Camping In Rocky Mountain National Park
We visited Rocky Mountain National Park last year, with the intention of camping and hiking... but were thwarted by life and a major leg injury. We ended up visiting, but just driving through the park and seeing things along the side of the roads. Crutches and hiking and camping just don't mix. This year though, we had plans! We booked our campsite early, and spent a few weeks making plans for hiking and adventuring. The first time we visited, last year, we planned to camp at Aspenglen Campground and were quite excited by the looks of the area. We drove through, just so we would know what it was like, and we knew we would be back to visit again.
Quick Tip: Make reservations for your campsites, if you're planning a trip to RMNP. They are available up to six months in advance to book. Walk-up's are limited in this park, and even the reservations sites can be hard to get.
This year, we couldn't book our trip at one site, due to limited availability, so we got to stay at two campsites. For our first night, we stayed in Glacier Basin Campground, which is off of Bear Lake Road and on the more busy end of the park. The campground was bustling when we rolled in at about 6pm. We were greeted by a Ranger at the gate, and he pointed us to our site (Loop A, Site 17), as well as giving us some important info about the campground.
- Food should be stored in the food lockers, but if you hide it in your car, it's okay (only at this campground) - while RMNP doesn't have a lot of bears, they do have bears. Protect them, and your food and belongings, by storing things properly. Although, to us, "in the car" seemed risky after visiting Yosemite, so we put everything in the bear locker anyway!
- The restrooms have flush toilets and running water - and SOAP - which is like glamping for us. The ability to wash hands and brush teeth, in a sink, while camping... wow.
- There is a little shed that sells wood and ice every night from 5:30 to 8:00pm. The wood is $5 a bundle, and comes in a good sized bundle. This campground recently had a beetle outbreak that destroyed a lot of their trees, so they take the "buy it where you burn it" rule very seriously.
- They also sell ice cream in that little shed...
We bought a bundle of wood and got to work setting up our camp. This was the first time we have ever traveled by airplane to camp, so everything was in suitcases. Still, our camp was up and ready in less than 30 minutes, and we still had a couple of hours of daylight left. This site backs up to a large grove of pine trees, so it's a private site, with a nice natural setting off the back side. We received a Serac Hammock in our Cairn box that month, like they knew we were going to the forest, so we used our evening to learn how to hammock! It's easy, and so relaxing. Swinging between those tall trees was one of the many highlights of our trip!
Later on, after hanging around, we started the fire and made dinner. We didn't pack our Jetboil or a stove, since we weren't sure the TSA would let it through, so we decided to rent a stove in Estes Park. The Estes Park Mountain Shop was the source of our rental, which was like a pocket rocket style backpacking stove for $5 a day. For dinner, we packed along some "Good To Go" dehydrated meals for this trip. Our first dinner was the Classic Marinara with Penne . Whoa, was it tasty. These (gluten free, vegan) meals are likely going to become our staples for our backpacking menu. This particular one was so good I think I'd eat it for dinner at home. They seasoned this pasta better than I typically do in my own kitchen.
We went to bed that night, anticipating that we might get rained on, expecting a cold night, and bundled in every layer we could reasonably add. Our pads and bags and base layers worked pretty well, but it was a very cold night. We woke up the next morning to a frost covered tent... brrr!
Early the next morning, we left our campsite and took off for an early morning hike - Sprague Lake. Towards the end of the hike, the sky clouded over and we drove up to Bear Lake hoping to park - but it soon started raining. It slowly dawned on us that we had left the tent open, and had laid out the rain-fly so it could dry... but it was raining. We hurried back to our campsite, and gratefully, our kind neighbors had put our fly on when it started raining. They saved our day - our sleeping bags would have been soaked.
We ended up breaking down our camp, trying to keep things dry by stuffing them in the car. As quickly as it had gone grey and rainy, it changed back to blue and sunny. The changing weather and remaining clouds looked untrustworthy, so we just threw everything in the car. We went to the Park and Ride, left everything in the car, hoping what was damp would dry out, and went on a nice long hike to Mills Lake.
When we returned from our rainy/snowy/sleety/sunny hike, we were tired and soggy... and ready to collapse. We drove over to our next campsite at Aspenglen Campground. We were greeted by the campground hosts at the gate, and given some instructions similar to the other campground:
- Food must be stored in the food lockers, nothing in your car - this campsite had a bear break into a car in late 2016, and has known bears in the area. Nothing in the tent or car, unlike at Galcier Basin.
- The restrooms have flush toilets and running water - and SOAP - again, wow!
- There is a little shed that sells wood and ice every night from 5:30 to 7:30pm. The wood is still $5 and comes in a large bundle. They also have ice cream and soda!
We had a nice spot (Loop A, Site 2) in this campground, which backed up to a fenced off nature area. Loop A is a tent only loop, so it was a very quiet area. We got our camp set up again and sat down to enjoy the evening, before it got dark... and two deer walked right into our campsite. They were making the strangest sound - almost like they were giggling. While gorgeous, they were also quite large, and they thankfully just romped right back into the nature area after taking notice of us. Our dinner
This campground was a cozy home for two nights. The weather gradually warmed each night, so the freezing first night led to a very comfortable last night. Lots of wildlife surround the area here, so we heard lots of birds, owls, deer, and some sounds we just didn't recognize. The last night, some coyotes were barking like crazy for about 40 minutes around 4am. That was entertaining.
The hosts at this campground were very nice and helpful, and we had some great neighbors. An older couple and their grandson camped next to us on our last night, and in the morning, they offered us breakfast. They had whipped up some delicious smelling breakfast tacos that had us drooling and not very interested in our granola bars... and then they yelled for us to join them. Of course, yes, please and thank you!
We thoroughly enjoyed our time camping in Rocky Mountain National Park, and having the opportunity to take some hikes on this visit. The wildlife in this park is just incredible, and animals seem to be seen at every turn. If you visit, please remember to respect the wildlife, give them space, and let them be wild. We saw a moose, lots of elk, a few deer, and some very bold chipmunks! Also, ground squirrels and marmots, but they didn't get in front of the camera!
During our visit, Trail Ridge Road was still closed due to snow, but we did get to drive up to the second parking area (Rainbow Curve), and walk a bit further. The views from this road are worth a drive or a walk. Tunnels of tall trees and snow surrounded us, and the vista views were just breathtaking.