The peaks, walls and valleys above Estes Park, Colo., comprise one of the most famous national parks in the United States. With climbs on Long’s Peak, Chiefshead and Hallet’s Peak, this terrain also holds some of the best and highest-profile alpine climbing in the lower 48. Though the town of Estes Park is a traffic-jammed tourist trap for most of summer, the accessible and splitter stone of Rocky Mountain National Park makes up for any stress one faces on the 4-wheeled portion of the approach. From V14 boulders to aesthetic 5.6 ridges, the climbing in Rocky Mountain National Park is varied enough to entice a wide range of climbers. And for hardy souls seeking the elusive Front Range (of the Colorado Rockies) water ice climbs, “The Park,” as it’s colloquially known, offers the most reliable selection of spots to get a winter fix swinging tools.
There is a Safeway and an outdoors store in Estes Park, which is just a few miles from nearly all of RMNP’s trailheads. For long-term visits, roadside camping is the area’s shortfall. The official (and jam-packed) Park Service campground book up months in advance, leaving climbers to fend for themselves for spur-of-the-moment trips and quick bivies. The best bet for a quick night’s sleep is to follow roads from Estes Park back toward the towns of Lyons or Longmont, and keep an eye out for vacant Forest Service Roads. But to truly experience the unique privileges granted to climbers by RMNP, head into the alpine for a few nights of camping and climbing in Chasm Lake Cirque beneath Long’s Peak or in Glacier Gorge beneath Spearhead, Chiefshead, and Arrowhead. Only climbers are granted the option of overnighting in these zones. Estes Park is similarly lacking in good, inexpensive restaurants or breweries. The world-famous Oskar Blues Brewery 30 minutes southeast in Lyons is a good choice for apres-climb beers and live music.