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Rocky Mountain High in the Rocky Mountain National Park

| Updated May 31, 2023

I now understand what John Denver meant by his song: I've now been Rocky Mountain High.

And like Denver, who penned the song shortly after moving to Aspen to celebrate his love for his new state and the awe-inspiring mountains, Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park made me want to sing, too. If I could only have caught my breath. For there, somewhere well above 12,000 feet, a quarter-mile up a tundra bordered trail from an overlook off Trail Ridge Road, were three Bighorn Sheep, standing like sentinels and looking out at the same snow-covered peaks that I was.


I zoomed in for a closeup with my new telephoto and felt so at one with them, the mountains and the whole Colorado experience we had been living the past two weeks that, had Jennifer asked, I would have gladly sold my Michigan home and moved there. Immediately.


Fortunately, she didn't ask. At that altitude, she too was having trouble catching her breath.

But trust me, if you've never stood on top of a mountaintop in Colorado, you have no idea what you were missing. Go listen to Denver's Rocky Mountain High, which, is, by the way, one of Colorado's two official state songs. The other one, to save you asking, is Where the Columbines Grow. And they also grow in those Rocky Mountains.

But Denver's line in the song about “coming home to a place he'd never been before” is exactly what the Rocky Mountains made me feel.


Son-in-law Dan Bower takes a photo of my granddaughters, Hua Hua and Rachel, at the edge of an overlook in the Rocky Mountain National Park

You just want to stare and stare at them. Breathing the clean, cool air and watching the sun and shadows move up and down the mountains. We came into the park from Estes Park., on the east end, and like lots of other people, took Trail Ridge Road up and through the 415 square mile park. That was our only complaint. There were way too many people. And half or more of those we saw were from somewhere other than the United States. Our favorite was a group of some 30 motorcyclists from the Netherlands, riding rented Harleys.

Parking lots were crowded
The eTrek Roadtrek had no problems fitting into parking spots

Trail Ridge Road has been dubbed the “highway to the sky” and it is, in just about every book of best drives you'll find, in the Top 10. It winds 48 miles between Estes Park on the park's east side and Grand Lake on the west. Eleven miles of the highway travel above treeline, the elevation near 11,500 feet where the park's evergreen forests come to a halt. As it winds across the tundra's vastness to its high point at 12,183 feet elevation (where we saw the Bighorn Sheep), Trail Ridge Road (U.S. 34) offers visitors thrilling views, wildlife sightings, and spectacular alpine wildflower exhibitions, all from the comfort of their car.

I loaded up everyone in our Roadtrek – four adults, two kids, and two dogs – and we had no problems on the road.

A meadow view of the Rockies just inside the East gate

But almost every overlook has a path or hiking trail running up or down or out into the wilderness. Besides the sheep, we also saw several herds of elk.

There were traffic jams around every overlook. But as we lingered and the day wore on, the crowds seemed to thin. By the time we stopped to picnic at Lily Lake, it was much less congested.

We would have loved to camp at one of the four campgrounds in the park but even six weeks out, we were unable to get a reservation.

The only place around where we could get space was at the KOA in Estes Park. What a disaster that was. At $56 a night, our “campsite” was on the side of a gravel road, hard up against a berm and maybe 10 feet from those Kamping Kabins that KOA also rents out. It was one of the worst campsites we have ever experienced. Dusty, crowded and more like a parking lot than a campground, we were miserable.

Jennifer and the dogs in our roadside/gravel parking lot “campsite” at the Estes Park, CO KOA

Even the spots not on the road/parking lot were very close together. We witnessed a near fistfight when the smoke from one camper's cigar riled up his neighbor.

I complained to the owner and he acknowledged that I wasn't the first who got stuck with one of those side-of-the-gravel-road spots. But he candidly explained that if he were to do away with those roadside spots his profit would drop by $20,000 a year and, for that price, he could live with the complaints.

Eating out on the picnic table was like eating in a dust bowl. The kids had no place to play outside the RVs except the street, or way down and around in the small playground. The dogs had to lie in the dirt. You couldn't open the RV windows without dust coming in.

We had no other choices. Every other campground in the area was booked up.

We arrived on a Friday night and gathered everyone up in the Roadtrek and headed to a nearby city park, where we found picnic tables and set up a grill. On Saturday, after touring the park, we walked around Estes Park until dark. Anything to avoid spending time at the KOA.

Wendy, Dan, and the girls went horseback riding into the foothills of the Rockies.rnpgirlzhorse

I did enjoy an impromptu visit from two readers of this blog, Sarah and Tim, who live in Estes Park and saw from the little interactive live map on the right side of this blog that we were in their area. They drove up and down the KOA streets until they found where we were parked. We talked about Colorado and, specifically, winter in the Rocky Mountain National Park. Tim, who is a curator at the museum there,  told me that in the spring when Trail Ridge Road is plowed out, it is not unusual to have them bordered by 35-foot tall snowdrifts.

It snows every month in the park. Even August.

Rocky Mountain National Park elk

Back to the Rocky Mountain High theme. If you are planning to visit the Rocky Mountain National Park and you are a flatlander, not used to the altitude, give yourself some time to get acclimated. Start at lower altitudes and slowly work up. Elevation is an integral part of the park experience. The park is all above 7,500 feet, so don't do strenuous activities until your system has adjusted. Even driving at high elevations can affect sensitive individuals. Just ask my daughter, Wendy.

Altitude sickness symptoms include shortness of breath, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, rapid heartbeat, and insomnia. All of us in our family group felt at least one of those symptoms. Drink lots of water and if the symptoms are severe or persist, depart for lower elevation.

But most of the symptoms ease after a couple of days of acclimation.

But if they don't, you will be so awestruck by the beautiful scenery, that you forget about them.

(This article was originally published in 2013. Updated in 2021. See the links to all our Colorado posts below.) 

Here are a few more posts about Colorado you might enjoy exploring before you get on the road:

The 10 Best Campgrounds in Colorado [for RVers]

Search Results for all the posts about Colorado on our site



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Mike Wendland

Published on 2021-03-22

Mike Wendland is a multiple Emmy-award-winning Journalist, Podcaster, YouTuber, and Blogger, who has traveled with his wife, Jennifer, all over North America in an RV, sharing adventures and reviewing RV, Camping, Outdoor, Travel and Tech Gear for the past 12 years. They are leading industry experts in RV living and have written 18 travel books.

23 Responses to “Rocky Mountain High in the Rocky Mountain National Park”

July 16, 2021at11:32 pm, Colorado born and raised said:

Go home transplants. Colorado born and raised are tired of you

August 26, 2013at8:53 pm, Gary Sievewright said:

We were there in our Motorhome 3 years ago, I enjoyed re-living our experience through your writing and pictures! One of our favorite places on earth! I have been past the KOA you were at. Sorry for your experience. When you go back, we stayed at Elk Meadows Lodge and RV Park, right at the base of the Rocky Mountain National Park entrance. We would recommend it. Thanks for your blog, I enjoy reading about your experiences!

August 24, 2013at10:52 pm, Darlene said:

We had a small 15′ trailer, because we didn’t want anything bigger, we pulled a couple times a year. Hated it. When we retired we decided we did not want to pull a trailer. After visiting a camper show, we knew the B was going to be in our future. We searched, read every forum, more searching, and the decision was made for a RT. After our first trip out, we were convinced we made the right choice. Many times we will drive past a A, C, 5th wheel and TT’s, and point at them, and look at each other and say “aren’t you glad we don’t have one of those?” We can pull into any place with no problems, go down a dead end road and turn around, back into any site with ease. We are so thankful for our B. We wouldn’t want anything bigger. In fact, we just bought the 23′ RS and a little worried it might be too long ;o). We loved our 190 size, but we plan to be gone for a few months and wanted the “little” extra room.

August 24, 2013at12:30 pm, Stan Edwards said:

It’s like I tell folks when discussing Class B vs others, it really depends on what you want to do. We like being somewhere new every day and seeing sights along the way so, from our perspective, the Class B is the way to go. If we were going somewhere and staying a week or more for most of our travel, the big rig or a 5th-wheel would probably be more desirable. We love our Class B.

August 22, 2013at10:54 pm, Type A Guy said:

Okay, Mike. I respect your decision and applaud your enthusiasm for the “small motorhome lifestyle.” Should you change your mind about my offer, just let me know.

August 22, 2013at1:36 pm, Rob Bignell said:

A great family-friendly trail to day hike at Rocky Mountain NP – especially during autumn – is the 2.3-mile Cub Lake Trail. An array of leaf colors await hikers around the pond.

Rob Bignell
Author, “Hikes with Tykes”

August 21, 2013at10:45 pm, Mike Wendland said:

Hey…I just drove my B across the country, towing a trailer, followed by another Roadtrek and an SUV. I bought fuel for them all. I felt like a Class A owner. to the Type A Guy: Thanks for the offer. But this blog is really about the small motorhome lifestyle. That’s a lifestyle I consciously chose over other RVs because it precisely fits my needs and interests. I really do appreciate your offer and you are most welcome to contact me privately (through CONTACT link at top of blog) but there are so many Class B stories and Roadtreking trips that I need to take that I just don’t have time to accept your offer. The beauty about the RV industry is there is a vehicle out there for everyone! I’ve found mine and will continue to be Roadtreking for as long as possible.

August 22, 2013at12:42 am, Sherry Hooker said:

Good for you (and us), Mike!

August 21, 2013at10:24 pm, Ron said:

Do it Mike! What do you have to lose? Except, of course, a gazillion bucks that it costs to fill up those puppies…. the mobility that lets you pull into any fast food joint on the interstate… the option of boondocking in a secluded state forest..the cost of having a towed vehicle… having to pay a fortune to store that monster when not being used and the embarrassment you’d have if any of your Class B pals happened to see you!

August 21, 2013at10:19 pm, Lauren said:

Class As are way too big!!!

August 21, 2013at10:14 pm, Type A Guy said:

Mr. Wendland: I am using a pseudonym for my name and not identifying my company but I am writing to invite you to use, at our expense, a Type A motorhome. If you tow a car, you have all the flexibility you write about. And you have a real home, with real room. Yes, today’s Type B motorhomes are very nice. But nothing compares to a Type A. I won’t publicize my company’s name here so you know it is not a ploy for advertising. I so enjoy your blog and sincerely believe that you owe it to yourself and your readers to try a Type A motor coach. No rush, no strings. We’d just like you to try it and then share your experience. I will contact you by a private mail but I post this here because I bet your readers would like to see you try a Type A as well. Well, readers?

August 21, 2013at10:28 pm, Tom Hopkins said:

I have seen Mike and Jens ‘B” and it is really hi tech and gorgeous.
I have an A as we need the extra room for a lot of Grandkids for weekend jaunts, tailgaters by the ton for Iowa HAWKEYE games etc. I like his gas mpg and solar panels etc but have to admit I love my big old 8mpg V10 tank! But its fun to see what everybody is doing etc so please don’t kick me off ! I promise to keep an open mind, any camping beats no camping!

August 22, 2013at12:14 am, Sherry Hooker said:

Mike, guess that would mean a new website. You could call it, How We Travel In Our Condo, Class a way of gas guzzlers. LOL.

August 21, 2013at9:52 pm, Mike Wendland said:

So many places to go, so little time. That’s why I say to folks thinking about embracing this Roadtreking lifestyle…. do it now. You will never regret getting started. You will regret waiting.

August 21, 2013at9:47 pm, les shanteau said:

Recollections from a few trips in the past. Second week in September went up Pikes Peak in the middle of the week. Total of 5 cars and a very clear day; only 3 clouds. I could see for miles.
Estes Park in the summer, just as you described. In September maybe 5 rigs in the campground. couldn’t hear much over the sound the rushing water right behind our camper. That was a Monday night, because we were watching a football game from Denver; where it was snowing.
Went to Ft. Collins and crossed over the Continental divide on the road out of Ft. Collins. Stopped at a rest stop east of the divide and walked down a path maybe 200 yards and there was a mountain lake with the mountains in the background. Beautiful. Found it by chance. No signs to tell you it was even there. Anywhere else there would be signs for miles “scenic view”. Traffic was very sparse on this road.
If you are going to Colorado to see the mountains and scenery and go through the Eisenhower Tunnel and not take the road over Loveland Pass, you have just missed one beautiful ride. Then to see the sailboats on Dillon Reservoir.
Colorado is one beautiful state for mountains. Then there is Utah.

August 21, 2013at8:50 pm, Jim Temple said:

I was in RMNP mid June of this year. The crowds don’t start until July. June has cool nights and mornings, but warm up in the afternoon. Great for hiking. Be sure to hike Bear Lake and Alberta Falls. I too would move from Western Pennsylvania and relocate to CO if I could only talk my wife into it.

August 21, 2013at11:31 am, Campskunk said:

uh oh – looks like Michigan is fixing to lose another native son to emigration…

August 21, 2013at10:34 am, Gary Hennes said:

My wife and I camped at the West end of route you describe way back in the ’60’s, BK (before kids). By the time we got to Estes Park, snow had closed the road behind us (in AUG) and we had to find a motel for the night before we could head back to our campsite. Beautiful park – great views. We were young then – I don’t remember the part about being short of breath!

August 21, 2013at10:01 am, Sarah Eaton said:

It was such a pleasure to meet you and Jennifer and talk a little about Rocky Mountain National Park. I’ve followed your blog for quite some time (even though we own a Leisure Travel Vans Free Spirit, and not a Roadtrek!) and have found it to be both helpful and entertaining at the same time. It’s such a shame that you were not able to get a campsite in the park. Unfortunately, the private campgrounds in town leave a lot to be desired, to put it mildly. I hope you had a great trip home and were able to finish the trip at a site more to your liking.

August 21, 2013at9:53 am, Linda Weisgram said:

Your experiences with poor campgrounds and tourists are the reasons we only go to CO in May or September. Our daughter lives in Longmont, and we do some part of the Rockies every year. We’re heading there Sept. 4 for a couple of weeks. We have talked about moving there as well. We traveled thru the Rockies from Estes Park to Steamboat Springs two years ago, and it was wonderful in our 2007 RS. Great experience!

August 21, 2013at9:32 am, Mike Wendland said:

They tell me the first couple weeks of September are the best… the aspens are in bright yellow fall colors. The park closes a lot of services on Sept. 29th. Snow comes early up there. So you may want to check with them if planing an October visit. Thanks for the kind words. This blog turned into a real job… I’m as busy with it as I was before supposedly retiring. But it is a labor of love!

August 30, 2013at5:44 pm, Randall Guffey said:

Usually the 3rd week of Sept will put on a Fall show of colors. Please go again in the summer with in-park campground reservations, a great experience, and do attend the evening programs and also ranger led nature programs.

August 21, 2013at9:29 am, Leigh Nielsen said:

When I was a teen I did some hiking in the Colorado Rockies, Near Estes Park. I felt the same way, that I wanted to spend the rest of my life there. However, life happens and I am in the flatlands near the ocean in NC. No complaints, just want to start traveling in my 2007 RT Popular and revisit Colorado. Any info on the best time of year to visit? We are planning on heading west in October to Kansas so might venture to Co. Love your blog by the way. I check it daily. I can dream about traveling. Thanks for all your hard work.

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