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Colorado Travel Planning Guides : Estes Park Vacation Planner : Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park




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Estes Park, Colorado, Rocky Mountain National Park

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Rocky Mountain National Park

ATTRACTING MORE THAN THREE MILLION VISITORS EACH YEAR, Rocky Mountain National Park is one of the country's most frequently visited national parks. The park ranges in elevation from 8,000 feet in the wet grassy valleys to 14,259 feet at the top of Longs Peak.

Established January 26, 1915, Rocky Mountain National Park is a living showcase of the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains. A visitor to the park has opportunities for countless breathtaking experiences and adventures.Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, Bugling Elk

Although the great peaks comprise the essence of the park, the delicate alpine flowers, clear lakes, rushing mountain waters, and impressive forests appeal to all the senses. An array of wildlife lovers are never disappointed in June and July when the meadows and hillsides are splashed with botanical color. Autumn visitors can relax among the golden aspens or enjoy the rowdier antics of the elk rut (mating season).

The wide variety of elevations and habitats create a choice of activities for visitors. Endless opportunities are available to hikers, backpackers and horseback riders on over 355 miles of trails. Fly fishers, bird watchers and photographers discover the splendor that they traveled to find. During the winter, snowshoers and cross-country skiers revel in the white-blanketed tranquility of meadows and forests. Rocky Mountain National Park offers many ways to experience nature and all its beauty.

Hiking

At least 60 peaks rise above 12,000 feet challenging intrepid hikers and climbers alike.

Rocky Mountain National Park has more than 355 miles of trails ranging from flat lakeside strolls to quite steep peak climbs. Anyone visiting between Memorial Day and late autumn can see many of these peaks eye-to-eye by driving over Trail Ridge Road. Topping out at 12,183 feet, this is the highest, continuous paved road in the United States.

If you are new to the park, rangers at the visitor centers and backcountry office can provide advice on trails that are appropriate for different fitness and experience levels. As you plan your hike, Rocky Mountain National Park, Coloradokeep in mind that park elevations range from 7,500 to over 12,000 feet. Even very fit individuals coming from lower elevations may experience altitude problems. Symptoms include headaches, shortness of breath, insomnia and rapid heartbeat. After a few days your body will make some physiological adjustments to higher elevations, but full acclimation may take a week. To minimize symptoms, drink plenty of fluids, avoid alcohol, don't skip meals and get plenty of rest.

Ultraviolet light is stronger in the mountains because there is less atmosphere for the sunlight to pass through. Wear sunscreen, a hat, sun glasses, and consider covering up with a long-sleeved shirt if you are out in the sun for extended periods.

More than half of the visitors to RMNP claim hiking as their preferred activity. From a family adventure to scenic Alberta Falls to a demanding technical climb on Longs Peak, the Park's highest mountain, there's something for everyone.

Favorite Hikes in Rocky Mountain National Park

Alberta Falls
This lovely, 25-foot-high cascade in Glacier Creek is a popular waterfall in RMNP. A moderate, well-maintained trail serves this scenic spot which is a great place for picnicking. This is a good hike for children and anyone desiring a short, rewarding hike in RMNP. Distance: 0.8mi., Trailhead: Glacier Gorge, Trailhead Elevation: 9,240 ft., Elevation Gain: 160 ft., Rating: Family

Dream Lake
This gorgeous subalpine lake lies in the shadow of majestic Hallett Peak and is a wonderful family destination. The mythical, dreamlike setting with magnificent mountain scenery no doubt inspired that name. This is a nice area for a family picnic. Distance: 1.1mi., Trailhead: Bear Lake, Trailhead Elevation: 9,475 ft., Elevation Gain: 425 ft., Rating: Family

Ouzel Falls
Ouzel Falls is the most popular destination in the Wild Basin area of RMNP. It plunges dramatically over a small granite cliff. The trail to Ouzel Falls passes two other waterfalls and travels through part of the prominent burned-out area from the 1978 Ouzel Fire. This is a nice family destination. Distance: 2.7mi., Trailhead: Wild Basin, Trailhead Elevation: 8,500 ft., Elevation Gain: 950 ft., Rating: Family/Moderate

Mills Lake
Considered by many to be the prettiest lake in RMNP, Mills Lake lies in Glacier Gorge, a strikingly beautiful U-shaped valley carved by repeated glaciation. Longs Peak, Pagoda Mountain and Chiefs Head Peak provided an impressive backdrop to this lovely high mountain lake. This moderate hike, suitable for adventurous families. Distance: 2.8mi., Trailhead: Glacier Gorge, Trailhead Elevation: 9,240 ft., Elevation Gain: 750 ft., Rating: Family/Moderate

Cub Lake
The short, pleasant hike to Cub Lake is a great family destination that leads through a shady forest and offers abundant wildflowers, river scenery, and excellent bird-watching opportunities. The lake is famous for the striking yellow pond lilies that bloom in July and August, as they colorfully cover most of the water's surface. Distance: 2.3mi., Trailhead: Cub Lake, Trailhead Elevation: 8,080 ft., Elevation Gain: 540 ft., Rating: Family/ModerateRocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, Family at The Loch

The Loch
The Loch is the lowest of three spectacular lakes in scenic Loch Vale. A moderate approach and magnificent mountain scenery make it one of the most popular destinations in RMNP. This hike is suitable for adventurous families. For those wishing for more excitement, the trail continues more strenuously to Lake of Glass and Sky Pond. Distance: 3.1mi., Trailhead: Glacier Gorge, Trailhead Elevation: 9,240 ft., Elevation Gain: 1,000 ft., Rating: Moderate

Flattop Mountain
Because it offers a well-maintained trail all the way to the summit, Flattop Mountain is one of the most popular peaks to hike in RMNP. The trail is also very popular because it is one of the easiest ways to reach the Continental Divide. The grand, flat summit area that inspired Flattop Mountain's name is the largest of any of the peaks in RMNP. The views from the top are breathtaking, encompassing both the east and west sides of the Continental Divide. This strenuous hike is suitable for fit hikers. Distance: 4.4mi., Trailhead: Bear Lake, Trailhead Elevation: 9,475 ft., Elevation Gain: 2,849 ft., Rating: Strenuous

Longs Peak
The name Longs Peak is recognized all over the world. It's the highest mountain in RMNP and the 15th highest in Colorado, and more notably, the northernmost 14,000-foot peak in the Rocky Mountains. It is the only fourteener in RMNP and is one of the most sought-after summits in Colorado. Any ascent of Longs Peak is a difficult endeavor and should not be taken lightly. Climbers and hikers travel great distances to attempt a summit bid on the peak, and in ideal conditions the easiest routes up Longs Peak are lengthy, exposed scrambles, but in adverse weather or the presence of snow and ice, all routes become technical. Even in the summer, a clear, cloudless morning can quickly turn into a violent, storm-battered afternoon. Consult with RMNP rangers for current conditions on the peak before attempting to climb this regal mountain. Distance: 8mi., Trailhead: Longs Peak, Trailhead Elevation: 9,400 ft., Elevation Gain: 4,885 ft., Rating: Strenuous/Advanced

Trailheads

Glacier Gorge and Bear Lake Trailheads
These trailheads provide access to Alberta Falls, Mills Lake, The Loch, Dream Lake and Flattop Mountain. From the RMNP Beaver Meadows Visitor Center on US 36 near Estes Park, drive west for 1.1 miles to the Beaver Meadows Entrance Station. A fee is required to enter the Park. Pass the kiosk and continue for 0.2 miles to Bear Lake Road. Turn south (left) and drive for 8.3 miles to the Glacier Gorge Trailhead. From here, continue for 0.9 mile to the huge Bear Lake parking lot. Bear Lake and the trailhead lie 100 yards west of this parking lot.

Wild Basin Trailhead
This trailhead provides access to Ouzel Falls. From the junction of US 36 and CO 7 in Estes Park, drive south on CO 7 for 12.5 miles to Wild Basin Road (CR 84W). Turn west and drive for 0.3 mile to the turnoff for RMNP's Wild Basin. Take a right and drive to the RMNP entrance station. A fee is required to enter the Park. Drive for 2.1 miles to the Wild Basin Trailhead, located at the end of the road.

Cub Lake and Fern Lake Trailheads
These two trailheads are located in Moraine Park. The Cub Lake Trailhead provides access to Cub Lake. The Fern Lake Trailhead provides access to Fern Lake. From the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center on US 36 near Estes Park, drive west for 1.1 miles to the Beaver Meadows Entrance Station. A fee is required to enter the Park. Pass the kiosk and drive for 0.2 mile to Bear Lake Road. Turn south (left) and drive for 1.3 miles to Moraine Park Road. Turn west ( right) and continue to the Cub Lake Trailhead. From here, continue west along the road for 0.9 miles to the Fern Lake Trailhead.

Longs Peak Trailhead
This trailhead provides, access to Longs Peak. From the junction of US 36 and CO 7 in Estes Park, drive south on CO 7 for 8.8 miles to the turnoff for Longs Peak. Turn right and drive west for 1 mile to the trailhead.

Hike descriptions and information provided by Lisa Foster, author of Rocky Mountain National Park: The Complete Hiking Guide. Available at stores throughout Estes Park and online at Amazon.com.

Camping

Front-country and backcountry campers have hundreds of Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, Campingcampsites to choose from. There are five drive-in campgrounds in the Park open during the summer, three of which are open in winter. Group camping is available in some areas. Two campgrounds, Moraine Park and Glacier Basin take reservations. Other park campgrounds are first-come, first-served and fill on most summer days. None of the campgrounds have electric, water or sewer hookups at the camping sites.

Stay limits of seven nights are in place throughout the Park June 1-Sept. 30. The limits extend to an additional 14 nights at the year-round campgrounds throughout the rest of the year. For further camping information, call 877-444-6777.

Partially written by Lisa Foster, author of RMNP: The Complete Hiking Guide.






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