If you follow Trail Ridge Road into the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park you’ll stumble upon the Alpine Visitor Center.
It’s unusual for a visitor center to make my list of must do activities for a National Park visit. But that’s because the Alpine Visitor Center isn’t your average National Park visitor center!
The panoramic views you’ll enjoy at the Alpine Visitor Center are sure to take your breath away.
This isn’t just because the views are stunning. At an elevation of 11,796 feet (3,595 meters) the Alpine Visitor Center sits higher than any other visitor center in the United States National Park system!
The Alpine Visitor Center is home to a large souvenir shop, restaurant, restroom facilities and offers access to the Alpine Ridge Trail.
Even if a visitor center doesn’t usually make your list of stops, the convenient location of the Alpine Visitor Center near the heart of Rocky Mountain makes it the perfect detour for any guest itinerary.
Planning a visit to Rocky Mountain? This post will help answer many of the most common questions when seeking out the Alpine Visitor Center.
Have a specific question about the Alpine Visitor Center? Jump ahead using the table of contents below:
Don't forget that Rocky Mountain National Park is now on the timed entry reservation system during peak season (end of May through early October). If you don't have a reservation be sure to head over to Recreation.gov to lock that in!
If you aren't familiar with that system - do not fear! I've put together a post highlighting how to get through the reservation process along with other useful tips. Check out my National Park Timed Entry Guide here!
Once you're finished reading this guide, be sure to check out the Rocky Mountain National Park Video Guide I put together over on my YouTube channel. It includes tons of great footage I shot during my visit throughout the park.
You'll notice some links and advertisements from partner or affiliate sites throughout this post. I typically earn a small commission on any purchases made through those links at no additional cost to you. If you check those out, great. If not, I'm still happy you're here!
Where is The Alpine Visitor Center Located?
The Alpine Visitor Center is located near the center of Rocky Mountain National Park. Whether you enter from the west via Grand Lake or the east via Estes Park, you're looking at about 45 minutes worth of driving along Trail Ridge Road to reach the visitor center.
While this activity requires similar driving times to reach from either town, I'd still recommend staying in Estes Park for your visit to Rocky Mountain. Many of the parks more popular destinations such as The Bear Lake Corridor and Old Fall River Road are more easily accessed from Estes Park.
From Trail Ridge Road you can’t miss The Alpine Visitor Center. Look for a large parking lot just off the main road. In the back of the lot you should spot the visitor center with its iconic log reinforced roof.
On one side of the parking lot you’ll find access to the Alpine Ridge Trail staircase. Near the trailhead you might also notice another road leading into the Alpine Visitor Center parking lot.
This back door entrance is the finish line for Old Fall River Road. Be sure to check out my post on Old Fall River Road if you haven’t yet to learn why that should also be on your Rocky Mountain itinerary!
What to Expect When Visiting The Alpine Visitor Center?
First things first - if you've been stuck in the car driving for awhile, you'll probably want to take advantage of the facilities here. Even though this area is more developed than most of the trailheads and pull offs throughout the park, the restrooms are similar to what you'll find elsewhere in the park (sorry!).
Once you've taken care of business I'd suggest taking the short hike up Alpine Ridge Trail. The stone staircase is easy to spot from anywhere in the parking lot. While short at just 0.7 miles (about 1km) the stairs are fairly steep.
Given the elevation, it's no surprise that this spot has earned the nickname "Huffers Hill." Take as much time as necessary, but be sure to head up the hill! The views are beautiful and overlook a portion of Old Fall River Road so you can watch brave visitors work their way up that one lane dirt mountain road!
After you've had your fill of the Alpine Ridge Trail views head back down to the visitor center. We stopped by for lunch and was pleasantly surprised with the quality of food they were serving. Expect a backyard grill out style menu, we popped in for a burger and elk dog! Keep in mind this is the only location within the park to purchase food and water.
Once lunch is finished don't forget to peruse the gift shop! This is hands down the best place in Rocky Mountain National Park to grab a souvenir. The restaurant and most souvenirs are sold out of the building on the left side (if you're standing in the parking lot). The other building offers educational exhibits and information about the park. Be sure to pop in both buildings during your visit!
Alpine Visitor Center Parking
The parking lot at the Alpine Visitor Center is likely going to be a madhouse. Since this is the only place to purchase food, water or souvenirs once inside the actual park most visitors will find there way here.
Even though the parking lot will be busy, it will likely be turning over parking spaces relatively quickly which means you should be able to secure a space if you’re patient. Keep your head on swivel for loose children, pets and visitors with a wide range of driving skills.
Other Things to Know About the Alpine Visitor Center
Is There Cell Phone Service at the Alpine Visitor Center?
Cell phone service throughout most of Rocky Mountain National Park is minimal. However the Alpine Visitor Center sits at a high point within the park and I did have some luck receiving signal in this area.
How Much Does the Alpine Visitor Center Entry Cost?
There isn't a fee to access the Alpine Visitor Center. Don’t forget to stop inside to grab lunch, reload on water and pick up some souvenirs! The Rocky Mountain National Park entry pass and timed entry reservation are all you need. You can check out current rates at the National Park Service's website.
How Long Does it Take to Visit the Alpine Visitor Center?
Start off by budgeting about 45 minutes of driving time from either Estes Park or Grand Lake. Take Trail Ridge Road and head towards the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park. If you just plan to make a souvenir and restroom pit stop, you probably won’t spend much time here. If you choose to stop for lunch or decide to hike up the Alpine Ridge Trail you could easily spend an additional hour on each activity.
Are Pets Allowed at the Alpine Visitor Center?
While your pet is welcome to enter Rocky Mountain National Park, don't expect to take them with you into the Alpine Visitor Center or along any of the trails. Pets are only welcome around the parking lot here and certain campgrounds elsewhere in the park.
Are There Bathrooms at the Alpine Visitor Center?
There are bathrooms at the Alpine Visitor Center parking lot. The restrooms here are similar in quality to the facilities you’ll see in other areas of the park, just with a few more stalls. This was actually one of the harder areas in the park to use facilities. Expect long lines given the amount of people who flock to the Alpine Visitor Center.
What is the Best Time of Day to Visit the Alpine Visitor Center?
In my opinion you should try hitting the Alpine Visitor Center as a midday break within the context of your entire day visiting the park. The central location and access to food and water make it a great place to recharge and reload on supplies. Be sure to check with the NPS for any road or facilities closures when planning your stay.
Also - don't forget to check out the Rocky Mountain National Park Video Guide over on my YouTube channel if you haven't already!
Looking for suggestions on what to pack for hiking?
Chances are if you're visiting Rocky Mountain National Park you'll be doing some hiking. If you're doing some hiking you'll want to have the right gear handy in order to have the best experience possible.
For your convenience I've put together an extremely thorough hiking checklist to make sure you don't overlook anything.
That guide is geared towards longer day hikes, so if you're doing something more casual you probably won't need everything on that list. But rest assured you won't overlook a thing!
Check Out Our Timed Entry Reservation Guide
There's one mistake you cannot afford to make when visiting US National Parks. Showing up without a timed entry reservation is a surefire way to blow up what should be an otherwise stress free day exploring some of Americas most beautiful destinations. If the park you're visiting requires timed entry be sure to check out this guide.
Fortunately - we have put together a guide walking you through that process. We also provide useful tips on how to get the best time slots and what to do if you find yourself without a reservation.
You can access our Timed Entry Reservation Guide here!
Be sure to read our guide on reducing airfare costs
One of those most unavoidable and dreaded travel costs is airfare.
Even if you budget carefully for food, accommodations and find budget friendly activities the cost of airfare can make many destinations prohibitively expensive.
But if you're a savvy traveler like me then you know there are ways to beat the airlines! I have a full post dedicated to all of the tips and tricks I use to pay the absolute minimum for airfare when I travel.
Looking for quick advice on how to book your next trip?
It's easy to forget how much time, effort and planning can go into putting together a vacation.
Booking flights, shuttles, rental cars, hotels, activities and making sure you've packed everything you'll need for where you're going is no small task!
Not to mention all of these things tend to add up in cost very quickly. With so many things that can go wrong what's a savvy traveler to do? Read my post on travel planning hacks that's what!
In that guide I will highlight all of the strategies I use to streamline the trip planning process while making sure I cover all of the tricks I use to save money along the way.