Rocky Mountain National Park

Infobox Protected area
name = Rocky Mountain National Park
iucn_category = II
nrhp_type = hd |

caption =
locator_x = 96
locator_y = 78
location = Larimer, Grand, & Boulder counties, Colorado, USA
nearest_city = Estes Park
coords = coord|40|24|0|N|105|35|0|W|display=inline,title
area = 265,769 acres (1,075.53 km²)
established = January 26, 1915
visitation_num = 2,743,676
visitation_year = 2006
governing_body = National Park Service

Rocky Mountain National Park is a National Park located in the north-central region of the U.S. state of Colorado.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, 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 at Taliesin West. [ [ Beaver Meadows Visitor Center Review | Rocky Mountain NP | Fodor's Travel Guides ] ]

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. 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 convert|12183|ft|m, and is closed by snow in winter.

The park 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 convert|265770|acre|km2|0 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 convert|359|mi|km|0 of trails, 150 lakes, and convert|450|mi|km|-1 of streams. The park contains over 60 named peaks higher than convert|12000|ft|m, and over one fourth of the park resides above tree line. The highest point of the park is Longs Peak, which rises to 14,259 feet (4,346 m; surveys before 2002 show convert|14255|ft|m [] ) 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 Glacier, 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.


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 convert|9000|ft|m 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

The park is dominated by Longs Peak, which is visible from many vantage points. 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. The vast east face, known as The Diamond, is home to many classic big wall rock climbing routes.

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

Trail Ridge Road connects the town of Estes Park in the east to Grand Lake in the west. The road reaches convert|12183|ft|m, and long stretches of the road lie above tree line. The Alpine Visitors Center is a popular destination along Trail Ridge. The road 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.

Wild Basin consists of the southern area of the park. As the name implies, the area is a wild and remote region. Several trails penetrate the wilderness and backpacking is popular there.

The Mummy Range is a small mountain range in the north of the park. The Mummies tend to be more gentle and forested than the other peaks in the park, though there are some heavily glaciated areas, particularly Ypsilon Mountain and the area around Mummy Mountain.

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 the interesting reverse scenario where the Pacific Basin 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 park for the last 10,000 years. However, their influence in the region was limited, and their visits were 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 visited the area in 1820, though they never entered the mountains. Longs Peak now bears the name of the expedition's leader, Stephen H Long.

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 only stayed until 1866, forced out due to long harsh winters. In the next years, various 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 in the media, particularly Fort Collins newspapers. However the ore mined was low grade. By 1883 the rush went bust and the majority of the town population 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 quickly began exploring the mountains of the area, and wrote many naturalist books and articles describing the region. He later became a proponent of 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 heavily for the legislation to create the park. The legislation was drafted by James Grafton Rogers, a Denver lawyer and avid outdoorsman. Mills' original proposal included what is now the Indian Peaks Wilderness, but after compromising with local and mining interests, the borders were drawn very close to the current border of the park. 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 boundary has increased during 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.


*Most 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 convert|349|mi|km|0 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 [cite web
url =
title = Hidden Valley Ski Area
accessdate = 2007-12-02

Sites of interest

*Alpine Visitor's Center
*Bear Lake
*Chasm Lake
*Fall River Pass
*Grand Lake
*Milner Pass
*Mount Meeker
*Sprague Lake
*Trail Ridge Road
*Longs Peak
* Wild Basin


*"Rocky Mountain National Park: A History", C. W. Buchholtz, (University Press of Colorado; 1983) ISBN 0-87081-146-0
*"Rocky Mountain National Park Natural History Handbook", John C. Emerick, (Roberts Hinehart Publishers/Rocky Mountain Nature Association, 1995) ISBN 1-879373-80-7

External links

* [ Rocky Mountain National Park] (official site)

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