Rocky Mountain National Park- Elk & Leaf Season
October is a beautiful month for most places throughout the world. Colorado happens to be especially magical. This was my third trip to Colorado, but unique to the others. I flew into Denver. From there I walked outside to the train (RTD) where I caught a ride to Union Station. Day passes are available on the RTD for $9 (including airport). After I arrived at Union Station, I transferred to a bus to Boulder. The RTD has buses running all around Denver, as far out as Lyons. If you are heading to Rocky Mountain National Park and are not renting a vehicle, the RTD is the cheapest way to go. There is a shuttle that runs from the airport to Estes Park/ RMNP for around $65 (one way). Using your RTD day pass, you can make it as far as Lyons. From there, the same shuttle to Estes/RMNP costs just $22.
From the Estes Park Visitor Center, the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center is just three miles away. The wilderness office is located within walking distance of the visitor center and is the place to pick up a backcountry wilderness pass. If you intend to stay in the back country during your visit, there are a few details you should attend to beforehand. First, you will need a bear canister. These are not sold or rented in the park, but can be found in Estes. You will want to take care of this before you arrive. These typically come in three sizes and are cumbersome to incorporate into a hiking pack. My recommendation is to sort your canister plan and pack contents before arriving to the park/Colorado. Also, you will want a general idea of where you intend to travel and camp while you are in the backcountry. I would recommend getting a good map of the park beforehand, or checking out this one online: https://www.nps.gov/romo/planyourvisit/upload/campsite_map_small-2016.pdf . Here you can find all of the back country campsites in the park so you can tell the rangers where you plan to go and stay. Make sure you do this beforehand, because they will ask for your plan before they issue your pass. The pass costs $26 and will allow you to stay 7-14 nights in the wilderness (depending on the time of year).
A great alternative to the wilderness pass is to stay at a major campsite, where cars and RV's are also accommodated. I highly recommend the Moraine Lake Campgrounds. This is a bit more expensive, here it cost $26/night. There are some advantages to this: you can make a fire here, clean drinking water available all over, restrooms, and free shuttle access to move around the park. Camping here instead of the back country allowed me to keep my camp set up and day hike throughout the park with a lighter pack. Elk & leaf season is late September and early October. This is one of the best times to visit the park, but it should be said that weather at this time is very unpredictable and winter comes quickly. This is especially important to mind when moving through higher elevations in the park. Snow storms can come seemingly out of the blue on top of the mountains, while the sun will still be shining down in the valleys. Be prepared for all conditions, especially if you are travelling alone. Check out my post on gear packing for information on preparing for various climates and conditions.
The hiker shuttle runs until the beginning of October. I happened to catch this on the last weekend, as it ran until October 9th this year. The Park N' Ride also has a shuttle that runs to the Estes Park Visitor Center, but it only runs on the weekends this late in the season. This also shut down completely after the 9th.