Camping Alternatives to Rocky Mountain National Park

Aug 4, 2023 | Campgrounds

Camping Alternatives to Rocky Mountain National Park

Here’s where you should visit and camp if you’re looking for an experience similar to Rocky Mountain National Park.

By Kerri Cox

Gale River Campground. | Photo added by @no.e.t.a

Katharine Lee Bates was inspired to compose “America the Beautiful” at Colorado’s Pikes Peak, and today, Rocky Mountain National Park and the surrounding summits still inspire awe. A number of camping alternatives to Rocky Mountain National Park can inspire the similar wonderment and provide an array of outdoor activities.

While some visitors seek an alternative to Rocky Mountain National Park due to their love of the whole mountain experience, others seek alternatives due to some of the park’s drawbacks. In recent years, the park has implemented a timed entry permit system, and reservations can sometimes be hard to snag if you haven’t planned ahead. 

Also, Rocky Mountain National Park is the fourth most-visited in the nation, welcoming more than 4 million visitors a year. Trails and parking lots become congested, leaving some visitors seeking similar landscapes without the crowds. Finally, the region is sometimes hit with wildfires. In 2020, more than 30,000 acres of park land burned in one of the biggest fires in Colorado history. 

Despite its drawbacks, there’s just something about Rocky Mountain National Park that makes it linger in hearts and minds long after a visit. If you are seeking an experience similar to Rocky Mountain National Park, here are some destinations to consider.

an aerial view of a truck and rv parked at a campground surrounded by red and orange trees
Gale River Campground. | Photo added by @no.e.t.a

Rocky Mountain Camping Alternatives in the Northeast

The Northeast is home to several impressive mountain ranges, each offering a different vibe. There’s the rocky shores of Acadia National Park, where Maine’s mountains meet Atlantic seas; the great granite peaks of Upstate New York’s Adirondacks or Catskills; or Vermont’s lovely Green Mountains.

Another possibility is New Hampshire’s White Mountains, which have the highest peaks in the Northeast U.S., topping 6,000 feet in elevation (in comparison, RMNP’s Longs Peak tops 14,000 feet). In addition to impressive mountains, the White Mountain region is a full vacation destination.

Like Trail Ridge Road in the Rockies, Kancamagus Highway offers a scenic journey through the landscapes of the White Mountains with panoramic vistas, roadside waterfalls, and ample trailheads—making the journey for October’s fall colors is highly recommended. Or, if you can handle the white knuckles, take the Mount Washington Auto Road to the top of the highest peak in the Northeast. 

Outdoor recreation abounds, much like it does in the Rockies. Hike through the Flume Gorge or to one of the many waterfalls. Fish, swim, or paddle the pristine lakes and rivers. The region also caters to kids with attractions like Santa’s Village theme park

Campers will find several public camping options, including Franconia Notch State Park. Primitive camping is found throughout the White Mountains National Forest. Private campgrounds dot the region in towns like Lincoln, Jackson, Woodstock, and Twin Mountain.

Where to camp:

an airstream parked near a river bed surrounded by pine trees
Anvil Dispersed Camping. | Photo added by Fables and Trails

Rocky Mountain Camping Alternatives in Colorado

Those who leave RMNP wanting more should be delighted to know they can visit Colorado again and again and find new awe-inspiring locales each time. Outside the boundaries of Rocky Mountain National Park, popular ski towns—such as Breckenridge, Steamboat Springs, and Telluride—offer year-round recreation and views. To get away from the crowds of RMNP, camp in the extended White River National Forest (or any of the state’s many national forests). The Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness is a favorite. Or, head to Colorado Springs to make the journey up Pikes Peak, just as Katharine Lee Bates did.

One option that offers a wealth of experiences is the town of Ouray, in the southwest corner of the state. Known as “The Switzerland of America,” Ouray makes for a spellbinding mountain adventure in the San Juan range of the Rockies. Not for the faint of heart, the Million Dollar Highway connects to Silverton, offering even more to explore. Or, take the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad for dramatic views without the white knuckles.

“Outdoors” is practically synonymous with Ouray’s name. Hiking and mountain biking trails abound. Several rivers offer whitewater rafting, with options ranging from a scenic float to technical thrills, suitable only for the most experienced paddlers. After long days of strenuous adventures, soak in the Ouray Hot Springs.

When selecting a campground in this region, it’s important to research site size and road details, as some camping locations are hard to reach, especially for those with big rigs.

Where to camp:

a trailer parked in front of a snowy mountain range
Upper Teton View. | Photo added by Changing Itinerary

Rocky Mountain Camping Alternatives in the West

If Grand Teton National Park were located anywhere except next to Yellowstone, it would be the primary attraction for a multi-state region. However, this phenomenal park is sometimes overlooked thanks to its popular neighbor. Annually, one million more visitors visit Yellowstone without venturing south to the Tetons.

However, mountain lovers will find Grand Teton National Park a worthy destination in its own right. Unlike many other ranges, the Grand Tetons don’t have foothills, making them feel even more enormous. Peaks topping 13,000 feet seemingly ascend out of nowhere, unlike most of the Colorado Rockies, which are surrounded by hills of varying heights.

Some visitors to Yellowstone opt to simply drive through the Tetons, but to be done right, this park requires a few days. Paddling across Jenny Lake, with the granite peaks forming a panorama, is not the same experience you get while passing through. Hike one of the many trails, cast a line into the Snake River, or set out kayaking on any of the pristine lakes or rivers.

As Estes Park provides a lively spot for shopping, dining, and camping while visiting Rocky Mountain National Park, visitors to the Grand Tetons won’t want to miss visiting nearby Jackson, situated in a high mountain valley. The vibe is Old West meets modern money. 
For fans of dispersed camping, the greater Bridger-Teton National Forest surrounding Grand Teton National Park has some jaw-dropping locations. Within the park, campgrounds range from primitive to full-service RV parks.

Where to camp:

These are just some of many magical mountain regions across the U.S. While Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most beloved, you can chase the “Rocky Mountain High” in other places with majestic mountains and ample outdoor recreation. Peak experiences abound!