Rocky Mountain National Park & Trail Ridge Road: RV? Dog??

August 2023 – We were busy enjoying our stay at Lake Granby, Colorado, so much that we almost forgot why we took our RV there in the first place! It was because we wanted to visit Rocky Mountain National Park and drive the famous Trail Ridge Road scenic drive that soars over the peaks!

Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado and Trail Ridge Road scenic drive

America’s Alps!

Rocky Mountain National Park is a huge Park. The 48 mile long Trail Ridge Road runs between the town of Grand Lake at the west end and the community of Estes Park at the east end. In between, it ascends 4,000’ to its summit and winds between the mountains, going from one gorgeous scenic overlook to the next.

Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado

Rocky Mountain National Park has breathtaking views.

Fellow RVers had told us Lake Granby was a great place to stay while visiting Rocky Mountain National Park, but other RVers had told us their favorite part of the Park was on the east side near Estes Park. Unfortunately, the eastern portion of the park is 50 miles from Lake Granby where we were staying!

So, we weren’t sure how much of the eastern side of the Park we would see, but we were excited to get going as we hopped in the truck and headed into the Park.

The roads were super quiet at 9:00 in the morning as we pulled up to the entrance gate. To our complete surprise, the ranger asked us for our timed entry reservation permit.

Our what??

Trail Ridge Road at Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado

During certain hours, Rocky Mountain National Park requires visitors to reserve a timed entry permit in order to enter the Park.

It turns out that Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the National Parks that now uses a timed entry permit system to cap and control the number of visitors that enter the Park at any given time.

So, not only do you need to buy a Park Pass to visit this Park (Federal annual and Senior passes are fine), but you have to make an appointment for the exact time you wish to enter the Park and pay a fee for that too. Holy smokes!

Rocky Mountain National Park Guide Book

A few of the most popular National Parks are using this new timed entry permit system because they were being overrun with visitors. The roads and overlooks inside these Parks had become too congested.

In 2023, Rocky Mountain National Park required visitors to reserve the timed entry permits between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. between May 26 and October 22.

Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado scenic overlook on Trail Ridge Road

Incredible views at Rocky Mountain National Park!

We hadn’t made a reservation to enter the park, but fortunately, with the road completely devoid of cars and a friendly ranger gal at the window and the official time being just a hair after 9:00 a.m., she let us enter rather than turning us away as she would have a few minutes later. Phew! We got in under the wire!

For those that are early risers or who prefer more spontaneous travel, the trick is to enter the Park either before 9:00 a.m. or after 2:00 p.m. when the timed entry permits aren’t required.

Trail Ridge Road views in Rocky Mountain National Park


The first ten miles or so of the drive into the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park is badly scarred from 2020’s East Troublesome forest fire, the largest wildfire in Rocky Mountain National Park’s history.

The fire burned a total of 302 square miles of which 33 square miles were inside the Park. As we drove Trail Ridge Road through the forest, every single tree was burnt to a crisp.

Colorado National Parks Book

Eventually, however, Trail Ridge Road took us way up into the mountains where we saw some wonderfully dramatic views. The dead burned trees gave way to living green trees, and the vistas at each overlook were wonderful.

Overlook at Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado on Trail Ridge Road

Towering mountains and alpine lakes.

Trail Ridge Road twisted through tight turns, and with every bend we got another look at mountain views that went on for miles into the distance.

Scenic Overlook on Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado


Trail Ridge Road Views at Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado


There was still a little bit of snow on the mountain peaks in mid-August. At one overlook, there was a bowl of snow on a nearby mountainside and an ice-filled pond in its midst. There were bright blue alpine lakes in the distance.

Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado snow in August

Snow surrounds an icy pond.

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A bright blue lake shimmered in the distance

We were the only car on the road and the only people at several of the overlooks we stopped at. As the morning wore on, though, the traffic picked up and we had company when we stopped to take in the views.

As always, Buddy attracted lots of attention from the younger set!

People and dog at Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado

A sweet toddler and a cool pup.

Buddy checked out the views alongside Mark, but I’m not sure it was the dramatic mountain scenery that caught his interest. He seemed to be looking down more than out!

Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado person and dog

“See the views?”
“Yes, but I see something else too!”

Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado dog looks over the edge

“There’s something in the bushes down there!”

That’s because Buddy was totally focused on the chipmunks!

The chipmunks in these parts are quite brazen and very savvy. They darted between the cars and people, looking for snacks on the ground or handouts from tourists.

Chuckit Dog Ball Thrower

I was amazed that somehow the chipmunks knew exactly how car wheels behave. Even though they took wildly risky chances running between parked car tires, we didn’t see any get run over when the cars started moving again.

Buddy was transfixed!

Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado chipmunk

These cute little guys know all about tourists and their cars!

The drive and the views reminded us of the Beartooth Scenic Highway in Montana. However, the Beartooth Scenic Highway is a public highway traveled by Montana residents, tourists and truckers alike. There is no entrance fee to do the drive and no timed entry permit system either!

I hate to say it, but for us, the Beartooth Scenic Highway seemed to boast more dramatic scenery too.

Colorado Scenic Drives

However, we drove the Beartooth Scenic Highway in late June, just a few days after the road opened (it closes each winter due to massive snowfall and dangerous icy turns). The mountain peaks were still covered with snow.

In contrast, we were driving through Rocky Mountain National Park in mid-August, almost two months further into the summer season. Most of the snow was gone from the mountain peaks by then, and all that remained was small pockets of snow dotting the hillsides.

Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado view on Trail Ridge Road

These mountain peaks have more snow on them earlier in the summer season.

Rocky Mountain National Park has lots and lots of hikes of all different lengths and difficulties that take hikers out to incredible vistas.

However, dogs are allowed only in the paved parking areas at the overlooks that are along the paved roads. Oddly, dogs aren’t even allowed on the very short paved paths that go to some of the overlooks.

What a contrast this was to the super dog-friendly South Rim of the Grand Canyon where dogs are welcomed on the 5 mile long paved Rim Trail! But rules are rules, so, walking and hiking weren’t on our agenda on this visit.

Rocky Mountain National Park No Dogs Allowed

Dogs are not allowed on this 50 yard paved path that goes to a viewpoint.

Despite the restrictions, we had a lot of fun at the scenic overlooks anyway. The views were fabulous, the air was crisp and clear and we were super fortunate to be out here enjoying the Rockies.

Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado peeking from the edge

Goofing around at an overlook.

Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado enjoying the view on Trail Ridge Road

Everyone sees something different out here.

Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado selfie with dog

Happiness on the ridge.

Trail Ridge Road has a lot of tight switchbacks that ascend steep climbs where the speed limit is 15 mph. RVs are allowed to drive on the road, and we found the driving was not difficult in our big dually truck. We just took our time.

Rocky Mountain National Park Guide Book

However, Trail Ridge Road might be quite challenging with a large RV and it would be difficult to find room to park at the overlooks. We saw some vans and short Class C motorhomes on the road, but that was it for RVs traversing this road.

For RVers with bigger rigs who want to get from one end of the Park to the other, it would probably be best to do your sight-seeing drives on Trail Ridge Road in a tow vehicle or toad first and then simply drive the RV straight through from one end to the other without stopping.

RV driving on Trail Ridge Road at Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado

A Class C motorhome on the Trail Ridge Road.

We were impressed to learn that Trail Ridge Road is the highest paved road in America. It climaxes at a breathtaking altitude of 12,183’.

Before we’d arrived at Rocky Mountain National Park, we’d already taken the truck and trailer over several of Colorado’s highest mountain passes with summits over 11,300’. But the peak on this road was 800 feet higher!

Alpine lake at Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado

These mountains are very tall!

Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado overlook on Trail Ridge Road


Down at Lake Granby where we were staying (8,284’ elevation), the midday temps had been warm enough to wear shorts. However, up here at this towering height it was downright freezing cold. Mark was happy to have a warm dog in his arms as we took a selfie in a biting wind.

Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado selfie

Even in mid-August it’s COLD in these high mountains!

We turned around about halfway down the descent into Estes Park. The eastern side of the Park was dramatically warmer than the than the western side or the area around Lake Granby.

I know we missed some really beautiful scenery around Estes Park, but it was a long drive back to Lake Granby. We’ll return someday, and on our next visit we’ll stay in Estes Park and explore the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park in greater depth.

Rocky Mountain National Park Colorado panorama on Trail Ridge Road

Goodbye, Rocky Mountain National Park…til next time!

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RV hose Water Bandit

More info about Rocky Mountain National Park:

All the National Parks, Monuments and World Heritage Sites we’ve visited – It’s quite a list!

Other scenic drives we’ve enjoyed, including the Bear Tooth Highway and it’s companion, the Chief Joseph Highway

Other blog posts from Colorado:

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12 thoughts on “Rocky Mountain National Park & Trail Ridge Road: RV? Dog??

  1. Another amazing NP! Denver is one of our stopovers on our way home to Ontario Canada after our winters in AZ and UT. Unfortunately this road is still closed in April when we are there, but someday we will make it in the summer!
    As far as the timed entry system goes, when we were at Arches NP it worked brilliantly! It does help alleviate the overcrowding, but it will take some time for all visitors to adjust. So glad they let you in!

    • The National Parks are magnificent and we feel so blessed each time we visit one. I hope you can find the time to buzz back down to Colorado some summer so you can enjoy Rocky Mountain National Park! We’d heard about the timed entry system at Arches but it was interesting to see it in action. Since it is only for certain hours of the day, visitors can have a non-busy visit either with the permit system during peak hours or without the permit system during off-hours. A win-win!

  2. We are here in Estes Park right now – heaven on earth! I first came here in 1949 to our family cabin and have been coming up here in the summer ever since. Lucky me! Yesterday the family met to scatter my sister’s ashes here in Estes. She took her first steps up here on the porch of the cabin in 1949 and now will remain forever in this beautiful spot that she loved so much.
    Your pictures are beautiful and I always enjoy seeing pictures of Buddy (and you two also of course). Not sure if you are still in this area but if so perhaps we will see each other out and about.
    Thanks for your post about my favorite area on earth.

    • Gosh, I wish we were still there, Liz! It would be so great to see you again and see Estes Park, your heart’s true home, with you! What a beautiful story about your sister taking her first steps on the porch of the cabin and now remaining there forever. Enjoy your stay in that gorgeous part of our world. How fortunate you are to have been able to return again and again over the years!

  3. Your article on Rocky Mountain National Park brings back a lot of memories for me. In 2004 I rode the Bicycle Tour of Colorado and one of the days was a trek from Granby to Estes Park. Going up the west side of Trail Ridge Road was a tough slog to the top, but the views were spectacular and the descent down the east side was a blast. As a side note, we were just a couple of weeks removed from when a lunatic armored up a bulldozer and proceeded to destroy a good part of downtown Granby. We were able to still see the damage the man did. Thanks for the memory jog. 😎

    • Oh my, David. We did the Bike Tour of Colorado in 2002, and we remember Wolf Creek Pass (which was under construction and the site of a big accident for me when I fell of my bike — I rode down the mountain in the ambulance!) and Slumgullion Pass which we traversed twice this year, very easily, with our rig!! What a great route you took in ’04 going right through the National Park — we would have LOVED that! We learned about “Killdozer” when we were in Granby. The back story is a sobering tale about a very corrupt government pushing a reasonable man a step too far. I’m glad our pics and stories here brought you back to that beautiful part of the country for a moment this morning!

  4. Awesome post of this beautiful park! I knew about the reservation system at some of the NP’s. Sigh. Progress. Glad you got there earlier though and took great pics as usual. Glad Buddy had chipmunk views too. We call them chippies. 🙂

    • Thank you for appreciating our pics, Annie! It’s a beautiful park, and we were thrilled to see it. The NPS reservation systems came in with Covid and they’re here to stay. Some love it and some don’t, but at least we can all enjoy the parks with or without the permits at this point! We call those little striped guys “chippies” too, and Buddy knows that word well, LOL!!!

  5. RLT never fails to showcase the awesome beauty of our spectacular national parks – thanks for sharing the ride.
    Love, Mom

  6. I had to read this one again and enjoy your beautiful pictures of Trail Ridge Road. We rode up Trail Ridge many times in our heyday (but we didn’t have Seven bikes like you two). Also we rode the Fall River Road on Mtn, bikes. Same destination, shorter route so steeper. Estes is a fun area to stay in. We will be back next September for a week at the Rams Horn. Love that you share your travels. By the way, we used to spend lots of time feeding the chipmunks back in the day. Like everything else, you can’t do that anymore. Also, we had picnics on the tundra lead by a Ranger! in the 50’s. Everyone brought dinner and we had a campfire (!) and fixed hot chocolate, all sponsored by the rangers. No more of that foolishness.
    Thanks again for your posts.
    Liz and Wally

    • Ahhh…such beautiful foolishness. What a shame the rangers aren’t as cordial with visitors any more. But it’s a very different world today. Thank you for re-reading this post! Riding Trail Ridge Road and Fall River Road on your bikes must have been breathtaking — in every respect! Enjoy your stay at the Rams Horn next Fall. Sometimes we leave out a shallow dish of water for the small animals 10-20 yards from our rig. It isn’t habit forming for them, it’s part of their natural diet, and it gives us a chance to enjoy their antics a little closer!!


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