Rocky Mountain National Park spoils its visitors with alpine lakes, fascinating wildlife and tall mountain tops. With elevations of more than 14,000 feet, you really feel on top of the world in this Colorado park. But where to stay near Rocky Mountain National Park for the best experience?
Don’t look past the charming gateway towns of Estes Park (east) and Grand Lake (west). Here, you find an excellent selection of accommodation with the national park a stone’s throw away.
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There are no places to stay within Rocky Mountain National Park, but Estes Park and Grand Lake offer lodging in the front row. From Estes Park, the eastern gateway town, you can travel into the park in minutes
Trail Ridge Road is a park highlight cutting through the park from Estes Park to Grand Lake. While it’s easy to access from both ends, the eastern location is extra convenient for many of the most visited park spots: Emerald Lake, Alberta Falls and Bear Lake are big-ticket items on the park’s eastern side.
To the biggest highlight of them all, Bear Lake, it’s just 14 miles (23 km) and 30 minutes by car from Estes Park.
Estes Park is also the perfect base if you prefer a more lively town. It’s the bigger of the two gateway towns, where you find more hotels, restaurants and things to do. Browse downtown Estes Park for an appreciated selection of cute souvenir shops, candy stores and eateries.
The combo of attractive location and lively vibe makes Estes Park a very popular for where to stay when visiting Rocky Mountain National Park. Therefore, make sure that you book your lodging as early as possible if you want Estes Park as your base; the best places to stay frequently sell out here.
Pick Estes Park for: Convenience & vibrance.
Favorite location. Estes Park is the alternative for where to stay near Rocky Mountain National Park that has it all. The town offers both superb access to the most popular parts of the national park and off-the-park entertainment.
Best hotels in Estes Park
The Inn on Fall River
At the Inn on Fall River, it’s easy to believe that you’re staying inside the actual national park. The setting on Fall River is peaceful, and with the sound of the splashing river present, it’s a pleasure to kick back after a long day out exploring.
Rams Horn Village Resort
Offering homey lodging at its best, Rams Horn Village Resort conveniently sits between downtown Estes Park and the beginning of Rocky Mountain National Park. It’s one of the best places to stay for families and couples who want something spacious, where you can spread out to the fullest amid the breathtaking nature.
If you’re lucky, you may even see elk and deer roam the Rams Horn Village Resort property.
Grand Lake is Rocky Mountain National Park’s western gateway town. From Grand Lake, you effortlessly get to the park adventure too.
In particular, you easily access the popular, soaring Trail Ridge Road from Grand Lake. However, Grand Lake puts you away from the must-see spots on the park’s eastern side, including Emerald Lake, Alberta Falls and Bear Lake.
From Grand Lake, it’s 52 miles (84 km) and two hours to Bear Lake.
Isolated and less frequented, Rocky Mountain’s western side is for good reason called the quieter side. Here, you find fewer lodging options, restaurants and things to do off the park — it’s all about nature.
That rare calm is exactly what makes Grand Lake such an appreciated option for where to stay when visiting Rocky Mountain National Park. Hotels sell out here too — secure your accommodations as early as possible to avoid disappointment.
Pick Grand Lake for: The quieter west.
Best hotels in Grand Lake
Spirit Lake Lodge
In the heart of Grand Lake, the invitingly rustic Spirit Lake Lodge sits. Just steps from the town’s offerings and the scenic lake, the location couldn’t be any better.
Loveland & Boulder
Are Estes Park and Grand Lake sold out? Although located much further from the park action, Loveland and Boulder are two additional options for where to stay when visiting Rocky Mountain National Park.
From Loveland, it’s 30 miles (48 km) and 45 minutes by car to Estes Park. If you stay in Boulder, the drive is slightly longer. To this, add all the driving required inside the park.
Consequently, it’s much more comfortable and rewarding to stay in the gateway towns, where you also find that true Rocky Mountain National Park ambience.
But hotel rates tend to go down the further away from the national park you look. So Loveland and Boulder are options if you visit Rocky Mountain National Park on a budget.
Pick Loveland/Boulder for: Budget friendliness.
Budget location. Especially during peak summer season, the rates at hotels in the gateway towns tend to be rather steep. Roughly an hour from the park, Loveland and Boulder are appreciated options to stretch your budget.
Should you pick Estes Park or Grand Lake?
As long as Rocky Mountain National Park has existed, people have asked if Estes Park or Grand Lake is the best park base. But if you should pick Estes Park or Grand Lake depends on what attributes you prefer.
A huge majority of Rocky Mountain National Park’s visitors travel from the Denver area. As the quickest route from Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park goes through Estes Park, it’s the easiest gateway town to reach.
Grand Lake is at the western end of Rocky Mountain National Park a little bit more hidden. The drive to get there is longer for most visitors, but the solitude is also an attribute that many travelers enjoy.
Estes Park vs Grand Lake: Estes Park is more convenient, but Grand Lake is more off the beaten track.
Exploring the park
As Estes Park and Grand Lake are located at the border to Rocky Mountain National Park, the two offer great park access. From both Estes Park and Grand Lake, you effortlessly reach the renowned Trail Ridge Road.
Still, most of the famous park spots are easier to reach from Estes Park. Emerald Lake, Alberta Falls and last but not least Bear Lake are all located on the eastern side of the tall Colorado park.
The difference in driving distance to Bear Lake is significant. From Estes Park, it’s only 14 miles (23 km) to Bear Lake. In contrast, it’s 52 miles (84 km) to get across the park from Grand Lake to Bear Lake.
Estes Park vs Grand Lake: Estes Park is closer to a majority of the most visited park spots.
Estes Park is the bigger and busier gateway town. Most park visitors stay in Estes Park, and the town offers more hotels, dining options, shops and things to do.
On the other hand, the western gateway town offers more peacefulness. Grand Lake gets fewer visitors and has a smaller selection of lodging, restaurants, stores and attractions off the park.
Estes Park vs Grand Lake: Estes Park means more liveliness and things to do in contrast to the quieter Grand Lake.
Final words about where to stay at Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain Park has two gateway towns: Estes Park and Grand Lake. Although both offer superb park access, they couldn’t be much more different.
Estes Park is the energetic one, offering an array of places to stay and things to do off the park. Some say it’s touristy, while others call it plain fun. As a bonus, this is the prime location for the popular Bear Lake area.
In contrast, Grand Lake is the quiet neighbor where nature comes first, second and third. It’s a great option for where to stay at Rocky Mountain National Park if you prefer something more off the beaten path.
Where to stay near Rocky Mountain National Park FAQ
Estes Park, the eastern gateway town, is the most popular option for Rocky Mountain National Park lodging. This hub offers great park access and a lively vibe. West of the park, Grand Lake is a quieter gateway town for those who prefer solitude and don’t mind the longer drive to the Bear Lake area.
The adjacent gateway towns Estes Park and Grand Lake are the towns closest to Rocky Mountain National Park. Other options, such as Loveland and Boulder, are located much further away from the park.
Both Estes Park and Grand Lake are top options for where to stay when visiting Rocky Mountain National Park. Estes Park is livelier and gives you better access to the Bear Lake area, while Grand Lake is the more peaceful option that feels further away from it all.
There are no hotels or other accommodation options within Rocky Mountain National Park. However, the gateway towns Estes Park and Grand Lake provide great lodging just a stone’s throw from the park border.
Although you find several cabins near Rocky Mountain National Park, there are no cabins inside the park. But if you want to avoid the traffic in the gateway towns, Rams Horn Village Resort offers comfy and peaceful cabins right where the adventure begins.
Three days in Rocky Mountain National Park gives you time for the most scenic drives and popular hikes in the park. But add more time if you want to explore the trails in the park more extensively.
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