Estes Park, Colorado, is the home base of my favorite national park, Rocky Mountain National Park. Over the years, we have made many road trips from Iowa towing an RV to Estes Park. The majestic views are your reward for the long drive. Your final destination, Estes Park, is a fantastic base camp for all visitors in northern Colorado. The mountain views, fresh air, and outdoor experiences are what keep us coming back. The ability to step out of your camper or motorhome into the national park is an incredible feeling. Here are some things to do and places to stay while exploring Estes Park.
Bear Lake is the busiest area in Rocky Mountain National Park. If you drive your RV on Bear Lake Road, you must watch for the signs that say RV Parking. This parking area is in the shuttle bus stop that connects all visitors to Estes Park and areas within the national park. The Bear Lake parking area fills early in the day during the summer season. If you do drive to the parking area with a car, arrive by 8 a.m. Glacier Basin Campground is close to this park’s popular spot, with a free shuttle bus service throughout the area. Several popular hikes begin at Bear Lake, including Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, Emerald Lake, Lake Haiyaha, Odessa Lake, Fern Lake, Flat Top Mountain, and Bear Lake.
Bear Lake is a level hiking trail for hikers of all skill levels. It’s a beautiful hike that comes in a little under a mile. On my first visit to this lake, 30 years ago, I saw the first moose that I had ever seen in a national park. Make Bear Lake your main trailhead and begin your day of fun from Bear Lake. The views are incredible everywhere you look. Look up, down, and around. There’s truly something beautiful around every corner. After a fun day exploring, crawl into your bed in your RV and get ready to enjoy the next day. There’s nothing like spending a full day in the mountains and crawling into your cozy bed.
Hike In Rocky Mountain National Park
Your RV is the perfect place to end an epic day of hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park. There are many hiking trails for the novice, intermediate, and experienced hiker. The best tip that I can give you is to start your hike as early in the morning as possible. By starting early in the day, you will have a better chance at ending your hike before the typical afternoon thundershower pops up. You will want to have a good pair of hiking shoes, rain gear, backpack, snacks, and water along for your hike. It’s also a good idea to have some gloves and a winter hat along. My favorite hike is the Bear Lake to Fern Lake Trailhead, by way of Odessa Lake.
When you are up in the higher elevations, it can be quite chilly early in the day. The free shuttle bus can transport you to and from the trailheads. Be sure to inquire with the bus driver as to when the last bus of the day departs. Enjoy a hot shower in your RV, and then dress in layers to hang out by your end-of-the-day campfire. Once you experience a full day of hiking in the national park, you will enjoy relaxing in your RV, and you will remain connected with the mountains throughout your stay in the campground.
The best reason to drive an RV to Estes Park is your ability to have a cozy place to sit while you wait and watch the wildlife. Sheep Lakes is 1/8 miles west of the Fall River Entrance Station. There is ample parking for RV units in this lot. The sheep show up on their schedule, not ours. It’s always interesting sitting in this viewing area, as many people have never seen them. Once a sheep starts coming down the side of the mountain, all of the binoculars are seen turning towards the hill. Volunteers work out of the Sheep Lakes Information Station to answer your questions and help herd the sheep safely across the road. Elk are everywhere, too. In town, out of town, in the national park, in the dog park, and even in the crosswalks.
Moraine Park Basin offers a road that is driveable part of the way with your RV. You can park along the road near the campground and sit and watch the elk. The best tip I can give you is to visit the Moraine Park Museum and park your RV in the parking lot. You can then walk across the road to view the elk in Moraine Park Basin. Dress in layers and have your binoculars on hand at all times. The wildlife viewing is fun and incredible in the Estes Park area.
Editor’s Note: We recommend reading up on these tips for safely viewing wildlife in national parks before you hit the road.
Drive Trail Ridge Road
Trail Ridge Road is the road that connects Estes Park to Grand Lake, the west side of the national park. It is the highest paved road in North America, and once you drive on it, you will understand how majestic it is. With numerous peaks over 12,000 feet, traveling through the alpine tundra and forests, you will want to stop several times to take in the views. RVs can travel through the park and drive Trail Ridge Road. The parking areas on this scenic route offer parking for all lengths of RV units. This road is closed during the winter, and it opens in the spring when the snowplows can clear the road. Timbercreek Campground is near Grand Lake on the western side of the park and offers campsites for units up to 30 feet in length.
Editor’s Note: Learn about the best things to do in beautiful Estes Park: where to stay, eat, and play; how to spend a perfect winter day in Estes Park; and all our other Estes Park content here.
Camp In Rocky Mountain National Park
Estes Park is home to the east entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park. There are five campgrounds in the national park, and they each offer something different. We have camped at Aspenglen Campground, Glacier Basin Campground, Moraine Park Campground, and Timbercreek Campground. Glacier Basin is our favorite campground, as it offers a view that we have grown to love over the years. Timbercreek and Longs Peak are on a first-come, first-served basis. When you reserve your campsite, it is crucial to know the length of your RV. Longs Peak is a campground for tents only, while Moraine Park Campground can handle RV units that are up to 40 feet. If you want a truly connected experience to nature, staying in a campground should be a high priority. Hotels and motels do not offer the outdoor connections that campgrounds do.
There are no showers in the national park restrooms, but running water and flush toilets are available. There are no electricity and water hookups at the sites. Note that you will also need to pay to enter the national park in addition to your campsite fees. Dump stations are available in season, and firewood and ice are for sale in the campgrounds. Hop on the shuttle bus to transport you around the national park.
Camping is an easy, affordable way to experience Rocky Mountain National Park. Reserve your campsite as soon as possible, as they fill fast during the summer months.
Estes Park KOA
The Estes Park KOA is a full-service campground for RVers. It is five miles from the national park entrance. On many of our RV trips, we have camped in the national park for part of our vacations to Estes Park and stayed at a full-service campground the last few nights. It’s nice to have full hook-ups and hot showers after roughing it for a few nights. This campground is an excellent base camp for exploring the town of Estes Park, where there are many fun shops to explore. This campground is a short 1.5-mile drive to the fun shops and restaurants on Elk Horn Avenue. You can find the Safeway grocery store on your route between downtown and the KOA. Before you return to your campground, you can restock your food supply.
Estes Park is a magical place for you and your RV. There are 11 additional campgrounds and RV parks to choose from in Estes Park, in addition to camping in the national park. Make your campground reservations early so you are assured of having a place to park your unit.
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