_An Overview of Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the jewels of the US Park System. This national park wonderfully preserves a spectacular section of the Southern Rocky Mountains while also making it accessible to the public. It is a perfect place to get away from the stresses of our hurried lives and to reconnect with nature, family, and the things in life that truly matter.
With abundant wildlife, 100+ lakes, over 350 miles of hiking trail, roads that take you to the top of the mountains, and all the amenities you need just outside the park boundaries, Rocky has everything you need for an amazing vacation whether you are by yourself, with that special loved one, or with the extended family.
Rocky Mountain National Park is in north-central Colorado about 60 miles (97 km) north of Denver. The Rocky Mountains stretch 3,000 miles (4,800 km) from northern Canada to New Mexico. Rocky Mountain National Park represents just a small sliver of this covering 415 sq. mile (1,075 sq. km). It is however a beautiful portion of these mountains that is well worth protecting.
Rocky Mountain National Park is separated by the Continental Divide which runs along the top of the mountains. There is only one road connecting the east and west sides of the park and this road is usually closed from mid-October until late May, as the snow and high winds make it impossible for snowplows to keep the road clear.
94% of Rocky Mountain National Park was designated a wilderness area by Congress, protecting the majority of the park from any construction of roads, buildings, or other infrastructure. It is left in its natural state and can only be accessed on foot or by horse. As a result, you’ll enjoy the sounds, smells, and sights of the natural world in a way that is hard to do outside a wilderness area. It also allows the park to be a safe haven for the many wild creatures and plants that live there.
Rocky Mountain National Park is known for its lofty peaks, having over 60 mountains greater than 12,00’ (3,658m). In fact 1/3rd of the national park is above the height where trees can grow, making it the highest national park, by average elevation, in the United States Park Service. This high-altitude area is known as tundra, much like the arctic tundra you might find in Alaska. Here, the average temperature is simply too cold for trees to grow, yet life here abounds. Because of the cold temperatures and high winds, life thrives in miniature. If you get down low and look at the delicate tundra you’ll see all types of mosses, grasses, sedges, and flowers which create their own micro-climate that is often quite a number of degrees warmer than the air above it. This tundra is extremely delicate, often only having a 60-day growing season each year. Visitors are asked not to step on the tundra. In this high alpine area you’ll find elk grazing in the summer, bighorn sheep, furry marmots lying on the rocks sunning themselves, and little pika racing back and forth collecting vegetation for the coming winter.
Subalpine and Montane
As well as high tundra, Rocky Mountain National Park also has deep forests, lush marshes, and large open meadows. It is also the home to over 60 different species of mammals, as well as numerous fish, bird, amphibians, and insects.
There are over 100 small lakes scattered throughout the park. Many of them sit at the base of towering peaks, providing dramatic view. There are also about 80 streams taking the melting snow from the high country to the valley below. Rocky is a place overflowing with icy cold water, bringing life wherever it goes.
The highest mountain in the national park is Longs Peak. It is also the icon of the national park and can be seen from as far away as Denver and the Denver International Airport.
Longs Peak is 14,259’ (4,346m) tall. For many years it was thought that this peak was impossible to climb. The first recorded climb of the mountain was by a party led by the famous explorer John Wesley Powell in 1868. Since then, Longs Peak has become a major destination for climbers as it is one of the more challenging mountains in Colorado.
Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the premier hiking destinations in the United States, having over 350 miles (563km) of hiking trails leading through diverse terrain. It’s almost possible to hike a different mile of trail every day of the year. Along these trails are also wilderness campsites, that must be reserved in advance, allowing you to make multi-day trips through the park.
As well as hiking, there is fishing, rock climbing, wildlife watching, scenic drives, opportunities for photography, bird watching, camping, snowshoeing, sledding, and skiing in the park.
Rocky Mountain National Park is a great place to get away from the rat race of life and find rest and restoration. Here one can reconnect with the natural world and with the things in life that truly matter.
Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the nation’s most visited national parks. It is often the third or fourth most visited national park, with visitation numbers similar to Grand Canyon National Park. Due to its proximity to Denver and the rapidly growing Colorado Front Range, it receives numerous day visitors from the surrounding area as well as visitors from across the United States and beyond.
There is very little infrastructure inside of Rocky Mountain National Park apart from roads, trails, campgrounds, and a few informational buildings. Visitors to Rocky Mountain National Park are served by the gateway towns of Estes Park and Grand Lake. Estes Park sits at the eastern entrance to the park and provides lodging, food, shopping, and numerous activities for visitors. Grand Lake is a much smaller community located on the western edge of the national park with similar services but on a smaller and quieter scale.