with the park information office for specifics on the Old Fall River Road (gravel surface) and Trail Ridge Road (paved), which are open to bicycles early in the summer season, before they open to vehicles.
Off-road mountain biking is prohibited inside the park.
- Alpine Visitor Center, (at Fall River Pass at the junction of Trail Ridge and Old Fall River roads). Open daily May 28 – October 11 (2010 season). This visitor center offers ranger-led walks in the Land Above the Trees and exhibits on the alpine tundra. There is a book store and snack shop as well as accessible restrooms and vault toilets.
- Beaver Meadows Visitor Center, (on U.S. Route 36, three miles from the town of Estes Park). Open Year-round (Closed Christmas Day). Offers a 20-minute film on the park (show times on the hour and half-hour throughout the day). Rangers can also provide information on what to do in the park. A bookstore offers items for purchase, and there are handicapped accessible restrooms available.
- Fall River Visitor Center, (on U.S. Route 34, five miles west of the town of Estes Park, near the Fall River Entrance to the park). Open All Year. Offers exhibits about park wildlife, children’s exhibits, and rangers can provide tips about what to do in the park. A bookstore offers items for purchase. Handicapped accessible and family restrooms are available.
- Kawuneeche Visitor Center, (one mile north of the town of Grand Lake on U.S. Route 34 at the entrance to the park).Open All Year (Closed Christmas Day). Offers daily ranger walks and illustrated programs on Saturday night. A 20-minute film on the park is also shown on request. Displays include a topographical relief map of the park and exhibits about the Colorado River and its people. A bookstore offers items for purchase and handicapped accessible restrooms are available.
- Moraine Park Visitor Center, (off the Bear Lake Road, 1 1/2 miles from the Beaver Meadows Entrance). Open May 1 through October 11 (2010 season). Offers natural history exhibits and a half-mile nature trail. There is also a bookstore with items for purchase.
The park offers 359 miles of trail to hikers, backpackers and horseback riders. Difficulty levels range from the half mile wheelchair accessable jaunt around Bear Lake to the backbreaking ‘Mummy Kill’, recommended only for those with years of mountaineering experience or a death wish. A few of the most memorable hikes are listed below. Many of the trails in the Eastern Part of the Park can be reached via shuttle buses. Note that snow conditions should be considered before hiking as higher elevations will be snow-covered later into the year.
- Bierstadt Lake(Trailhead is shuttle bus accessible) A beautiful morning hike, this Lake is situated on top of Bierstadt Moraine giving brilliant views of Longs and the Front Range. As three separate routes converge on this lake, all of which lead to Shuttle Bus serviced trailheads, this hike can be done many different ways or even tacked onto a bigger venture. Arguably the best route is from the Bear Lake Trailhead to the Shuttle Parking Lot as this 4.5 mile stroll is mostly downhill. Walk down, take the bus back up.
- Lily MountainThis short hike leads to the top of a foothill near the edge of the park that gives a great view of the front range. A 3 mile hike, the trail is really close to the edge of the park which spoils some of the wilderness feeling you can get far inside the park, however the view from the top is more than worth it. The Lily Mountain Trailhead can be found a little ways south of Estes Park along Route 7.
- Emerald Lake(Trailhead is shuttle bus accessible) A beautiful tarn in the shadow of Hallets and Flattop, the hike up with take you past three other lakes (Bear, Nymph, and Dream) on route from the Bear Lake Trailhead. Although this trail can get crowded, an early morning start can give you relative solitude on what many people conclude is the best short hike (under four miles) in the park.
- Sky Pond(Trailhead is shuttle bus accessible) Definitely the most crowded hike given its difficulty in the entire park with good reason. The vast number of features along this hike make it a favorite of many with two waterfalls and three lakes surounded by increasingly shear and spectacular mountains. If there seems to be alot of people, do not be discouraged. Beyond Timberline Falls the number of hikers reduce, as many are turned away by the short scramble up the side of falls. The Hike leaves from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead and is nine miles in length.
- Fern Odessa Loop(Trailhead is shuttle bus accessible) This 7 mile trail consists of hiking from the Bear Lake Trailhead down to the Fern Lake Trailhead and taking the shuttle buses back. Not only will you not need to backtrack on this trail, it has several optional side hikes such as Spruce Lake that you can take if you are feeling better than expected. Look forward to hiking across some snowfields as the northern flank of Flattop seems to gather a lot of them.
- Flattop and Hallett(Trailhead is shuttle bus accessible) The easiest peak in the park is Flattop Mountain, a 9 miler round trip up from the Bear Lake Trailhead. Although the route up is spectacular, the summit itself is less so though making the half mile walk to Hallett Peak more than worth it. However, even though it is the easiest of the main summits in the park, even Flattop must be respected. People have died on this hike, mostly because they summitted too late and the weather closed in.
- Bluebird LakeOne of those destinations which is absolutely assured to make you gasp in amazement the first time you see it. Not only is the Lake itself magnificent the hike up is fantastic as well passing by three major waterfalls and magnificent views. The only question is if you can foot the 12 miles round trip distance from Wild Basin Trailhead and back.
- The CCYAlso known as ‘Chapin, Chaquita, Ypsilon’ takes in three peaks in less than 9 miles, rising to 13,514 ft. Rising from Chapin Pass Trailhead on Fall River Road this hike is a local favorite with spectacular views of the entire park. Be wary of the volatile weather of the Mummy Range and do not be afraid to turn back with dark clouds approaching. Getting stuck up here in a storm is no picnic.
- Shelf and Solitude Lakes(Trailhead is shuttle bus accessible) Considered by many the best alpine lake hike in the book, and for good reason. This hanging valley off Glacier Gorge is truly a magical place, but the approach is dfficult at best. A nine mile round trip jaunt from the Glacier Gorge Trailhead on Bear Lake Road the last mile to the lakes leaves the main trail at an easily missed turnoff before climbing an extremely steep slope. If you are unable to find the turn off do not feel bad about continuing on the main trail to Black Lake, a spectacular lake in its own right.
- Longs Peak via the Keyhole RouteA classic 16 mile route allowing you to conquer this 14,259 footer, the roof of Rocky Mountain National Park. This hike requires an early start from the Longs Peak Trailhead (head south on Route 7 from Estes Park), early as in 4 am. The last portion of the ascent crosses high above glacier gorge and will either permanently cure, or reinforce, your fear of heights. However, this section is not as dangerous as it seems. The largest danger manifests itself through the non-prepared hikers who throng to this trail and have no business being on the mountain.
- Continental TraverseThis hike begins at the Milner Pass Trailhead and continues from there along the continental divide before descending via the Flattop Mountain Trailhead to Bear Lake Trailhead 20 MILES LATER. You must be in prime physical condition, be completely acclimated, start at an absurdly early hour, and have extremely good luck as far as weather goes in order to make this work. If you can make this work you will see some areas of the park which very few people get to see, but if weather forces you off the ridge get ready for a long slog to the Kewaunchee Valley to get out.
- McHenrys Peak(Trailhead is shuttle bus accessible) Climb up past Black Lake in Glacier Gorge and past where the trail ends. Go higher and even higher past Frozen Lake. Climb over Stone Man’s Pass, which except for a few weeks in late August requires crampons. Then continue up the mountain over extremely exposed class three climbing. That is McHenrys Peak. This 13,327 footer is the most difficult non technical (and that’s pushing it) peak in the park. However, this 16-mile hike is considered a gem to those with the wherewithal to complete it, unlocking some of the most spectacular views in the Front Range.