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Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) is one of the top things to do around Denver, and for good reason. The park is filled with beautiful hikes, tons of views, and animals all around. If you are visiting the city, you may be wondering how to get from Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park.
No worries, we’ve got you covered. I lived in Denver for three years and consistently made the drive out to Rocky Mountain National Park… sometimes even as early as 3 a.m., in order to hit the trails for sunrise!
Whether you are driving on your own or looking to take public transportation, let’s take a look at how you can get from Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park!
🚗 Click here to rent a car for your trip to Denver!
While public transportation is alright in Denver, it’s truly easiest to get around by car. (Trust us, we didn’t have a car our first year living there… not fun!)
How to Get from Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park by Car
While there are a few different entrances to RMNP, one of the closest to Denver and one of the most popular is the Beaver Meadows Entrance Station. Not only does this entrance station have a visitor’s center that you can stop at before you head into the park, but it also has quick access to the Bear Lake Trail, one of the most popular trailheads in the park!
It is important to note that during peak season, you will need a timed entry pass to get into the park by car. These can sell out quickly, so be sure to book these well in advance to ensure you are able to get into the park on the day(s) you want to go!
Let’s take a look at a few of the routes you can take from Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park.
Travel time: ~1hr 45 minutes
The first route is the route that we take most often when we are heading out to Rocky Mountain. It is usually the fastest route (without paying tolls) and offers some amazing views along the way.
This route will start you off on I-25 in Denver before switching over to US-36 West, headed towards Boulder. You do pass right through the city, so if you want to make a quick stop on the way there or grab dinner on the way back, this is a great place to do it.
You’ll continue on US-36 for most of the drive, and you’ll be brought through a couple more small towns like Lyons along the way. Once you get closer to Estes Park, you’ll start to hit some winding mountain roads, so be sure you are prepared (especially if you are driving in the winter).
Estes is the final town you will drive through before you head into the park, and if you have a little extra time, we definitely recommend stopping here. Whether you grab some breakfast before you head into the park or some dinner before you head back to Denver, there are so many great places you don’t want to miss out on in Estes.
This was the route we took most often and found it very easy! If you’re trying to get to the park early in the morning or want to spend the whole day there, this is definitely the route we recommend.
Travel time: ~2hr 10 minutes
For a bit of a longer route, you can also take a route that brings you a bit more North. This route will take you from I-25 in Denver to E US-34. You’ll follow 34 pretty much the entire trip as you head up Colorado before cutting across to Rocky Mountain.
While this route is a bit longer, you will also be brought through Loveland, which is a beautiful part of the state. There are a couple of state parks in Loveland, or you can just stop by and see a few of the views before continuing on.
Loveland can get a bit of snow in the winter, so if you are planning on heading out to Rocky Mountain around that time of year, be sure to check the weather before you head out!
Again, you’ll drive through Estes on your way into the park, and there are a few scenic overlooks you can stop at right around there that give you amazing views!
Travel time: ~2hr 40 minutes
Finally, for a longer but absolutely beautiful drive, you can take the Peak to Peak scenic byway. Without any stops, the route will take you around 2 hours and 40 minutes, but there are so many amazing places along the way that you are sure to want to pull over at a few.
The route will start on US-6 West, where you will be brought through Golden, which is a small mining town that has a ton of charm. You’ll then follow CO-119 to CO-72 before picking up CO-7 West around Allenspark. You will follow that right into Estes Park, where you will turn onto US-36 West to head into Rocky Mountain.
Along the way, you’ll see a few different viewpoints as you drive through places like Golden, Black Hawk, Nederland, Ward, and Allenspark. And, of course, you’ll end the drive in Estes Park!
How to Get from Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park by Bus
If you’re visiting between May – October and don’t have a car, you can take the Bustang bus from Union Station all the way into Rocky Mountain National Park. It is important to note that you will have to have a valid pass to enter the park before getting on the bus.
This bus runs on weekends and is a great way to get out to Rocky Mountain if you don’t have a car. There are two buses out in the morning (at 7 a.m. and 8 a.m.) and two buses back in the afternoon (at 3:15 p.m. and 4:15 p.m.).
While this does mean you will have a bit of a shorter day to make sure you catch your bus back; there is still plenty you can do. The bus will drop you off at the Park & Ride stop going up to Bear Lake, so you’ll have no shortage of beautiful trails to hike during your day at the park!
You Can Also Book a Tour
Here are some great options:
- Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park Tour from Denver Winter and Spring
- Rocky Mountain National Park in Summer Tour from Denver
- Hiking Adventure in Rocky Mountain National Park from Denver
What to Do in Rocky Mountain National Park
Once you are in the park, there is so much that you can explore. One of the most popular areas is Bear Lake. This area has tons of hiking trails that range from short walks to moderately strenuous hikes, so you are sure to find the perfect hike for everyone.
Once you get up to the Bear Lake trailhead, you can take a short walk to Bear Lake (less than 5-10 minutes) to get amazing views right off the bat. You can then head up the mountain to see Dream Lake, Nymph Lake, and Emerald Lake.
This trail can be a bit difficult at times and can get very icy during the winter, so be sure you are prepared if it has been snowing. All of the lakes have great views of the mountains and have quiet areas where you can sit down and take a break or have a bite to eat.
Since this is a very popular trail, you will most likely see other hikers along the way, and it can get very busy during the summer. We suggest getting there as early as you can to try and avoid some of the crowds.
Along that same trail, you can find the Lake Hiyaya trail. This trail breaks off from the Emerald Lake hike right around Nymph Lake. While it is a bit harder than the Emerald Lake trail, it is also normally a bit less crowded.
The views when you get up to Lake Hiyaya are second to none, and you’ll find some amazing lookouts along the way that give off sweeping views of the Rockies. Be aware, though, that you are walking across a field of rocks once you get to the lake, so it can be tricky to do this hike during the winter. If you haven’t hiked in the snow much or don’t have the proper winter hiking equipment, we don’t recommend taking on this trail!
If you do have a car, you can drive along the famous Trail Ridge Road. There are a few dropoffs along the way, so keep that in mind if you’re not the biggest fan of driving on the edge of a mountain.
At the top of the road, not only will you be greeted with amazing views, but you’ll also find a visitor center and cafe that you can stop at. This is a great place to grab a snack and take a break before heading out for some more hikes.
Trail Ridge Road does close down during the winter. There is no set date on when it opens and closes as it is based on the snowfall that year, so be sure to check and see if you are visiting anytime between October – May (this is normally when the road is closed).
Final Thoughts on How to Get from Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park
We hope this guide helps you as you go to plan your trip. When it comes to how to get from Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park, we suggest that you drive if you can. Not only will you be able to explore a bit more of the park, but you’ll also be able to visit the park all year round!
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