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Rocky Mountain National Park

The sights and heights
of the Rockies

Heather Bruckner
For the Vacation Guide

   ESTES PARK Rocky Mountain National Park offers fun-filled activities for visitors of all ages and abilities.

   Scenic byways, fields of wildflowers and rocky trails await guests from around the world. Anyone can enjoy a day in the 415-square-mile wilderness.

   The park features 113 peaks above 10,000 feet, 147 lakes, six campgrounds and five visitor centers.

   Make sure to stop at one of Estes Park's  delicatessens, bakeries or grocery stores for lunch fixings on the way to the park. Hundreds of beautiful picnic spots sit in the mountains and alongside crystal-clear streams.

   Park entrance fees are $10 per car for a week, and $25 for an annual pass.

Simple sightseeing

   For those who want a truly relaxing day, a scenic car tour may be the way to go.

   Trail Ridge Road, which reaches a high point at 12,183 feet, boasts some of the best views in the state.

    Visitors can see alpine wildflowers, a variety of wildlife and 14,000-foot peaks, all from the comfort of their own cars.

   The 48-mile road starts at the park's east entrance, crosses the Continental Divide and ends up at Grand Lake, another spectacular sight reflecting towering mountain faces.

   The Tundra World Nature Trail, an accessible walking trail at the Rock Cut parking area, offers spectacular views from the road's summit.

   Many visitors stop at the Alpine Visitor Center at the top of Trail Ridge Road and Fall River Road to grab a bite to eat or take some photos.

   Old Fall River Road, the first automobile route in Rocky Mountain National Park, offers a more rustic driving experience.

   The one-way gravel road, which is 11 miles long and full of switchbacks, begins at Horseshoe Park, west of the Fall River Entrance.

   The road follows the route once taken by Indian hunters.

   Early in the drive, visitors will pass the alluvial fan, an open area wiped out by the 1982 Lawn Lake Flood.

   Old Fall River Road hits Trail Ridge Road at Fall River Pass, where drivers can loop back to Estes Park or head west to Grand Lake.

   Travelers on both roads have plenty of opportunities to view Rocky Mountain wildlife. 

   More than 3,000 elk wander the park throughout the summer, and deer, pikas, marmots and bighorn sheep also are common to the area.

   With a careful eye, one also can spot coyotes, bobcats, black bears, lynx and mountain lions.

   Be prepared to spend at least half of the day for each drive and bring warm clothing for the ever-changing weather conditions.

   Trail Ridge Road usually opens the Friday before Memorial Day and remains open through mid-October. Old Fall River Road usually is open from July to September, depending on the weather.

Trekking the Rockies

   More than 360 miles of trails await visitors for hiking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

   Trail maps are available at each entrance station and are posted at individual trailheads.

   Hikers should get an early morning start to allow for plenty of trail time and to find a decent parking spot.

   A number of trails of varying difficulty begin at the Bear Lake and Glacier Gorge Junction parking areas.

   The 2.5-mile Mills Lake trail begins at Glacier Gorge and offers a breathtaking view of Longs Peak. The moderate hike ends at Mills Lake, where trekkers can find plenty of spots for a picnic.

   For a more strenuous hike, the 4.4-mile Flattop Mountain trail departs from Bear Lake and offers access to many other mountain peaks.

   Hikers of all abilities will enjoy the Ouzel Falls trail, located at the Wild Basin trailhead.

   The 2.7-mile hike, with a continuous view of Longs Peak, heads though the woods to Ouzel Falls, a spectacular mountain waterfall.

   All hikers should be prepared with plenty of water, sturdy hiking boots, rain gear, long pants, layered clothing, mittens, a hat, sun block, sunglasses, a first aid kit, snacks and a compass.

   Afternoon rain and snow showers move fast in Rocky Mountain National Park's rugged territory.

   Most trails do not allow pets, because they are prey for local wildlife. Certified guide dogs are allowed.

   For more detailed maps and descriptions, pick up a guidebook at one of Estes Park's mountaineering shops or talk to a park ranger.

A mountaineer's paradise

   The serious mountaineer can find plenty of adventures in Rocky Mountain National Park.

   The most popular journey is the ascent of Longs Peak. The 14,255-foot peak towers above all of the park's peaks.

   Most hikers follow the 8-mile Keyhole Route to the summit. The non-technical route has an elevation gain of 4,850 feet.

   The route is usually free of ice and snow from mid-July through mid-September, but because of  unpredictable weather, hikers should bring warm, wind-resistant and waterproof gear.

   Longs Peak is not for the faint of heart or those afraid of heights.

   High altitude, steep ascents and narrow ledges make this a day-long challenge.

   The hike begins at the Longs Peak trailhead, off Colorado 7 south of Estes Park.

   Most hikers begin the ascent around sunrise, because stormy weather usually hits in the afternoon.

   The trail winds through the woods before reaching the Boulder Field, an open, treeless area full of large boulders.

   The Boulder Field offers some flat campsites for those who want to take two days for their climb.

   After the Boulder Field, the trail takes a steep route to the Keyhole, a narrow rock formation.

   From the Keyhole, the trail becomes steeper and narrower as it wraps around the summit approach.

   Climbers will never forget the breathtaking views of Colorado from the summit of Longs Peak.

   For serious rock climbers, Longs Peak also offers a number of technical rock, ice and mixed routes.

   All Longs Peak hikers should check in with a park ranger before heading up the mountain.

   Mountaineers looking for a longer adventure can stop by one of the backcountry offices for a camping permit.

   The park has more than 250 backcountry campsites.

   More than 3 million people visit Rocky Mountain National Park each year, so guests should plan ahead to reserve campsites.

   Weary travelers can find many hotels, restaurants, bars and even a brewery in Estes Park to finish up the day.

   For more information on Rocky Mountain National Park, call 970-586-1206.