Words can't properly describe
the awesome effect of this wilderness area, and even
pictures can't tell the story. You have to go there to
get the full impact of this magnificent natural area,
which straddles the Continental Divide northwest of
Denver and Boulder. This is the foremost outdoor
attraction in Colorado and it justly deserves the raves
which are given it by the more than three million
visitors who see the park each year.
A movement began, after the turn of the
century, to protect and preserve this unique mountain
area. It took until 1915 for the federal government and
President Woodrow Wilson to dedicate the area as a
national park. Fall River Road, the first access
road through the park, was opened to the public five
years later. Through the first half of the century, the
park became increasingly popular, drawing visitors from
around the world -- to the point that damage was done to
the mountain environment. New regulations restricting
access to the alpine tundra were put into effect and much
of the damaged areas have recovered.
It is still possible to reach the high
mountain areas, and a relatively new route -- Trail
Ridge Road -- runs between Estes Park and Grand Lake,
offering visitors an unparalleled view of the park's 40
miles of Continental Divide and the surrounding alpine
region, at a height of more than 12,000 feet in some
places. The park headquarters and information center are
located at the east boundary of the park, off Highway 36
near the town of Estes Park.
Another visitor center is located at the west (Grand
Elk live within the park and may be seen in
the meadows. The park also serves as a home for deer,
bears, bighorn sheep and mountain lions. You'll see
eagles and hawks circling overhead.
Touring the Park
Trail Ridge Road is the primary
route through the middle of the park. It begins at the
east entrance (at Estes Park) and climbs to 12,000 feet
to the Continental Divide and the Alpine Visitor
Center. It descends to the Colorado River Valley and
ends at the western boundary, near Grand Lake.
Fall River Road was the original
road into the park. To reach it, drive west from Estes
Park through the east entrance to the park, continue for
another two miles and turn right. This road is not
suitable for trailers and RVs and they are prohibited
because of the steep hills and narrow switchback curves.
The road is paved for its first two miles from the
junction at Hwy. 34, and then it becomes a gravel, one
way route which climbs for another 11 miles before
joining Trail Ridge Road. This junction is at Fall River
Pass which has an elevation of 11,796 feet. It is
possible to pull off the road to view the sub alpine and
alpine tundra scenery. The road is closed during the
winter, at around October 15th.
Bear Lake Road provides access to
the high lake after a ten mile drive. You may also take a
shuttle bus from the Glacier Basin Campground
which is half way up the road. At the end of the drive, a
short trail leads to the lake shore. This is a
particularly scenic location, the subject of many
Aspen is a predominant species on the lower
reaches of the mountains within the park. Aspen viewing
is most popular during the fall when the groves blaze in
yellow hues. Some of the most impressive colors are seen
in the Kawuneeche Valley where Trail Ridge Road
passes through a ten mile stretch of aspens, between the
Timber Lake trailhead and the Grand Lake entrance.
Another fine aspen viewing spot is along the Bear Lake
Road. Take the trail to Alberta Falls, a wonderful
1.2 mile round trip filled with scenes of quaking aspen.
The eastern slope of Long's Peak offers another
fine aspen view, via Highway 7 south of Estes Park.
Those who wish to receive a thorough
indoctrination to the park and its ecology may wish to
enroll with Rocky Mountain Seminars which calls
itself The University Without Walls. The centers for the
day long, weekend or week long classes is the Hidden
Valley Ski Lodge, ten miles from Estes Park on Trail
Ridge Drive, and Camp Kawuheeche on the west side of the
park. Most of the sessions include hiking, and continuing
education credit is given for most seminars. Topics of
the various seminars include Bird watching, Estes Valley
History, Wildlife & Landscape Drawing, Photography
and Geological Studies. For a brochure, write to Rocky
Mountain Nature Association, Rocky Mountain National
Park, Estes Park CO 80517 or phone (970) 586-2371, ext.
258 or 294.
Cross Country Skiing
Winter visitors will want to check out the
park's cross-country skiing possibilities. There is an
easy trail which departs from Glacier Basin Campground
and leads to Sprague Lake. There are a number of
other trails close to this camping area. The Alberta
Falls Trail (from the Glacier Gorge parking area, 11
miles up Bear lake Rd.) ) is part of a longer ski route
to three lakes. The trail follows Glacier Creek to its
end at Black Lake where you'll get a fine view of Long's
Peak and other park scenery.
Camping in the Park
Four campgrounds are located within the park,
accommodating cars, trailers and RVs. Aspen
Campground is located five miles into the park, off
Highway 34 near the Fall River entrance and Estes Park.
This campground is open year round. Glacier Basin
Campground is nine miles west of Estes Park, on Bear
Lake Road. This large campground is closed during winter
months. Moraine Park Campground is another summer
operation which is located on Moraine Park Road (via Bear
Lake Rd.) and is three miles from the east park entrance.
At the far end of the park, Timber Creek
Campground is located seven miles inside the west
entrance (Grand Lake entrance).
Aspenglen and Glacier Basin campsites can usually be
reserved, but not just now. See special note below.
A camping area devoted solely to tent camping is
Long's Peak Campground, reached from Highway 7,
south from Estes Park. Drive on Hwy. 7 for nine miles and
turn west to the ranger station. The road leads one mile
to the campground.
The resort community of Estes
Park is at the eastern edge of the national park.