Rocky Mountain National Park employees have a nickname for their workplace: Bear Lake Road National Park. That’s because most guests spend their time visiting that 9.2-mile thoroughfare’s campsites, trails, and picnic areas—and ignore the rest of the 415-square-mile playground. So to better manage crowds, Rocky’s timed-entry reservations, which are required for anyone visiting during peak hours between May 24 and mid-October, now come in two versions: one that includes the Bear Lake Road Corridor and one that doesn’t.

With permits on sale in rolling monthly batches starting May 1 (check online for specific dates and times), we put together a guide to help you find the adventure zone that’s right for you.

4 Reasons to Choose the Bear Lake Road Corridor

1. You Own an RV

Of Rocky’s 327 RV- and trailer-friendly bivouacs, a whopping 220 are found in the corridor’s Glacier Basin and Moraine Park campgrounds. Or at least they will be once Moraine Park reopens this summer after an extensive renovation, which will include the park’s first electric hookups.

2. You Plan to Picnic

Not only is the 0.7-mile, ADA-compliant Sprague Lake Loop smooth enough for a wagon loaded with delicious perishables, but there are also 27 picnic tables and 16 pedestal grills along the circuit, each with sweeping views of the Continental Divide.

3. You Want to See Elk

Rutting season peaks mid-September through mid-October when the megafauna flock to Rocky’s lush meadows to, um, perpetuate the species. Moraine Park, a giant field located off Bear Lake Road, is the premier spot to observe—and listen to—the spectacle.

4. You Hate Driving

CDOT’s weekend Bustang bus service ($15) will drop you at Rocky’s Park and Ride lot, where free visitor shuttles will carry you to key sites along the corridor. Better yet: Passengers don’t need a timed-entry reservation.

4 Reasons to Choose the Rest of the Park

Ouzel Falls
Ouzel Falls. Photo by Jason J. Hatfield

1. You Have a Junior Ranger

Each visitor center has free activity booklets, but for a more hands-on experience, head to the Hidden Valley area. At its Junior Ranger Headquarters, you can borrow an explorer bag, which comes with a magnifying glass, binoculars, and a thermometer, plus instructions on how your wee ones can put them to use.

2. You Like Waterfalls

Wild Basin is one of Rocky’s most popular spots outside of Bear Lake Road, thanks to its hiking. Our favorite route: Wild Basin Trail. The out-and-back to Ouzel Falls is 5.4 miles and includes two bonus water features—Copeland Falls and Calypso Cascades.

3. You Plan to Fish

The west side of Rocky is home to the headwaters of the Colorado River, one of the nation’s preeminent trout fisheries. The aptly named Colorado River Trail, which is accessed from Trail Ridge Road and follows its namesake waterway, is the perfect place to wet your line.

4. You Love Driving

Old Fall River Road (find the entrance at Horseshoe Park) is a one-lane, 11-mile dirt and gravel track that winds up a series of steep switchbacks to the Alpine Visitor Center. The cliffs may turn your knuckles white, but even your Camry can tackle it.

Read more: Our Comprehensive Guide to Rocky Mountain National Park

This article was originally published in 5280 May 2024.
Nicholas Hunt
Nicholas Hunt
Nicholas writes and edits the Compass, Adventure, and Culture sections of 5280 and writes for