How to Get From Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park

If you are ever visiting Denver, it’s a great idea to take a little day trip and head to one of the most beautiful national parks around. While it’s not terribly far, here are a few tips and routes for getting from Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park.

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The park is located about an hour and a half from the city, depending on which entrance you want to start at. The most popular entrance is from the city of Estes Park.

Here you’ll find how to get from Denver to Estes Park and other entrances with a car, without a car, and with various routes.

Continue on for all you need to know about getting from Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park.

Pinnable image of Getting from Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park- text overlaid on image of small waterfall area among rocks and surrounded by green evergreens
Bear Lake Rocky Mountain National Park Reflective lake against blue sky and green trees

Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park- Beaver Meadows Entrance

Time: Around 1-1/2 hours

This first route will bring you to the Beaver Meadows Entrance. There are a few entrances around Estes Park, and this is the most popular.

Beaver Meadows entrance will give you quick access to Bear Lake and popular trailheads around the lake.

From Denver, the easiest route is to take I-25 up to CO-66 through Longmont and Lyons. The road eventually turns into highway 36. Just continue on this road as you follow the Little Thompson River and eventually you’ll land in Estes Park, CO.

Eventually highway 36 and 34 come to an intersection. In this case, stay to the left to get to Beaver Meadows.

Continue on 36 as it becomes Moraine Ave. Moraine is one of the main, downtown streets of Estes Park, so you’ll get to see plenty of restaurants, shops, and activities along the way. As you stay along this road, you’ll eventually come to the Beaver Meadows entrance for Rocky Mountain National Park.

Tops of the rocky moutains

Route 2 – to Fall River Entrance

Time: about 1-1/2 hours

The route from Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park Fall River is nearly the same as the route above (to Beaver Meadows). The difference is:

At the intersection where 36 and 34 come together, you’ll take a slight right onto 34 (as opposed to straight / left onto 36).

Just stay on this same road and it will drop you at the Fall River entrance.

The road at the Fall River entrance eventually meets up with the road from the Beaver Meadows entrance. But by taking the Fall River entrance, you’ll have access to other sites like the Alluvial Fan and Beaver Ponds.

Route 3- Wild Basin Entrance

Time: about 1-1/2 hours

Wild Basin Entrance is a bit less popular, and therefore will be less crowded. Wild Basin is great access to lakes and waterfalls that aren’t frequented as often.

To get to the Wild Basin entrance, you’ll still go up I-25 north to highway 36. But once you get into the town of Lyons, you’ll take a left onto highway 7. The intersection in Lyons is a bit odd, so it’s hard to miss. That’s where you’ll veer a different direction.

Continue toward and through Allenspark and take a left on County Road 115. This will take you into the Wild Basin area and ranger station. You can enjoy hikes to many lakes like Pear Lake or Sandbeach Lake as well as waterfalls in the area.

Adams Falls at Rocky Mountain National Park- a smaller waterfall falling between lots of large rocks

Route 4- Grand Lake Entrance

Time: about 2 hours

As a completely alternative area to enter Rocky Mountain National Park, you can drive over to Grand Lake for the Grand Lake Entrance. While the other entrances are all on the east side of the park, this entrance will land you on the west side.

In the summer, it’s a great idea to drive from one side of the park to the other to see all it offers.

But note that in October at some point, or whenever the weather impedes driving, Trail Ridge Road (the road that connects east and west) gets closed and you’ll have to choose whether you’d like to see the east or west side.

To get from Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park’s west entrance, head out of Denver onto I-70 west. Take this until the exit for Empire, US-40.

This road will wind you up the mountain through Winter Park and Fraser. Then you’ll drive through Granby (a great place to stay if you’d like to stay close). In Granby, you’ll veer off onto highway 34 toward Grand Lake (another great place to stay).

Staying on 34 will drop you right into the west, Grand Lake Entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park.

The west entrance is great because it’s not nearly as crowded as the east side. We enjoyed many hikes, ponds, meadows, and even seeing elk bugling and chasing each other during out time on this side.

Bus from Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park

If you are heading to Rocky Mountain for a weekend getaway, then driving will be your best bet. But if you’r just doing a quick day trip from Denver, then you can take advantage of public transportation.

If you’d like to ride the bus from Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park, you’ll need to ride the Bustang. Bustang is made up of a fleet of busses run by the Colorado Department of Transportation that can transfer you all over Colorado.

The Bustang departs from Union Station and makes stops all the way to Estes Park. They will stop at the Estes Park Visitor Center, though their website also says they’ll take you right into Rocky Mountain National Park to the park-and-ride within the park.

This makes getting around SO convenient. Plus, the Bustang has WiFi, a bathroom, and a place for your bike. The Bustang route to Estes/RMNP is seasonal, but only costs $7.50 (2024) for a one way ticket (less for kids!)

Would you like to explore Estes Park a little? You can get off at the Estes Park Visitor Center first. Then when you’re ready, a local shuttle will take you into the park.

Shuttle from Denver to RMNP

This is a more expensive way to make your trip, but it is more private and can offer direct service without the bus stops.

Estes Park Shuttle offers one-way or round-trip transportation from either the Denver Airport or Union Station downtown Denver to Estes Park. If you are spending a few days in Denver and just want to get out for the day, this is a reliable way to make that happen.

Currently (2024), rates are at $135/per person round trip or $75 one-way.

Tour from Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park

If you’re willing to spend $100+ per person for just a shuttle ride (as noted in the above section), why not make a full experience out of it?

There are a few tours available that will provide transportation from Denver as well as a tour and stops within the park and Estes Park. And they cost about the same as just the shuttle ride above.

Book this HIGHLY rated tour from Denver to RMNP

Is There a Train from Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park?

The train, or light rail as locals call it, is a big part of Denver’s public transportation system. Unfortunately, the train does not extend all the way up to Estes Park or Rocky Mountain National Park. To access these places, you’ll need a car, shuttle, bus, or the tour recommended above.

The tundra area at the top near the Alpine Visitors center.  People in the distance climbing up a staircase on a barren mountain side

What to do on a Day Trip from Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park

While it would be easy to spend a few days in RMNP, you can see a lot even just in one full day.

For those that don’t want to hike, you can enjoy the nice, scenic drive along Trail Ridge Road. This road takes you from one side of the park to the other. You can make a full circle from Denver by driving this route (seasonal).

If you take the scenic drive, make sure to stop at the top at Alpine Visitor Center. Those who adjusted to the altitude and in decent shape can make the climb up the stairs to the tundra at the top.

For those that want some easy hiking in the park, check out Bear Lake. This is just about the most popular spot in the park. The lake is gorgeous with trees all around and a mountain backdrop. It’s a flat loop of about 1 mile around.

You can also check out the trailheads from the lake for a little more distance. Nymph, Dream, and Emerald lake can be accessed off this trailhead, each about .5 miles apart for a total of 3 miles round trip if you do all 3.

bright light green grass in foreground, flatirons in back and bright blue sky with clouds

Stops on the Way from Denver to RMNP

RMNP has so much to offer that you can easily spend all day in the park, so I don’t recommend making stops along the way and instead saving that time for the park.

However, if you really want to see a little more, I would take an alternate route and stop in Boulder.

Boulder has plenty of great, fun things to do to easily spend an hour or 5. Check out the University of Colorado campus, stroll down the famous Pearl Street filled with shops and entertainers, or drive up to Boulder Falls.

One popular thing to do in Boulder is to hike among the Flatirons, the iconic flat sided mountains of Boulder.

Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park

As you can see, there are many ways to get from Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park. If you have your own car, make the easy and relatively short drive to one of the parks entrances. If you don’t have a car, I suggest the Bustang for easy, economical transfers. But if you want the full experience, try out a tour that will transport you and guide you through the park.

Pinnable image of Getting from Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park- text overlaid on image of small waterfall area among rocks and surrounded by green evergreens

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