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Rocky Mountain National Park is a National Park located in the north-central region of the U.S. state of Coloradomarker.It features majestic mountain views, a variety of wildlife, varied climates and environments—from wooded forests to mountain tundra—and easy access to back-country trails and campsites. The park is located northwest of Boulder, Coloradomarker in the Rockies, and includes the Continental Divide and the headwaters of the Colorado Rivermarker.

The park has five visitor centers. The park headquarters, Beaver Meadows Visitor Center, is a National Historic Landmark, designed by the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture at Taliesin Westmarker.

The park may be accessed by three roads: U.S. Highway 34, 36, and State Highway 7. Highway 7 enters the park for less than a mile, where it provides access to the Lily Lake Visitor Center. Farther south, spurs from route 7 lead to campgrounds and trail heads around Longs Peak and Wild Basin. Highway 36 enters the park on the east side, where it terminates after a few miles at Highway 34. Highway 34, known as Trail Ridge Roadmarker through the park, runs from the town of Estes Parkmarker on the east to Grand Lakemarker on the southwest. The road reaches an elevation of , and is closed by snow in winter.

The park is surrounded by Roosevelt National Forest on the north and east, Routt National Forestmarker on the northwest, and Arapaho National Forestmarker on the southwest.


Rocky Mountain National Park encompasses approximately of land in Colorado's northern Front Range. The park is split by the Continental Divide, which gives the eastern and western portions of the park a different character. The east side of the park tends to be drier, with heavily glaciated peaks and cirques. The west side of the park is wetter and more lush, with deep forests dominating.

The park contains of trails, 150 lakes, and of streams. The park contains over 60 named peaks higher than , and over one fourth of the park resides above tree line. The highest point of the park is Longs Peakmarker, which rises to 14,259 feet (4,346 m; surveys before 2002 show [36672]) above sea level. Longs Peak is the only fourteen thousand foot peak in the park.

Several small glaciers and permanent snowfields are found in the high mountain cirques, including Andrews Glaciermarker, Sprague Glacier, Tyndall Glacier, Taylor Glacier, Rowe Glacier, Mills Glacier, and Moomaw Glacier.


The lowest elevations in the park are montane forests and grassland. The ponderosa pine, which prefers drier areas, dominates, though at higher elevations douglas fir trees are found. Above 9,000 feet (2,700 m) the montane forests give way to the subalpine forest. Engelmann Spruce and Subalpine Fir trees are common in this zone. These forests tend to have more moisture than the montane and tend to be denser. Above tree line, at approximately 11,500 feet (3,500 m), trees disappear and the vast alpine tundra takes over. Due to harsh winds and weather, the plants in the tundra are short with very limited growing seasons. Streams have created lush riparian wetlands across the park.


Mill Creek, Rocky Mountain National Park

July and August are the warmest months in the park, where temperatures can reach the 80s although it is not uncommon to drop to below freezing at night. Thunderstorms often appear in the afternoons, and visitors should plan on staying below tree line when they occur. Heavy winter snows begin around mid-October, and last into May. While the snow can melt away from the lowest elevations of the park, deep snow is found above in the winter, causing the closure of Trail Ridge and Fall River roads during the winter and spring. Most of the trails are under snow this time of the year, and snowshoeing and skiing become popular. Springs tend to be wet, alternating between rain and possibly heavy snows. These snows can occur as late as July. The west side of the park typically receives more precipitation than the drier east side.

Popular areas

Bear Lake

The park is dominated by Longs Peak, which is visible from many vantage points, has an elevation of 14,259 feet. Each year thousands of people attempt to scale it. The easiest route is the Keyhole Route, however due to snow and ice the Keyhole Route is impassable to regular hikers in all but the hottest summer months. This eight-mile one-way hike has an elevation gain of 4,850 feet. The vast east face, including the area known as The Diamond, is home to many classic big wall rock climbing routes.

Not all leave Long's Peak alive and safe. There is a stone gazebo at the Keyhole formation displays a plaque memorializing Agnes Vaille, a well-known climber in the 1920s. In January 1925, Vaille fell 100 feet while descending the North Face. Vaille survived the fall with minor injuries, but was unable to walk. Her climbing partner, professional mountaineering guide Walter Kiener, went for help; but when rescuers arrived, Vaille had died of fatigue and hypothermia.

Bear Lake, in the heart of the park, is a popular destination and trailhead. The lake lies below Hallett's Peak and the Continental Divide. Several trails start from the lake, ranging from easy strolls to strenuous hikes. Bear Lake Road is open year round, though it may close temporarily due to adverse weather conditions.

Trail Ridge Road connects the town of Estes Parkmarker in the east with Grand Lake in the west. The road reaches an altitude of , with long stretches above tree line. It passes the Alpine Visitors' Center, a popular destination, and crosses the Continental Divide at Milner Passmarker. Numerous short interpretive trails and pullouts along the road serve to educate the visitor on the history, geography, and ecology of the park.

The southern area of the park is Wild Basin, a wild and remote region. Several trails cross the area, and backpacking is popular there.

The Mummy Rangemarker is a short mountain range in the north of the park. The Mummies tend to be gentler and more forested than the other peaks in the park, though some slopes are rugged and heavily glaciated, particularly around Ypsilon Mountain and Mummy Mountainmarker.

The snow-capped Never Summer Mountains are found in the west side of the park. Here the south-trending Continental Divide takes a brief sharp northward loop, which creates an interesting reverse scenario, where the Pacific Basinmarker is on the east side of the divide and the Atlantic Basin on the west. The mountains themselves, the result of volcanic activity, are very craggy and, more often than not, covered in deep snow. This area saw the most extensive mining activity in the park, and trails lead past old mines and ghost towns.

Paradise Park is hidden in the peaks above Grand Lake. This area has no trails penetrating it, and is extremely rugged and wild.


Evidence has shown that Native Americans have visited the area of the park for the last 10,000 years. Their influence in the region was limited, however, and their visits often transitory. The Ute Tribe visited the west side of the park, particularly around Grand Lake. The Arapaho visited and hunted in the Estes Park region.

The Long Expedition, led by Stephen H Long, for whom Longs Peak was named, visited the area in 1820, though they never entered the mountains.

In 1859, while on a hunting expedition, Joel Estes and his son stumbled across the meadows that eventually became Estes Park. He moved his family there in 1860 and raised cattle. He stayed only until 1866, forced out by long, harsh winters. In the next years, settlers and homesteaders staked their claims in the Estes Park region. Tourists, particularly those interested in climbing the high peaks of the region, appeared after this time.

In 1880 a small mining rush began in the Never Summer Mountains. The mining town of Lulu City was established with great fanfare and promotion by the media, particularly by Fort Collins newspapers. The ore mined, however, was low grade; by 1883 the rush went bust, and the majority of the residents moved on. A satellite town, Dutchtown, was abandoned by 1884.

Enos Mills, then a 14 year old boy, moved to Estes Park in 1884. He explored the mountains of the area and wrote many books and articles describing the region. He later supported the creation of Rocky Mountain National Park, and he split his time between the mountains he loved and the cities of the eastern United States, where he lobbied for the legislation to create the park. The legislation was drafted by James Grafton Rogers, a Denver lawyer and avid outdoorsman. Mills' original proposal for park boundaries went from Wyomingmarker all the way down to the Mount Evansmarker area, including areas such as the Indian Peaks Wildernessmarker. However, much of this land was favored for mining, logging and other operations, so the proposed park was reduced to an area approximating the current park borders. The bill passed Congress and was signed by President Woodrow Wilson on January 26, 1915. A formal dedication ceremony was held on September 4, 1915 in Horseshoe Park. The park has expanded somewhat over the years, with the largest parcel—the Never Summer Range—added in 1929.

The 1920s saw a boom in building lodges and roads in the park, culminating with the construction of Trail Ridge Road between 1929 and 1933. During the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps handled several building projects. Remnants of their camps can be found in the park today.


Among the park's trails is the Ute Trail, which climbs to heights of over 11,500 feet.
  • Most visitors to the park drive over the famous Trail Ridge Roadmarker, but other scenic roads include Fall River Roadmarker and Bear Lake Road.
  • Many visitors hike and backpack. The park contains a network of of trail and dozens of designated backcountry camp sites. Trails range from easy to strenuous. Many routes are off-trail and the hiker must be careful to leave no trace of their passage.
  • Horseback riding is permitted on most trails. Some trails which are closed to horse traffic allow llamas as pack animals, because their smaller size and softer feet have a lower impact on trail erosion.
  • Rock climbing and mountaineering has increased in recent years. Longs Peak, Hallett Peak and Lumpy Ridge, among others, are famous rock climbing areas. Many of the highest peaks have technical ice and rock routes on them, ranging from short scrambles to long multi-pitch climbs.
  • In the winter, when the trails are covered in snow, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are popular. Telemark skiing can be found on the higher slopes.
  • Fishing is found in the many lakes and streams in the park.
  • Camping is allowed at several designated campgrounds.

Rocky Mountain National Park was also a place for downhill skiing. Hidden Valley (Ski Estes Park) operated between 1955 - 1991 along U.S. 34, five miles (8 km) west of Estes Park. The area had been skied by locals long before it opened as a ski area

Sites of interest



  • This source discusses the geology of the quadrangle, which covers most of Rocky Mountain National Park.

External links

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