Rocky Mountain National Park is one of 4 National Parks in Colorado and great place for camping and hiking. This travel guide will help you plan your family vacation to RMNP and give you a local’s breakdown to the best beginner hikes at Rocky Mountain National Park. Tips to pack for weather, hiking or travel with kids included.
We have been camping and hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park annually for several years. With several beginner hikes, waterfalls, lakes, scenic drives on Trail Ridge Road, wildlife, and interesting ranger-led programs, we just can’t get enough of this place.
Camping at Rocky Mountain National Park
There are 5 campgrounds in Rocky Mountain National Park and there are several options for lodging in nearby Estes Park or Grand Lake.
Three of the campgrounds are reservable and the others are first-come, first-served. All accept tents, but only 3 accommodate RVs or travel trailers.
There is potable water and dumping stations, toilets and food storage lockers at the campgrounds. Ice and firewood are sold seasonally.
There are no showers, laundry or supply stores, but Estes Park is nearby and laundry places offer paid showers as well.
Rocky Mountain National Park receives over 4 million visitors every year and most visit during the summer. Therefore, camping spots go fast and the park tends to get a little crowded during peak season. If you can visit early or late summer, you have a better chance of being the only ones on a trail and having your pick of campsite.
Also the East side (Estes Park) of the park is most popular with visitors, while the West side (Grand Lake) offers tranquility and more wildlife sightings. Moose, deer, elk, foxes, and even bears roam near the roads and it’s not uncommon to see wildlife walking around tents and RVs in the campground at dusk and dawn.
If you have a travel trailer or RV, make reservations at least 6 months in advance as reservable spots go fast, especially for larger rigs.
If you are tent camping, make sure to lock your food in the designated locked boxes and always pack winter clothes and extra blanket.
Campsites can be reserved here.
Weather in Rocky Mountain National Park
The weather in Rocky Mountain National Park and Colorado in general is fairly unpredictable. Even in the summer nights can be chilly or it can snow in June and August. At the top of Trail Ridge Road there is always snow.
Another consideration for weather in Rocky Mountain National Park is summer thunderstorms. They usually occur in the afternoons, so any extraneous or longer hikes should be started early in the morning. You should plan to be returning by noon. Always carry rain gear and the 10 essentials.
Hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park
There are so many hiking trails in Rocky Mountain National Park. From beginners trails that are great for families traveling with kids to more challenging ones like Longs Peak.
Generally speaking, hikes in Colorado are harder due to the higher elevation. A trail might only be 2 miles long, but a lot more taxing due to lower levels of oxygen.
After years of hiking in Colorado and other National Parks around the country, I’ve come to the conclusion that if the trail is designated easy on a brochure or by a park ranger in Colorado, it’s usually a moderate trail. A moderate trail is usually hard and a hard trail should only be attempted if you are in very good physical shape.
Also be sure to check for elevation gains as some short hikes have steep grades (1,000 feet in under 1 mile of trail). These trails are better for intermediate hikers and older kids.
Don’t forget the 10 essentials and always, always wear sunscreen. At higher elevation, the sun burns hotter. In the summer, mosquitos are prevalent near trails with water, so mosquito spray is a necessity.
Best Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park for Beginners
If you are only spending a few days in Rocky Mountain National Park or maybe only visiting for the day, the first 3 hikes I recommend can be done as a loop.
Sprague Lake is one of my favorite and a super easy trail in Rocky Mountain National Park to start the day. It’s flat and less than one mile roundtrip. It is usually less busy than Bear Lake nearby and the parking is also easier.
You can fish at Sprague Lake, with a permit of course, and picnic areas are available.
Bear Lake is the most popular hike in Rocky Mountain National Park for its accessibility. It’s only 0.5 mile to the lake from the parking lot and mostly flat.
During the summer, I recommend parking and hiking at Sprague Lake and taking the free shuttle to Bear Lake.
Instead of taking the shuttle back to Sprague Lake, you can hike to Alberta Falls from Bear Lake (about 1.5 miles).
It is a great hike along the rushing water and a beautiful view from the top. From Alberta Falls you can take the shuttle back to Sprague Lake where you parked your car.
Cub Lake Trail
Cub Lake Trail is near Moraine Park Campground and a moderate hike (5 miles and at times has steep elevation gains. It is not a trail you want to do with small kids if your family is new to hiking.
However, the first 2 miles are actually pretty easy so if you don’t mind not seeing the lake, it’s a great beginner trail and moose are often spotted here.
Have you camped or hiked in Rocky Mountain National Park? What are your favorites?
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If you liked this post on Rocky Mountain National Park, you might also enjoy these other posts on things to do in Colorado.
- Rocky Mountain Wildlife Refuge
- Burro Trail: Golden Gate Canyon
- What to see and do in Salida
- The Most Instagrammable Places in Colorado Springs
- Great Wolf Lodge in Colorado Springs
- Great Sand Dunes National Park
- Eldorado Canyon State Park
- Paint Mines
- Gross Reservoir in Boulder
- Bear Lake Trail
- Flatiron Vista Trail
- Fountain Valley Trail
- Dinosaur Ridge
- Loveland Colorado
- How to become more outdoorsy
- The Summit Trail
- Cedar Gulch Trail
- Hiking St. Mary’s Glacier
- Tips for Visiting Pike Peak
- Tips for Visiting Mount Evans
- Pike’s Peak Cog Railroad
Post originally posted July 2017. Last updated June 2020.