Breathtaking Any Time of Year!
Rocky Mountain National Park sits majestically about two hours northwest of Denver near the town of Estes Park. The Park is a microcosm of the entire Rocky Mountain Range, with elevations ranging from 8,000 ft. in its spectacular valleys to 14,259 ft. at the top of Long’s Peak, where the weather can quickly change from a brilliantly sunny day to stormy and angry.
When visiting Rocky Mountain National Park, you will encounter a series of ecosystems, including the lower elevations which tend to be lush valleys with 150 lakes and 450 miles of streams, which create a wetlands that support an incredible variety of plant and animal wildlife.
As you go further up in elevation, you will find forests of pine trees and acres of grassy hills. These areas are drier than the wetlands, but they still support a great variety of plants and wildlife.
As you continue to go up in elevation, you are in the subalpine ecosystem. Here, there are few trees and other vegetation and the ones that you do see look like old men whose bodies are bent and gnarled from the hard summers and even harder winters near the top of the mountain.
When I look at these trees, I always think that I want to be just like the last tree before the treeline; the one that made it through all the ups and downs of life and still stands, courageously. Maybe it shows the effects of the conditions it has endured, but it still stands strong against the elements.
Finally, as you keep climbing the mountain, you’ll find yourself on the alpine tundra. Here it is too harsh for trees, but if you look closely at the ground, you will find tiny plants and animals that have somehow managed to overcome and thrive in one of earth’s most extreme environments.
Rocky Mountain National Park is filled with larger animals such as elk, mule deer, moose, bighorn sheep, coyotes, black bears, cougars and hundreds of smaller animals. Whether you’re hiking, backpacking or driving, you will be fascinated by the variety of wildlife you will see. Make sure to take lots of pictures!
Underneath Rocky Mountain National Park are the ancient Colorado Rocky Mountains. These mountains were born as huge volcanoes, with repeated cycles of uplifting and erosion, that have created what we see today, including more than 60 peaks over 12,000 ft. and the very beginning of the mighty Colorado River.
No matter what your interests are, the chances are good that you will enjoy Rocky Mountain National Park. For example, there is:
Camping at one of five campgrounds that can be driven to, including Moraine Park, Glacier Park and Aspenglen, which can be reserved ahead of time and Longs Peak and Timber Creek which are on a first-come first-serve (or free-for-all!) basis. But be aware that these campgrounds get crowded in the summer and on holiday weekends. So get there early!
For backpackers, there are over 200 backcountry campsites available. But you will need to apply for a backcountry camping permit before you use one of these campsites.
There are also times when use of open fires at campsites and campgrounds is banned because of high fire danger.
Hiking is available on 355 miles of hiking trails. These trails are for all different levels of ability and fitness, ranging from a nice walk to real mountain climbing. If you would like more information about hiking, you might want to look at a friend of mine James’ website, www.us-national-parks-guide.com, about hiking in many of the national parks in the United States. His photographs alone will blow you away!
Before undertaking your hike, consider the altitude because it can make a big difference even if you are very fit.
It is best to take it easier while you’re getting acclimated and to drink lots of water, avoid alcohol and get plenty of rest. Altitude sickness can be very serious and some of the symptoms are shortness of breath, headaches, insomnia and rapid heartbeat. If this happens to you, go to a lower altitude as soon as you can.
For information about hiking trails in the park, check out this Rocky Mountain trails page.
Climbing Long’s Peak
Climbing Long’s Peak is a different matter entirely. This peak is an extreme mountain environment that provides challenges to experienced mountain climbers, but can be dangerous for those who have not prepared well or are not as experienced.
In the summer, it is important to start your climb very early in the day to be down off the mountain before the afternoon thunderstorms begin. The lightning is very dangerous if you are caught out in the open.
But early in the day, when you are climbing the mountain, the skies are usually gorgeous, the day is sunny and it’s an experience you’ll never forget!
I should also mention that the air at higher altitudes is thinner and does not filter UV rays as well as at lower altitudes. It’s a good idea to bring plenty of sunscreen, a hat, and clothes that cover most of your body to avoid a very bad sunburn.
Bicycling is also a very popular activity at Rocky Mountain National Park and there are 60 miles of hard-surfaced roads that are available for bicycling.
However, off-road mountain biking is not allowed in the Park. You will need to stay on the established roads. There are, however, trails for back country bicycling in many of the National Forests throughout Colorado.
Just as with hiking, it is a good idea to begin your journey early in the morning to avoid afternoon thunderstorms on the mountains. They can be very dangerous.
Winter in the Park is magnificent. It’s a perfect backdrop for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, sledding and snowmobiling.
Usually, Trail Ridge Road, which goes all the way through the Park to the western entrance at Granby, near Grand Lake, is closed at the higher elevations from the first major snowfall in the autumn to late spring. With a great deal of plowing, the goal is always to have the road open by Memorial Day at the end of May and usually it is open by then.
While in Rocky Mountain National Park, don’t forget to check out the horseback riding. With 80% of the trails in the Park open to horses, you will have 260 miles of trails for riding.
There are two stables available inside the park, Glacier Creek Stables and Moraine Park Stables. There are also two stables in Estes Park that are open in the winter. These are Sombrero Stables and Aspen Lodge Stables.
Also, for all the information you need about fly fishing in Rocky Mountain National Park, please check out Northern Colorado Fly Fishing.
All in all, Rocky Mountain National Park gives Colorado one of the most magnificent places for outdoor pursuits you will ever find.