Rocky Mountain National Park, which extends to just 400 square miles, is certainly not the largest park in the system but many of its millions of visitors each year will tell you that it is one of the finest of the United States’ national parks.
The centerpiece of the park for many is Trail Ridge Road which is some fifty miles long and crosses the park from east to west. The road drops into the Kawuneeche Valley, from where visitors can view the Colorado River, and along the way climbs up to over 12,000 feet as it passes through some of the highest peaks in America.
The views along this route are simply spectacular and as you make your way through the famous ‘Roof of the Rockies’ you will come across glacier-carved mountains around every bend. Pause at Forest Canyon Overlook and you can look out over alpine forests that are among the most magnificent you will see anywhere. It is also well worth taking a few minutes to visit the Alpine Visitor Center at Fall River where you can pick up a great deal of information about the area, including hiking maps and guide books.
Rocky Mountain National Park offers some great hiking along more than 350 miles of trails and Bear Lake is a very popular starting point. Located at the base of Hallett’s Peak at the Continental Divide, Bear Lake is a wonderful sight in itself.
Hiking in this area can be a bit more demanding than it is in other parks with elevations ranging from 7,500 feet to over 14,000 feet. At these heights the air is thin and the UV strong so you need to be prepared. You will need to take plenty of water with you as the thin, cool air will evaporates moisture from your lungs quite quickly and headaches are common if you who do not drink enough water.
Whether you are driving or hiking you will find that there is plenty of wildlife to see as the park is home to more than 3,000 elk, 800 bighorn sheep and some 280 different bird species. If you visit the Bighorn at Sheep Lake between May and the middle of August you will see moose wandering through the willows along the Colorado River in Kawuneeche and, if you keep a close eye out, you might even spot some river otters as well.
At both dawn and dusk you can witness some of the many bats which hover over the lakes feeding on insects and marmots are fairly easy to spot on the tundra along Old Fall River road. Stellar jays also dot the skies along Trail Ridge road and they share the sky with prairie falcons and the occasional golden eagle. Another fascinating bird which calls the park its home is the white-tailed ptarmigan.
The park is also home to a number of museums and historical sites of which the Moraine Park Museum is one of the best. Here you will find hundreds of items from the area which give a very good overview of the natural flora and fauna. Another favorite is the Never Summer Ranch which offers a look at what a resort from past years was like.
Unlike some of the other national parks, Rocky Mountain is open year round which makes it possible to explore this wonderful area in all of its glorious seasons and visiting during the winter months will not only allow you to see sights which summer visitors simply do not experience, but it will also allow you to see the park without the usual summer crowds.