Located less than 100 miles North West of Denver, CO, Rocky Mountain National Park puts the rugged beauty of it’s namesake mountain range on display for visitors. With over 60 peaks over 12,000 feet above sea level, and over 350 miles of hiking trails, this park truly is a hiker’s dream (be prepared for high altitude). Access is also made easy through the road system through the park that range from 7,000 to 12,000 feet above sea level (see Trail Ridge Road in the Highlights section below). Alpine terrain gives away to barren windswept tundra above the treeline, and eventually to jagged rocky peaks. Be sure to check weather conditions in Fall and Spring, as snow can limit access.
Trail Ridge Road to Grand Lake
This “highway to the sky” winds through Rocky Mountain National Park for 48 miles between the east gate entrance, near Estes Park, and the west gate entrance near Grand Lake, reaching a high point of 12,183 feet above sea level! Traveling the Trail Ridge Road (US Hwy 34) is an easily accessible high altitude thrill you’ll never ever forget, rewarding you at every turn with incredible high alpine views only seasoned alpinist can usually experience. The view near the top is sweeping and the very definition of panoramic: 180 to 360 degrees. Due to the altitude, it’s usually 30 degrees colder than at Estes Park. At the very top there is the Alpine Visitor Center you will want to visit and it is also a good spot to warm up. Snow and bad weather will close this road, so be sure to check in with a Ranger at a visitor’s center about the day’s weather before beginning the drive.
Continental Divide National Scenic Trail
About 30 miles of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail are in Rocky Mountain National Park . You’ll find spectacular scenery along the CDNT with the most breathtaking section above the treeline, consisting of high peaks and fragile alpine tundra. Travel is through the montane and sub-alpine zones at elevations of 8,000 (2,438 m) to 11,500 feet (3,505 m).
Standing at 14,259 feet, above sea level Longs Peak can be seen just about from everywhere in Rocky Mountain National park. This flat-topped sentinel towers above all other summits in the park, beckoning climbers with it’s life-changing views and challenge. While 15,000 people on average attempt to summit Long’s Peak yearly, fewer than half of these climbers are successful. Ascending Long’s Peak via the Keyhole route is a 15 mile round trip with 5,000 feet of elevation gain, averaging experienced climbers 10-15 hours to complete. The route crosses enormous, sheer, vertical rock faces, often with falling rocks, requiring class 3 scrambling, with fatal fall potential. The route has narrow ledges, loose rock, steep cliffs, and winter-like conditions that can roll in unexpectedly. Attempting Long’s Peak requires winter mountaineering experience and the knowledge and use of specialized equipment. It is considered one of the top 10 most difficult 14ers to climb. You must obtain a permit from the National Parks Service to attempt an ascent at least 30 days in advance of your climb. Long’s Peak is NOT a hike!
At least 60 species of mammals including: bighorn sheep, otters, beavers, bears, coyotes roam the park making it a photographer’s paradise. Herds of elk are often found in the meadows and even above the timberline in the summer. Moose wander in the willow thickets along the Colorado River, which has its source in the Rocky Mountain National Park. Herds of bighorn sheep frequent the meadows around Sheep Lakes and nearby rocky cliffs. Golden eagles soar the skies along with great horned owls and wild turkeys. Have your camera ready!
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