Rocky Mountain National Park is a preservation area in north-central Colorado roughly 266,714 acres in size comprised of 60 percent forests, 13 percent alpine tundra and 18 percent bare rock. Approximately 11 percent of the park rises above 11,000 feet.
The park offers many roads and trails for exploration by foot, vehicle or horseback. Trail Ridge Road, a 48 mile-long stretch across the entire park, provides a stunning view at elevations as high as 12,183 feet. Bear Lake Road is another stretch offering spectacular views of mountains, glacial moraines and river valleys. Along Old Fall River Road, you can follow the same trails used by Native Americans and settlers across the Continental Divide.
The RMNP boasts more than 100 peaks above 11,000 feet. Along the north runs the snow-capped Never Summer Mountains and 17 distinct peaks. Longs Peak rises 14,259 feet and is a favorite destination for mountain climbers and hikers. It has a dramatic sheer cliff called “The Diamond” offering a breathtaking challenge to even the most experienced climbers.
Although in the process of retreating from a combination of natural temperature changes and global warming, several glaciers top the highest points. Enjoy the view of the Andrews, Mills, Moomaw, Sprague, Taylor Rowe and Tyndall glaciers at a distance or close-up from various spots around the park.
7. Alpine Visitor Center
At 11,796 feet, the Alpine Visitor Center along the Trail Ridge Road is the highest rest stop in the park and the highest facility in the National Park Service. Make the center a part of your summer vacation plans though. It closes mid-October.
6. Water Sites
The RMNP has an abundance of clear streams, lakes, rivers and waterfalls perfect for sightseeing and photography, fishing, kayaking and rafting. Consider Bear Lake near the Bear Lake Road or, at a higher elevation, consider The Lock, Timberline Falls, Glass Lake and Sky Pond near Taylor Glacier.
5. Estes Park
The hard work of Estes Park resident and American conservationist and naturalist Enos Mills, along with other local residents and groups, brought about the preservation of the region. The town’s wide selection of restaurants and lodging options, and the Estes Park Visitors Center, make it a nice starting point and fallback position for exploring the park.
4. Other Park Visitor Centers
The RMNP has seven centers throughout the area providing information and rest stop assistance. The Beaver Meadows, Fall River and Kawuneeche centers are open year round. The Sheep Lakes Information Station and Moraine Park Museum and Visitor Center are only open during summer months. Likewise, the interior of the Holzwarth Historic Site Museum to the west is closed in winter as well.
The park’s various environmental zones offer a wide range of flora and fauna. At lower elevations, the park features meadows filled with tall grasses and vibrant wildflowers, wetlands and dense forests, as well as part of Roosevelt National Forest. At higher elevations, sturdy subalpine fir trees give way to shorter alpine tundra plants, such as tiny wildflowers and shrubs.
Fauna include mountain lions, coyotes, black bears, bighorn sheep, elk, mule deer, eagles, falcons, finches, ravens, sparrows and larks. At higher elevations, the park boasts pikas, yellow-bellied marmots, snowshoe rabbits, ermine, deer mice, red foxes and bobcats. The park is also the home of several endangered species including the yellow-billed cuckoo, greenback cutthroat trout and the Canada lynx. Complementing these animals are thousands of insects including 141 species of brightly colored butterflies.
More than 3 million people from around the world visit the Rocky Mountain National Park each year. Make your trip to the RMNP a multi-cultural experience. Interact with other park guests to learn about different cultures and languages. Additionally, check out the park’s many museums to learn about the Native Americans, homesteaders, farmers and ranchers who once called the region their home.