Rocky Mountain National Park is one of America’s prettiest national parks, and also one of the rockiest. This is good news for the climber: there’s a ton of climbing, and it’s beautiful! However, it comes at a price, and I don’t just mean your NPS pass; approach hikes can be long, thunderstorms can strike with little warning, loose rock or snow can be common, and help can be hard to summon. At RMNP, it is extremely important that you know what you’re getting yourself into!
What Makes It Great
RMNP starts at about 8,000 feet above sea level and goes up from there, so if you plan on an epic long day, schedule a couple of acclimatization days. The high season is summer, but climbing season starts when the snow melts and ends when it returns. The approach to your climb might be 5 minutes or it might be 5 hours, but the time will pass quickly, as the hiking itself is world-class (and is the primary use of the park).
If you seek alpine adventure, Long’s Peak is probably on your map already. It requires permits, planning, and a long hike, but you’ll be rewarded with one of the steepest alpine big walls anywhere. The Petite Grepon is one of the most popular alpine climbs in the world, and is an amazing moderate trad experience that includes ten miles of hiking and an unimaginably beautiful summit.
Single-pitch trad climbers will find a wealth of walls to plug their gear into, both in the park and in the surrounding hills around Estes Park. There’s too much to go into here, but check out a guidebook. Also, the locals are a wealth of knowledge, if you ask politely.
The bouldering is world-class, and is comprised of several distinct areas and dozens of specific boulders. The really high-quality stuff starts at around V5, and on up to V15. Unlike a Hueco Tanks or Bishop style place, where the climbing is highly concentrated, RMNP bouldering is distinguished by singular, high quality lines that require a long approach. Chaos Canyon, for example, is a massive talus field with literally unlimited potential for easy and moderate climbing, but the developers of the area focused on the harder climbs. On the southern end of the park, there is an entrance at Wild Basin that leads to more bouldering, though at this time it is undocumented. Check Mountain Project or ask a local!
Who is Going to Love It
Rocky Mountain National Park is a world-class trad and bouldering destination that is surely on every climbers list of places to go. It might be tough on sea level lungs for the first couple days, but it will be worth it!
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Estes Park has all the amenities you’d need, from 5-star hotels to RV campgrounds. Sadly, there aren’t many free camping options, but there are plenty of pay-to-stay campgrounds in RMNP. Backcountry camping is permitted, and you can register at the Visitor’s Center. Colorado Mountain School is a great resource for expanding your outdoor skills. They also offer private guiding.