Rocky Mountain National Park in Summer: Things to do, What to Pack, & More
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Are you thinking of visiting Rocky Mountain National Park in summer?
Just outside the quaint town of Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park is a window into Colorado’s awe-inspiring wilderness. It’s beautiful any time of year, but like many places, it’s most popular in summer.
As a result, RMNP gets more crowded this time of year, so there are a few things you need to keep in mind. Here’s everything you need to know to visit Rocky Mountain National Park in summer.
Why visit Rocky Mountain National Park in summer?
Summer is the perfect time to experience RMNP’s many outdoor activities. The days are longer, the weather is warmer, and you’re almost guaranteed sunshine and blue skies.
While some roads are closed in winter and many trails get mucky during the spring melt, nothing is off-limits in Rocky Mountain National Park in summer.
Summer in Rocky Mountain National Park Packing List
Wondering what to pack? These are some absolute must-haves.
At over 12,000 feet above sea level, RMNP is one of the highest national parks in the US and much closer to the sun than wherever you’re coming from. Sunglasses are a must.
Pack more sunscreen than you think you’ll need, and reapply it every hour or so. Wearing a hat and sun-protective clothing can make sunscreen application less of a chore—you could also go the parasol route, but you’d probably get laughed off the mountain.
Despite the high elevation, summer in Rocky Mountain National Park can get scorchingly hot. Make sure to pack plenty of water for exploring. If you plan to hike, a backpack with a water bladder is an easy way to comfortably carry three liters and sip as you go.
Between the heat and the physical exertion of high-altitude hiking, a visit to Rocky Mountain National Park in summer is going to make you sweat—a lot. Keep yourself comfortable with lightweight, moisture-wicking pants, shorts, and shirts.
The air is colder 14,000 feet up, and wind gusts are common. What seems like a hot summer day can quickly get uncomfortable if the wind picks up or the sun goes behind a cloud.
Always bring a jacket, a hat, and thin gloves in case you need them. And be sure to pack a raincoat—Colorado may be a desert, but afternoon showers are always possible in summertime.
RMNP in Summer Best Things to do
Now that you know what to pack, you’re probably wondering… what should I do? Here’s some of the best summer activities.
Take a Hike
Hiking is one of the best ways to experience RMNP, and one of the most accessible. You don’t need a ton of specialized gear—just some sturdy boots, plenty of water, and a camera to snap pictures of the gorgeous views.
Here are a few options to get you out of the car, away from the crowds, and exploring the wilderness of Rocky Mountain National Park in summer.
Emerald Lake Trail. An easy three-mile hike takes you to the aptly named Emerald Lake, a pool of deep green water nestled among craggy mountains and evergreen trees. You’ll also pass the beautiful Nymph Lake and Dream Lake along the way.
Deer Mountain Trail. This moderately challenging six-mile hike leads to the summit of 10,000-foot Deer Mountain, from which you can see the beautiful Moraine Park down below and Longs Peak in the distance.
Sky Pond via Glacier Gorge Trail. If you’re looking for more of a challenge, this nine-mile trek with over 1700 feet of elevation gain will get your leg muscles burning in no time. It’s well worth the effort—locals rank it as one of the best Rocky Mountain National Park summer hikes. Along the way, you’ll get plenty of photo ops at waterfalls, alpine lakes, and stream crossings.
Drive Trail Ridge Road over the Continental Divide
Trail Ridge Road winds through the bare alpine landscape of Rocky Mountain National Park, offering breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains. It’s a great place to start your trip to Rocky Mountain National Park in summer, with countless scenic pull-offs for taking photos, walking around, or just letting your mouth hang open in wonder.
Trail Ridge Road also crosses the Continental Divide, a geological crest running north to south through RMNP. Rivers on the western side flow into the Pacific Ocean; rivers on the east feed into the Atlantic.
Join a Ranger Program
The National Park Service offers a variety of free programs in the summer. You can take a guided hike, identify animal tracks, learn about the park’s history, and more. The 2023 summer lineup will be posted here.
Tour Holzwarth Historic Site
This little-known historic site was once the property of John Holzwarth and his family, who immigrated from Germany over a century ago and built cabins for themselves and their guests.
Now the property is part of RMNP, and volunteers offer daily tours during the summer months to give visitors a glimpse into the life of Colorado homesteaders.
Rocky Mountain National Park is a wonderful park for stargazing, and summer, when the evenings are at their warmest, is the perfect time to do it.
Because Trail Ridge Road is above the tree line and on, well, a ridge, you can pull over pretty much anywhere for a gorgeous view of the stars.
If you’re up for a short night hike, Dream Lake and Bear Lake are easily accessible places where you can see the starry sky twice—up above and reflected in the water.
Tips for Visiting Rocky Mountain During Summertime
To make sure you have the best trip possible, here are some of our tips.
Reserve Your Timed-Entry Permit
Rocky Mountain National Park is currently piloting a high-season timed-entry permit reservation system—meaning if you visit between May and October, you’ll need to choose a day and time and reserve your spot online in advance.
There are two types of permits, depending on where in the park you want to go: the Bear Lake Road Corridor, and the rest of the park. Each permit gives you a two-hour window to enter the park, with no set departure time. Permits from May 26 – June 30 will open here on May 1.
Start your day early
The crowds in RMNP get pretty dense in the summer months, so get an early start to beat the rush. This also helps if you plan to do a Rocky Mountain National Park summer hike—it’s cooler in the morning, and you’ll give yourself extra time for water breaks and photo ops.
Pack snacks & a lunch
With 415 square miles of meadows, forests, and tundra, Rocky Mountain National Park isn’t exactly small. You can easily spend a full day here just driving around, so make sure to pack food and drinks. If you plan on hiking, bring plenty of water and high-energy foods like nuts, jerky, or protein bars.
If you don’t bring any, be sure to pick some up in Estes Park, where there’s a Safeway and some other shops.
Don’t Let the Bugs Bite
Mosquitos and other pests are mercifully uncommon in Colorado, but they do pop up in Rocky Mountain National Park in summer. Mosquitoes especially like to hang out near bodies of water, and they’re known for carrying the dangerous West Nile virus.
It’s a good idea to pack bug spray in case you run into them. Also, be sure to check yourself for ticks at the end of the day.
Best Summertime Hotels Near Rocky Mountain National Park
Here are some of the best hotels near Rocky Mountain to stay in during the summer.
Budget: Brynwood on the River
These affordable cabins are conveniently located between the vibrant town of Estes Park and RMNP’s Beaver Meadows entrance, only a five-minute drive from each. Rates start at $150 per night in summer and include kitchenettes, so you can save even more money by cooking your own meals.
Moderate: The Appenzell Inn
Nestled in the northeast corner of Estes Park, the Appenzell Inn offers amenities like free breakfast and a pool. For a place that describes itself as “no-frills,” the rooms are surprisingly sleek, with vintage travel posters adding a touch of Colorado without the kitsch factor. Basic rooms start at $250 per night.
Luxury: The Landing at Estes Park
This gorgeous lodge has the mountain-chic style Estes Park is known for, minus the kitsch. Outside you’ll find Adirondack chairs for relaxing in the sun, tables for a family picnic, and a shared firepit overlooking the river. Rooms start at around $300 in summer, with cozy amenities like fireplaces, balconies, or patios—one even has a private sauna.
From crashing waterfalls and jewel-like lakes to rugged peaks and alpine meadows, Rocky Mountain National Park in summer showcases all the natural beauty Colorado has to offer. Follow these tips to plan your next adventure!
Woohoo, you’re heading to Colorado! As Colorado locals, we have tons of posts for this state. Explore more below!
- 22 Best Things to do in Estes Park, Colorado
- How to Spend One Day in Rocky Mountain National Park
- Rocky Mountain National Park in Spring: Things to Do, Tips, & Where to Stay!
- Camping in Rocky Mountain National Park: Tips, Campgrounds, & More!
- 12 Best Photo Spots in Rocky Mountain National Park
- 13 Easy Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park
- 17 Best Things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park