The Rocky Mountains offer some of the oldest national parks in the world. While located in the same mountain range, these national parks are not identical in terms of climate, vegetation, and wildlife. This comprehensive guide will tell you what to expect when you visit each of the national parks found in the Rocky Mountains.
Banff National Park
Banff National Park is the oldest national park in Canada, having been established in 1885. It is located in relative proximity to Calgary (Alberta) and includes 2,564 sq miles (6,641 sq km) ready for you to explore them. There you will find different types of landscapes, including a coniferous forest, glaciers, and ice fields. If you need to return to a more comfortable setting, the town of Banff will be the closest thing you will find.
Banff National Park was initially inhabited by different groups of aboriginals, such as the Kainai, Stoneys, and Siksika. While little is known about the early history of the area, it is believed that the landscape didn’t significantly change for centuries.
The ambitions of the industrial revolution brought the transcontinental railroad, a moment that marked the beginning of several conflicts between those who want development at any costs and those who want to preserve the ecosystem, or at least as much of it as possible. The national park was established in 1885, initially comprising only 10 square miles (26 sq km) around the hot springs that were discovered in the area. Two years later the park was expanded to 260 sq miles (674 square km) and became the third national park in North America after Yellowstone and Mackinac.
The creation of the national park also included the removal of a First Nations group-the Stoney. While today national parks in Canada are administered with the counseling of indigenous groups, many of them feel that not enough has been done in order to compensate for the forced removal policies that were implemented when these parks were developed.
Those living in the park enjoy a subarctic climate, as the summers are fairly mild and the winters are good for filming the 8th season of Game of Thrones. The average temperature during January is 5 °F (-15 °C) while the average temperature during July is 72 °F (22 °C). The annual precipitation is around 18.6 in (472 mm). At Lake Louise the average snow per year is 120 in (304 cm). Whether you want to visit the park during the summer or the winter, having the proper equipment is necessary in order to ensure it will actually be a vacation. For this reason, you should keep in mind that the average temperatures cannot predict how the weather will be in specific days and you must consult the weather before going to the park.
While a close encounter with a black bear or a grizzly is not recommendable, it’s hard not to want to see them in their natural habitat. The forest regions of the park have several of them but the chances you will see any are not that high given their relative shyness. Of course, you never know, but be careful. If you are in fact afraid of bears you should know that an electric fence around the parking lot of Lake Louise exists in order to ensure the grizzly will not visit the places most frequented by humans. In areas where humans are most likely to go, the Canadian authorities have also removed bushes in order to prevent bears from searching for food there. Other mammal species that you can find include the Columbian ground squirrel, coyote, elk, marmot, mountain goat, mule deer, red fox, timber wolf and wolverine. Some of these creatures are less shy than others. For example, elks can sometimes be found in the town of Banff!
The park also has plenty of bird species, including the bald eagle, gray jay, golden eagle merlin, mountain bluebird, and pipit, among many others. A particularly interesting bird is the white-tailed ptarmigan-a ground bird that can only be found in the high mountains.
A significant portion of the park is dominated by lodgepole pine forests combined with aspen, Engelmann spruce, willow, and spruce. The most common wildflowers include Common Harebell, Early Blue Violet, Elephanthead, and Yellow Lady’s Slipper.
Lake Louise is a must-see hamlet and can be found at only 34 miles (54 km) from Banff. Considering that it is one of the most visited lakes in the world, don’t expect to feel overly emerged into the wilds. That being said, it’s a location that offers extremely nice views. At the edge of the lake you can find the Chateau Lake Louise hotel. While normally we would recommend you to make a camp and leave behind the amenities you are used to, this Fairmont hotel is an exception as its location provides an amazing view of the lake that you can only experience when you are flying (or staying at the 10th floor). You should not ignore that the areas located in the proximity of the hotel have been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
At only 9.3 miles (15 km) from Lake Louise you can find the Moraine Lake- a 120 acres (50 hectares) glacially fed lake located in the Valley of the Ten Peaks, at 6,183 ft (1,885 m). When the lake reaches its crest in June or July, it reflects a particular shade of blue caused by the refraction of the light off the rock flour that is deposited in the lake.
A truly fun trip to the Banff National Park should also include Icefields Parkway. This is 140 miles (230 km) road that starts at Lake Louise. On Icefield Parkway you will be able to see the Hector Lake, Bow Summit, Peyto Lake, Mistaya River, Saskatchewan Crossing, North Saskatchewan River, and Columbia Icefields. The road eventually reaches the Jasper National Park. There is no higher place in Canada where you will find a public road at 6,850 ft (2088m), so a drive up to the Bow Summit is highly recommended.
One of the main reasons for which people go to the Banff National Park is the abundance of glaciers and icefields. Whether you are into glaciers or not, it is worth mentioning that they are retreating as a result of global warming, and 150 glaciers that existed in the Canadian Rockies in 1920 have already disappeared.
Wapta is the most impressing glaciated areas in terms of side, covering 31 square miles (80 square km). The second place in terms of size is occupied by the Waputik, which covers 15 square miles (40 square km). They can be found at the border between Banff National Park and Yoho National Park. The Wapta outlets include Bow, Vulture, and Peyto Glaciers. Other notable icefields are the Columbia and the Snow Dome Icefields. The Columbia Icefield includes the most visited glacier in North America- Athabasca.
Hiking & Camping in Banff National Park
Glacier National Park
Glacier National Park (also referred as the Crown of the Continent) is located in the state of Montana (U.S.) and the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia (Canada). With more than 1500 sq mi (4,000 sq km), the park is home to a vast ecosystem, including hundreds of animal species, more than a thousand species of plants, and 130 named lakes. The park is particularly known for its unpredictable weather and the huge number of tourists from all over the world. Beside being a park, the Glacier National Park is also a biosphere park, a peace park, and a world heritage site.
The Glacier was initially inhabited by Native Americans, including the Blackft, Cheyenne, Kootenai, and Salish. The park currently borders the Blackft Indian Reservation and the Flathead Indian Reservation.
After 1850 explorations of the area become common, with George Bird Grinnell being the explorer who is credited with having worked in establishing the national park and coining the term “Crown of the Continent”. However, the Great Northern Railway company also had an important contribution to the creation of the park. After the railroad began crossing the area in 1891, the company lobbied in the U.S. Congress for the creation of the park and it partly convinced the government, as a forest preserve was created instead. Later, in 1910, Grinnell, together with its club- George Bird Grinnell Club-and the Great Northern Railway convinced the Congress to upgrade the area from forest reserve to national park.
Glacier National Park is cold, though not as cold as the name might suggest. During the summer the average temperature is around 70 °F (21 °C) during daytime and 40 °F (4 °C) during the nighttime. That being said, the weather is highly unpredictable in this area and it is important to pay attention to weather forecasts before and during your trip. Glacier National Park enjoys plenty of precipitations, as much as 3 in (76.2 mm) in the coldest months. The average yearly snowfall is 16-feet (4.9 m).
Because the park has an important climate change research program (the U.S. Geological Survey), it is worth acknowledging that rapid temperature changes have been registered in the area. For instance, research has revealed a rapid retreat of glaciers, important changes in temperature averages, UV-radiation, and vegetation.
As in many parts of the Rockies, Glacier National Park has several grizzly bears. You might already know that these bears are not particularly friendly and you should stay away from them at a distance of at least 100 yards (91.4 meters). The same applies to the black bear, which is smaller but can also be dangerous. Another amazing and quite dangerous species is the Canadian lynx, which unfortunately is also a threatened species (the grizzly also is). Glacier National Park also includes bobcat, bighorn sheep, coyote, elk, moose, mule deer, wolverine, and others.
While in terms of fauna the park is most known for the mammals, there are many types of birds you won’t see on your typical day. The most well-known birds that live in the Glacier National Park include the American dipper, bald eagle, golden eagle, hawks, and peregrine falcon. It is estimated that more than 260 species of birds can be found in the park, which is unusually high in an area located so far north. If you travel to the park you may also encounter the garter snake and the western painted turtle.
The park contains an impressive ecosystem, as it has managed to survive in the same form it had a few centuries ago. While a large part of the park consists of coniferous forests, noticeable plants include aspen, beargrass, and cottonwood. An interesting coniferous is the western larch, as it losses its needles during the fall. Finally, if you like wildflowers you will probably like at least one of the following: balsamroot, glacier lily, Indian paintbrush, and monkeyflower.
One of the most notable peaks to be seen is Chief Mountain. The peak belongs to the Rocky Mountain Front (Lewis Overthrust)-an overthrust fault that is 200 miles (320 km) long. The peak can be observed from both Alberta and Montana and its popularity is given by its unusual form.
When visiting Glacier National Park, it is recommended that you also see Lake McDonald, which is number one among the park’s lakes in terms of area (6,823 acres/27.61 km), length (9.4 miles/15.1 km), and deep (454 ft/141 m). The Avalanche Lake is another one who draws plenty of attention (and has a cool name). This lake is located in a cirque that was formed by glacial erosion. Something that many people find particularly nice about the lake is its opaque turquoise color-a consequence of the glacial silt suspended in the water.
When you think about going to Glacier National Park nobody will be surprised if you think about visiting glaciers. While more than a hundred glaciers existed in the 19th century, today there are only 25 glaciers that have a significant size. These include the Pumpkin Glacier (8,232 ft/2,509 m), the Rainbow Glacier (8,222 ft/2,506 m), and the Two Ocean Glacier (8,015 ft/2,443 meters). The signs left by the glaciers of the past is reflected by the present of U-shaped arêtes, cirques, and valleys. While glaciers have almost disappeared, it is not clear whether the name of the national park will change to something more contemporary (any suggestions in mind?)
Hiking & Camping in Glacier National Park
Grand Teton National Park
Grand Teton National Park has an area of 489 sq mi (1,300 km2) and is located in the state of Wyoming (U.S.). Its name comes from the tallest mountain in the Teton Range, namely Grand Teton, which is 7,000 ft (2,100 m) above Jackson Hole. Located at 10 mi (16 km) from Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park is known, among others, for its prehistoric species of flora and fauna, the over 200 mi (320 km) of trails, 1,000 drive-in campsites, and for being part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.
The earliest data available shows that the area was already inhabited by Paleo-Indians 11,000 years ago. It appears that the first inhabitants spent their summers in Jackson Hole and the winters in the valleys west of the Teton Range.
In the 19th century, the area attracted fur trading companies and the first permanent European settlers arrived in Jackson Hole in the 1880s. At the time, the area was inhabited by the Shoshone people. The group later relocated to the Wind River Indian Reservation, located at 100 mi (160 km) southwest of Jackson Hole. It was also in this century when the Teton Range got their name from the French-speaking trapper-les trois tétons, which means the three teats.
The Grand Teton National Park was established in 1929, although the Jackson Hole valley remained in private ownership until the 1930s. Initially, conservationists wanted to expand Yellowstone by including the Teton Range. The residents of Jackson Hole did not like the idea of a larger Yellowstone and preferred a separate national park that would include not only the Teton Range but also six lakes located at the base of the range. Jackson Hole was gradually bought by John D. Rockefeller through the Snake River Land Company. President Franklin Roosevelt eventually established the Jackson Hole National Monument in 1943 using the land from the Snake River Land Company and additional territory from the Teton National Forest. The monument and the park were finally combined in 1950. Yay!
The park has a subarctic clime, which is not as cold as it sounds. For instance, the average temperature is 26.3 °F (-3.2 °C) in January and 77.3 °F (25.2 °C) in July. The average precipitation rate is 4.12 in (105 mm) in January and 1.26 in (32 mm) in July.
There are 61 known species of mammals that for some reason live in Grand Teton National Park, including the American black bear and grizzly bear, gray wolf, coyote, bison, elk, bighorn sheep, cougar, wolverine, lynx, river otter, and least chipmunk, among many others.
The park has more than 300 species of birds, including bald and golden eagles, peregrine falcon, American kestrel, great horned owl, black-billed magpie, American white pelican, and whooping crane. Here you can also find the smallest bird species in North America, the calliope hummingbird, as well as the largest waterfowl, the trumpeter swan.
If you are afraid of reptiles, you will be glad to know there are only four known species of them in the park, namely, the wandering garter snake, the rubber boa, the valley garter snake, and the northern sagebrush lizard (but let’s see if you can find more). There are six amphibian species, namely the boreal chorus frog, bullfrog, Columbia spotted frog, tiger salamander, northern leopard frog, and boreal toad.
Flora varies according to the ecological zone. The park includes an alpine tundra zone where several types of pretty wildflowers, grass, lichen, and moss can be found. In the subalpine zone, spruce-fir forests dominate and limber pine, whitebark pine, subalpine fire, and Englemann spruce can also be found. In the valley floor, you will find sagebrush plains, deciduous and conifer forests, lodgepole pine, Rocky Mountain Douglas-fir, aspen, blue spruce, willow, cottonwood, and alder, among others. Wetlands are common in the valley floor adjacent to rivers and streams and near some lakes.
One of the best ways to travel between Grand Teton and Yellowstone is through the scenic road John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway. This highway passes from the southern boundary of Grand Teton to West Thumb in Yellowstone. Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park, along with the surrounding National Forests and related protected areas make the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which at 18,000,000-acre (7,300,000 ha) constitute one of the largest intact mid-latitude ecosystems on Earth. Visiting the entire ecosystem must be quite a trip.
Grand Teton National Park is known for its mountains, as all the major peaks of the Teton Range and the Jackson Hole valley are within the park. You can see the Teton Wilderness and Gross Ventre Wilderness of Bridger-Teton National Forest in the northeast of the park and the Jedediah Smith Wilderness of Caribou-Targhee National Forest along the western boundary. The largest peak is Grand Teton, which is 13, 775 ft (4,199 m) above the sea level.
The Jackson Hole valley is 55-mile-long (89 km) by 6-to-13 mile-wide (10-21 km) and has an average altitude of 6,800 ft (2,100). The valley is formed by the Gros Ventre Range on the eastern side and the Teton Range on the western side. Jackson Hole is relatively flat but contains a few hills such as Signal Mountain and buttes such as Blacktail Butte.
If you are in Grand Teton during winter you might want to visit the National Elk Refuge, located in the southeast of the park, where herds of elk migrate there (hence the name). The famous Cathedral group is composed of eight peaks located between the Avalanche and Cascade Canyons. A famous peak is the 12,605 ft (3,842 m) Mount Moran.
You can also take a boat or similar and head to the Snake River, which is very popular for rafting and other water activities. The river starts from Two Ocean Plateau in Yellowstone, enters Grand Teton National Park near the boundary of the park and John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway and exits the park west of the Jackson Hole Airport. Tributary rivers include Gros Ventre, Pacific Creek, and Buffalo Fork.
Most of the lakes you will find in Grand Teton National Park were formed by glaciers, with the largest of them being located at the base of the Teton Range. The largest lake in the park is Jackson Lake, which is 15 mi (24 km) long, 5 mi (8 km) wide and 438 ft (134 m) deep. Other lakes include Two Ocean, Emma Matilda, Bradley, Jenny, Leigh, Phelps, and Taggart lakes. At high altitudes, you can find Lake Solitude (9,035 ft/2,754 m) and Icefloe (10,652 ft/3,247 m), the later being frozen for most of the year.
The park also has several canyons that can take you into the heart of the range, including Cascade, Granite, Paintbrush, Moran, Death, and Webb canyons.
Grand Teton National Park contains many glaciers, with the largest being Teton Glacier, located below the northeast face of Grand Teton. Teton Glacier is 3,500 ft (1,100 m) long and 1,100 ft (340 m) wide and surrounded by most of the tallest summits of the range. As you suspect, it offers very interesting views and a visit to the park should arguably include a visit to this glacier.
If you want to see glacier depressions known as kettles, head to the southeast side of Jackson Lake. For a wild west experience, feel free to visit the town of Jackson, which is located at the southern end of the valley. For skiing and other activities, you may also want to consider Jackson Hole Hole Mountain Resort.
Hiking & Camping in Grand Teton National Park
Jasper National Park
Jasper National Park is located in the province of Alberta (Canada). With 4,200 sq mi (10,878 sq km) it is the largest national park from the Canadian Rockies. The park is popular with tourists from all over the world, been known for glaciers, lakes, hot springs, mountains, waterfalls and the Columbia Icefield.
People lived in what is today Jasper National Park starting with 9,000 years ago. The Iroquois and Sarcee are two known groups of Natives to have lived in the area. Industrialization of the area began with the expedition conducted by David Thompson in 1811, who later established the trading depot North West Company. Fur trading stimulated the development of a community in the area, which was faster boosted by the arrival of the Canadian Northern Railway and Grand Trunk Pacific Railway. The community that emerged as a result of these developments eventually became known as the Town of Jasper. As with other national parks, the area was initially referred to as a forest park and was later upgraded to a national park, in 1930.
Jasper National Park has a chill and unpredictable weather. The warmest month is July, with an average temperature of 72.5 °F (22.5 °C). January is the coldest (coolest?) month, with an average temperature of only 15.1 °F (-9.4 °C). June is the month when most precipitations are registered-the annual average for this month is 2.4 inches (62 mm). The area has plenty a snow, with the annual average been around 160 in (400 cm).
If you visit the Jasper National Park, you may encounter any of these mammals: black bear, caribou, mule beaver, deer, grizzly bear, mountain goat, lynx, pika, white-tailed deer, timber wolf, and wolverine. As you already know, it is best not to encounter some of these species.
The area also includes many types of birds that are common in the Rockies, such as the bald eagle, golden eagle, evening grosbeaks, red-necked grebes, and white-tailed ptarmigans.
One of the most accessible locations from Jasper National Park is the Icefields Parkway. This 140 miles (230 km) highway offers quite impressing views and it provides access to the waterfalls of Athabasca and Sunwapta Falls, as well as to Lake Louise. It should be noted that the Icefields Parkway has been rated as one of the best drives in the world by Condé Nast Traveller, having made a good impression with its icefields and sweeping valleys.
Important places in the park include the Maligne Lake, Medicine Lake, Mount Edith Cavell, Pyramid Mountain, and Tonquin Valley. Maligne Lake is about 14 miles (22.5 km) long and 318 ft (97 m) deep. From the lake you can observe three glaciers, a few peaks, and the Spirit Island (for some reason everyone wants to take a picture of this tied island). The Maligne Lake is also famous for its azure colors.
Mount Edith Cavell reaches an elevation of 11,033 ft (3,363 m) and is among the most popular peaks from Jasper National Park. The Angel Glacier flows down the north face of the peak. If you decide to go to Mount Edit Cavell, the coolest thing to do is to explore the Path of the Glacier and reach the Angel Glacier. This glacier is also melting and you should visit it as soon as possible.
The Pyramid Mountain has been named this way because it kinda looks like a pyramid. It has an elevation of 9,075 ft (2,766 m) and offers access to the Athabasca River.
The Tonquin Valley includes several lakes and barren peaks. It also offers a great view of Amethyst Lake. You should keep in mind that the area is quite muddy and has plenty of mosquitoes. If the later is a major inconvenience for you, perhaps it’s best to focus on other places of the park.
Hiking & Camping in Jasper National Park
Kootenay National Park
Kootenay National Park is located in southeastern British Columbia (Canada) and it is a component of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site. The park has 1,406 sq mi (1,406 sq km) and includes parts of the Kootenay and Park mountain ranges. The Continental Divide is the boundary between Kootenay and Banff National Park and a trip including both parks is probably a good idea.
The first humans to have lived permanently in the area that is now Kootenay National Park were the Ktunaxa people. In 1890, Roland Stuart and H.A. Pearse acquired 160 acres (64.7 hectares) around the hot springs that would become Radium Hot Springs as a provincial crown grant. The federal government built a road from Banff to the park boundary at the Vermilion Pass which was completed in November 1914. The road that the provincial government of British Columbia should have built from Windermere to the border was not completed due to a lack of funds. Railway engineer Robert Randolph Bruce advocated the idea to designate the western end of the route through the Rocky Mountains in order for the road to be constructed as a park improvement. The federal government took ownership of the land through the Banff-Windermere Agreement and the Kootenay National Park was created on April 21, 1920. The completed road was opened in June 1923.
The park has a continental macroclimate with cool summers and beautiful snowy winters. The Kootenay Ranges capture moisture, which makes the area drier than those to the west. The Continental Divide protects the park from the arctic airflow, which makes the climate slightly milder than that of Banff. The average temperature is 19.7 °F (-6.8 °C) in January and 65.1 °F (18.4 °C) July. The average precipitation rates are 1.31 in (33.2 m) in January and 2.11 in (53.6 mm) in July.
Black bears and grizzly bears live in the park, as well as coyotes, bobcats, martens, wolverines, timber wolves, lynxes, and cougars, among others. Some of the birds that can be found in the park include common loon, Canada and Steller’s jays, trumpeter swans, and Canada snow geese. Three reptile species are known to live in the park, namely the common garter snake, the western terrestrial garter snake, and the rubber boa.
In the park’s lower elevation, the Montante Spruce zone, forests of lodgepole pine, Douglas fir, western redcedar, western larch, and trembling poplar are common. The shrub layer includes kinnikinnick, soapberry, dwarf bilberry, western showy aster, pinegrass, Rocky Mountain maple, Devil’s club, mountain huckleberry. The subalpine zone has white spruce, Engelmann spruce, subalpine fir, and subalpine larch, among others. In the alpine areas, you will mostly find arctic willow, heathers, moss campion, mountain avens, and cinquefoils.
There are several things to do in Kootenay National Park. For instance, you can explore Mount Berland and the western and southern faces of Mount Kindersley of the Brisco Range, as well as the Redstreak Mountain and Mountain Sinclair of the Stanford Range. From the Kootenay River Valley, you can see Mitchell Range, Mount Kindersley, and Vermillion Range of the western portion of the Park Ranges.
One of the most popular attractions in the park is Radium Hot Springs, which offers a hot spring (well, yeah) pool ranging from 95 to 117 °F (35 to 47 °C). Near the hot springs you will find the town of Radium Hot Springs, which provides services for those camping in the park and also offers additional accommodation options.
Another key attraction in Kootenay is the Paint Pots, which are a cold acidic mineral spring system from which ochre is deposited at spring outlets. Other popular attractions include the Sinclair and Marble canyons, Stanley Glacier, Kootenay River, Vermillion River, Simpson River, Ottertail River, Numa Falls, and Floe, Kaufmann, Talc, Dog, Cobb, and Olive lakes.
Hiking & Camping in Kootenay National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park
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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Waterton Lakes National Park
Waterton Lakes National Park is located in Alberta, Canada, and borders Glacier National Park in Montana, U.S. At 109 sq mi (505 sq km), Waterton is the smallest national park in the Canadian Rockies.
The park is named after Waterton Lake, which in turn is named after the naturalist and conservationist Charles Waterton, and was opened in 1895. Waterton and Glacier National Park make the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, which Sir Charles Arthur Mander, representing Rotary International, dedicated to world peace.
The average temperature is 18.35 °F (-7.6 °C) in January and 60.2 °F (15.8 °C) in July. The park is part of the international Crown of the Continent and influenced by the Pacific maritime weather system. The warm moist air that flows over the Columbia Plateau and Coast Mountains often meet the cold Arctic Continental weather system, which forces up the warmer air and creates a high level of snow and rain. As such, the park has the highest average annual precipitation from Alberta-42 in (1072 mm).
Despite being small, there are many species of animals living in the park, including black and grizzly bears, bison, wolverines, bald eagles, mule deer, mountain goats, foxes, coyotes, river otters, and snowshoe hares.
The park, together with Glacier National Park, is a World Biosphere reserve and includes important plants such as aspen grove forests, prairie grasslands, lower subalpine forests, alpine tundra, and coniferous and deciduous forests.
The park encompasses areas of the Rocky Mountains and the Canadian prairies. The only commercial facilities you will find are located in the town of Waterton Park.
One of the main attractions of the park is its lakes, which are located between two mountain ranges and has a depth of over 492 ft (150 m), being deeper compared to other lakes that can be found in Canada.
An interesting building located In Warton is the Prince of Wales Hotel, which was designed and built for the Great Northern Railway company and is managed by the Glacier Park Company. This 121 ft (37 m) building is considered one of the coolest railway hotels in Canada and provides good views of the Upper Waterton Lake. It’s worth mentioning that the Upper Waterton Lake is divided by the Canada-U.S. border, with Canada having around two-thirds of the lake.
Other attractions include Cameron Falls, Red Rock Canyon, Bertha Falls, Bertha Lake, Cameron Lake, Blakiston Falls, Linette Lake, and Waterton Heritage Center.
Hiking & Camping in Waterton National Park
For information and tips about hikes in Waterton National Park check here.
If you are interested in camping check here.
Yellowstone National Park
Average temperatures vary significantly by location, as there are important differences in altitude. The average daytime temperature during the summer is 75 °F (23.8 °C), while the average daytime temperature during winter is around 10 °F (-12.2 °C). The differences between daytime temperature and nighttime temperature can be significant, including during the summer.
Precipitations also vary from area and the annual average is 20.38 inches (517.6 millimeters). If you enjoy seeing snow during the summer, you will be glad to know that it is not totally unusual to see snow during July, especially at high altitudes. On average, Yellowstone national park gets 150 inches (3,800 millimeters) of snow per year in areas of lower altitude such as the Yellowstone Lake, and much more at higher altitudes.
In terms of wildlife diversity, there’s arguably no better place in the U.S. than Yellowstone National Park. There are around 60 mammals, including the bison, bighorn rams, black bear, Canadian lynx, courage, elk, gray wolf, grizzly bear, gray wolf, mountain goat, mountain lion, mule deer, pronghorn, and white-tailed deer.
As you might suspect, many of those who visit Yellowstone National Park want to see the American bison. While the continent may have once had as many as 60 million bison, today few are left and many of them are located at Yellowstone (around 3,000). The bison found in the park are also rare in the fact that they have not interbred with cattle, which means they are about the same as bison were centuries ago. The bison can move with a relatively high degree of freedom through Yellowstone but making selfies with them is not recommended. When thinking about getting close to bison you must keep in mind the following: they can weigh as much as 2,000 pounds (907 kg) and run 35 miles (56 km) an hour!
Yellowstone National Park is also a comfortable habitat for several types of birds, including the common loon, harlequin duck, nesting bald eagles, osprey, the trumpeter swan, and whooping cranes (presumably, only three whooping cranes live in the park!).
There are six known species of reptiles that live in the park: the bullsnake, common gartersnake, prairie rattlesnake, rubber boa, prairie rattlesnake, and terrestrial gartersnake.
Do you like trees? The Yellowstone National Park has more than 1,700 species, including conifers (e.g., lodgepole pine) and deciduous trees (e.g., quaking aspen). Forests cover around 80% of the park! Do you like flowers? At Yellowstone you will find many, including the arnica, bluebells, glacier lily, yampa, twinflower, and wild strawberry. A particularly exotic plant is the sand verbena, which can be found in the sandy soils located in the proximity of Yellowstone Lake. This plant is a bit odd in that it is related to species that can be found in significantly warmer climates and nobody understands what is doing at Yellowstone.
Some of the nicest places to visit in Yellowstone are Old Faithful Geyser/Upper Basin, Yellowstone Lake, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Hayden Valley, and Lower Geyser Basin. There are plenty of other spectacular places in Yellowstone that are to be covered more extensively in a different place.
The area of Old Faithful Geyser/Upper Basin is particularly interesting due to its high number of geysers, including Castle, Daisy, and Riverside. Some also like the area because it is often visited by bison and elk. The Old Faithful Geyser is arguably the most popular attraction in Yellowstone, as it erupts about every one hour and a half and its eruptions can last as much as 5 minutes. During the eruption it can expel as much as 8,400 gallons/32,000 liters of boiling water. The eruption can reach a height of 184 ft (55 m).
Yellowstone Lake covers 136 square miles (350 square km) and has a maximum depth of approximately 390 ft (120 m). The lake offers great views of mountains which are often fully or partly covered in snow. During the winter most of the lake freezes and some people actually prefer the view it offers during its icy days. The popularity of the lake is not only given by the size and the views it offers but also by its rank as the largest freshwater lake above 7,000 ft (2,100 m) in North America.
Gran Canyon of the Yellowstone is another location of the park that both amateur and professional photographs love. The canyon has an approximate length of 20 miles (32 km), a width that varies between 1,500 (457 m) and 4,000 ft (1,219 m), and a depth that varies between 800 (243 m) and 1,200 ft (365 m). The north and the south side of the Canyon offers distinct views, meaning that if you only visit one of the sides you can’t confidently say you have seen everything that this canyon can offer.
Hayden Valley is located in the middle of Yellowstone and it is popular among tourists due to the relatively high presence of grizzly bears, elks, and bison. Driving across the valley is not challenging at all, and the views are quite cool; besides the relatively high chances of seeing wild animals, you can also see the Yellowstone River and-at some turnouts-what many people may call spectacular views.
Lower Geyser Basin is about 11 square miles (17 km) and includes many hot springs, as well as geysers that erupt on a regular basis. Another big attraction of this place is the mud pool-which not everyone would find pretty (but some certainly will!) but almost everyone would find it interesting. An important thing you should not miss if visiting the Lower Geyser Basin is the Great Fountain Geyser. This geyser is interesting in that its eruptions are predictable, unlike any other geyser from Yellowstone where a car can take you.