Rocky Mountain National Park
is a National Park located in the
north-central region of the U.S. state of
features majestic mountain
views, a variety
, varied climates and
environments—from wooded forests
—and easy access to back-country
is located northwest of Boulder, Colorado in the Rockies, and
includes the Continental Divide
and the headwaters of the Colorado River.
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
The park may be accessed by three roads: U.S. Highway 34
, 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
Road through the park, runs from the town of Estes
Park on the east to Grand Lake on the southwest.
The road reaches an
elevation of , and is closed by snow in winter.
is surrounded by Roosevelt
National Forest on the north and east, Routt National
Forest on the northwest, and Arapaho National
Forest on the southwest.
Rocky Mountain National Park encompasses approximately of land in
Colorado's northern Front Range
park is split by the Continental
, 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
. 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
highest point of the park is Longs Peak, which rises to 14,259 feet (4,346 m; surveys
before 2002 show ) above sea level.
Longs Peak is the
only fourteen thousand foot peak
small glaciers and permanent snowfields are found in the high
mountain cirques, including Andrews Glacier, Sprague Glacier, Tyndall Glacier, Taylor Glacier,
Rowe Glacier, Mills Glacier, and Moomaw Glacier.
The lowest elevations in the park are montane forests
. 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
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
Mill Creek, Rocky Mountain National
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
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.
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
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
, in the heart of the
park, is a popular destination and trailhead. The lake lies below
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
Ridge Road connects the town of Estes Park 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 Pass.
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.
Range 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
The snow-capped Never Summer
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
Basin is on the east side of the divide and the Atlantic Basin on the west.
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
Evidence has shown that Native Americans
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
the west side of the park, particularly around Grand Lake. The
visited and hunted in the Estes Park
The Long Expedition, led by Stephen H Long, for whom Longs Peak was
named, visited the area in 1820, though they never entered the
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.
, 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 Wyoming all the way down to the Mount Evans area, including areas such as the Indian Peaks
However, much of this land was favored for
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
on January 26
. A formal dedication ceremony was held on September 4
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
, the Civilian
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.
visitors to the park drive over the famous Trail Ridge
Road, but other scenic roads include Fall River
Road 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
- 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
- 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
- Fishing is found in the many lakes and
streams in the park.
- Camping is allowed at several designated
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.