Cover photo full
Rocky Mountain National Park
Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrRocky Mountain National Park is one of the most popular parks in the United States, attracting an average of 3 million visitors each year — and for good reason. With breathtaking snow-capped mountains, thick alpine forests, deep blue lakes, prime wildlife viewing, and more than 563 kilometers of hiking trails, Rocky Mountain National Park is the iconic jewel of America’s wilderness.
The truly great aspect of Rocky Mountain National Park is that there is something for everyone. Casual visitors have numerous scenic roads to explore and short hikes with picture-perfect mountain backdrops. Backpackers can escape to the interior of the park and primitive, hike-to campsites. Photographers have access to dramatic landscapes and wildlife. Families can enjoy the many kid-friendly activities such as go-karts and miniature golf in neighboring Estes Park.
Regardless of what you are looking for, you will find it at Rocky Mountain National Park.
HistoryIn the early 1900s a movement to preserve the area, that would eventually become Rocky Mountain National Park, spread through various interest groups, including conservationists, outdoor clubs, and various chambers of commerce. The park was officially established on January 25, 1915 when President Woodrow Wilson signed it into law, making it America’s 10th National Park.
Rocky Mountain National Park at a GlanceRocky Mountain National Park is open to visitors 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Generally, summer and fall see the most visitors. During this time, expect to encounter lots of other people on the roads, trails and parking lots.
July and August are the warmest months at Rocky Mountain National Park, with temperatures usually in the 70s and 80s during the day. However, the weather can rapidly change, and at some of the high-elevation locations in the park, it has been known to snow in July. If you plan to drive along Trail Ridge Road or visit other higher destinations, be sure to bring a jacket.
The visitors' centers have brochures, maps and other resources to help make the most of your trip.
Scenic DrivesIn short, every road in Rocky Mountain National Park is scenic. From the many reflective lakes, to the grazing elk in Horseshoe Park, everything you see deserves to be on a postcard.
However, Trail Ridge Road — which is the highest continuous paved road in the United States and reaches an elevation of more than 3,658 meter — is the most scenic in the park. The road connects Grand Lake on the west side to Estes Park on the east side, crossing the Continental Divide at 3,085 meter. There are many places to park if you want to take pictures or go on a hike.
Trail Ridge Road is generally open May through October, though snow during the shoulder season may force the road to close early, late or at sporadic times during the summer. Visitors should check with the National Park Service to see if there are any road closures.
WildlifeRocky Mountain National Park has a significant large-animal population that makes wildlife viewing the number-one activity at the park. According to the National Park Service, there are anywhere from 600 to 800 elk, about 350 Bighorn Sheep, and numerous mule, deer and moose living within the park. Black bears and mountain lions also call the park home, though they are rarely seen. Other local residents include Marmots, Pikas, Golden Eagles, and White-Tailed Ptarmigans.
It is important to view wildlife from a distance so as to not stress or harass them. Drive cautiously to avoid any animals that are standing next to or crossing the road. Never feed the wildlife, and always dispose of trash and food properly.
HikingThere are a variety of trails for every hiker, from quick excursions to multiday treks through the park’s remote wilderness.
A short, easy trail loops around Bear Lake , a picturesque alpine lake on the east side of the park. The loop is just over half a mile in length and has beautiful views of the surrounding peaks and conifer forest. This is one of the most popular hiking trails in the park.
For a quick hike to some of the most stunning falls in the park, head to the Glacier Gorge Trailhead for a short hike to Alberta Falls. This impressive waterfall thunders through a narrow crevice, with the trail winding along the rim of Glacier Gorge.
If you can do without the “easy access” that makes some of the trails on the east side of the park extremely crowded, there are many other trails that will take you away from the crowds. For a shorter alpine hike, try the 2.4 kilometers to Lily Mountain, which has 307 meter of elevation gain. Another option is the 7 kilometers trail to Ypsilon Lake, which starts at the Lawn Lake Trailhead.
There are many remote hiking trails as well if you have a few days to spare and want to experience the wild and untainted Rocky Mountain National Park. The visitor’s centers provide detailed park maps for more information, and be sure to obtain a permit.
CampingThere are many campgrounds in or around Rocky Mountain National Park, most of which take reservations. During the summer months, the campgrounds almost certainly will be filled, so it is important to plan far in advance and book your site early. Some of the popular campgrounds include Aspenglen, Moraine Park, Glacier Basin and Longs Peak.
In addition, Rocky Mountain National Park has a number of backcountry campsites if you prefer to leave the crowded campgrounds behind. A permit is required to use these sites and can be obtained at the park's offices. Backcountry sites can be reserved ahead of time.
Other ActivitiesThere are many other outdoor activities such as fishing, horseback riding, and kayaking that can be enjoyed when visiting Rocky Mountain National Park. Tour companies for such activities can be found in Estes Park. If you are visiting during the peak season, it would be wise to try to book tours in advance.
LodgingThere is no lodging besides camping within the park itself, but ample lodging options including hotels, lodges, bed and breakfasts, cabins, and campgrounds, are available in Estes Park. A few of the hotel options are the Maxwell Inn, the Estes Park Resort, Murphy’s River Lodge and Best Western. The world-famous Stanley Hotel, which inspired author, Stephen King’s The Shining, is also located in Estes Park.
Park TransportationThe best way to explore Rocky Mountain National Park is by car, which allows more freedom and flexibility during your visit. There is also a free shuttle bus with routes along the east side of the park. It runs daily during the summer and fall.
The shuttle does not include Trail Ridge Road or the west side of the park, so if these locations interest you, it would make sense to rent a car.
Visitors Information and Safety Guidelines
FeesA $ 20 USD fee per vehicle, purchased at any of the entrance stations, and is valid for seven consecutive days. Fees are reinvested in the park for upgrades such as trail rehabilitation, road maintenance, wildlife preservation and campsite construction. There are several fee-free days, usually national holidays or park-significant days; check with the National Park Service for specific dates.
Road closuresRoads within the park may close seasonally and reopen in the late spring. Prior to your visit, check with the National Park Service for closures during that time. Trail Ridge Road closes in mid-fall and reopens in increments in the spring, depending on the amount of snow.
AltitudeKeep in mind that much of Rocky Mountain National Park is at high elevation. In fact, 33% of the park sits above 3,353 meter, so the air is much thinner than you may be used to. If you are not yet acclimated to the elevation, ease into physical activity and drink plenty of water. Watch for symptoms of altitude sickness, which include a throbbing headache, lack of appetite, nausea, fatigue, and dizziness.
LightningLighting poses an increased threat at high altitudes, and in Colorado, summer thunderstorms occur in and around the mountains almost daily, mostly in the afternoons. Always check the weather forecast and watch the sky for darkening clouds or approaching storms. A safe rule of thumb is to be off the mountain and at lower elevations before noon. Trail Ridge Road is particularly dangerous during thunderstorms. Consider driving along this scenic stretch of road first thing in the morning so you can explore the lower elevations later in the day.
Wildlife safetyRocky Mountain National Park is home to some potentially dangerous animals including black bears, mountain lions and moose. For the most part, these animals just want to be left alone and do not want a confrontation with you any more than you want a confrontation with them. If you see one of these animals, keep a safe distance and never approach a mother with her cub/calf. When hiking in more remote areas of the park where you could potentially sneak up on an animal, make noise to alert any animals of your presence. Properly dispose of trash and food, and use a bear canister when camping.
Other AttractionsEstes Park is a cozy mountain town with many restaurants, shops and outdoor activities. The Estes Park Aerial Tramway runs May through September and provides a bird’s eye view of town and the surrounding mountains. A few hours of window shopping and strolling along the Riverwalk makes for a fun afternoon if you need a break from the outdoors.
The Stanley Hotel is conveniently located in the heart of Estes Park and is very visible on its hilltop site. You can take pictures of the stately entrance with its iconic red roof and whitewashed exterior. Dine at the Cascades Restaurant or enjoy a cocktail at the Whiskey Bar. The hotel also offers several tour options, including a history tour and a nighttime ghost tour. Book tours ahead of time.
Do you see any omissions, errors or want to add information to this page? Sign up.
Author: SBoston. Last updated: Jan 17, 2016