Saturday, January 30, 2016

How to avoid the crowds in Rocky Mountain National Park

The tourism in our national parks has skyrocketed in the last few years. Millions of people from other countries (and a few from our own) visit these locations to take in the breathtaking scenery and enjoy the great outdoors. Rocky Mountain National Park is no exception. It is not unheard of to spend an afternoon in R.M.N.P. driving around looking for a parking spot rather than going for a hike. Below are a few simple tips to bypass all the tourist congestion:

# 1.  Stay away from the Bear Lake area

Bear Lake

...and the town of Estes for that matter. Rocky is a huge place. There are multiple entrances that can be used to gain access. Bear Lake is beautiful. There's no question about it. Some of the most amazing mountaineering adventures can begin from the Bear Lake trailhead.  It's well maintained.  It's easily accessable. It's bang for your buck scenery, and EVERYONE knows it.  If sharing your experience with thousands of other hikers isn't your thing, drive a few miles south on the peak to peak highway and use the Wild Basin entrance. The scenery in this area is equally stunning, but lesser known. Or, if you're willing to drive a bit further, do some exploring in the Neversummer mountains on the west end of the park. You will have to drive farther but the reward is worth it. Plus, Trail Ridge Road is a cool trip of its own.
wild basin entrance in rocky mountain natioanal park with aspens
The Wild Basin entrance

On the other hand, if you do want to spend some time in the popular areas, follow steps #2 and #3. 

# 2. Go during the off season

The Never Summer Range in winter

The summer months are the busiest and can be the most congested. The weather is nice, schools are out, and people are on vacation. However, once the aspens have shed their leaves in the fall, the attendance drops off dramatically until late spring. Now's the time to grab some snow shoes and head to the park! Besides, the mountain peaks look better with snow on them anyway.

# 3. Visit during the off hours

Bierstadt Lake before dawn

As far as what time of the week to go, Monday - Friday are almost always better than weekends. If your schedule is like 90% of the rest of the country, you can't do a weekday. There's still hope! Even on a weekend you can find solitude. As a general rule, arrive early or stay late. If you're willing to get there before the sun rises, there's a high chance you won't see another soul. It's amazing the difference a 5:00 am start can make verses a 9:00 am start!

# 4. Climb any mountain not named "Longs Peak"

McHenrys Peak and Black Lake

Climbing Longs peak is a feat many aspire to. It's long, difficult, and dangerous. On any given day in the summer, you can find an ant-like line of people marching toward the highly esteemed summit. There can be literally hundreds of people at the top creating traffic jams along "the narrows". Longs is a 14er. All the other peaks here are 13ers or below in elevation. There are few who know or care about making it to the top of one of these "lesser" mountains. I would say that many of the 13ers, 12ers, 11ers, etc. in Rocky Mountain National Park (and Colorado for that matter) are just as fun (or more so) to hike. They really give you the feel of an adventure. Rarely will you share a 13er summit with another party.

# 5. Hike farther

The farther away from the trailhead you hike, the less people you will see. It's that simple. (Unless of course you are doing a loop and hiking toward another trailhead).

This principle is the same when it comes to overnight camping. Campsites that you can drive to are hard to get. You have to reserve them ahead of time. You will not be the only ones camping here either. However, if you don't mind backpacking in a ways, there are a good number of back-country campsites you can reserve throughout the park as well as cross country areas to explore. You do have to buy a permit and go through a few loopholes, but it can be a lot less crowded than the former option.


  1. Thanks for this! My husband has a gig in Estes Park in July, so we wanted to go to RMNP for a bit to make a trip out of it. But I knew it was going to be crazy in July! Your tip about climbing the 13ers, etc, is very helpful. :)

  2. Any tips for a nice quiet place around Rocky Mountain where we can star gaze and hike/bike and not use the car all week ?