Which Entrance Should I Take into Rocky Mountain National Park?

Spanning the Continental Divide, Rocky Mountain National Park stretches across 265,770 acres filled with alpine lakes, the headwaters of the Colorado River and dozens of peaks that reach 12,000 feet and higher. To access the park, there are four entrances, three on the park’s east side and one on the west. To make the most of your time in Rocky Mountain National Park, choose the entrance that will give you the best access to the sights you want to see and experience.

Map of entrances to Rocky Mountain National Park

1. Beaver Meadows Entrance (Most Direct from Estes Park)

Sprague Lake Sunrise

The Beaver Meadows Entrance provides quick access to Sprague Lake (pictured), Glacier Gorge and Bear Lake

On the east side of the park lies the Beaver Meadows Entrance, the most direct entrance from Estes Park, which lies right outside Rocky Mountain National Park. An hour’s drive from Boulder and two hours from Denver, the lively Estes Park is the closest town to the park on the east side of the park. Because the entrance is so accessible from Estes Park and open year round, it is the most popular.

The Beaver Meadows Visitor Center is the best place to get information, books, maps and backcountry permits, as well as catch the park bus.

2. Fall River Entrance (Less Crowded)

Fall River Cirque “scoop” from Old Fall River Road in Autumn. Photo by Gloria Wadzinski

Fall River Cirque “scoop” from Old Fall River Road in autumn. Photo by Gloria Wadzinski

If driving Trail Ridge Road or Old Fall River Road is on the top of your list and you have limited time, you may want to enter the park via the Fall River Entrance on the park’s east side. It also is just a few minutes from Estes Park’s downtown. You’ll reach Trail Ridge Road a lot faster than those waiting in line at the Beaver Meadows Entrance during the summer and fall seasons.

You can get to the Fall River Entrance by driving 5-10 minutes on US 34 west from Estes Park. Stay on US 34 as it becomes Trail Ridge Road to enjoy a spectacular tour of the park’s incredible landscapes.

3. Wild Basin Entrance (Park Gem)

Ouzel Falls. Photo by Gloria Wadzinski

Ouzel Falls at the end of a 2.7 mile hike on the Wild Basin Trail. Photo by Gloria Wadzinski

Because the Wild Basin Entrance is about a 30-minute drive south of Estes Park on the park’s east side, most of the park’s visitors never even see the Wild Basin area. But it is a great entrance for those traveling the Peak-to-Peak from Nederland who don’t want to join the crowds entering in Estes Park.

But don’t bring your RV there. The last stretch to Wild Basin is a narrow, gravel road that becomes one lane in places, so it is not appropriate to bring your RV. However, if you are traveling in a car, Wild Basin is a wonderful area to explore with trails that reach eight lakes and three waterfalls.

To reach the Wild Basin Entrance from Estes Park, head south on CO 7. If you get to Allenspark, you have gone too far. Turn around and look for the trailhead on your left.

4. Grand Lake Entrance (Best-Kept Secret)

Grand Lake Colorado in Fall. Courtesy of visitgrandcounty.com

Grand Lake Colorado in Fall. Courtesy of visitgrandcounty.com

To feel like you are really in the heart of the mountains, head to the only entrance on the park’s west side, the Grand Lake Entrance.

Located just a couple minutes from Grand Lake, the Grand Lake Entrance is arguably the parks’ best-kept secret. Its proximity to the charming town of Grand Lake make it even more alluring.

Tucked in the folds of the Rocky Mountains and anchored by the stunning Grand Lake, this town is lined with locally owned shops, restaurants, bed and breakfasts and hotels. You won’t find major grocery stores here, although you can drive 25 minutes to Granby and shop at the enormous City Market. What you will find is an old-fashioned charm combined with recreational opportunities like relaxing at the beach, paddle boarding, paddle boating and kayaking on Grand Lake and visiting the park.

On the western side of the park, you can explore the Colorado River’s headwaters, look for moose and hike to the site of Lulu City, a former mining town, among many other things. Stop by the Kawuneeche Visitor Center near the Grand Lake Entrance to get more information.