This breathtaking 415-square mile National Park is an American icon. Jagged peaks soar above alpine lakes, elk herds graze in mountain meadows, and wildflowers takeover the grasslands in summer.
Humans have roamed Rocky Mountain National Park land since the glaciers began to retreat in 10,000 BCE. Archeological artifacts like arrowheads have informed researchers about ancestral hunter-gathers of Western Native American tribes such as the Ute, Arapaho, and Apache. The two roads that run through the National Park today—Fall River Road and Trail Ridge Road—follow the ancient routes that these native peoples used to cross the mountains.
There are more than 600 historic buildings standing in Rocky Mountain National Park today. Some buildings pre-date the 1915 establishment of the National Park, but most are the remnants of ranching homesteads that were turned into guest dude ranches with the rise of tourism to the area in the early 20th century. One of the most interesting buildings in the park is the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center: built in 1967 by Taliesin Architects, a design firm established in the tradition of Frank Lloyd Wright’s organic architectural style, the visitor center exemplifies modern National Park Service architecture in its attempt to integrate the building into its surroundings.
Early contributions to the establishment of the park by women shaped the legacy of the Rocky Mountain National Park that we know today. Margaret Fuller Boos became the park’s first female ranger-naturalist in 1928 after earning her PhD in Geology. She led hikes, taught educational programs for visitors, and created a geological guide for the park. She later went on to help establish the Geology department at the University of Denver. Author and adventurer Isabella Bird, the first woman to be granted entry into Great Britain’s Royal Geographic Society, first traveled to the Estes Park Valley in the 1870s. She chronicled her travels in an epistolary book entitled, A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains, the success and popularity of which contributed to the growing interest around land conservation in the United States and overseas. She was also the second documented woman to climb Longs Peak after Agnes Vaille in 1925.
Our Favorite Hikes:
- Emerald Lake Trail – This easy 3.6 mile roundtrip trail accesses three of the most beautiful alpine lakes in the park—Nymph, Dream, and Emerald Lakes. Look out for views of famed fourteener, Longs Peak, gorgeous wildflowers along the trails in summer, and incredible views from Emerald Lake of the gorge carved by the Tyndall Glacier, one of three cirque glaciers in Rocky Mountain National Park.
- Black Lake Trail – From waterfalls to alpine lakes, glacial gorges to marshland, this moderate 9.6 mile roundtrip trail is one of the most beautiful hikes in the region.
- Longs Peak – This quintessential Front Range 14er is named for Stephen A. Long and his expedition party who arrived in what was to become Rocky Mountain in 1820. The most popular summit route of this fourteener is the “Keyhole Route”, named for balanced rocks that form a distinctive gap at about 13,000 feet. Bagging this peak requires besting a difficult ascent—its most infamous section is called, “The Narrows”, an exposed ledge crossing the south side of the peak. Be sure to start climbing early in order to avoid afternoon thunderstorms.
Trail Ridge Road:
This famed byway travels 48 miles between Estes Park and Grand Lake and is the highest continuous paved road in North America, reaching 12,183 feet at its highest point. Massive herds of elk occupy the land above treeline in the summer months and unparalleled views of the surrounding peaks. The route can get congested in summer, but take a deep breath of clean mountain air, drive slowly and carefully, and enjoy the scenery. Though closed in winter, the road is typically open from Memorial Day until November (snow pack dependent!).
This iconic National Park has been a premier tourist destination since the early 20th century. Reserve campsites well in advance, expect crowds on the most popular trails, and most of all, practice good citizenship.
Recommended season(s): Park is open year round. Each season has its own charm: Fall aspens, summer wildflowers, winter whites landscapes, spring waterfalls.