Declared a national park on January 26, 1915, the park is rich in history and cultural significance. Until the late 1700s, the Ute Indian tribe controlled the mountain territories. In 1803, the United States government acquired the park's original 358.5 square miles in the Louisiana Purchase. The first settler to arrive in the area was Joel Estes, an explorer from Kentucky. While searching for game on a fall day, Estes and his son climbed a high promontory that gave them an incredible view of a stunning valley. It was love at first-sight and, in 1860, Estes moved his family to a new home in the area that is now known as Estes Park. From 1867-on, the number of visitors to the newly-discovered area grew steadily.
Since then, the grandeur of the Rockies has continued to attract the adventurous. John Wesley Powell, a great explorer, conquered the summit of Longs Peak in 1868. Five years later, Anna Dickinson became the first woman to succeed at the climb. By 1874, a stage line ran between Estes Park and Longmont by way of North Saint Vrain Canyon. Eventually, miners and homesteaders came to the area in droves and, in 1909, naturalist Enos Mills proposed that the area become the nation's tenth national park. After Mills spent several years lecturing across the nation, trying to convince others that the area should be recognized as a national park, his persistence paid off. President Woodrow Wilson declared the site Rocky Mountain National Park in 1915.
Today, the park's 415 square miles continue to be as important as they have always been, both to the most casual tourist and the most serious environmentalist. The park is nationally recognized as one of the most outstanding of natural treasures. Everything in the park, from the meadows and forests to the many species of animals that live there, are continually monitored by park rangers. The park's vision is to be a world leader and showcase for wilderness protection, management, and education. Thus far, its vision has been a reality.
Rocky Mountain National Park is quite vast. It has approximately 265,770 acres, 2,917 of which are designated by Congress as wilderness. What constitutes wilderness? According to the Wilderness Act, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964, it "is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain." A recommendation to designate much of Rocky Mountain National Park as wilderness was first introduced to Congress by President Richard Nixon in 1974. Originally, 239,835 acres were recommended to be designated as wilderness, but in 1980 a park boundary change resulted in 2,917 acres being deemed wilderness. Needless to say, one can find endless opportunities for solitude and relaxation in the park, with its countless acres of protected wilderness space.
The landscape of Rocky Mountain National Park is the steepest in the United States. Sixty mountain peaks are over 12,000 feet high, thus providing huge challenges for hikers and climbers. Elevations range from 8,000 feet in the wet, grassy valleys to 14,259 feet at the weather-ravaged top of Longs Peak. The continental divide, which runs north-south through the park, marks a climatic division. The western slope receives more precipitation than the eastern slope. For example, the town of Estes Park receives 13.1 inches of precipitation per year while Grand Lake gets 19.95 inches. There are 359 miles of trails available for hikers, backpackers, and horseback riders. During the winter, snowshoers and cross-country skiers revel in the snow-covered trails.
There are four distinct seasons in the park - November through March is cold and windy with highs in the 20s to 30s and lows in the 10s to 20s. April and May have quite variable conditions with possible snow storms. June through August see typical summer mountain conditions while September and October are variable with possible snow storms. Visitors to the park should dress in layers and expect anything from a weather standpoint.
Three different ecosystems make their home in the park: the Montane, the Subalpine, and the Alpine. Variation in vegetation relates not only to elevation, but also to direction and amount of slope, drainage, moisture availabity, exposure to wind, amount and type of soil, fire history, and other factors. Some overlapping of species occurs between ecosystems while several plants and animals are unique to each ecosystem.
Various adventures and breathtaking views can be had at the park. In addition to the incredible views, opportunities to observe wildlife at the park are numerous. There are 67 types of mammals, 262 species of birds, 7 different kinds of fish, 5 kinds of amphibians, and one type of reptile that inhabit the park. From November to May, it is common to see elk at lower elevations on the east side; it is also the time of year that visitors can watch their mating dance. In March, Mountain Bluebirds return to the park after spending the winter elsewhere. From May to June, elk calves and bighorn lambs are born. Other animals that can be seen at the park include mule deer, moose, black bears, coyotes, cougars, eagles, hawks, and scores of smaller animals, delighting visitors of all ages. Early risers and those watching at dusk have the best opportunity to see wildlife.
For the vegetation lover, there are also boundless choices. Wildflowers begin to bloom at lower elevations in May and peak in July. Tundra flowers bloom in May and June as well. In August, Colorado columbines and other late season flowers are still in bloom and September and October are when the green leaves of the Aspen trees turn to shades of orange and yellow.
Camping is also a popular pastime in the park. There are five drive-in campgrounds and one drive-in group camping area. Two campgrounds, Moraine Park and Glacier Basin, take reservations, as does the group-camping area. Other park campgrounds can be used on a first-come, first-serve basis and are full on most summer days. None of the campgrounds have electric, water, or sewer hookups.
Another popular activity in the park is sport fishing. Fish that are native to the area are the greenback cutthroat trout and the Colorado River cutthroat trout. Supplemental stocking is done to restore these native species. Fishing success at high altitude varies, so possession limits must be managed carefully. Each fisherman is limited to one hand-held rod or line.
While the park is known for the wide range of leisure activities it provides, education is - and always has been - an important matter. Affectionately known as "America's greatest university without walls," national parks have a strong tradition of education. Rocky Mountain National Park is no exception; it has long held campfire talks, guided walks, and informal talks. Teachers can make use of curriculum materials through the Heart of the Rockies Education Program while adults and families can learn through classes offered by the Rocky Mountain Field Seminars. There are endless possibilities to learn about the park, both before visiting and while visiting.
Children are encouraged to be "web rangers" while playing online games. In addition, the park offers junior ranger programs where kids can complete activities in a book available at all visitor centers. When the book is completed, the work is reviewed and children are awarded Junior Ranger Badges.
In short, Rocky Mountain National
Park has something for everyone. The park stands as a legacy of all who went
before us, ensuring that it would be a lasting resource enjoyed by generations
to come. To find out more information on the park, visit: