From northern British Columbia all the way down to New Mexico, the Rocky Mountains form a stunning natural barrier. With snow-capped peaks rising up to just over 14,400 feet, this mountain chain contains the tallest mountains in Central North America. These majestic mountains contain lakes and rivers that supply water for approximately one quarter of the United States. In 1915, over 250,000 acres of the Rocky Mountain range located in Colorado was signed into protection, creating Rocky Mountain National Park.
This national park is a hikers paradise, especially between June and August, when over half of the parks 4 million annual visitors arrive. But even if you aren’t planning on donning your trail boots, there is still plenty to see on the scenic Trail Ridge Road (double check that it will be open during your visit, as this road is closed in the winter). Trail Ridge Road is an impressive high altitude road that contains an 8-mile continuous stretch above 11,000 feet of elevation.
If traveling with pets, it is fortunate indeed that Rocky Mountain National Park contains such a road as Trail Ridge. This road is one of the few ways pets can explore the park. Pets are prohibited from all hiking trails and the backcountry. They are only allowed along established roads, in parking areas, and in established campgrounds and picnic areas. For more information, visit Rocky Mountain National Park’s pet page.
But even though you should probably plan a hiking trip to this beautiful destination without your pooch at some point, don’t be scared off by these strict pet policies. A few loopholes exist. We were fortunate indeed to stumble across a lovely alternative during our visit to this stunning national park.
Our trip route brought us to Colorado in May. We started from the east entrance (via Estes Park, CO) and drove the Trail Ridge Road as high as we could. During our visit, Trail Ridge Road was only open to Rainbow Curve. We were initially disappointed about not being able to reach the highest point accessible by car. However this turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as the closed portion of the road allowed pedestrians – including dogs! We were able to walk along this high altitude road as far as we wanted. Since we hadn’t planned on hiking, we weren’t able to go that far. High altitude hiking without sunscreen or water isn’t the best idea. But we really enjoyed the mile or so walk we were able to take.
There are 5 drive in campgrounds in Rocky Mountain National Park, in addition to over 250 backcountry sites. Aspenglen, Moraine Park, and Glacier Basin typically require reservations in advance. Longs Peak and Timber Creek are available on a first come, first served basis. Find out more about the campgrounds in Rocky Mountain National Park on the official site.
Activities in the Surrounding Areas
While Rocky Mountain National Park is not very dog-friendly, there are many options for hiking with your dog in the surrounding area. We chose to stay at Hermit Park, a county park located on the edge of Estes Park, CO. We loved this quiet campground with nice wooded spaces. (The RV/Trailer pads were gravel and most were not that level. So make sure you bring leveling blocks with if you aren’t tent camping.) We even had a moose walk right through the campsite next door during our stay.
In addition to the nice campground, Hermit Park offered a spectacular hike up to Kruger Rock. We enjoyed a moderate hike up and were treated to grand views of Rocky Mountain National Park. The dogs enjoyed the chance to stretch their legs as we hiked the roughly 5 mile round trip route.
Colorado is a pretty great state to explore with the pups. While it was hard to compare Rocky Mountain National Park to the wonderfully dog-friendly Great Sand Dunes National Park, we felt like we could have spent longer exploring the amazing scenery in the area. And who knows, maybe if we plan a return trip for later in the season, we could even take the dogs on a hike to a mountain peak in one of the nearby national forests.
What are you favorite dog-friendly hikes around Rocky Mountain National Park? And which is your favorite Colorado located national park – Mesa Verde, Great Sand Dunes, Rocky Mountain, or the next park on our journey, Black Canyon of the Gunnison?