The Best Rocky Mountain National Park Packing List (+ Free Printable!)
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.”
Essential Basics to Pack for Rocky Mountain National Park
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
A sturdy and comfortable pair of hiking shoes is a must for exploring Rocky Mountain National Park. With rocky terrain and uneven trails, you want shoes that provide good traction and support. Waterproof and breathable shoes will keep your feet dry and comfortable even in wet conditions.
Rain jackets are essential for visiting Rocky Mountain National Park, especially during the summertime when daily afternoon thunderstorms are common. You don’t want to be caught in a downpour without one. Arc’teryx rain jackets are a great option because they are lightweight, breathable, and made with high-quality materials.
Outer Layer Coat
Temperatures in Rocky Mountain National Park can drop quickly, especially at higher elevations. An outer layer coat will keep you warm and protected from the wind. It’s a good idea to choose a coat that is waterproof or water-resistant in case of unexpected rain or snow.
SmartWool T-shirts are a great option for base layers because they are made from breathable and moisture-wicking materials that will keep you comfortable during physical activity. They are also odor-resistant, which is great for longer hikes.
A midlayer like a pullover will provide extra warmth without adding bulk. Look for a lightweight and breathable option that is easy to pack.
A warm hat is a must for cold weather hiking. It will keep your head and ears warm and help regulate body temperature. Beanie hats for women and men are both great options.
Hiking Leggings or Pants
Hiking leggings or pants are ideal for comfortable and easy movement on the trail. Look for a pair that is stretchy, breathable, and has pockets to store essentials like your phone or trail map.
Dual-layer socks are designed to prevent blisters by reducing friction and providing extra cushioning. Wrightsock is a great brand to consider.
Fleece-lined Hiking Leggings
For winter hikes, fleece-lined leggings will provide extra warmth and insulation. Look for a pair that is made from moisture-wicking and breathable materials.
Warm, Waterproof Winter Gloves
Your extremities can get cold quickly in colder weather. Invest in a pair of warm and waterproof gloves to keep your hands comfortable and dry during your hike.
Hiking Gear to Pack for Rocky Mountain National Park
- Hiking poles: These can help you maintain your balance, reduce the impact on your knees and joints, and improve your overall stability, especially on steep and uneven terrain.
- Daypack or backpack: You’ll need a bag to carry all your hiking essentials, such as water, snacks, extra layers, and first aid kit. A backpack with a waist belt and chest strap can help distribute the weight evenly and reduce strain on your shoulders and back.
- Water: Staying hydrated is crucial for hiking, especially at higher elevations where the air is drier and you lose more moisture through breathing and sweating. Carry enough water to last you for the entire hike, and drink frequently.
- Gallon jug for the day for the drives: You’ll want to bring extra water for the drive to and from the park, as well as for any rest stops along the way.
- Hydration pack with 2-liter reservoir or 3-liter reservoir for the hikes: A hydration pack is a convenient way to carry water while hiking, as it allows you to drink hands-free through a tube that runs from the reservoir to your mouth. A 2-liter or 3-liter reservoir should be enough for a day hike, depending on your water needs and the weather.
- Snacks: Hiking can be a strenuous activity that burns a lot of calories, so it’s important to bring snacks that can provide energy and nutrition. Choose lightweight, non-perishable snacks that are easy to pack and eat on the go, such as trail mix, energy bars, fruit, or jerky.
- Trash bags to pack out what you bring in: As a responsible hiker, you should always leave no trace and pack out all your trash, including food wrappers, tissues, and other waste. Bring a few extra trash bags to store your trash and keep your backpack clean.
- First aid kit: Accidents can happen on the trail, from blisters and cuts to sprains and fractures. A basic first aid kit should include items like adhesive bandages, gauze pads, antiseptic wipes, tweezers, and pain relievers. Make sure to pack any medication you might need as well.
- Toilet paper: Restroom facilities can be limited in the park, and you may need to go off-trail to relieve yourself. Bring some toilet paper or tissues, and pack out any used toilet paper in your trash bag.
- Sunglasses year-round: The sun can be intense in the mountains, and the snow can reflect UV rays even on cloudy days. Wear sunglasses with 100% UV protection to protect your eyes from damage and glare.
- Microspikes in fall, winter, or spring: The trails can be icy and slippery in the colder months, especially at higher elevations. Microspikes are lightweight traction devices that you can attach to your hiking shoes to improve your grip and stability on icy or snowy terrain.
- Download your hiking route on an app like All Trails or bring a paper map: It’s always a good idea to have a map or GPS device to navigate the trails and avoid getting lost. Some parts of the park may not have cell phone coverage, so downloading your route beforehand can help you stay on track. A paper map can also serve as a backup in case your phone battery dies or gets lost.
- Toothbrush, toothpaste, floss
- Shampoo/Conditioner: After a long day of hiking, your hair may feel dirty, greasy, or tangled. Not all hotels provide these items, especially conditioner! So, we recommend bringing your own just in case.
- Reusable razor: A reusable razor is a great alternative to disposable razors. It’s more eco-friendly and can save you money in the long run. Plus, you’ll be able to maintain a well-groomed appearance while you’re in the park.
- Hairbrush, hair dryer, and other hair products
- Deodorant: With all the physical activity you’ll be doing, it’s important to keep yourself smelling fresh!
- Sunscreen: The high altitude of Rocky Mountain National Park means that the sun’s rays are stronger and more intense than at lower elevations. Sunscreen will help protect your skin from harmful UV rays, preventing sunburn and other skin damage.
- Bug spray: Mosquitoes and other biting insects can be a nuisance in the park, especially during the summer months. Bringing bug spray will help repel insects and prevent itchy bug bites.
- Meds and Vitamins: The high altitude of Rocky Mountain National Park can cause altitude sickness, which can make you feel tired, nauseous, and dizzy. Packing altitude sickness medication and other vitamins or supplements can help alleviate symptoms and keep you feeling your best. Additionally, pain relief medication like ibuprofen can be helpful for sore muscles after a long day of hiking.
Camera Gear (Optional)
- A camera is an essential item to capture the stunning natural beauty of the park. Whether you’re using a high-quality camera like the Sony a7iii or your smartphone, having a camera with you will allow you to capture memories of the breathtaking landscapes, wildlife, and other features of the park. Having a camera can help you create lasting memories of your trip, which you can share with others and look back on in the future.
- Empty SD card or plenty of storage on your phone: Having an empty SD card or plenty of storage on your phone is important for capturing all the memories you want to take with you. Running out of space or not having enough memory can be frustrating and limit your ability to take as many photos as you want. So, make sure to have enough space on your device or bring extra SD cards to avoid missing out on any photo opportunities.
- A tripod or selfie-stick can be useful for taking group photos or capturing images with a steady hand. A tripod can help you take photos in low light or slow shutter speed situations while keeping your camera steady. A selfie-stick can help you take photos of yourself or with friends and family without having to ask strangers for help. With these tools, you’ll be able to capture beautiful photos that are free from blurriness and other common photo-taking issues.
- Note that it is illegal to fly drones in national parks
- Check out our guide to Rocky Mountain National Park photography if you plan on taking pictures in RMNP!
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!