by Terri Cook and Lon Abbott Friday, August 31, 2018
Denver (DEN) is the best arrival point for exploring Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP), and a car is the most convenient way to see Trail Ridge Road and the park’s many other attractions. If you fly in, you can rent a vehicle at the airport and drive to Estes Park, the eastern gateway town, which is roughly 1.5 hours from the airport, or to Grand Lake at the west end of Trail Ridge, about a three-hour drive.
Due to its high elevation, Trail Ridge Road typically opens in late May and closes in mid-October, but the exact dates vary depending upon the snowpack, so it’s important to check the RMNP website for status reports prior to travel. Old Fall River Road, a dirt high-country scenic driving route, is usually open from July through September.
RMNP has almost no amenities within its boundaries. The park’s only restaurant, Trail Ridge Store, is located next to the Alpine Visitor Center and is only open from late May until early October. Except for a few campgrounds, at which reservations are essential, the national park does not offer any accommodations. Admission to the park currently costs $25 per vehicle for a one-day pass, or $35 for a seven-day pass.
Both Estes Park and Grand Lake make excellent bases for exploring Trail Ridge Road and the entire national park. Estes Park offers a much larger selection of hotels, restaurants and other amenities but also gets quite crowded during the summer. Be sure to book accommodations well in advance if you’re planning to visit in summer or during the September-October leaf-peeping and elk-bugling seasons.
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