Rocky Mountain National Park is located in the western half of the United States in north Colorado. The park extends from the east side of the mountains starting at Estes Park and crossing over the range to the town of Grand Lake on the west side of the mountains.
The national park boundary encompasses an area of 414.8 square miles (1,074.3 sq km) with the Continental Divide running through the middle of the park. Rocky Mountain National Park is also a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.
Rivers and streams on the west side of the divide flow toward the Pacific Ocean while rivers and streams on the east flow toward the Atlantic and gulf. There are approximately 450 miles (724 km) of rivers and streams flowing throughout the park.
Mountains are king for the national park with other attractions being wooded forests, alpine lakes, and a variety and abundance of wildlife. The park is the 3rd most visited national park in the United States.
The total park elevations range from 7,860 feet (2,396 m) to the tallest summit at Longs Peak at a height of 14,259 feet (4,346) making it one of the highest national parks in the United States. There are 5 additional peaks over 13,000 feet (3,962 m) and another 60 summits over 12,000 feet (3,658 m).
The national park is comprised of 5 geographical regions:
Moose & Big Meadows: renowned for large grassy areas, waterfalls, valley streams, marshes, and moose.
Alpine: Targeted for phenomenal lookouts and views and bighorn sheep
Wilderness: Explored for the more rugged forested wilderness, along with Ypsilon Mountain and Mummy Mountain, and waterfalls.
Heart of the Park: famous for easy access by both roads and trails, scenic views, and popular trails lake trails like – Bear Lake, Bierstadt Lake, Emerald Lake, and Dream Lake. Numerous trails past rock formations, arches, and waterfalls.
Waterfalls and Backcountry: renowned for Longs Peak and an abundance of beautiful waterfalls and cascades.
There are 7 glaciers still remaining in the park which include Andrews, Mills, Moomaw, Rowe, Sprague, Taylor, and Tyndall. All of these varied ecosystems serve as tremendous habitat for a variety and abundance of wildlife.
Approximately 70 species of mammals roam about the Rocky Mountain boundaries. Some of the larger and more popular species include moose, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, mule deer, and elk. The elk population can be up to 3,000 members during the summertime. The predator species include bobcat, black bear, cougar, coyote, fox, and lynx.
Rocky Mountain Highlights
Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the most visited and appreciated national parks in the United States. For those approaching from the west, the mountain scenery has already begun. The mountain landscapes combined with the Moose and Big Meadows create a diverse experience with nature.
The drive across the pass and along the continental divide is spectacular. However, the highlight is to get out and take some of the numerous trails that take you to scenic lookouts, waterfalls, forests, lakes, and ponds. Bear Lake is beautiful and features an easy trail that navigates around the lake allowing visitors of all ages and capacities to explore its splendor.
Trail Ridge Road
Trail Ridge Road is a 48-mile (77 km) road that traverses over the mountains from one side of the national park to the other. The road reaches a height of 12,183 feet (3,713 m) which makes it the highest continuously paved highway in the country.
The road features several hairpin turns as it ascends the Continental Divide at Milner Pass. There are several scenic views and vistas along the way which easily make this one of the most scenic drives in the country. There are several places to stop take in the panoramic views while also exploring and taking in the mountain fresh air.
Trails in Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park is probably one of the most popular destinations of hiking with a wide variety of hiking trails and terrain to explore. There are well over 200 trails that are used throughout the park allowing hikers to explore the different facets of nature and the natural wonders that abound across the park.
Emerald Lake Trail: This is a moderate rated 3.1-mile (4.99 km) trail up to Emerald Lake which features an astounding mountain backdrop for one of the most picturesque landscape scenes. There is an elevation gain of 708 feet (215.80 m) while ascending to the lake. There are chances to see wildflowers, wildlife, and plenty of mountainous wilderness.
Alberta Falls Trail: This is an easy 1.6-mile (2.57 km) that provides views of the river as well as a scenic waterfall. There is a minimal elevation gain while meandering through the forest and foothills of the mountains.
Dream Lake Trail: This short 2.0-mile (3.21 km) is easy rated and provides a partially paved trail out to Dream Lake which has a fantastic mountain backdrop for one of the most majestic scenes ever. The ease of the trail makes it quite popular because it delivers such magnificent beauty in such a short and accessible trail. There are chances to see wildlife.
Glacier Gorge Trail: This is a challenging 9.5-mile (15.2 km) out to Sky Pond which is surrounded by rugged and jagged mountains creating one of the most striking pond and mountain landscapes. There are chances to see wildlife while trekking up the mountain and through the forest Wildflowers may blanket some of the tundra and meadows. There is an elevation gain of 1,837 feet (559.91 m) while making the ascent.
Rocky Mountain Highlights
- Trail Ridge Road
- Longs Peak
- Bear Lake
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- National Park Service, Rocky Mountain, https://www.nps.gov/romo/index.htm, retrieved September 2019.
- Rocky Mountain National Park, Park Cite, https://rockymountainnationalpark.com/, retrieved September 2019.
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- Visit Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, https://www.visitestespark.com/rocky-mountain-national-park/, retrieved September 2019.