Rocky Mountain National Park

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Rocky Mountain National Park is located at less than 100 mi (160 km) from Denver, Colorado (U.S.). The park was established in 1915 but it was only in 1976 when UNESCO established it as one of the first World Biosphere Reserves. Rocky Mountain National Park is famous for its alpine lakes and the large variety of wildlife, among other things. It is worth noticing that the eastern and western slopes of the Continental Divide run through the middle of the park, which arguably makes the place a special one. If you want to return to a more comfortable environment, you can consider the towns of Estes Park and Gran Lake.

How It Got Here

Rocky Mountain National Park was initially inhabited by Native Americans, including the Ute and Arapaho people. Several settler groups established in the area during the 19th century, making Native groups leave-whether voluntarily or by force. Many of the first new arrivals thoughts the area will bring them gold and silver, a belief that later proved to be wrong.

The creation of Rocky Mountain National Park on January 26, 1915, came as a result of significant lobby from several people, most notably Enos Mills-regarded by many as the father of the park. Mills used his speeches, writings, and photography as the main tools to achieve his goal. While he wanted a park of 1,000 square miles (1609 square km) that would encompass a large area from Pikes Peak to Wyoming, Rocky Mountain National Park started with 325.5 sq mi(523.8 sq km).


The park delights people (well, some people) with extreme weather patterns that are the result of a complex interaction between different air masses, elevation, exposure, and slope, among others. The average temperature during the summer is around 75 °F (25 ° C) during daytime and can drop to half during the night. Perhaps there is no need to say that areas located at very high altitudes have lower averages. The average temperature during winter is around 27 °F (-3 ° C).

Storm in Rocky Mountain National ParkWhen you know it might rain

Areas located at higher elevation also receive significantly more precipitations compared to areas of lower elevation. Those people spending time there are much more likely to say “It’s snowing!” than “It’s raining!”. The park gets an average of 33.9 inches of snow per year (86.1 cm).

Wild Wild Life

Rocky Mountain National Park has four ecosystems: montane, subalpine, alpine tundra, and riparian-which occurs in all the other three ecosystems. Each of these ecosystems comes with its unique biodiversity. The riparian ecosystem tends to include species that have a better quality of life in proximity to lakes, rivers, and streams.

Some of the mammals that can be found in the montane area are black bears, coyotes, mule deer, and Rocky Mountain elk. Bobcats, cougars, and yellow-bellied marmots are common mammals that can be found in the subalpine area. In the alpine tundra, badgers and pikas are notable inhabitants.

MarmotA cute marmot

The Clark’s nutcracker and Steller’s jay are some of the birds that can be found in the subalpine area. Common ravens and white-tailed ptarmigans are more common in the alpine tundra.

Clarks nutcrackerClark’s nutcracker doing something

common ravenPerhaps a Westeros mail carrier

The montane zone contains a larger variety of plants compared to the other three zones- including grasslands, mountain forests, and wildflowers. Some of the most common trees in the montane zone are Douglas fir and lodgepole pine. The subalpine zone includes subalpine forests, huckleberry, and wildflowers. In the alpine tundra, perennials are the most common type of plant you can find. Flowering plants are also common in the alpine tundra, including alpine dwarf columbine and alpine forget-me-not.

Lost LakeConiferous forest and Lost Lake

alpine forget-me-notAlpine forget-me-not

Key Locations

One of the most original things to see in Rocky Mountain National Park is arguably the horseshoe-shaped bend that heads from south-to-north and then curving southward and westward out of the park. This interesting geographic feature is located along the Never Summer Mountain and it’s unlikely to be something you would like to miss if you visit the park.

Rocky Mountain National Park contains five main regions. The first region is located on the west side of the Continental Divide and has several elements that tend to impress tourists. For instance, the Kawuneeche Valley is commonly used for cross-country skiing during the winter. Along the Colorado River Trail, you can find the LuLu City-a site of what has remained from a silver mining town (quite likely few have thought a national park can contain the ruins of a 19th-century town). Little Yellowstone is also interesting, as it contains geological features that are similar to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone (the name is quite suggestive, isn’t it?). Lake of Clouds, Lone Pine Lake, and Haynach Lakes are some of the several lakes that can be found in the first region.

The second region includes several tundra trails at high elevations and is famous for exciting vistas. The steep trail from Specimen Mountain is a good place to see bighorn sheep and marmots. Those with a strong interest in alpine wildflowers and tundra views would love Tundra Communities Trail. If you want to see a lake, you might want to consider Lake Irene.

Lake IreneLake Irene

The third region is particularly known as a zone of wilderness. If you have a horse, you should know Beaver Mountain Loop is often used by horseback riders. A walk on this trail will take you through several forests and aspen-filled drainages. From the summit plateau of Deer Mountain, you will have a very good view of the Continental Divide. Crystal Lake and Lawn Lake are also here, as well as the Roaring River. Perhaps even more interesting is Gem Lake, a granite that has the form of a backbone-like ridge.

In the fourth region, you can find the Flattop Mountain, a tundra hike that offers easy access to the Continental Divide. Another interesting place is Glacial Basin-the site of a resort that was run by Abner and Alberta Sprague. Sprague Lake is one of the most well-known lakes in this area, which is not surprising considering the views it offers to several mountain peaks.

The fifth region is particularly known for Longs Peak (the park’s famous fourteener), the Wild Basin area, as well as its backcountry and waterfalls. Some of the most popular lakes in the area are Lily Lake, Snowbank Lake, and Sandbeach Lake.

Hiking & Camping in Rocky Mountain National Park

For information and tips about hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park click here. If you are interested in camping click here.



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