Wilderness Overnight Backpacking

 
 
At left, a tent and campsite in rocks with a peak behind. On right, a field of windblown snow below the summit of Longs Peak.
Longs Peak from the Boulderfield in late summer (left) and early summer (right).

NPS Photos

 

Planning for Summer 2024 Wilderness Overnight Backpacking Trips?

 
Three Tents set up in a North Inlet Wilderness Campsite
Three tents are set up in a Wilderness Campsite in Rocky

NPS

Rocky Mountain National Park boasts various opportunities for wilderness overnight backpackers to get their boots on the trail. Highlighted below are helpful tips for backpacking beginners to the most advanced mountainous trekkers.

Rocky Mountain National Park's wilderness is a busy place. People travel from all over the world to experience the natural phenomena that the park hosts. This means you must plan ahead.

*Before you start planning, please read the items below to ensure that Rocky can meet your expectations.*

➡️
Overnight backpacking in the wilderness requires a physical permit.

All wilderness permits MUST be picked up in person during regular business hours by the permit holder at one of two Wilderness Office locations listed below:

  • East Side of RMNP (near Estes Park, CO): Wilderness Office located near Beaver Meadows Visitor Center. Address: 1000 U.S. Hwy 36, Estes Park, CO 80517
  • West Side of RMNP (near Grand Lake, CO): Kawuneeche Visitor Center. Address: 16018 U.S. Hwy 34, Grand Lake, CO 80447

➡️ Overnight wilderness backpackers are REQUIRED to secure all food items, scented items, and garbage inside a hard sided commercially made carry in/carry out bear-resistant food storage canister. This is required for RMNP wilderness areas due to recurring wildlife incidents.

Other methods of food storage are not permitted in the park's wilderness at this time.


➡️ Rocky Mountain National Park is a designated site wilderness. There is no dispersed camping allowed. Camp safely away from standing dead trees as near as is safely possible due to the silver metal arrowhead that marks the site.

➡️ Campfires are PROHIBITED in the wilderness. Use portable stoves only.

➡️ Purify all water.

➡️ In Rocky Mountain National Park there is a long history of wilderness overnight backpackers who are also stewards of Leave No Trace. To learn how you can be a Leave No Trace steward, please visit the Leave No Trace webpage to gain knowledge on how you too can minimize your impact.

 
Two bear-resistant food storage containers are placed on the ground at a Wilderness Backcountry campsite.
Example of two hard sided commercially-made carry in/carry out bear-resistant food storage canisters at a wilderness campsite.

NPS

 

Important Trip Planning Information

To explore wilderness campsites, check out the interactive map below:

 
 

Now That You've Reviewed the Regulations and Explored the Map, It's Time to Get Ready to Make a Wilderness Overnight Backpacking Reservation!


Preparing for a wilderness overnight backpacking trip to Rocky involves planning, flexibility, patience, and excitement.

  • Reservations for summer season wilderness overnight backpacking trips MUST be reserved through www.recreation.gov.
 

Reservations for All Summer Wilderness Overnight Backpacking Permits will Open on March 1, 2024 at 8 a.m. MST.


Helpful tips for planning your next wilderness overnight backpacking trip:

1) If you don't have one yet, set up a Recreation.gov account.

  • You can visit www.recreation.gov, use the Recreation.gov Mobile App, or you can also call the Recreation.gov Call Center at 1-877-444-6777.

2) You must be logged into your Recreation.gov account prior to attempting to make a reservation for a wilderness overnight backpacking trip.

  • It is helpful to log on and make sure your account is set up and ready to be used to make a reservation at least 30 minutes before permits are released at 8 a.m. on March 1.

3) Before March 1, take time to meet with your group and plan out 3-4 different trip itineraries. This includes choosing alternate dates AND campsites. Rocky is a very popular national park and wilderness overnight backpacking is an activity in high demand.

  • Write out your trip preferences and have that list in front of you when you prepare to make your reservation.
  • This will help you efficiently move to your second, third, or forth choices if your first choice is not available.

4) Select your desired dates, enter the number of people in your group, and build your trip itinerary by selecting a Starting Area.

  • NOTE: This trip itinerary is NOT held until the "Book Now" button is selected.

5) Once you are ready to book, click "Book Now." The inventory you've selected is now held and you have 15 minutes to complete the remaining order details and pay for the reservation.

  • If you receive an error once the "Book Now" button is selected, this indicates that the inventory is no longer available. This means that your desired wilderness campsites are already reserved and no longer available.
  • You will have to adjust your campsite selections and/or dates and try again.
  • If you experience errors while booking your wilderness overnight backpacking trip, refresh your screen in Recreation.gov and try again.
  • Have specific questions about a wilderness backcountry campsite or route? Call RMNP's Wilderness Office and park staff will be happy to assist you.

 
A mountain stream is flowing downhill, past meadow grasses, towards an alpine lake below. Mountain peaks are in the distance.

NPS Photo

 

Wilderness Office Hours

Wilderness Office (east side of RMNP)

Beaver Meadows Visitor Center
1000 U.S. Hwy 36
Estes Park, CO 80517

Phone: 970-586-1242

Hours: Open year-round: 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily


Closed: New Years Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents' Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day.

To pick up your permit on these federal holidays, please call ahead to make arrangements.



Wilderness Office (west side of RMNP)

Kawuneeche Visitor Center
16018 U.S. Hwy 34
Grand Lake, CO 80447

Phone (summer season only): 970-586-1521

Summer Hours (Memorial Day weekend through October 31): Open 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily

Winter Hours: Closed

Call: 970-586-1242


 
A winter view of The Loch in RMNP. Fresh snow is on the ground. Pine trees and mountains are covered with fresh snow. The sky overhead is clear and blue. It is a beautiful winter day in RMNP.

Winter Wilderness Overnight Backpacking Permits

Wilderness permits are required to camp in the backcountry of Rocky Mountain National Park year-round.

For the wintertime adventurer, winter wilderness campsites are plentiful in the park. Permits are issued on a first-come, first-served basis. Advanced reservations are not accepted during the winter season.

 
 

Anyone interested in winter overnight backcountry trips are required to pick up a physical paper wilderness overnight backpacking permit IN PERSON from one of RMNP's Wilderness Offices.

This permit must be carried with you into the backcountry. Your wilderness permit is an officially issued, hard copy, printed permit. There are no exceptions to this requirement.

  • It is not possible to print a permit from home
  • It is not possible to download and save a digital/electronic copy of a permit onto a mobile phone or other electronic device.
    • Electronic copies saved onto a mobile device are not recognized as a valid wilderness overnight backpacking permit.
 
Two people are hiking on a trail after the East Troublesome Fire. The trail is lined with trees that have recently been burned in a wildlife.

NPS Photo

Current Notices

There are temporary trail and campsite closures in place due to the East Troublesome and Cameron Peak Fires of 2020. Park visitors should be aware of additional hazards when recreating in burn areas including:

  • Be aware of standing dead trees, loose soil/rock, and the potential for flash floods when backpacking near or in an area that has recently burned.
  • Park staff will continue to assess closed areas for fire impacts, safety, downed trees, erosion and rock fall. It is unknown when all closures impacted by the fires of 2020 will reopen. For a map and more information, visit RMNP's Fire Information & Regulations webpage.
 

To help you plan for your upcoming trip and/or future trips, it is recommended to check out the following resources to help you have a successful and fun wilderness experience.

 
 

Last updated: February 9, 2024

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

1000 US Hwy 36
Estes Park, CO 80517

Phone:

970 586-1206
The Information Office is open year-round: 8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. daily in summer; 8:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. Mondays - Fridays and 8:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. Saturdays - Sundays in winter. Recorded Trail Ridge Road status: (970) 586-1222.

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