Rocky Mountain High
The Rocky Mountains offer hidden surprises among spectacular vistas.
Aug 7, 2019 at 11:00 AM in Things to Do by
As one of the most visited national parks in America and also one of the highest, Rocky Mountain National Park guarantees an elevated experience for lover’s of the outdoors. Come and spend a chunk of time at Estes Park for there is much to see and do there and in this nearby national park that is comprised of more than four hundred square miles of raw beauty.
Established in 1915 as a national park by President Woodrow Wilson, visitors throughout the more than one-hundred-year-old history of Rocky Mountain National Park have always left here awe inspired and extremely grateful that this land has been protected from development for future generations.
And there’s no doubt that Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship, which means it’s hard to visit one without the other. Another reason to spend at least a week in these parts. Located on the eastern end of the park, most visitors enter from Estes Park rather than Grand Lake to the west. Situated in north-central Colorado about eighty miles from Denver, the park is easy to access year-round. (Once inside, however, know that many roads close in the winter due to the large volumes of snow the park typically receives every year.)
As with many other places throughout Colorado, the snowpack plays a vital role and in Rocky Mountain National Park most delight in it being significant. The Continental Divide runs directly through the center of the park and since all water–or rather snowmelt–west of the divide feeds the great American West, it comes as no surprise that the headwaters of the Colorado River are located within the park’s northwest corner. Yes, this mighty river begins with a trickle. Or at least most of the time. Drip, drip, drip.
You can explore this area and so much of the rest of the park on an immense network of trails that range from easy (including paved pathways for people with disabilities) to super technical hikes and climbs for experienced outdoor enthusiasts. These trails lead to more than a hundred designated camping sites. Real adventure seekers can backpack their way through the wilderness on a forty-five-mile loop along the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail. Most of these trails are for summer use only although there are other places where you can recreate in winter. Snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and back country skiing and boarding rank as quite spectacular here, as you can imagine.
There’s also horseback riding, fishing, birding and other fun activities. From huge herds of elk to bighorn sheep to moose and hundreds of other critters and birds, the wildlife within the park leaves you almost as awestruck as the scenery. Of course the two typically are viewed together, which ups the Rocky Mountain high factor considerably.
Good news for folks that prefer scenic drives. Take Trail Ridge Road, the highest paved through-road in the country, for some of the best views in the West. It tops out at over 12,000 feet and along the way you’ll pass through a variety of habitats that occur whenever you have such big elevation gains. Way up top it’s mostly tundra whereas down below you can delight in alpine vistas and meadows punctuated with wildflowers and dense vegetation. With such swings in elevation–and consequently the climate–Rocky Mountain National Park, like all of Colorado–offers a wild diversity of fauna and flora. (This also means that you want to be sure to be equipped with a good puffy, hat, gloves, rain gear, sunscreen and lots of water when visiting.)
Stop into one of the five visitor's centers within the park to learn more about the park’s unique habitats, history and more. Be sure to hit the gift shops, too, for a souvenir in the form of a book, card, sweatshirt, knickknack or whatever else strikes your fancy.
Thank goodness you don’t have to worry about running out of film with today’s cameras. You’ll want to store a monolithic amount of images in your iPhone when you travel here. No one back in the early days of the park could chronicle their journey in such a manner. No wonder Isabella Bird wrote so richly about her Longs Peak adventure, the pinnacle of what is now Rocky Mountain National Park, in her journal. It was largely due to the publication of her book, “A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains,” that this part of America gained such recognition back in the early days. Now perhaps people are more lured in through Instagram.