Where is Rocky Mountain National Park? And Answers to Common Questions

I often get so excited about finding new restaurants in Estes Park or trails in Rocky Mountain National Park, that I forget some people are traveling to our favorite town for the very first time and need to know the basics. This post is dedicated to answering common questions for first-time visitors.

Where is Rocky Mountain National Park?

Rocky Mountain National Park is located in the state of Colorado.

What towns are near Rocky Mountain National Park?

Estes Park, Colorado is a mountain town that sits on the eastern side of Rocky Mountain National Park. Estes Park is approximately a one-and-a-half hour drive from Denver, Colorado and less than an hour drive from Boulder, Colorado.

Grand Lake, Colorado sits on the western side of Rocky Mountain National Park and is approximately a two-hour drive from Denver, Colorado.

Traffic in the Denver area can dramatically affect drive times, so I recommend timing your trip to avoid rush-hours if possible.

What is the elevation in Estes Park and Grand Lake?

Estes Park is at 7,522 feet in elevation. Grand Lake is even higher at 8,369 feet. At these elevations, it is good to keep in mind that your body needs time to acclimate. We have found altitude affects each person differently – some people have only minor issues adjusting while others may experience altitude sickness. We try to stay hydrated and find lower elevation hikes that are less strenous on the first day of our trip.

What is the weather like in Rocky Mountain National Park?

Summer: One of the best parts of traveling to the mountains in the summer months is the cooler temperatures and lower humidity (compared to our home in Arkansas). Mornings and evenings are often cool. Afternoon highs can reach into the 80s. Afternoon rain showers are common.

Fall: Crisp fall days, golden aspens, and the elk rut make autumn a wonderful and popular time to visit Rocky Mountain National Park. It can snow in the fall as we learned during an October trip where we ended up doing more sledding than hiking.

Winter: Winter is less busy in Rocky Mountain National Park compared to summer and fall prime months. Temperatures are cold, but on sunny days we have found it comfortable to hike, go sledding, and snow shoe as long as we bring warm layers. Some days the winds are extraordinarily strong which makes it less enjoyable. The town of Estes Park sparkles with holiday lights.

Spring: Snow and snow melt are common in spring. When we want to hike we typically visit lower elevation areas where the snow has melted out. Often the trails are slushy and muddy in spots. We bring trekking poles and fresh shoes to change into when we are done with our hike.

Additional tips about weather conditions in Rocky Mountain National Park can be found on the national park’s website.

I hope this is a good start. I’ll answer more common questions in upcoming posts mixed in with new hikes that we enjoyed from our most recent trip. If you have any questions I should cover in our next post, please ask them in the comments.

A Land of Extremes: Tundra Communities Trail in Rocky Mountain Natonal Park

‘You have entered a land of fierce extremes’ reads signage on the Tundra Communities Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park. The signage is referring to the high altitude and intense weather conditions, but it feels like a good metaphor for life during a pandemic when everyone is trying to make good decisions and sometimes coming up with opposite answers.

Views from Tundra Communities Trail

To get to the Tundra Communities Trail, you drive up Trail Ridge Road which is inside Rocky Mountain National Park. It connects Estes Park on the east to Grand Lake on the west. A national park pass and timed entry permit are required. The road is a popular attraction in the park because it takes you above tree line and offers panoramic views of the mountain ranges. We often see herds of elk.

There are several turnoffs along Trail Ridge Road where you can take pictures or walk on park trails. The Tundra Communities Trail is located at the Rock Cut parking lot near the highest point of Trail Ridge Road. The path begins at 12,050 feet of elevation. The hike is a half mile each way with 260 feet of elevation gain. At this high elevation, be cautious of changing weather conditions, especially pop-up storms with lightening. The sun is strong, so make sure to put on sunscreen. You may be surprised how much the temperature drops as you gain elevation, so it is a good idea to bring warm layers even during summer months.

marmot with mountain views on tundra in rocky mountain national park

The fuzzy marmots that we spotted off the trail didn’t seem to mind the cool morning temperatures.

the tundra communities trail is a half mile paved trail

The trail is paved. It’s important to stay in the paved area to protect the delicate landscape.

rock formations with mountain views on the alpine tundra in rocky mountain national park, colorado

There are several unique rock formations off the main trail to explore including Mushroom Rocks.

toll memorial and mountain marker on tundra community trail

The Roger Toll Memorial can be found at the end of the trail. There is also a marker that shows which peaks you are looking at in the distance. After a fun scramble on these rocks, the views of the surrounding mountains are inspiring.

wildflowers in alpine tundra in rocky mountain national park, colorado

The wildflowers along the trail are a testament to beauty thriving in harsh realities. This is a short trail, but I encourage you to take your time to see how it speaks to you.

Today I’m praying for wisdom, compassion, and health for my family and yours. Thank you for following along with our adventures!

more HIKES ON THE TUNDRA

Alpine Ridge Trail

Kid-sized portion of the Ute Trail

Waterfalls Galore in Rocky Mountain National Park’s Wild Basin

Calypso Cascades is a short hike in Rocky Mountain National Park's Wild Basin. Calypso Cascades hike features waterfalls and wild flowers.

We just got back from an amazing week in the mountains. I can’t wait to share all about our experience with the new timed-entry reservation system, how we chose which hikes to go on, and a few tips sprinkled in. This post also features trail details and pictures of Calypso Cascades, one of our favorite spots in Rocky Mountain National Park.

rocky mountain national park timed-entry

Rocky Mountain National Park has a new reservation system. We chose the 6:00 am to 8:00 am entry time for each day of our trip. People can go into the park before 6:00 am and after 5:00 pm without a reservation, so parking can still be limited in popular areas. Overall, the experience was easy and we appreciated that there was less traffic in the park.

wild basin is less crowded

We chose to hike in the Wild Basin for our first hike of the trip because we expected it to be less busy given it’s more remote location. The Wild Basin is located approximately 19 miles south of Estes Park on Highway 7. Once you turn off the highway, the drive turns into a bumpy, narrow dirt road leading towards the Wild Basin trail head. There is no shuttle service in this area of the park. Even though it is typically less busy, the parking lot still filled up around 8:00 am (on a Sunday in July). Luckily, we found a parking space around the corner from the main parking area.

If you are having a hard time deciding which hikes to try in Rocky Mountain National Park, I created a fun chart to help you decide.

wild basin is lower in elevation (8,500 ft)

The elevation is lower in the Wild Basin than other areas of the national park which was helpful for our first day on the trails as we acclimated to the higher altitude.

Waterfalls in the Wild Basin area of Rocky Mountain National Park

wild basin waterfalls

There are several destinations you can reach from the Wild Basin trail head. We decided to hike to Calypso Cascades because it is relatively short at 1.8 miles each way. The trail begins flat and wide with towering pine trees. At .3 miles into the hike, you will pass Copeland Falls. There is signage pointing to the upper and lower falls. There have been several occasions that we stopped right at this point because of weather or tired kids.

Calypso Cascades is a top hike  located in Wild Basin of Rocky Mountain National Park.
Calypso Cascades

But we were having a good day so we continued the hike which begins to steadily gain in elevation. (You climb 780 ft total). There is a picturesque wooden bridge over the cascades which is a wonderful place to take in the scenery or get a family photo. For hikers who want more of a challenge, you can continue on to Ouzel Falls. This time we stopped for a snack after the bridge and headed back down the trail the way we came.

kid carrier for hiking

Our 5-year-old hiked to Calypso Cascades on her own without much trouble or complaints. Our 3-year-old rode in a kid-carrier. We own a Deuter kid carrier like this one which we purchased when our oldest child turned one and a half years old. My husband is the parent who takes on the challenge of carrying our daughter on his shoulders. Carrying an extra 30 pounds up a mountain is tough, but at least the carrier helps distribute the child’s weight so he is more comfortable. My daughter enjoys sitting up high to see the views. A carrier feels safer than carrying a child when they are too tired to walk on their own because it frees up adult hands to catch yourself in case you trip or stumble. Buying our own kid carrier has been a good investment because we have used it for both girls and also shared it with friends and family. However, if you don’t want to buy a kid carrier, you can rent them at Estes Park Mountain Shop.

Kid Carrier for hiking
Make sure to get a kid carrier with a rain roof for unexpected mountain rain storms

pack layers (And Masks) when hiking in the mountains

We enjoyed the cooler mountain temperatures. Many days we started off in sweatshirts or jackets in the morning and took off layers by afternoon when temperatures rose into the 80’s.

We also started our hikes with face masks by the trail head and parking lot, but took them off when we could keep a minimum of six foot distance from fellow hikers. The state of Colorado currently has a face mask mandate for COVID-19.

Wildflowers bloom in the summer months in Rocky Mountain National Park's Wild Basin area

The forest, summer wildflowers, wooden bridges, and waterfalls all make the hike to Calypso Cascades a unique experience.

related posts you might enjoy

Best Waterfall Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Sweeping Mountain Views and Waterfalls – Our Favorite New Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park’s Wild Basin

Family Friendly Waterfall Hike in Rocky Mountain National Park’s Wild Basin

Into the Wild Basin (featuring Ouzel Falls)

*This post contains an affiliate link for kid carrier. Thank you for your support!

Arkansas Hiking: It’s Too Hot, I Hate Ticks, I’m Scared of Snakes…And Other Excuses I Made This Summer

I’m sad to admit that we’ve been in a hiking slump ever since the temperatures started rising in Arkansas. Summer can mean less comfortable conditions including poison ivy, humidity, pesky bugs, and snakes. The excuses can add up, but I’m happy to report we took advantage of the long holiday weekend to go out on a family hike.

We drove to Hobbs State Park and walked a portion of the Pigeon Roost trail. This was a return trip. We wrote about our first hike here last spring.

We crossed over creeks that flow into Beaver Lake

The Pigeon Roost trail takes you through lush woods until you reach a point that looks over Beaver Lake. We sat on the benches and enjoyed a snack along with the views. You can go much further, but we kept the hike short (approximately 1 mile each way) and returned the way we came. We left with a feeling of accomplishment and renewal.

The lake was clear enough to see fish swimming near the water’s edge

I recently read an article in the New York Times about ‘Nature Deficit Disorder‘ and how the pandemic has had a negative impact on children who don’t have the opportunity to spend much time outdoors. After reading it, I felt grateful for our access to forests, rivers, waterfalls, and lakes here in the Natural State.

Wildflowers blooming among the trees.

I also had a conversation with a neighbor who explained she is taking her three kids on a hiking excursion once a week this summer. I love this idea! I’m starting to research new hikes we can explore before school starts next month.

Tall trees provide shade over the hiking path

It’s good to have reminders that the positives of getting outside far exceed the challenges that come along with the summer heat. If you need ideas, I put together a list of hikes we’ve enjoyed so far in Northwest Arkansas. You can read more about them on our Arkansas Hiking and Biking page.