Are you packing for your trip to Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park? I was so overwhelmed the first time I packed for a trip to RMNP. The dramatic variations in altitude and climate within Colorado’s most popular national park make it an absolute beast to try to pack for! The weather forecast was erratic and confusing, and I had no idea what gear I really needed and what I could do without. Don’t worry though! This Rocky Mountain National Park packing list has everything you’ll need (and some optional gear too) to help you savor every mile-high moment of your trip!
I’ve also included a free printable packing list for Rocky Mountain National Park that you can download and print off at home, making it easy to check off everything you need!
The Ultimate Rocky Mountain National Park Packing List
Packing for Rocky Mountain National Park’s Altitude
In general, places at lower elevations within Rocky Mountain National Park (like Sprague Lake or Moraine Park) will be warmer and less windy than places at higher elevations (like Trail Ridge Road). Most likely, you will be exploring at both high and lower altitudes all in one day. This means, as a general rule, you should always pack LAYERS every day you are planning to be outside in the park. I generally recommend three basic layers for most people: a base layer, like a SmartWool t-shirt; a pullover; and, depending on the season, a waterproof coat or jacket.
You’ll also want to keep in mind the potential impacts of altitude sickness during your visit. Most people experience some symptoms of altitude sickness when traveling to Rocky Mountain National Park from lower elevations. Typically, people have headaches, feel out of breath, feel excessively tired, and have a decreased appetite when adjusting to high elevation. We recommend packing any additional medications for managing these symptoms, as well as hydration salts to help you avoid dehydration, which exacerbates altitude sickness.
Packing for Rocky Mountain National Park’s Seasons
Even in the summer, temperatures are typically cool at 9,000 feet above sea level. Exposed passes, like those on Trail Ridge Road, are frequently windy. Additionally, daily afternoon thunderstorms in the summer mean rain gear is a must-have if you plan on doing anything outside after about 1 pm.
In winter, expect sub-freezing temps, deep snow on the trails, and possible snow and ice storms. It’s especially important to keep your body warm when winter hiking to avoid hypothermia, so in addition to the layers described above, you’ll want an additional heavy winter coat too! We also always recommend microspikes or snowshoes if you plan to hit Rocky Mountain National Park’s trails in the winter!
In spring or fall, the weather is a bit of “all of the above”. When I say layers are the most important things you can pack on a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, I am NOT exaggerating! The benefit of having a base layer, a mid-layer, and an outer layer is that you can remove and add layers as needed based on whatever randomness the weather is doing.
And one last thing about the weather. We have a saying in Colorado: “If you don’t like our weather, just wait a few minutes.”
We consider these the most basic necessities you should prepare or pack for any trip to Rocky Mountain National Park! If you are visiting between May and October, you will need a timed-entry permit from recreation.gov. You can read more about the timed-entry permit requirements here.
This is required for every vehicle entering the park between May and October during peak hours. These permits should be obtained online in advance.
Have a plan for where you are sleeping! Rocky Mountain National Park is located in a remote area and accommodations in the towns of Estes Park and Grand Lake both book up quickly in the summer. If you are planning to backpack or camp inside the park, make sure you’ve gotten all the necessary reservations and permits.
You really can’t get around Rocky Mountain National Park very easily without a car. While you could technically get by without one, it would add a lot of complexity to your trip logistics. For example, there are shuttles in the summer throughout the park, and private transportation you can take from the airport to Estes Park and back again. But, private transportation is expensive, cabs are rare, ride-sharing is generally not in the area, and you’d be severely limited in where you can go in Colorado. Renting a car at the Denver Airport is going to be your most affordable and most convenient option.
Don’t forget your driver’s license! Whether it’s at the airport, the rental car pickup counter, or a bar in Estes Park, you’ll need your driver’s license!
Full Tank of Gas
There are no gas stations in Rocky Mountain National Park, so arrive with a full tank.
Debit/Credit Card for Park Entrance Fee OR National Parks Pass
You will need to pay for park admission by credit or debit card at the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. At the time of this post, the park is not accepting cash payments. The price is $30 for 1-day for one vehicle or $35 for 7 days for one vehicle.
There’s a better way, though. You can save time at the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park by buying an annual national park pass online in advance. We get an America the Beautiful pass every year. and recommend it to anyone who is going to be visiting 3 or more national park sites in a 12-month period. The pass grants entrance to over 2,000 national park locations in the United States at no additional charge beyond the upfront cost of the pass.
Clothes to Pack for Rocky Mountain National Park
- Hiking Shoes that are sturdy, waterproof, and breathable
- Rain jacket for the daily afternoon thunderstorms in the summertime. We recommend these Arc’teryx rain jackets:
- Outer layer coat
- Base layers like SmartWool T-shirts
- Midlayer like a pullover
- A warm hat, like either of these:
- Hiking leggings or pants
- Dual-layer socks to prevent blisters, like Wrightsock
- Fleece-lined hiking leggings for winter
- Warm, waterproof winter gloves
Hiking Gear to Pack for Rocky Mountain National Park
- Hiking poles
- Daypack or backpack
- Trash bags to pack out what you bring in
- First aid kit
- Toilet paper
- Sunglasses year-round
- Microspikes in fall, winter, or spring
- Download your hiking route on an app like All Trails or bring a paper map
- Toothbrush and paste, floss
- Reusable razor
- Hairbrush, hair dryer, any other products and accessories
- Bug spray
- Meds and Vitamins, especially for sore muscles or altitude sickness symptoms
Camera Gear (Optional)
- A camera for capturing your memories. We use the Sony a7iii and our iPhones.
- Empty SD card or, if using your cell phone, make sure you have plenty of storage!
- Tripod or selfie-stick
- Note that it is illegal to fly drones in national parks
Final Packing Tips for Rocky Mountain National Park
- Bring a pair of binoculars for wildlife spotting! RMNP is a great place to see elk, moose, deer, marmots, and more.
- Get your Annual National Park Pass in advance if you plan to visit three or more national parks in the next twelve months.
- Read all of our Rocky Mountain National Park guides.
- Don’t forget to download your free printable Rocky Mountain National Park packing list!