Experience a taste of Colorado's many unique ecosystems in Rocky Mountain National Park's 415 square miles. Paved roadways allow the average traveler to fish from sparkling lakes, walk along paved pathways through wildflower meadows and camp at developed sites. An overnight trip into the park's backcountry can give you a more intimate experience as you discover sights unseen by most visitors to the park.
A wide variety of designated campsites are reservable through the park's backcountry permitting system. Choose from boat-in sites, equestrian sites, or hike-in sites high in the mountains, near streams or lakes. You can select your route and potential campsites online and reserve by mail or phone after March 1 for the summer season. You can also get day-of-hike permits on a first-come, first-served basis if you are not choosy about what part of the park you wish to camp in. Bring adequate gear for comfort during afternoon rainstorms, biting winds and freezing nighttime temperatures. You'll need to provide your own water and a bear-resistant container for storing food, garbage and scented items.
Packing With Animals
Explore the backcountry on horseback or hike in with llamas. You'll be required to stick to trails where pack animals are allowed, which includes approximately 80 percent of trails in the park. Backcountry camps designed for stock have hitching rails or posts where animals are required to be tied overnight. Pack in certified weed-free hay or commercially-processed pellets, as you may not allow your horse or llama to graze at camp or along the trail. Clean up after your animal by spreading his manure and packing out any food he didn't eat. Dogs and other pets may not accompany you into the backcountry.
Most trails begin at an elevation of 7,000 feet, and some camps exceed 10,000 feet. Avoid altitude sickness by allowing yourself a day or two before your trip to acclimate. Drink lots of extra water and hydrating fluids to replace moisture lost through increased respirations in the rarefied air. Bring a water purification kit so you will have plenty of water to drink along the trail. Over-the-counter remedies for headache and nausea usually help alleviate symptoms when combined with fluids and extra rest. Horses are less likely to experience symptoms, but should be offered water regularly as a preventive measure.
Carry a backpacking stove to cook food, as wood fires are not allowed at most backcountry sites. Those where wood fires are allowed have metal fire rings provided on-site, but fire restrictions may preclude using these when the forest is at its driest. Some portions of Rocky Mountain National Park's backcountry were damaged by wildfires in 2012 and 2013. Check with rangers when planning your trip for information on what areas may have been charred. You are required to carry a wildlife-proof container for food, garbage and scented items, and special care should be taken to minimize attractants when camping near areas where fire has eradicated the natural food supply.