Rocky Mountain National Park is the third most popular National Park in the park system with nearly $4.2M visitors in 2015. Its proximity to Denver and Boulder make it one of the easiest parks to visit (although we recommend staying in the nearby gateway town of Estes Park), which is one of the reasons why it draws such large crowds. But that is not the only reason…
We’ve uncovered five facts that just begin to highlight why Rocky Mountain National Park is such a popular destination and why it deserves a spot on every travelers list of must visit national parks.
You can get high in your car – With an impressive elevation of 14,259 feet, Longs Peak measures in as the tallest mountain in the Rocky Mountain National Park and one of the tallest in the US. But you don’t have to be a mountaineer to climb to some pretty aggressive heights. Trail Ridge Road—a 48-mile stretch of road that winds between Estes Park and Grand Lake–reaches a peak elevation of 12,183 feet. In fact, 11 miles of the road are above the tree line.
You can hear an Elk Bugle – In the summer and fall, Rocky Mountain National Park is home to more than 3,000 elk. During the fall rutting period (mid-September through mid-October), park visitors are treated to the bull elks’ mating call, which is politely referred to as a “bugle” even though it sounds more like painful grunting and the shriek of a toddler.
You can straddle the divide – Did you know that the Continental Divide, which runs from the northern tip of North America to southern tip of South America, is a hydrological demarcation? If not, you will be surprised to learn that water from the West side of the divide ends up in the Pacific Ocean and water on the east side of the divide ends up in the Atlantic Ocean. Rocky Mountain National Park contains about 30 miles of the 3,100-mile-long Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, so you can spend some time straddling the divide and determine which direction you (and your approximately 70 percent water mass) is pulled.
Viewfinder Tip: The nearby town of Estes Park, rich with one-of-a-kind hotel and dining options, makes an ideal base from which to enjoy the park.
You can give your time – It should come as no surprise that national parks don’t maintain themselves. In addition to employees of the National Parks System, many parks rely heavily on volunteers. In Rocky Mountain National Park, more than 1,700 individuals volunteer each year. That represents more than 100,000 hours of time donated and helps the park cope with constrained (and constantly threatened funding). Since you are already planning to be in the park when you visit, consider donating a little of your time.
The air is thin up there – The park packs 78 mountains that exceed heights of 12,000 feet into about 415 square miles of land. In fact, over a quarter of the entire park is above the tree line, that point where trees stop growing. You will want to stay well-hydrated and well-rested when visiting the park because the potential for altitude sickness is very real.
Have you been to Rocky Mountain National Park? If so, what facts can you share? If you haven’t been, what are you most interested in learning?