Rocky Mountain National Park

By Robin Becker
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rocky mountain national park
Three million people visit Rocky Mountain National Park each year
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Rocky Mountain National Park is located in the north central region of the U.S. state of Colorado. The park is located north-west of Boulder, Colorado in the Colorado Rockies, and includes the Continental Divide and the headwaters of the Colorado River in its land area.

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. Although Rocky Mountain National Park is famous for its steep terrain, accessible trails have been constructed in areas noted for their scenery. These trails are also good choices for visitors interested in adjusting to the park's higher elevations, groups that include young children, visitors with visual impairment and anyone who finds walking on level, relatively smooth paths attractive. Check with park rangers or visit the site, , to ascertain which would be the best trail (s) for you.

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 and is easily accessible.Also, Lily Lake, Moraine Park Museum, Alpine Visitor Center and Kawuneeche Visitor Centers are accessible with some ranger led activities. Trail to Bear Lake, Beaver Boardwalk, Sprague Lake and Coyote Valley trails are accessible, as well as the backcountry site located at Sprague Lake. Most campgrounds, amphitheaters, overlooks and bathrooms are moderately accessible.

U.S. Highway 34 and 36, and Colorado State Highway 7. State 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, Colorado on the east to Grand Lake, Colorado on the south west. The road reaches 12,183 feet (3,713 meters) in elevation, and is closed in the winter due to snow.

Located in the center of several beautiful forests

Rocky Mountain National 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. It is is a national icon — its rugged mountains carve out a skyline that captures the American imagination and serves as both protector and passageway to the west. One-third of the park is above timberline, the 14,255-foot flat-topped summit of Longs Peak included; there are 71 peaks here that top out above 12,000 feet.

Mountain lovers, take note

There's just too much spectacular country here for a mountain fanatic to stay away. And when you slip off the beaten path, there's solitude aplenty. This is a 415-square-mile chunk of Rocky Mountain highs, latticed by some 370 miles of hiking and walking trails that weave up steep rocky trails, over alpine tundra, past high-mountain lakes, and through aspen groves, spruce forests, and meadows peppered with columbine. If you're looking to connect with your inner mountain man (or woman), you couldn't pick a better place.

Once you get there

From hiking to snowboarding & skiing to just animal and bird watching—the activities in which you can participate are seemingly endless. And let's not forget fishing, either. But, back to skiing—if you want to plan your next winter vacation now. The Colorado River Trail allows Nordic skiers to explore the region's stunning winter landscape while catching a glimpse of the state's mining history. Skiers can slide onto the trail at Timber Lake trailhead at the end of the plowed road. Markers will guide you north along the river for about two miles before you pass the ruins of abandoned miner cabins. After another two miles, you will find yourself in the former mining boomtown of Lulu City.

And for the cyclists

Tour Trail Ridge Road for some serious cycling. Got the legs of a Lance Armstrong? You'll need them to cycle up the 3,700 feet of vertical from Estes Park. But if you're capable, by all means make the trip — after 15 miles, you'll find yourself cycling among the Gods at an elevation of 12,000 feet. This four to six hour ride is demanding and geared for the intermediate-to-advanced cyclist. Once you're on top, you'll be rewarded with ten miles of rolling alpine highway. And of course it's downhill from there — 3,400 feet to Grand Lake!

Spectacular scenery and animals close up

If you long for a truly scenic drive, head up to watch Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep at Horseshoe Park. A natural mineral lick near Sheep Lake lures bighorn sheep to Horseshoe Park where you can observe them from the parking lot. Black bear, moose, bobcat, coyote, deer, weasel, and muskrat also frequent the wet meadows around Moraine Park and Horseshoe Park. This is a drive that is sure to delight anyone—young or old.


Pets are not allowed on park trails, snow play areas, or in the backcountry. They are allowed in campgrounds, picnic areas, and along roadsides. Pets must be leashed and attended at all times. Never leave pets unattended in your vehicle.

Making your plans to visit

There are many online travel sites that offer vacation packages to the Rocky Mountain National Park, as well as other national parks. Their prices are very competitive and their representatives are quite knowledgeable. Check out all the features and activities that are available so you can put together a vacation that will be remembered for years to come. National parks truly offer the most for your money. If you plan on camping out in the National Park, be sure to go through your camping equipment checklist, you don't want to spend a night with out a sleeping bag.

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