Rocky Mountain National Park, located about an hour’s drive from Denver, spans much of the continental divide in northern Colorado. Its huge acreage allows for nearly unlimited camping and hiking without running into crowds.
The park has five regions and five Visitor Centers, so finding a map and directions is easy. In addition to five developed areas, the park has four distinct climate and geographical patterns: alpine (above 11,000 feet), subalpine (9,500 to 11,000 feet), riparian and montane (below 9,500 feet). In each zone, the vegetation and climate differs, often markedly.
A Camper's Guide to Rocky Mountain National Park
If you are camping in Rocky Mountain National Park you have three options: developed campgrounds with mixed use (RV, tent, group sites), developed campgrounds with primitive conditions (tents and car camping only), and dispersed camping in wilderness areas.
Summertime is peak season due to high elevation and frosty, snowy winters. Average wintertime temperatures in the Rockies are frigid, but summer days are near perfect 70-80 degrees in most of the park. This mountain region is well known for extreme weather, however, and bucolic summer days often turn to thunderstorms rapidly.
Rocky Mountain National Park has five developed campgrounds. Many do not open till June, when spring-like conditions begin at sub-alpine and alpine elevations. The National Park Service (NPS) website offers details on how to reserve them, but we recommend grabbing a campsite as soon as possible—preferably many months in advance.
The lowest elevation campground, Moraine, has 226 sites and is by far the largest. The smallest campground, Longs Peak, opens in summer and has only 26 sites exclusively for car campers with tents.
Trails in Rocky Mountain National Park will take backpackers and campers to hundreds of designated wilderness campsites. These trails are shared by hikers and pack animals like mules, horses and llamas. It is still necessary to have a permit in some areas so make reservations.
No matter where you camp in Rocky Mountain National Park, there is some gear that is indispensable. A warm sleeping bag, even in midsummer, is a good idea.
We also can’t overstate the importance of protection from rain and sun. Sunscreen, sunglasses and a sturdy hat (like this limited edition Rocky Mountains Charcoal hat) will protect you from high elevation sunshine. In this western park, rain is intermittent but in summer the thunderstorms abound and are unpredictable—so bring a good rain jacket. If you decide to backpack, always carry sun and rain protection.
For backpacking, lighter gear is is your obvious goal, so check out the newest options for ultralight rain jackets, ladies and men’s snapback trucker hats, and featherweight camp chairs.