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Fall Road Trip — Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park

Mid-September marks the onset of Colorado’s resplendent red and golden hues, making it the ideal season for a camper van road trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. Picture yourself camping amidst the sweeping aspens of Golden Gate Canyon or waking up to a picture-perfect view of wild elk grazing right outside your van door. But it’s not just the foliage or wildlife that make a fall road trip in Colorado perfect. The temperatures are cooler, the crowds are smaller, and peak season rates seem like a distant memory! To get you started, we’ve compiled a 4-day guide for the ultimate fall road trip near Denver, Colorado.

Travel Time from Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park

  • This route is a 263-mile loop to Northern Colorado and Rocky Mountain National Park, starting and ending at the Denver, Colorado Escape Camper Vans location. The driving time without including stops or side trips is roughly 6 hours and 9 minutes and is meant to be split between 4 days. 

Directions Tips:

For optimum fall foliage driving time, we recommend following CO-7 W/ S St Vrain Ave for the most scenic drive while conditions are mild, however, if larger crowds or early snow change plans, you can take Highway 36 through Lyons.

TOTAL MILES: 263 miles

TOTAL TRAVEL TIME:  4 days, driving 6 hours, 9 minutes

Best Time of Year for Fall Foliage in Rocky Mountain National Park

When planning a Colorado foliage road trip, the most important thing to remember is to be flexible. While historically trees will start to change in northern parts of the state as early as the second week of September, there is no “official” date the leaves will start their colorful display. We recommend traveling no earlier than the third week of September during normal weather years, and no later than the second week of October. If you’ve already missed peak leaf season in Colorado, consider a fall road trip on the East Coast or check out some of our other favorite destinations here.

Another thing to always consider is the weather. While fall is beautiful in Colorado, it can also be unpredictable, and bring with it heavy snow or freezing rain. Always check with local forecasts before heading into mountain areas and be sure to add in snow chains or an electric kit if snow is on the radar.

Preparing for a Fall Camper Van Road Trip

Embarking on a road trip to Rocky Mountain National Park is an exciting adventure, but proper preparation is essential for a seamless and enjoyable experience. Here are some vital considerations to ensure you’re well-equipped for your journey:

1. Plan Ahead: Campsites and Gear 

  • Dispersed Camping and Campsites: September is still one of the busiest times of year to visit Rocky Mountain National Park and the surrounding areas. Book your campsites at least 2 months in advance, or consider dispersed camping (otherwise known as free camping) options in the area. 
  • Food and Supplies: While fall usually calls for extra layers and more equipment to worry about, we’ve got you covered! Let us stock up on the camping essentials for you with available added extras such as kitchen kits, bedding, and camp chairs for smores around the fire. Don’t forget to plan your meals, too. With a built-in stove, sink, and fridge – the sky is the limit! Pro tip: pack extra ice, perishable food items, and beverages of choice snuggly into the solar-powered fridge first to ensure you have everything you need extra chilled and ready for you by the time you arrive at camp. 

2. Important Navigational Tools:

  • Phones and Chargers: Ensure your mobile devices are fully charged and bring portable chargers. Your smartphone can serve as a GPS, camera, AND a source of valuable information about the park.
  • Printed Maps: While digital navigation is handy, it’s a good idea to have physical maps too. If only for peace of mind, having a physical map of the Rocky Mountain National Park area as a backup is never a bad idea. These maps can be incredibly useful in areas with limited cell reception and offer an emergency backup plan if you get lost in the park. 

3. Which Camper Van is Best For Fall Foliage?

  • Escape Camper Vans offers a range of camper van models to suit various group sizes and travel preferences. These well-equipped vehicles provide the perfect blend of mobility and comfort for your journey with built-in kitchenettes and comfortable queen-sized beds. The Denver location offers the Mavericks, Big Sur, and Del Mar camper van models with room to sleep up to 5 available for all (if you add a rooftop sleeper). Choose the right campervan model to suit your needs and enjoy the convenience of a comfortable and mobile base while exploring this fall. 

Before hitting the road, make sure your campervan is stocked with the essentials, and take some time to familiarize yourself with its features and operations. This ensures a smooth and worry-free journey as you navigate the stunning landscapes and vibrant fall foliage of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Van in fall foliage

Fall Foliage Road Trip Destinations –

Day 1: Denver to Estes Park, Colorado

Begin your adventure by picking up your Escape Campervan in Denver and packing up your new adventure mobile with all the needed supplies. The first day is all about the journey! Drive approximately 70 miles (about 1.5 hours depending on traffic and time of day) directly to your first destination – Estes Park, the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. Founded in 1917, this historic mountain town is full of rustic beauty and charm. Spend your evening enjoying the sights or head straight to camp for dinner under the stars!

Places to Eat in Estes Park, Colorado 

  • Rocky Inn Mountain Tavern – 1675 CO-66, Estes Park, CO 80517: Loved by locals and tourists alike, this historic restaurant is known for its cozy atmosphere, great service, and beautiful outdoor seating. Try their local-centric dishes like Colorado trout and elk burgers or stick around for some live music. ‘
  • Claire’s Restaurant and Bar – 225 Park Ln, Estes Park, CO 80517: An Estes staple since 1992, Claire’s is a family-owned and operated restaurant in the heart of Estes Park. This mountain gem offers classic American fare with locally sourced products whenever possible.

Bonus: Cascades Restaurant at The Stanley Hotel – A fine dining establishment and a destination in its own right, the Cascades Restuarant is an excellent option for fall explorers looking to add a little luxury to their trip, or needing an extra push to visit this famous haunted attraction. 

Fall Camper Van Friendly Campsites Near Estes Park, Colorado

  • Estes Park Campground at Marys Lake – 2120 Marys Lake Rd, Estes Park, CO 80517: This popular campground is close to Estes Park’s quaint downtown, offers electricity, and is open year-round. While this camp option is far from “roughing it”, it’s an excellent base camp to start your national park adventure and explore the nearby town.
  • Aspenglen CampgroundUS- 34 & Old Fall River Rd, Estes Park, CO 80517: Located just west of the Fall River Entrance Station, this campervan-friendly campground is open through late September and offers secluded views at 8,200 feet. This campground books up early and can be reserved up to 6 months in advance.

NOTE: Moraine Park Campground (another favorite) will be closed from late May 2023 to early summer 2024 for construction.

Day 2: Rocky Mountain National Park

Depending on your choice of campsite, you may already be inside the park! If you are traveling from Estes Park, never fear! You’re only 3.8 miles (9 minutes) away from the nearest gate. Known for its exceptional fall foliage and wildlife, Rocky Mountain National Park offers hundreds of miles of pristine wilderness to enjoy by trail or scenic drive. Remember, Rocky Mountain National Park requires a timed entry ticket or service reservation and entrance fee at the time of entry (standard for any US National Park). You can reserve your timed entry here.

Places to Visit for Fall Foliage in Rocky Mountain National Park

  • Bear Lake Loop Trail: One of the most popular fall trails to check out with the family, this lake trail offers stunning views of changing aspen trees throughout and is less than a mile in total.
  • Alberta Falls: For more fall colors and a waterfall to top it off, check out the 1.7-mile hike off of Glacier Gorge and take in the serene beauty of Dream Lake nearby. Due to the popularity of Bear Lake Road (where the trailhead is located), it is recommended to use one of the free shuttles.
  • Trail Ridge Road: Covering 48 miles from Estes Park to Grand Lake, this 11,500 ft highway to the sky offers panoramic views of the Rockies in their fall splendor from start to finish. Imagine fields of gold at over 11,500 ft high?!

Rocky Mountain National Park Van

Day 3: Hot Sulfur Springs, Colorado 

After breakfast, say your goodbyes to Rocky Mountain National Park and begin your journey towards Hot Sulphur Springs, approximately 50 miles (about 1.5 hours) away. As you drive, you’ll witness the changing fall colors along the way, especially in the Fraser Valley and near Winter Park. Depending on how early you hit the road, head straight to the sleepy town of Hot Sulphur Springs, and enjoy what this hidden gem is known for – its natural hot springs. This small town makes for the perfect destination for relaxation amidst the vibrant autumn scenery.

*NOTE – If you’re looking to make this a shorter trip, make Hot Sulphur Springs a pit stop, not a final destination. Instead, head straight to Golden Gate State Park to make camp for the night. 

Fall Foliage Campgrounds near Hot Sulfur Springs, Colorado

  • Stillwater Campground – 8590 US-34, Granby, CO 80446: Located on the shores of Lake Granby, this beautiful campground is only 19 minutes away from the natural spring, and is surrounded by large aspen groves…Perfect for fall!
  • Hot Sulphur State Wildlife Area – Parshall, CO 80468: Only open to those with a valid fishing or hunting license (but well worth the $40 fee), this camp area is riverside, offers primitive amenities, and is first come, first serve.

hot spring in colorado

Day 3 Continued: Golden Gate Canyon State Park, Colorado

In the evening, depart from Hot Sulphur Springs and drive approximately 45 miles (about 1 hour) to Golden Gate Canyon State Park. All campgrounds inside the park require reservations so it is important to plan if you choose to skip camp in Hot Sulphur Springs and set up in the park. If you are unable to reserve a campsite, consider dispersed camping in the nearby Arapaho & Roosevelt National Forests.

Campgrounds Open in the Fall in Golden Gate Canyon State Park:

  • Aspen Meadows Campground: – Aspen Meadows Campground Rd, Golden, CO 80403: Aspen Meadows Campground is the largest campground in the park. It offers a range of campsites, including RV sites and tent sites. Some sites have electrical hookups, although our favorite feature of the campground is the view!
  • Reverends Ridge Campground – 313 Reverends Ridge Rd, Black Hawk, CO 80422: Reverends Ridge offers a variety of updated amenities like flush toilets, showers, and varied campsites, including tent sites, RV sites, and cabins. It also provides access to several fall hiking trails perfect for all fitness levels.

National Park

Day 4: Golden Gate Canyon State Park, CO to Escape Camper Vans Denver Hub

Wake up and watch the sunrise through the many aspens found throughout Golden Gate Canyon State Park and enjoy a leisurely breakfast at your campsite, or use the remaining morning hours to explore more of the park’s trails. Remember, unless you have paid for an extra day you must drop off your campervan in Denver at your assigned drop-off time (usually before 11 a.m.). Depart from the park and drive approximately 30 miles (about 1 hour) to return your campervan to Escape Camper Vans in Denver.

Why Rent a Camper Van for a Fall Rocky Mountain National Park Road Trip?

Renting an Escape Campervan for a fall road trip through Rocky Mountain National Park offers several advantages over renting a traditional RV. Here are some reasons why choosing a campervan might be better for your adventure:

  1. Compact and More Mobile: Escape Camper Vans are smaller and more maneuverable than traditional RVs. This compact size allows you to navigate winding mountain roads, narrow trails, and tight campgrounds with ease. You can access remote and secluded spots that larger RVs might struggle to reach, giving you a more intimate and immersive experience with the fall foliage.
  2. Easy to Drive: Camper vans are akin to driving a large family vehicle, (think minivan) making them more user-friendly for those who may not have experience with driving larger RVs. You won’t need a special driver’s license, and parking is more straightforward, whether you’re exploring the park or stopping at scenic viewpoints.
  3. No Need for Electric or Sewer Hookups: Camper vans from Escape Camper Vans are designed to be self-contained, meaning you don’t need electric or sewer hookups. This level of independence allows you to camp in a wider range of locations, including campgrounds, state parks, and even dispersed camping areas around Rocky Mountain National Park.
  4. Cozy and Convenient: Escape Camper Vans are equipped with comfortable sleeping quarters, a compact kitchenette for meal preparation, and all the essential camping gear you need available at your fingertips. This means you can focus on enjoying the fall foliage and the natural beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park without the hassle of setting up tents, finding lodging, or dealing with complex RV systems.
  5. Versatile and Adventure-Ready: Escape Camper Vans are designed with adventure in mind. They come in various colorful and eye-catching designs, adding a sense of fun to your trip. Plus, they’re well-equipped for outdoor enthusiasts with additional features like solar showers and rooftop tents available as add-ons.

In summary, renting an Escape Campervan for your fall road trip through Rocky Mountain National Park offers a more nimble, user-friendly, and affordable way to experience the stunning autumn colors and the park’s natural beauty. It allows you to fully immerse yourself in the experience while enjoying the convenience and comfort of a camper van!

Reserve with Escape Camper Vans for Your Trip

Now that you’ve discovered the incredible beauty of a fall road trip through Rocky Mountain National Park, it’s time to take the next step and turn your adventure dreams into reality. Booking a campervan with Escape Camper Vans is your key to an unforgettable journey. Click the link below to reserve your Escape Campervan and embark on your fall road trip through Rocky Mountain National Park. The open road, the changing leaves, and unforgettable memories await you!

Book My Fall Road Trip

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