Homer's Travels: RMNP Planning: A Start

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

RMNP Planning: A Start

Last month I started planning my camping trip to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP).  This will, more than likely, be my first multi-day camping trip as I have few options near home.  I am planning a five day - four night camp.  I will me hiking to a different campsite each night and covering a large chunk of the park.

I started with a good National Geographic topological map of the park with the trails and campsites marked.  After a preliminary look over the map I came up with a plan to start at the Moraine Park Visitor Center and hike five days ending at the Bear Lake Trailhead.  Both the start and end are on the free park shuttle routes which will make it easy to get to the start and back from the end.

Over the last month I have mulled the path over in my head and decided it would be better if I reversed the course of the original path.  I figured it might be better to put the toughest day on the first day (instead of the second day).  I would be fresh and well fed.  I hoped this would help compensate somewhat for the large change in altitude I would experience on that first day (an over 3,000 ft climb).

Last weekend I revisited my plan in detail including using Google Maps to measure the distances between camps (Google Maps have all the trails marked) and, using the terrain functions of Google Maps and Google Earth, looked at the altitude changes I would experience.  The hikes would be challenging.   The first day would have around 3,100 ft up and 3,000 ft down (944 m up and 914 m down) and it would be accomplished at altitude.

Further study and a bit of lucky wandering around the RMNP website led me to a list of campsites with lots of information.  This information included the fact that one of the campsites I was counting on to make day two easier was closed.   Day two will be a doosy stretching between ten and eleven miles.  Most of the elevation change would be down though and I figure (hope) that going down will use less energy so the extra distance I'll have to hike will be reasonable.

The big wildcard here is the altitude.  Omaha is sitting around 1,000 ft (304 m).  My hike will start over 9,000 ft (2743 m).  The peak of my hike which I reach the first day will be over 12,300 ft (3,749 m).  I will have to learn to pace myself - especially on that first day.

Next up will be filling out the reservation request and getting it in the mail.  I contacted the RMNP Backcountry office and found out there is no reason to mail anything before 15 February.  On March 1st they take all the applications, put them in a pile, and pick them out at random to enter into their scheduling computer so getting you letter there early doesn't increase your chances of getting the campsites your want.  That explains why for each day you have to request a primary and an alternate campsite.

I'll provide updates to my planning in future posts.


  1. Instead of RMNP have you considered hiking a loop in the Black Elk Wilderness or a section of the Centennial Trail (in South Dakota)?

    1. Thanks for stopping by Homer's Travels. I have in fact considered the Centennial trail. I may do part sometime in the next year or two. I am preparing for the appalatian trail and I need to do some elevation training which RMNP will provide.