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Rocky Mountain National Park - Colorado

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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 Lake) entrance.

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 photographs.

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.

 

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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.

Nearby Accommodations

The resort community of Estes Park is at the eastern edge of the national park.

Nearby towns and attractions,
Go to
Denver, Fort Collins, Estes Park, Aspen


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