Rocky Mountain National Park

Written by on September 7, 2015 in CO Outdoor Adventures - Comments Off on Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park provides countless opportunities for breathtaking scenery and extraordinary outdoor experiences. It is one of the most well-known, well-traveled and recognizable parks in the country, and yet it offers countless opportunities to experience the wilderness and glory in the majestic peaks. Topping it all is Longs Peak, elevation 14,259 feet, its rugged summit, tipped with snow even during the summer months.

The Rocky Mountains stretch from Canada to Mexico and are actually a series of mountain ranges, each range formed at different times and by different means — from plate tectonics to volcanism. What is known as Rocky Mountain National Park formed around 175 million years ago due to a quirk of plate tectonics. Two plates collided, causing a shock wave that moved east. It forced huge masses of rock to crack and slide up over its neighbors. This is known as thrust faulting and was instrumental in the formation of the Rockies. The shock wave began piling up the western ranges, and then the main ranges, around 120 million years ago.
Rocky Mountain National Park
The park encompasses 416 square miles of wilderness. There are 60 mountains which exceed 12,000 feet, which have names like Cirrus, Chiefs Head, Isolation, Mummy and Storm that evoke the grandeur of this alpine landscape. While the peaks are by far the most stunning scenery, the park has hundreds of clear lakes and rushing mountain streams, meadows and forests and a bounty of wildflowers and wildlife. There are eight visitor’s centers in the park, each with its own ranger-led tours and programs and each with its own unique terrain and beauty to explore.

Two scenic drives cross the park — Trail Ridge Road and Old Fall River Road. Trail Ridge Road is called the “Highway to the Sky” and offers huge sweeps of panoramic mountain views. Covering 48 miles between Estes Park and Grand Lake, it is the highest continuous paved road in the country, with more than 11 miles of highway that travel above the tree line. Old Fall River Road was the first automobile route through the mountains and for many people, remains the foremost route to take in the park. Primarily gravel, this 11-mile route is punctuated by switchbacks, and quietly leads travelers from Horseshoe Park through the wilderness to Fall River Pass, elevation 11,796.

The park is home to variety of wildlife … elk, mule deer, moose, bighorn sheep, black bears, coyotes, cougars, eagles, hawks and scores of smaller animals are ever present. From personal experience, I can tell you that the chipmunks are among the boldest creatures you will find there. As a teenager, I visited the park with my family one summer. We were hiking and had stopped to admire the view, when one bold chipmunk scampered up and tugged on my father’s pant leg and then held out its paws asking for a snack. It’s not often that you have to fend off four-legged panhandlers in the wild. However, I must add this warning … please don’t feed the critters! Human food frequently does not provide the nutrition these animals need to survive in a harsh climate. In addition, animals often come to rely on human sources of food and forget how to forage for themselves.

Rocky Mountain National Park is a hikers, bikers and horseback riders paradise. With 355 miles of trails, it offers endless opportunities to explore the beauty and wonder of the park. The trails range in difficulty from flat lakeside strolls to steep mountain peak climbs. In addition, there are wheelchair accessible routes in the park in Coyote Valley, and at Spague Lake and Lily Lake. Since everything in the park is above 7,500, use caution and allow yourself time to adjust to altitude before attempting strenuous activity. Some popular lake hikes include Bear, Cub and Bluebird Lakes. If you love waterfalls, then consider hiking to Adams Falls, Cascade Falls or Timberline Falls. If collecting summits is your things, then consider climbing Deer Mountain, Flattop Mountain or Mount Ida. Of course, bagging the summit of Longs Peak is a climber’s dream. The Keyhole Route is the only path to the summit that does not require climbing equipment. It is a 16-mile round trip hike that gains 4,850 feet in elevation, but is only ice and snow free from Mid-July through Mid-September.

Approximately 260 miles of trails are open to commercial and private horse use, which makes up about 80% of the total trail network in Rocky Mountain National Park. You must keep your stock on existing trails, however, there are many locations where you can pack in and camp. The following trails are recommended for stock use: Big Meadows with trails to Green Mountain, Onahu Creek and Tonahutu, East Inlet Trailhead, Lawn and Ypsilon Lakes Trailhead, Lost Lake Trailhead and Thunder and Finch Lakes Trailheads. Several concessionaires in the park offer day rides and pack trips if you don’t have your own horses or equipment.

Climbing is another popular activity the park and one of the foremost climbing schools in the world is located here. The Colorado Mountain School, has been guiding climbers continuously in Colorado since 1877, and has been Rocky Mountain National Park’s exclusive technical climbing concessionaire since the Park’s creation in 1915. There’s are the folks to help you if you want to climb in the park and require a guide. Day use in the park requires no special registration or permit. For those climbers planning multi-day climbs, 3.5 or more miles from a trailhead, consisting of 4 or more technical pitches, a bivouac permit is required.

The fishing in Rocky Mountain National Park is outstanding. Native Greenback Cutthroat and Colorado River Cutthroat abound in streams and lakes, while the non-native Yellowstone Cutthroat, introduced in the park in the early days, are slowing being removed. You must have a Colorado Fishing License and you must be aware that there are special restrictions on fishing in many areas of the park.

There are five main campgrounds in the park. Moraine Park and Aspenglen campgrounds are on a reservation system, while the others are first-come, first-served. In addition, backcountry camping is available with a permit. If you’d like a few more amenities and a soft bed, Estes Park, situated on the east side of the park, offers all manner of lodging, dining and shopping.

Rocky Mountain National Park
1000 Highway 36
Estes Park, CO 80517-8397
Phone: 970-586-1206 (Daily 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. MST)

Colorado Mountain School
P.O. Box 1846
Estes Park, CO 80517

Other attractions in the area include:
Top 10 Things To Do in Denver
Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument

To obtain current Colorado fishing license fees visit the Colorado Division of Wildlife web site.

About the Author

Comments are closed.

Get Adobe Flash player