You’re headed to Rocky Mountain National Park where more than 800 miles of trails await you for an adventure full of fun, but where should you camp? Here’s a personalized guide to help you decide where to spend the night, from car camping paradise and remote backcountry sites to RV heaven.
What type of camper are you?
I love car camping...
Do you want to be on the east or west side?
East: 2, 3
My tent is an RV...
How important is having a reservation?
First-come, first-served gives me flexibility: 2
I want to know where I am staying months in advance: 4
It's backcountry or bust for me...
Do you want to be in the north or south part of the park?
1. Timber Creek Campground
Just 10 miles inside the park from the Grand Lake entrance, the Timber Creek Campground is first-come, first-served for its 98 sites. Open late May through early November, it is the only campground on the park’s west side.
Located along the Colorado River, this beautiful campground is the definition of “Rocky Mountain high” since it sits at 8,900 feet. Your costs per night for this slice of paradise? $26 per night. It has flush toilets, offers ranger-led programs and can accommodate RVs up to 30 feet in length. Be aware that there is no shade at this campground since the pine beetle infestation in the area forced the park service to take down a number of trees.
Because it is first-come, first-served, get there early in the day during the summer season to try to get a site.
2. Moraine Park Campground
For striking views of Longs Peak, the park’s highest, settle in for the evening at Moraine Park Campground. For summer, reservations are highly recommended. You can make reservations up to six months in advance online at www.recreation.gov or by calling 877-444-6777. In the winter, no reservations are accepted ⎯ it’s a first-come, first-served basis.
Nestled in a ponderosa pine forest two-and-a-half miles south of Beaver Meadows Entrance Station, this beautiful campground offers 244 sites in the summer and 77 in winter, but you never feel like a sardine packed tightly between tents.
The site costs $26 per night when the water is on, and $18 when it is off, so you’ll find a mix of flush and vault toilets, depending on water availability. RVs up to 40 feet in length are welcome here, and generators are allowed from 7:30 a.m.-10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., except in Loop D where generators are prohibited.
Amenities include a free shuttle that connects the campground to Bear Lake and Estes Park, which is especially great to RVers who want to leave their vehicles behind. Moraine Park Discovery Center is in walking distance as are connections to Moraine Park area trails. If you have your own solar shower bag, you can connect to the shower bag stall in the campground to clean off after a day of outdoor adventure.
3. Longs Peak Campground
Looking for a tents-only campground that serves as a basecamp for climbers hoping to ascend Longs Peak, the park’s highest peak at 14,259.
Head to Longs Peak Campground, a first-come, first-served area with 26 site nestled in a pine forest. The price for the highest campground in the park at 9,500 feet is $26 per night. Because the campground is at such a high elevation, bring warm layers for the evenings and early mornings. Summer 2016 opening dates have not been posted, pending a water project at the campground, so stay tuned.
Note this is on the edge of the park south of the main entrance on the eastern side. To get there, head nine miles south of the town of Estes Park off of Highway 7.
4. Aspenglen Campground
Open late May through late September, Aspenglen Campground is just west of the Fall River Entrance Station in a beautiful pine forest near Fall River. At 8,200 feet, you are that much closer to the canopy stars hanging above you at night- and all for $26 per night.
With 53 sites total accommodating tents and RVs up to 30 feet in length (RVs permitted in loops B and C), this campground allows generators on the C Loop only from 7:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. You can make reservations up to six months in advance online at www.recreation.gov or by calling 877-444-6777.
Because cell phones don’t work here, get ready to truly disconnect from the rest of the world and immerse yourself into the wonders of the park. Just a short walk away lies Fall River Visitor Center and ranger-led evening programs are often offered in the summer.
5. Fern Lake
For a short-distanced backpacking adventure perfect for families with strong kids, try backcountry camping for a night or two at Fern Lake. It’s 3.8 miles in from the Fern Lake trailhead. Along the way, you’ll pass The Pool, Fern Falls and Marguerite Falls.
There’s a pit toilet near the individual camping sites for Fern Lake, which can be a great convenience when camping with kids. Park officials ask that you pitch your tent close to the indicated site out of potential hazards of standing dead trees.
Spend the next day fishing in Fern Lake (but be sure to have your Colorado fishing permit with you), or exploring nearby Spruce or Odessa Lakes before relaxing at your campsite and settling in for night two under the stars.
To get to the trailhead from Beaver Meadows Visitor Center, follow Hwy 36 west to Bear Lake Road for a little more than 1 mile. Take a left onto Bear Lake Road and stay on it for another mile. Then turn right onto Moraine Park Campground Road. When you se the sign for the riding stable and trailheads, take a left. This orad brings you to the edge of Moraine Park. The trailhead is at the end of the road.
You do need a permit to camp overnight in the backcountry. Reserving a permit in advance online at www.pay.gov/public/form/start/68498987 is highly recommended, or pick one up at either of two backcountry offices in the park, beginning March 1 at 8 a.m. for the current calendar year. Walk-in permits cost $26. At Rocky Mountain National Park, you cannot fax or call in permit requests.
On the east side, the backcountry office is adjacent to the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center, which is close to where the Fern Lake trailhead is. The backcountry office is open seven days a week, but hours change depending on the season. Call 970-586-1242 for information.
6. Ouzel Lake
A 4.9-mile hike in, Ouzel Lake is located in Wild Basin, a more rugged area of Rocky Mountain National Park. It sits at 10,020 feet.
Along the way to the lake, you will pass Calypso Cascades and Ouzel Falls, popular destinations, but most people turn around at the falls, leaving the trail less crowded once you leave the falls behind. Wildlife are abundant here, so keep your eyes out, especially for moose. You’ll also see a number of peaks, including Mount Meeker at 13,911.
Because of the distance required to get to Ouzel Lake, you’ll find few people and plenty of solitude once you set up camp. Park officials ask that you pitch your tent close to the indicated site out of potential hazards of standing dead trees. A maximum of 7 people are allowed at individual sites and 12 maximum at group sites. There is a privy at the backcountry campsite at Ouzel Lake.
If you spend two nights here, you can do a nice, strenuous day hike to Bluebird Lake, two miles and nearly 1,000 feet above you.
You need a permit to camp overnight in the backcountry, and you can reserve a permit in advance online at www.pay.gov/public/form/start/68498987, which is highly recommended, or pick one up at either of two backcountry offices in the park, beginning March 1 at 8 a.m. for the current calendar year. At Rocky Mountain National Park, you cannot fax or call in permit requests.
On the east side, the backcountry office is adjacent to the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center. On the west side, the backcountry office is in the Kawuneeche Visitor Center. The offices are open seven days a week, but hours change depending on the season. You can call 970-586-1242 for information.
To get to the trailhead from Beaver Meadows Visitor Center, follow Hwy. 36 about 1 mile east and then turn right onto Mary’s Lake Road. Follow it for about 2.4 miles to Hwy. 7. Turn right and follow Hwy. 7 to for 9.1 miles to Wild Basin Road.