Rocky Mountain National Park


May 4, 2009
Outside Magazine

THE INSIDER: Barry Sweet, backcountry ranger and 20-year park veteran
THE BOTTLENECK: Car traffic stays concentrated in the Bear Lake corridor and among the drive-by elk herds of Moraine and Horseshoe parks. RMNP's only fourteener, Longs Peak (14,255 feet), also gets trampled all summer long.
THE BACK DOOR: Sweet suggests sticking to the remote western slope of the park, best accessed through the town of Grand Lake ("Snowmobile Capital of Colorado"), versus the more popular eastern entrance, at Estes Park. The Colorado River trailhead, off Route 34, reaches high meadows and mountain lakes among the 12,000-foot Cloud Peaks—Cumulus, Nimbus, and Stratus—after a 6.2-mile hike. "Lake of the Clouds is another 1.5 miles," says Sweet. "It's just great scenery." Pick up backcountry-camping permits at the Beaver Meadows visitor center, three miles from Estes Park ($15; 970-586-1206).
THE LAUNCH PAD: Try the Grand Lake Terrace Inn, on Main Street in Grand Lake, for convenience (doubles from $120;