I’m an avid hiker, but after visiting Colorado many times over the years and seeing the countless mountain bikers and road cyclists, I was more than a little intrigued. Admittedly, it seemed like a much more efficient way to explore large national parks like Rocky Mountain, very literally covering more ground in less time.
So on a recent return visit, my fifth, I decided to give biking in Rocky Mountain National Park a shot. I got a fantastic leg and glute-burning workout, as expected, but much to my surprise, I also came away with several vital life lessons. Some were practical, some were more abstract, but they’re all things that will no doubt stick with me forever. Who knows, the next time I head to Rocky Mountain National Park, it just may be on two wheels.
6 Things I Learned Biking in Rocky Mountain National Park
As I cruised through Rocky Mountain National Park biking, taking in the countless mountain peaks, alpine lakes, and wildflower-blanketed meadows, I picked up a few nuggets of knowledge.
1. Bicycles are exempt from needing a timed entry permit. This is one of those practical things I mentioned learning, but it genuinely surprised me, as I’ve visited dozens of national parks… but never on a bicycle.
In the last couple of years, several parks have implemented reservations or timed entry permit systems. Here, all park visitors must have a time-specific reservation between May 27 and October 10 — except those biking in Rocky Mountain National Park. Note that all park visitors still need to pay an entry fee or show an America the Beautiful annual pass.
2. Take the scenic route. In a park with several jaw-dropping scenic drives and easily-accessible scenic overlooks you can drive right up to, where the roads are narrow and winding (and not exactly friendly to those pedaling two wheels), biking in Rocky Mountain National Park may not be the most obvious choice.
But in a world where most of us are increasingly in a hurry, rushing from place to place, it is the most peaceful and rewarding choice. Every once in a while, it’s important to slow down and take the scenic route, literally and figuratively.
3. Travel at your own risk. This is one of the more well-rounded life lessons I picked up while biking in Rocky Mountain National Park. Cycling is inherently dangerous, with so many various things to pay acute attention to. On top of that, park roads don’t have designated bike lanes, and many are only maintained part of the year (typically April through October or November, when the first major snowfall hits), and cell service is spotty. There are so many parallels here to life in general — we very literally have to travel at our own risk, taking care not to rely too heavily on anything or anyone besides ourselves.
4. Biking in Rocky Mountain National Park helped me re-evaluate safety overall. We all know that we’re supposed to do things like ride with a light when it’s dark, but it’s easy to “forget” or cut a few safety corners, especially if you’re going for a short ride. RMNP has strict, zero-tolerance rules in place regarding cyclist safety, such as only riding in a single-file line and requiring both a white and red light or reflector. The strictness of these rules reminded me of just how important safety is.
5. Leave No Trace. Most people, even those relatively inexperienced with spending time outdoors, understand that we must tread carefully in fragile, protected environments. To this point, the park even spells out a plan for where cyclists can leave their bicycles when in Rocky Mountain National Park biking: “cyclists may carry their bike into the woods and lock it to something out of sight (like a tree) as long as no harm is done to that object.” This is a great reminder to do no harm and leave no trace behind in life, as well.
6. Mother Nature can be brutal. Even in a spectacularly beautiful, tranquil setting, nature is often relentless. Colorado’s high altitude, lack of humidity, and high UV index create a dangerous combination in any season, with increased potential of experiencing altitude sickness or dehydration. Pack plenty of water, plan less-ambitious cycling routes than you normally would, and be prepared for sudden, unpredictable weather changes.
Combine a Road Trip With Rocky Mountain National Park Biking
With so much to see in Colorful Colorado beyond RMNP, including three other national parks, I highly recommend taking a road trip! More specifically, an RV road trip, so you can explore on your timeline and have all your favorite creature comforts close at hand. Cruise America has over 120 rental locations and several models with plenty of space for your bike, so it’s easy and convenient to hit the road on both four and two wheels!