Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park

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Written by Patrick J. Smith posted on Thursday, February 4th, 2010

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Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park scenery is an excellent place to experience some of the best in Rockies vacations. Here you’ll see the soaring peaks, lush valleys, and amazing wildlife that the Colorado Rockies are known for.

Rocky Mountain National Park's Mummy Mountain (NPS photo).

For these reasons, Rocky Mountain National Park, in Estes Park, Colorado, is popular receiving millions of visitors per year peaking in July and August. Still, with a park so big, you it’ll never feel crowded. Rocky Mountain National Park covers 415.2 square miles (265,727 acres) of Colorado’s front range.

Vital Statistics on Rocky Mountain National Park

Season: Rocky Mountain National Park is better than a 7-11, it’s open 24 hours a day, year round.

Climate summary: In the summer, expect sunny mornings, occasional afternoon thunderstorms and cool nights. In the winter, expect anything from mild temperatures to blizzard conditions. Always remember that  conditions change quickly in mountainous areas and snow is possible year round. Always prepare for harsh conditions.

Directions: For visitors traveling from North-South on I-25: exit on highway 34 or highway 36, westbound to Estes Park. Continue on highway 34 to the park’s north entrance, or on highway 36 to the park’s south entrance, where Rocky Mountain National Park headquarters are located. For visitors traveling from the East-West on I-70: exit highway 40 north to Granby, north on highway 34 to Grand Lake and continue on highway 34 to the park’s west entrance.

Fees: $20 per private vehicle; $10 per bicyclist, motorcyclist or pedestrian. An annual pass for Rocky Mountain National Park is also available for $40. Backcountry permit fee is $20.
Visitor Center/Exhibits: The Rocky Mountain National Park Headquarters Visitor Center and Kawuneeche Visitor Center offer park orientation exhibits and movies and are open daily, closed Christmas day. Moraine Park Museum, “The Making of a Landscape”, geology exhibits; open daily, May through mid-October. Alpine Visitor Center, “The Land of No Trees”, alpine tundra ecosystem exhibits; open daily, Memorial Day through mid-October. Combination Forest Service and Park Service exhibits explore the Longs Peak area at the Lily Lake Visitor Center; open daily, June through August. The Never Summer Ranch examines historical dude ranching; open mid-June through Labor day. Corral Creek information station open daily; mid-June through Labor Day. Sheep Lakes information station; open daily, mid-May through mid- August.

Trails and Roads: There are more than 355 miles of trails ranging from easy to tortuous in Rocky Mountain National Park. There are also 82 miles of paved roads and 28 miles of unpaved roads for driving tours of the park. While you’re vacationing in Rocky Mountain National Park, make sure to check out Trail Ridge Road, which goes through the park, crossing the Continental Divide and looking out over peaks that tower more than 14,000 feet high. It crosses the park and rises to 12,183 feet, with ten miles of road above tree line. Trail Ridge Road is open Memorial Day through mid-October. Fall River Road, one-way uphill only, is nine miles of gravel road and meets Trail Ridge Road at Fall River Pass. Fall River Road is open July 4 through mid-October. Bear Lake Road, highway 36, and lower sections of highway 34, are open year round. Roads close temporarily, due to weather conditions.

Lodging and camping facilities: Lodging is available in Estes Park and Grand Lake. There are also several local camping areas, including Five Campgrounds (577 sites); Longs Peak, Aspenglen and Timber Creek. They are are first come, first served. Moraine Park and Glacier Basin on the other hand are reservation campgrounds, 800-365-2267. Longs Peak, Moraine Park and Timber Creek campgrounds open year round. Group sites are available at Glacier Basin.

Backcountry camping is allowed by by permit only at designated backcountry sites and zoned areas. There is a $15 permit fee during summer, and reservations are reccomended. Permits are required for bivouacs.

For camping reservations for Moraine Park and Glacier Basin campgrounds, calll Destinet,  at 800-365-2267. Backcountry camping and bivouac permits, (970) 586-1242. Reservations for outreach school programs must be made in advance. Environmental Education fee waivers for school groups should be made two weeks in advance, (970) 586-3777.

Food/supplies: Stock up in Grand Lake or Estes Park, or visit the snack bar located and gift shop at Fall River Pass.

Handicapped Accessibility: Park Headquarters, Alpine Visitor Center, Lily Lake, Moraine Park Museum, and Kawuneeche Visitor Centers are accessible with some ranger led activities. Trail to  Sprague Lake, Bear Lake, Beaver Boardwalk and Coyote Valley trails are accessible, as well as the backcountry site located at Sprague Lake. Most campgrounds, amphitheaters, overlooks and bathrooms are moderately accessible.

Buses: Parking areas at the Alpine Visitor Center and Colorado River Trailhead are available for buses. Many other overlooks can accommodate buses depending on traffic volume. Shuttle bus operates on Bear Lake road during summer.

Recommended activities: Hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, camping, backcountry camping, skiing and snowshoeing, and even some limited snowmobiling.

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