After visiting Glacier National Park in Montana last September, I didn't know that another mountain beauty would fall onto my bucket list. But the mountains started calling, and I decided that I must go. At first, Rocky Mountain National Park was planned to be a pit stop on my way to the Grand Canyon. I'd take a peek as I drove by. But when the perfect time slot opened up on my calendar, too hot for Arizona but just right for mountain climes, I knew it was time to head to the Rockies.
I've heard concerns from a LOT of people that taking your dogs to Rocky Mountain National Park is difficult at best, not worth it at worst. I didn't have any of these negative experiences at all. In fact, I had an incredible (and rule-abiding) time with my dogs at this beautiful National Park. All it takes is a bit of research, understanding the rules, and planning. It was incredibly simple, actually, and I'm so glad I went. I'll save you some time by spelling everything out in this post.
Dogs are allowed in all developed campgrounds in Rocky Mountain National Park and on all park roads. Perfect. Done. That's all I needed to achieve my goal of camping and then driving Trail Ridge Road. That alone was an amazing experience! Essentially, if you want to go backpacking or hiking here with your dog, that's a No-No. BUT, before you get discouraged or just up and decide to quit on this idea, know that almost every National Park has many National Forests directly adjacent or nearby. Why is this important? Dogs are welcome in our National Forests - both in campgrounds and on the trail. They can go nearly everywhere we can (just be sure to double check rules for your specific destination).
That's exactly what we did. We camped at Aspenglen Campground in Rocky Mountain National Park upon our arrival to the area. The next morning, we broke camp and drove Trail Ridge Road from one end of the park to the other. That night, we camped at Sunset Point Campground in Arapaho National Forest and the next morning went on a pristine mountain hike on a nearby trail. No hassle, no fuss. It was easy!
Rocky Mountain National Park is the perfect destination for adventure lovers. Not only can you camp in the park with your dog and explore Trail Ridge Road, but there are many awesome mountain towns as well. We checked out Winter Park and Boulder. For the wilderness enthusiasts, there is plenty of dog-friendly camping and hiking in Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests. Roosevelt National Forest is north of the Park and Arapaho is south and west.
Trail Ridge Road
The highest elevation road in the National Park Service, Trail Ridge Road runs from one end of the park to other with dozens of twists, turns, and switchbacks. We went from Estes Park to Grand Lake, taking our time and stopping frequently, and it took about 5 hours. Even on a weekday, there were a lot of people traveling the road. It had just opened for the season a few days earlier; it takes months for the snow plows to unbury the road every spring. The altitude changes quickly, so take breaks and watch your dogs for signs of stress. My dogs did quite well - River showed no signs of slowing down but Mica needed breaks. I didn't fare so well! I didn't get sick, but I noticed changes in my breathing, some dizziness, and fatigue. Watch this video for Tales From the Trail at the TOP of Trail Ridge Road!
Estes Park had a lot to offer, but Grand Lake was a blip and then gone. We did stop at the lake and I let the dogs have a nice swim after so much time in the car. One thing to note with Trail Ridge Road, as well as Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier, is that there are MANY pullouts. Don't stop at all of them, but stop at most. Don't be in a hurry to get to the top. At least once, stop for half an hour or more to just drink in the experience and be present. After all, that's why you're here, right?
Another thing to note is the rapidly changing weather in the mountains. We were fortunate to have excellent weather for the journey along Trail Ridge Road, but it did downpour about an hour after we reached Grand Lake. You will want to bring layers with you because there is about a 20 degree temperature difference from the bottom of the road to the top elevations - sometimes more! I brought a jacket but was just fine in a hoodie sweatshirt. I did need the jacket, hat, and even gloves for overnight trips to the restroom, though.
This picture shows the 4 entrances to Rocky Mountain National Park, and I've highlighted Trail Ridge Road.
This place is truly breathtaking. We saw MANY different forms of wildlife: elk, moose, bighorn sheep, loads of chipmunks, but no moose. I highly recommend visiting, but avoid peak times. If you're planning a trip and have any questions, please let me know! I'll leave you with some glimpses into my trip.