Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

Activities & Programs

Rocky Mountain National Park is more than just a summer destination. Visitors who enjoy the freedom and space found here in the summer, often come back to enjoy the beauty of fall, winter and spring, times when the park is less crowded. Regardless of the season, the park will always offer a wide range of memorable experiences.

SPRING, SUMMER AND FALL

Park Programs

Park rangers conduct a variety of daily summer activities that are fun and educational, such as short nature walks, longer hikes to high-country destinations and campfire programs. You can watch informative films at Beaver Meadows/Park Headquarters and Kawunee-che visitor centers or go to evening programs at Moraine Park, Aspen-glen and Glacier Basin campgrounds, and at Timber Creek Campground on the west side of the park.

Other educational programs are presented year-round at the Kawuneeche Visitor Center, including various talks, travelogues and cul--tural performances. Simi-lar activities, though fewer in num-ber, are offered into Sep-tember. Check High Country Headlines for current schedules.

Nature Trails

You can buy booklets at visitor centers that can guide you by car or on foot through various scenic areas of the park.

Climbing and Mountaineering

Climbing has been a popular activity in and around the area known today as Rocky Mountain National Park since the 1800's. The diversity of peaks and granite rock formations in the Park provide excellent opportunities for a wide spectrum of climbing including rock, big wall, snow and ice, bouldering and mountaineering. It is a mecca for local climbers, as well as those from around the world. 

Opportunities for climbing exist in many areas of the park including Lumpy Ridge and Longs Peak. Whichever activity you select, it is your responsibility to respect the areas you visit, minimize your impacts, and know and obey all park regulations.

Climbing opportunities range from bouldering for a few hours to multi-day big wall experiences. Day use in the park requires no special registration or permit. For those climbers planning multi-day climbs, 3.5 or more miles from a trailhead, consisting of 4 or more technical pitches, a bivouac permit is required. Contact the Backcountry Office for information on permit procedures, backcountry conditions, and climbing regulations.

For safety considerations, climbers are encouraged to notify family or friends on route selections and contact them at the completion of any climb. Hazards in the form of violent weather (lightning, wind, snow, and rainstorms), snowfields, avalanches (even in summer), waterfalls, rivers, and the dangers associated with climbing, cause injuries every year and can ruin a climb. Be responsible. Always let a friend know your plans. You are responsible for notifying someone when you return. National Park Service rangers will not start a search until after a climber is reported overdue. In the event of an emergency, please call 911 or the Dispatch office at (970) 586-1399.

Classes and Field Seminars

Rocky Mountain National Park has the oldest national park seminar program in the United States. It is offered through the Rocky Mountain Nature Association (RMNA). 

RMNA supports college-level day-long, weekend or week-long courses in photography, nature writing and many other subjects. Classes for kids are also available. For course topics, schedules and costs, contact the Rocky Mountain Nature Association, 1895 Fall River Road, Estes Park, CO 80517; (800) 748-7002 or (970) 586-3262. 

Children's Programs

Special programs for children help them learn about the park's wild wonders. Ask at visitor centers about the park's Junior Ranger Program. Activity booklets are available for children between the ages of six and 12, and when they finish the activities and turn in the completed booklet, rangers will award them Junior Ranger badges. Complete listings of youth programs can be found in the park newspaper, High Country Headlines. Parents must accompany children at all times. 

During the summer, children's programs include seminars to teach youngsters simple techniques to help cope should they ever become lost in the outdoors, plus fun activities for kids and their families.

Fishing

Fishing is allowed in most streams and lakes, except Bear Lake. A Colorado State license, available in neighboring towns, is required. Ask for information about size limits and catch-and-release requirements.

Saddle Rides

Saddle up and take a scenic ride into the park's high country. Guided rides take you to Mill Creek or Beaver Meadows, among other places. Special rides dedicate time to fish in mountain streams and lakes. Call the park for a complete listing of concession-operated horse rides.

Private horses and llamas taken into the backcountry are subject to the same regulations as commercial packers. The use of livestock is restricted to certain trails. Weed-free feed is required. Ask at a visitor center for Horses and Other Pack Animals, a brochure which explains regulations on taking animals into the backcountry.

Swimming

The high altitude of Rocky Mountain National Park keeps streams too cold for pleasure swimming (temperatures may be less than 50°F in midsummer), and snowmelt causes fast-flowing water, creating dangerous conditions. In certain conditions, hypothermia can set in within 15 minutes. Check with the YMCA or Estes Valley Recreation and Parks Department about indoor pools. 

Bicycling

There are three main bicycle routes in the park: the Bear Lake Road, Trail Ridge Road and the Horseshoe Park/Estes Park Loop (no trail but biking is permitted). Bicyclists entering the park pay a $10 weekly entrance fee.

Keep in mind that Rocky is a mountain park. Most routes are strenuous and you must be prepared for frequent late morning and early afternoon thunderstorms, cold temperatures, high altitudes, narrow roads and heavy traffic. 

For touring cyclists, there are youth hostels near Grand Lake. 

WINTER

Elk and deer are often seen near the roadside near Estes Park, wisely taking advantage of plowed paths when snow depths make travel difficult.

Coyotes, porcupines and weasels are also active at this time. Remember that the winter months place additional stress on animals. Please watch them quietly from a distance. 

Before undertaking any outdoor recreation in winter, know the conditions, have the proper equipment and know your own limitations. 

Avalanches can be triggered on seemingly gentle slopes. Ground blizzards, blowing snow caused by high winds, can reduce visibility to zero and wind chills may drop to temperatures of -100°F. These are extreme examples, but outdoor recreation in the Rocky Mountain winter is nothing to treat lightly.

Park Ranger Programs

Saturday evening programs are given at Beaver Meadows/Park Headquarters Visitor Center near Estes Park, and on the second Saturday evening of every month at the Kawuneeche Visitor Center. Topics include current ecological issues, other parks and monuments, and wildlife species. A free, captioned orientation movie is also presented.

Snowshoeing and Cross-Country Skiing

January, February and March are the best months for snowpack. Earlier in the year, snowpack may be spotty at lower elevations, especially on the east side. New snow on ice and wetter snow fall on top of light, dry snow create ideal conditions for avalanches, so choose your routes with great care and deliberation. 

Ranger-led cross-country ski and snowshoe tours (for all abilities) leave from the Kawuneeche Visitor Center on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. In addition, ranger-led snowshoe hikes are offered on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at Bear Lake, on the park's east side. 

Free booklets about winter activities are available at visitor center desks. Be sure to ask the park ranger on duty about current weather and snow conditions. 

Snowmobiling

Snowmobiling is prohibited in the park, except for a short linkage between the town of Grand Lake and the extensive trail system in the adjacent Arapaho National Forest.

Backpacking

Backpacking is generally good in the winter with chances of snowfall gradually increasing from September onward. 

Backcountry permits are required for all backcountry camping and bivouac climbs. Permits and information can be obtained at Beaver Meadows/Park Headquarters and Kawuneeche visitor centers.

Ice Fishing

Fishing in Rocky Mountain National Park requires a Colorado State fishing license. Ice fishing is permitted in some areas. You may need skis or snowshoes to reach certain ice fishing sites. 

Winter Camping

As winter extends its grip on the park, some campgrounds close, while services at others are cut back. Water is turned off in order to prevent frozen pipes. Check at park visitor centers for campground information.

Accommodations are available year-round in nearby Estes Park and Grand Lake.