Rocky Mountain National Park
One of the top outdoor and adventure destinations in the world is just an hour and a half from Denver. Take a day and explore this magnificent natural gem.
In 1909, naturalist Enos Mills wrote about the area that is now Rocky Mountain National Park, "In years to come when I am asleep beneath the pines, thousands of families will find rest and hope in this park."
More than a century later, his prediction has come true - and then some. Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) is the most popular attraction in Colorado, drawing three million annual visitors to its 416 square miles of mountain beauty. The wilderness area includes 359 miles of hiking trails, 150 lakes, 60 mountains taller than 12,000 feet, and the opportunity to see elk, bighorn sheep, and moose. In 2014, National Geographic named Rocky Mountain National Park as one of its best trips in the world.
RMNP stands out, among many other reasons, from other outdoor destinations due to its accessibility. Just 71 miles from Denver, the park is a memorable summer daytrip - and at $20 per automobile per day, it's also a very affordable one.
Trail Ridge Road
The highest continuous motorway in the United States climbs to a maximum elevation of 12,183 feet, with more than eight miles snaking across tundra, high above the treeline at 11,000 feet.The views throughout the drive are incomparable: At Milner Pass, motorists cross the Continental Divide.
Old Fall River Road
Completed in 1920, this road was the first to cross the Rocky Mountains.The drive winds past the stunning Endovalley Overlook (with impressive views of Deer Mountain) and the beautiful 25-foot Chasm Falls, ending at Chaplin Creek Trailhead, 10,640 feet above sea level.
The drive up Highway 36 to the park is a magnificent scenic drive in itself. Motorists pass the towns of Boulder and Lyons, striking red sandstone rock formations, and the natural beauty of Roosevelt National Forest.
FAMILY FRIENDLY HIKES & ACTIVITIES
Bear Lake Loop
The flat, half-mile interpretive nature trail that circles scenic Bear Lake is great for younger kids, offering the chance to see deer and gorgeous views of Hallett Peak and Flattop Mountain.
This easy, one-mile trail follows the bank of the Upper Colorado River, where thousands of colorful wildflowers bloom in the summer and moose are often spotted during the morning and early evening hours.
Experience the high country the old fashioned way - atop a horse. This is a wonderful way for older children to see more alpine country than possible on foot.
Fishing was a popular pastime with early visitors to the Park, and it remains so today, with anglers catching several types of trout - brown, brook, rainbow, and cutthroat - in 150 lakes. Note: A valid Colorado fishing license is required for all persons 16 years of age or older to fish in Rocky Mountain National Park. For current Colorado fishing license fees visit the Colorado Division of Wildlife website.
The park is home to an elk herd numbering more than 3,000, so these majestic creatures are among the most-easily-seen wildlife. Look for elk in meadows and any spot where meadow and forest meet. Elk spend much of their time at or above treeline during the summer, moving to lower elevations in the fall, winter and spring.
After facing near extinction last century, the bighorn sheep population is currently thriving- there are roughly 800 of these striking animals in the park. Look for them at the aptly named Sheep Lakes from May through mid-August, where the bighorns descend to eat soil and obtain minerals not found in their high mountain habitat.Their visits generally occur between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.
The moose is a naturally shy creature, but sightings occur almost daily in the summer along the banks of the Upper Colorado River in the Kawuneeche Valley. Enjoy the moose at a distance...give these magnificent animals plenty of room to roam without human interference.
Nearly 300 species of birds have been documented in the Park and surrounding areas, making it a paradise for birdwatchers.Specialty species unique to mountain habitats include White-tailed Ptarmigan, Blue Grouse, Gray Jay, Clark's Nutcracker, Williamson's Sapsucker, Three-toed Woodpecker, and the Mountain Chickadee.
At the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, the historic village of Estes Park offers shopping and dining, in a quaint, Alpine resort-style setting. The town is also home to the Stanley Hotel, which inspired Stephen King's The Shining. Every September, Estes Park hosts the Longs Peak Scottish-Irish Highlands Festival, one of the largest Celtic festivals in the nation.