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Welcome to the wilderness of Rocky Mountain National Park. Use this guide to plan a safe, enjoyable, and memorable trip.
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We hope you enjoy your stay in one of America's premier backpacking destinations.
Planning Your Trip
Choosing Your Wilderness Campsite
The first step in planning your trip: decide where you want to camp and for how long. We suggest purchasing a Rocky Mountain National Park topographic map to choose a destination and route. Then, use the Wilderness Campsite Map and Wilderness Designated Site Details to select wilderness campsites. Remember to consider the abilities of the least experienced member of your party and the distance and elevation gain from the trailhead to your destination.
Rocky Mountain National Park is a high elevation park. If you live at sea level, it will take you several days to become acclimated. Most trails begin above 8,000 feet (2,400 meters) and climb abruptly higher. If you are not acclimated, you can get acute mountain sickness. Rangers recommend spending at least one night at 7,000–8,000 feet (2,100–2,400 meters) prior to setting out. This will allow your body to begin to adjust to the elevation.
Weather and Clothing
When you visit or call the park, discuss your plans with a ranger. Find out if snow has melted from the trails and destinations where you hope to hike. Check the weather forecast before starting your trip. Mountain weather changes very quickly. Within just a few hours, bright sunny skies may give way to raging storms. High winds often occur in the high country. Wind chill accelerates the lowering of body temperature which can result in hypothermia.
Proper clothing is your first line of defense against cold. Plan to dress in layers so you can regulate your temperature by bundling up or peeling down. Be sure to pack rain and storm gear.
Remember, you assume complete responsibility for your own safety and that of your group while hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park.
The Wilderness Permit
Getting a Wilderness Permit
You must have a Wilderness Permit to camp overnight in the wilderness of Rocky Mountain National Park. You can pick the Permit up at the Headquarters Wilderness Office (beside Beaver Meadows Visitor Center on Highway 36 west of Estes Park, CO) or at Kawuneeche Visitor Center (Highway 34, north of Grand Lake, CO).
To minimize impact on the park's resources, the number of Permits issued is limited.
Unable to use your reservation?
Reservation Requests for Wilderness Permits may be made as follows:
Your permit is a contract between you and the National Park Service stating that you agree to treat with respect and take care of the wilderness.
You will see wilderness regulations on the back of each permit. Read, understand, sign, and obey them.
The Wilderness Permit must be easily accessible and with you at all times. A Tent Tag must be displayed on the outside of your pack while hiking to your campsite and on your tent at the campsite. The Permit indicates the number of people in your party, and specifies a campsite for each night you are in the wilderness. You must stick with your planned itinerary so that campsites do not become overcrowded and overused.
In addition to a Permit, you will receive a Dash Tag, to be placed on the dashboard of your vehicle. Since overnight parking is only allowed with a Wilderness Permit, failure to properly display a Dash Tag may result in a citation and/or a towing fee.
Wilderness Designated Sites
Technical Orienteering Cross-country Zones (No Trails)
Technical Climbing Bivouac Zones
Sprague Lake Accessible Wilderness Campsite
Wilderness Stock Sites
Wilderness Winter Camping
There are special rules for overnight wilderness winter camping.
The Wilderness Backpacking Trip
Before you leave home, always tell someone your trip itinerary and when you plan to return.
Allow plenty of time for your trip. Consider the distance you plan to travel, the elevation of the trailhead and your destination, the amount of weight you are carrying, your physical condition, current and forecasted weather and the hours of daylight remaining.
Please Respect the Fragile Tundra
Alpine tundra vegetation is hardy. These plants survive extreme cold, strong winds, intense ultraviolet radiation and very low humidity. Although these plants are tough, they cannot withstand repeated trampling. It takes 100 years for many alpine tundra plants to grow 1 inch.
Where there are no maintained trails and in undeveloped places, you may walk across the alpine tundra. In contrast to below treeline, in the tundra you do not walk in single file. Spread out so that your foot prints are not concentrated on a small area, and rock-hop rather than stepping on vegetation.
When you arrive at your destination, you will see trail signs that show where to find campsites. Pitch your tent in designated areas. Never dig or trench around a tent.
There are no grizzly bears in Rocky Mountain National Park, but black bears do live here. Help park rangers keep bears and other animals (including mice, marmots, martens, porcupines, elk, deer, etc.) from becoming a problem, by carefully securing your food and garbage.
Wilderness Food Storage:
Between April 1 and October 31, all food and scented items and garbage must be secured inside a hard sided commercially-made carry in/carry out bear-resistant food storage canister.
This is required for park wilderness areas below tree line and in the Boulder Field of Longs Peak, due to recurring wildlife incidents. Other methods of food storage are not permitted in the wilderness during this period.
All food, scented items and trash must be kept in the canister, and placed 70 adult steps (200 feet/60meters) away from campsite.
Keep a clean camp!
Camp safely away from standing dead trees as near as is safely possible to the silver metal arrowhead that marks the site. Campsite must also be 70 adult steps (200 feet/60 meters) away from water.
Bear and mountain lion encounters can be potentially dangerous and can occur anywhere in the park. Ask for park information regarding proper wildlife interaction procedures. Keep your group close together, protect small children by picking them up and never run.
Preparing Meals at Camp
Campfires have potential to get out of control if not well tended. For these reasons, fires are allowed in only a few designated wilderness campsites which have metal fire rings.
Never take food in the sleeping area. Separate where you cook and eat from where you sleep. Keep all scented items out of your tent including soap, deodorant, toothpaste, etc.
Seal uneaten food scraps and all garbage in airtight containers or storage bags and secure in bear canister.
Carry all garbage out of the wilderness.
To fish in Rocky Mountain National Park, you must have a Colorado state fishing license. You may purchase licenses at local sporting goods stores.
Fishing regulations vary at different lakes and streams in the park. Learn more about fishing in Rocky.
Leaving the Wilderness
If you end a trip early, notify the Wilderness Office to cancel the permit, so other backpackers may use your site.
Please report all unusual wildlife sightings, trail conditions or incidents to a ranger.
Pack out all your garbage and that of others less considerate.
If you see any violations of rules and regulations, please report them to a ranger as soon as possible.
You can find showers and laundry facilities in Estes Park and in Grand Lake.
These lands were set aside for you by our foreparents.It is our most sincere hope that you have an inspiring, refreshing and renewing wilderness experience in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Leave No Trace
Join park rangers in protecting the natural conditions of the wilderness while hiking and camping.
Ask a park ranger how you can Leave No Trace on your wilderness visit. Or contact:
Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics
"Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed; if we permit the last virgin forests to be turned into comic books; if we drive the few remaining wild species into zoos or extinction; if we pollute the last clear air and dirty the last clear streams and push our paved roads through the last of silences."—Wallace Stegner
It is the hope of the Park Rangers of Rocky Mountain National Park that you have the trip of a lifetime while you are here. Safety is the foundation of having the trip of a lifetime. It is our desire that you leave with wonderful memories rather than a tragic story. Any planning that you can do to prevent an injury, accident, or the separation of members of your party while in the wilderness is wise and will help make for a successful vacation.
Last updated: December 10, 2022