Rocky Mountain National Park
Nature’s voices are calling us to see, hear and feel the beauty of the earth. A beautiful sunset, crystal-clear streams meandering through mountain meadows, green and gold aspen leaves shimmering in the sun, herds of elk grazing in the meadow, and moose wading in a stream are some of the amazing and precious treasures of Rocky Mountain National Park.
Humans have occupied the area around the park for thousands of years. Today’s archeologists are able to trace human influence in the area to around 10,000 years ago! When the first European settlers arrived, they noticed the Ute and Arapahoe tribes who lived in the Estes Park, Colorado area. The ancestors of these tribes were big game hunters, becoming seasonal big game hunters in the archaic period. These brave hunters certainly left their mark on the hills and mountains, mostly in the form of rock walls that were used to conceal hunters. Rock walls were built along the ridges of the foothills to aid hunters in controlling where big game ran. This made hunting animals a simpler matter. There are around 40 different walls, in U- and funnel- shapes, around the Front Range of Colorado. Within Rocky Mountain Park, the Arapaho were only there in the summer months, and moved to lower elevation in the winter months. By the 1870’s the Utes and Arapahos, along with the Shoshone and the Comanche, were losing claim to the Great Basin area through pressure from trappers, gold miners, and government sponsored settlers.
Trail Ridge Road, the highest road in any national park, transports you easily to the top of the world with open sky and tiny, brilliant flowers. Generally open from late May through mid-October, this road offers breathtaking vistas, access to the alpine tundra, and is one the most unique and special aspects of Rocky Mountain National Park. Approximately one-third of this national park is above 11,000 feet (3,353m) in altitude, the limit, due to climate conditions, where trees are able to grow in northern Colorado.
Another of the many treasures in the park is an abundance of large mountain meadows. These natural openings, caused by soil type and moisture levels, favor grasses and wildflowers instead of trees. Wildflower displays are at their peak in June and July. Excellent opportunities exist to photograph scenic mountain panoramas and various wildlife throughout the park. Commonly seen wildlife include large elk herds, mountain goats and sheep, deer, beavers, and golden eagles. In the Fall, elk can be heard bugling. The bugle is the elk’s mating call. This beautiful, mournful sound echoes in the valleys and can be heard miles away.
“Those of us who have been privileged to spend a night under the stars in an isolated mountain valley know that the wilderness transforms each of us in subtle ways which linger long after the glow of the campfire and the smell of the pine needles are gone. Better, more effective, more useful citizens result from such a primeval reunion with the source of our biological heritage. With the knowledge of the effect the wilderness has had upon us, we must work to bring that experience within easy reach of generations to come”.
D. Ferrel Atkins
Ranger and Park Historian
Rocky Mountain National Park
September 1, 1990
“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” - John Muir
Photo by Anna Nichols
1. Where can I see wildlife?
Look for elk in meadows and where meadow and forest meet. Bighorn sheep can be found at Sheep Lakes from May through mid-August. Moose frequent willow thickets along the Colorado River in the Kawuneeche Valley. See mule deer at lower elevations in open areas. Marmots and pikas favor rocky areas up high. Find Clark’s Nutcrackers, Steller’s Jays, Golden Eagles and Prairie Falcons along Trail Ridge Road. Hike on the tundra and look carefully to see White-tailed Ptarmigan.
2. When is Trail Ridge Road Open?
Trail Ridge, the highest paved road in any US National Park (12,183 feet), is generally open seasonally from the last weekend in May through mid-October.
3. Where can I camp?
There are five drive-in campgrounds in the park. Ask for a map when entering the park. Reservations available.
4. Where can I hike to see beautiful lakes and waterfalls?
Just about anywhere in the park. There are 147 lakes, 50 with fish, five main waterfalls and more than 450 miles of streams.
5. Where can I backpack and camp in the park’s backcountry?
The park has more than 120 backcountry sites. A permit is required for overnight camping in the backcountry. Inquire in advance.
6. Where can I walk with my dog?
Dogs must be leashed and are only allowed out along roadside pullouts and developed park areas such as campgrounds and picnic areas.
7. What are some good winter hikes or snowshoe routes?
Both sides of the park have excellent winter snowshoe and hiking trails. Bear Lake is popular.
8. Where can I walk with a stroller or use a wheelchair?
Several accessible trails have been constructed in different areas in the park that are noted for their scenery. Inquire upon your arrival.
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