Planning a trip to Rocky Mountain National park is an exciting addition to your visit to the mile-high state of Colorado.
If you have been searching maps and routes, you may have noticed Trail Ridge Road that extends through Rocky Mountain National park and wondered if that you can drive all the way through Rocky Mountain National Park into the town of Grand Lake Colorado?
Well, as a resident of a town just outside of Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), and someone who has spent countless hours wandering the park, I have some personal experience on this and can give a few tips about how and when you can travel over the entire Trail Ridge Road.
In this article, I will share the seasons and dates you can expect to travel Trail Ridge Road and give some pointers about early and late-season arrivals.
So, let’s jump right in!
🚨 Quick answer for those in a hurry: Yes, however, Trail Ridge Road is closed from roughly early winter through late spring due to the massive snowfall in the winter. The road is open for travel in the summer months only. The other roads in the park remain open year-round, dependent on snow removal operations at the park.
Rocky Mountain National Park Summary
Rocky Mountain National Park, or commonly referred to as RMNP, is a staple in the minds of most when they think of things like the Rocky Mountains, bugling bull elks and all things Colorado mountains.
RMNP stretches over 400 square miles and offers all that visit the opportunity to get up close to elks, moose, and deer, as well as camping, hiking, and other backcountry adventures.
Expansive mountain views, tundra wildlife and alpine lakes (like Dream Lake) make Rocky Mountain National Park another go-to destination for photographers as well.
✅ While you are here, looking for the BEST time to visit Yellowstone National Park? Check this guide out here where we learned the hard way and share the best way!
What is The Closest Town To Rocky Mountain National Park?
The closest town to RMNP is the town of Estes Park, just east of the park entrance by about 5 miles.
Estes Park is a quaint mountain town with all the fixings of a tourist town complete with rides, fun foods and the occasional heard of elk holding up traffic.
Because RMNP sits atop a mountain range, it has another “closest town” to the west side of the park is the town of Grand Lake, a picturesque mountain lake with a small number of local amenities.
Rocky Mountain National Park is located approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes away from Denver, and approximately 2 hours and 42 minutes from Colorado Springs.
How Many Days Should You Spend in Rocky Mountain National Park?
Any good national park visit requires at least a couple of days, and RMNP is no different. However, if you do not plan on getting out of your car and exploring, you can cut the trip much shorter.
As a rule, try to spend at least 3 days in Rocky Mountian National Park. RMNP offers a lot more than just driving through the park and snapping a couple of pics of elk.
RMNP and COVID Changes To Gate Access
Like all things from 2020 moving forward, COVID has changed how everything works, and that includes access to RMNP.
In the past, RMNP was open 24 hours a day and could be accessed at any time, by any person. However, now those days are definitely gone. Let’s explore some of the new access requirements for RMNP.
Has Rocky Mountain National Park Been Closed?
No, Rocky Mountain National Park is not currently closed, there was a period around November 2020 that the park announced an indefinite closing, however, it has since been lifted and access is now limited but available in all of 2021 moving forward.
Is Rocky Mountain National Park Still Using Timed Entry?
Yes, as of 10/2021, RMNP is still using the Timed Entry Park Pass service. This means you cannot show up unannounced and expect to gain entry as you did for the years prior.
You can learn more about the timed entry service as well as book your entry at this link here.
As of writing this 10/2021, the park has only two timed entry options:
Option 1: Enter between 5am to 6pm with NO ACCESS to Bear Lake.
Option 2: Enter between 9am to 3pm with GRANTED ACCESS to Bear Lake.
Bear Lake is a popular area full of hiking trails around Bear Lake as well as the trailhead to Dream Lake. If you have never been, I recommend going when you can access Bear Lake in option 2.
Can You Enter Rocky Mountain National Park Before 5am or 6am?
Yes, you can enter Rocky Mountain National Park before 5am or even 6am as RMNP is open 24 hours. With that said, you can enter “early” before the timed entry passes start. However, if you do enter early, I suggest doing it before 5am.
Also, if you are just sneaking in a bit early to avoid the timed entry, I would advise against it as that would defeat the purpose of their timing system to ensure all visitors are able to enjoy the park as a whole.
But, you asked, and yes, it can be done.
What Is Trail Ridge Road and is it Scary To Drive?
Trail Ridge Road is effectively a portion of United States Highway 34.
Trail Ridge Road is famously referred to as a “skyway” as it feels you are driving on top of the world thanks to the over 12,000 feet of elevation along the winding mountain route.
Trail Ridge Road covers 48 miles, stretching between the town of Estes Park on the east and Grand Lake on the west.
You can expect moderate to heavy tourist traffic when trail ridge road is open for travel.
Wildlife is abundant along the entire trip, from moose passing along the road, to elk traffic jams, you will see it all when traversing TRR.
Some have said that Trail Ridge Road is scary to drive. While I’m not here to tell you what is “scary” as that varies for many, I can tell you what you can expect to encounter when driving that some may find scary.
TRR winds through RMNP with drop-offs on either (or both) sides. Fortunately, there are guard rails for your vehicle at all of the more extreme spots.
Additionally, there are several turn-outs if you need to turn around which is not uncommon due to the amount of time it takes to travel the road in peak tourist season.
Put it this way, the road at Pikes Peak is much scarier, so you may be able to use that as a “scary measuring stick”.
Can You Drive Thorugh Rocky Mountain National Park?
If it’s not clear yet, YES! You can drive through Rocky Mountain National Park. However, keep in mind that Trail Ridge Road is closed from roughly early fall (Sept/Oct) to early summer (June/July).
So, if you plan on driving through RMNP and across the entire park, you can only use TRR as it is the only road that goes completely through the park and has limited season dates to use it.