Rocky Mountain National Park has two primary gateway towns: Estes Park to the east and Grand Lake to the west. Estes Park is, by far, the more touristy of the two towns and has more lodging, dining, and shopping options. On the other hand, the town of Grand Lake is much quieter, but has quick access to Lake Granby and Grand Lake itself. Provided you have time, we recommend visiting both the east and west sides of the park for a complete visit. But if you only have time for one or the other, we suggest Estes Park.
Note that Rocky Mountain National Park does not have any actual hotels or inns inside the park. Camping is the only option for those that want to stay within the park boundaries. So, if you’re looking for a roof over your head, consider options in Estes Park and Grand Lake. There certainly is no shortage of lodging options to choose from in either area. And although it’s a matter of taste, we typically prefer staying at a Bed and Breakfast by the park because many of the lodges and inns are very touristy. Therefore, we think you’ll have a more unique, and perhaps less expensive, experience with a Bed and Breakfast. To help with your lodging decisions, this article lists some of our favorite places to stay in both the east and west sides of the park.
BEST LODGING: ESTES PARK ENTRANCE
Estes Park is a town on the eastern side of Rocky Mountain National Park and is about a two-hour drive from Denver. For most visitors, Estes Park is where they start their journey because it is extremely convenient and caters to tourists. However, because of its popularity and accessibility, Estes Park becomes extremely busy during peak summer months. This means that lodging demands a premium price, so we recommend planning ahead in advance to find good deals. As an alternative, consider the town of Grand Lake on the west side of the park in order to avoid excessive crowds and to expand lodging choices.
Bed and Breakfasts
The Kokopelli Inn is a cozy little Bed and Breakfast a few minutes outside of downtown Estes Park. Although removed from the downtown action, it’s conveniently located with only a less than 15-minute drive away from the Beaver Meadows park entrance. We like the Kokopelli Inn because their property has 20 wooded acres and have thoughtfully decorated rooms adorned in southwestern style. Ask about guided hikes, rock climbing, and horseback riding.
Taharaa Mountain Lodge
The Taharaa Mountain Lodge is about a 10-minute drive away from the Beaver Meadows park entrance. That said, the lodge is also removed from the busy hustle and bustle of downtown Estes Park. Thus, you’ll receive a bit more peace and quiet while still being in a convenient location. We like the Taharaa Mountain Lodge because of their reasonable room rates and their tasty home cooked breakfasts. Plus, its a great place to relax after a long day exploring the park.
Airbnb – Estes Park Options
We highly recommend Airbnb for your lodging needs in Estes Park because Airbnb accommodations can often be far less expensive. In addition, you’re likely to find some unique and convenient places to stay, such as rustic cabins or even entire homes in the heart of Estes Park. Of course, lodging prices and availability fluctuate with the seasons, but Airbnb will still likely be cheaper than your standard Bed and Breakfast or hotel.
Hotels and Lodges
Della Terra Mountain Chateau
Della Terra Mountain Chateau is sort of a hybrid hotel that also has Bed and Breakfast qualities. For instance, if you stay in one of their chateau suites, you get a chef-prepared daily breakfast for two. You’ll also have access to an on-site spa and sauna, if you want to up your relaxation game after a day in the park. Most importantly, Della Terra Mountain Chateau has beautiful views and is conveniently located within a 20-minute drive to the Beaver Meadows park entrance.
The Stanley Hotel
Many know the Stanley Hotel because it was the inspiration for the hotel in the movie “The Shining.” While the hotel was not featured in the film itself, there certainly is a resemblance. Also, though that claim to fame is interesting, a visit to this historic property is ideal for its gorgeous views. The hotel has a cool throwback rustic vibe and ambience, and it’s just an amazing one-of-a-kind experience. Since the Stanley Hotel is only a quick drive away from the Beaver Meadows park entrance, this hotel makes for a convenient lodging choice.
Moraine Park Campground
Moraine Park Campground is on the eastern side of Rocky Mountain National Park, easily accessed via the Beaver Meadows entrance. Given its proximity to popular hiking trails, Moraine Park Campground is an excellent option to be central to all the action. In addition, you will still be a close drive (about 15 minutes) to the town of Estes Park. Note that even though this campground has about 240 sites, it fills up quickly during the summer time. The camping fee is $26 per night and you should plan to secure your site in advance with a reservation. Also, because it is such a large campground, don’t expect extreme peace and quiet; a backcountry campsite may be a more suitable choice for that.
Goblins Forest Backcountry Campsite
The Goblins Forest backcountry campsite has six camping spots and is located in the Longs Peak area at 10,120ft. If we had a choice between backcountry camping or car camping in one of the established park campgrounds, we much prefer the backcountry.
So, if you too are interested in camping away from the tourist crowds, Rocky Mountain National Park has numerous backcountry wilderness campsites. First, we recommend making a wilderness campsite reservation in advance, though you could try your luck in person. Secondly, in order to camp in the backcountry, you’ll need a permit, which costs $30 at the time of writing this article. You can obtain a permit at either the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center (east) or the Kawuneeche Visitor Center (west). Note that if you intend to camp in the backcountry, a hard-sided bear canister is mandatory for food storage. Also, don’t forget your Ten Essentials.
Sand Flats Recreation Area
Any Moab trip should also include a visit to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park because of its stunning uniqueness and less crowded atmosphere. Although the Needles District is about 1.5 hours away from Moab, it is absolutely worth the drive. Perhaps the best way to experience the Needles District is to camp, so the Needles Campground is a perfect spot to do just that. The campsites are affordable ($20/night for a standard site or $70-$225 for group sites) and some can be reserved in advance via Recreation.gov.
BEST LODGING: GRAND LAKE ENTRANCE
Grand Lake is a town on the western side of Rocky Mountain National Park and is an appealing alternative to Estes Park for a number of reasons. First, it’s home to the largest lake in Colorado that is not man-made. Second, it’s not far away from the town of Granby and Lake Granby (a man-made lake, but just as fun for recreational activities). And lastly, Grand Lake is far less crowded and touristy. So, if you’re looking for a little more peace and quiet, Grand Lake happens to be an excellent choice.
Bed and Breakfasts
Airbnb – Grand Lake Options
We prefer Airbnbs in the Grand Lake area because, frankly, there are not many great typical Bed and Breakfast options. In addition, you’re likely to find a much wider, and far less expensive, variety of lodging choices. For instance, you will commonly find cabins or entire houses for rent conveniently close to the park entrance.
C Lazy U Ranch
C Lazy U Ranch is an amazing family get-away spot that has tons of on-site activities and is only a 30-minute drive to the Grand Lake park entrance. If you want to go horseback riding, fly fishing, or try any number of other outdoor activities during your stay, then C Lazy U Ranch has you covered. Although the ranch is located in Granby, CO, which is a bit further away from downtown Grand Lake, you’ll get more amenities. Plus, the Bed and Breakfast experience here is much better than some of the alternatives closer to the park.
Hotels and Lodges
Shadowcliff Mountain Lodge
Shadowcliff Mountain Lodge is an eco-friendly and non-profit lodge located in Grand Lake. The lodge is rustic and cozy, in addition to being super convenient since it’s only a five minute drive to the Grand Lake park entrance. Shadowcliff actually has two lodges that offer either private guestrooms or shared hostels, as well as separate standalone cabins.
Colorado Cabin Adventures
Would you rather stay in a cabin instead of a hotel? Colorado Cabin Adventures, located less than a 10-minute drive to the Grand Lake park entrance, is ideal for those that want a cabin-setting and the amenities of a hotel. Their property has a number of log cabins to choose from that can accommodate various group sizes. You’ll also be just a stone’s throw away from the Colorado River and Grand Lake itself.
Timber Creek Campground
Timber Creek Campground is in the western portion of Rocky Mountain National Park, near the Grand Lake entrance. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your preference) this is the only established car camping site in the park’s western portion. However, it is a rather large campground with its 98 sites and happens to be beautifully located adjacent to the Colorado River. Because the west side of the park is less busy, you may find it easier to get a campsite. The camping fee is $26 per night and it is first-come, first-served — so get there early. Just as with other established campgrounds in the park, if you’re after extreme peace and quiet, we suggest looking at backcountry campsite options instead.
Lake Verna Backcountry Campsite
Lake Verna is an ideal backcountry campsite for solitude because there is literally only one camping spot at 10,280ft. in elevation. You can access the Lake Verna campsite via the East Inlet Trail, which is one of our favorite hikes in the western portion of the park.
If you’re looking to camp away from the tourist crowds, Rocky Mountain National Park has numerous backcountry wilderness campsites. First, we recommend making a wilderness campsite reservation in advance, though you could try your luck in person. Secondly, in order to camp in the backcountry, you’ll need a permit, which costs $30 at the time of writing this article. You can obtain a permit at either the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center (east) or the Kawuneeche Visitor Center (west). Note that if you intend to camp in the backcountry, a hard-sided bear canister is mandatory for food storage. Also, don’t forget your Ten Essentials.
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