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Your Smooth Planning Guide to Rocky Mountain National Park

Posted by Frost River

Your Smooth Planning Guide to Rocky Mountain National Park

Journey with us as we explore a surreal, mountainous wonderland full of wildlife and adventure.

What You Need to Know About Rocky Mountain National Park

Whether you're looking for a weekend of great hiking, a family trip with memories to last a lifetime, or a pleasure cruise through a magical world of elk, bighorn sheep, black bear, moose, mountain lions, and more—Rocky Mountain National Park is for you.
 
This 415 square mile, complete with over 300 miles of hiking trails, is a gem within our National Parks system. Chock full of ways to get your adventure on, you will need to do some planning ahead of time as this is one of the National Parks that has implemented a timed entry permit system. To get your permit to enter the park, click here and get planning your trip to Rocky Mountain National Park.
 
Frost River adventure van driving in RMNP.

How to Get There

Located in northern Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park is mainly accessed by car, camper, or public transportation, or shuttle service. We decided to inaugurate our newly remodeled Overland Van with a trip to this park. (See awesome photos throughout this blog!)
 
There are many benefits to choosing a camper or camper/overland van on National Park adventures. For starters, you can explore the countless sights on your own time while being able to stay within the park itself—at trailheads or one of the many campgrounds. There’s nothing quite like waking up to picturesque peaks with a hot cup of coffee in hand and an overwhelming sense of wonder in your heart.
 
However, if you’re more of a thrill-seeker, looking for less creature comforts, wilderness camping options are available but are always in high demand. It’s a lottery system and the lucky few get to experience Rocky Mountain National Park in ways that most never will. To request a permit to camp in the backcountry click here. 
 
Lastly, if you’re not from the area, (we drove all the way from Duluth, Minnesota!), you can fly into Denver International Airport and rent a car or camper from there to take you to the park.
 
Lakeside view of Rocky Mountain National Park.

What to see & do

When planning your itinerary, the first thing to figure out is what you want to see and what you have time to see. Next, you’ll need to figure out where you will hang your hat for the night—again, one of the many benefits of campervanning is that you take your hotel with you throughout the park.
 
To help you figure out all the sights and attractions of Rocky Mountain National Park that you can sneak in over a long weekend, we’ve created this 3-day itinerary for you to get you out seeking your someday. If you only have one day to explore the park, we recommend driving the popular Trail Ridge Road that stretches all the way across the park. You might be able to get a short hike or two in. However, with three days, you’ll be able to explore both sides of the park and get enough miles in to earn your hiking patch.
 
Frost River adventure van driving in RMNP.

  3-day Itinerary

Day One: Welcome to the West Side

If you love visitor centers or need to collect your Rocky Mountain National Park passport stamp, you can start your trip off with a stop at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center. However, we recommend skipping this step and heading straight to one of the most popular areas in the entire Rocky Mountain National Park: Bear Lake.
 
Bear Lake is the hot ticket in this continental-divide town, so to speak. The parking lots fill early, so one way to guarantee your spot is to arrive at Bear Lake the night before and plan to sleep in your van in your parking spot. This is a simple trick that van life aficionados often use to guarantee a place to park in National Park hot spots. However, if you can’t make it there early in the morning, there’s also a park and ride—take caution though, the park and ride parking lots also fill up quickly during peak months.
 
Why is Bear Lake so crowded? It’s absolutely breathtaking! You can hike the easy half-mile loop around the lake and then venture off to hike nearby at even more lakes, one of which connects to Alberta Falls—a must-see on our Rocky Mountain National Park activities list.
 
After your morning hikes, you can jet down to Sprague Lake with a picnic lunch to either hike around more or find a spot to eat lunch and watch for the many moose that frequent the area, or even hear the bugling of elk from the valley.
 
Mountain-scape next to lake in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Day Two: Old Fall River Road

Day two is all about conquering the west side of the park. You can do this by driving the one-way, Old Fall River Road from June to September (it’s closed the rest of the year). This is the original trail through Rocky Mountain National Park that hugs the shores of the Fall River, meandering through the mountains. However, be warned, this narrow, one-way gravel road comes complete with switchbacks so make sure your vehicle and nerve are up to the challenge.
 
Your risk will be rewarded with spectacular views, waterfalls, and a chance to visit the highest elevation visitor center within the entire National Park system. Make sure you stop here to take in the view and a few photos at 12,000 feet above the equator.
 
From here, you can take the renowned Trail Ridge Road to see the Holzworth Historic Site, hike to Adams Falls, and turn in for the night at Timber Creek Campground.
 
Mountain-scape in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Day Three: Eastbound on Trail Ridge Road

This day is all about giving your hiking shoes a break and taking in all the views from the tremendous Trail Ridge Road. There are many overlooks to stop at along the way to take pictures or to take in how amazing mother nature truly is. You’ll be able to look for wildlife in Horseshoe Park and finally settle down for your last night in camp at Aspenglen. Finally, you get your last chance to pick up passport stamps or souvenirs at the Fall River Visitor Center.

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Packing List

So what goes well with the all-American road trip to Rocky Mountain National Park? Why all-American-made packs and softgoods from Frost River of course! Check out our recommended gear to help get you out on your next road trip:

LUGGAGE TO LAST A LIFETIME
Looking for a single piece of luggage to possibly last for life? Look no further. Frost River’s line of Laurentian Luggage is made to handle all the life you can throw at it—including airplane carry-on, camping, road trips, and more! Plus, with a lifetime guarantee, quality materials, and handcrafted right here in the USA, Laurentian Luggage is your easy, go-anywhere bag for the bulk of a lifetime of travels.
 
Laurentian luggage from Frost River.

Canvas Summit Pack from Frost River.
PEAK YOUR INTEREST WITH THE SUMMIT PACK
What’s a road trip without a catch-all, carry-anything bag? Meet the Summit Pack. A backpack that fits 3-4 days’ worth of clothing with padded waxed canvas shoulder straps attached to a solid brass ring, and is carry-on compliant for those non-road trips. –what more do you need (or want)?
 

QUICK TRIPS DESERVE A PACK TOO
The High Falls is available in our traditional Field Tan, high visibility Hunter Orange, and our subtle and distinctive Heritage Black with antiqued hardware. All are made from the same core materials of hard-wearing waxed canvas, premium leather, sturdy cotton web, and solid brass hardware.
 
High Falls premium canvas leather backpack from Frost River.

Devil's Kettle Day Pack - sustainable gear from Frost River.
THE DEVIL’S IN THE DETAILS OF THIS PACK
Can’t decide on an adventure? Neither can our new Devil’s Kettle Daypack. Equipped to be customized any way you want, it’s ready to help you seek your new job or next backcountry adventure. Made from sustainable solar energy, now you only need one pack for all of your adventuring needs.
 

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The carry-on Laurentian luggage is crafted from waxed canvas, premium leather, and solid brass hardware. This item is durable and strong.
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The Summit Pack is crafted in Duluth, MN and made of premium materials including waxed canvas, premium leather, and solid brass.
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High Falls -short day pack No.399 by Frost River is a small pack made from field tan waxed canvas. Long and narrow, it's shaped to accommodate a water bladder. The long and lean layout works great when you just want to carry some gear in a low profile pack.
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Devil's Kettle Daypack is made from waxed canvas, leather, solid brass hardware and cotton webbing.
Sold out