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  • Writer's pictureBrian Childress

Rocky Mountain National Park - Colorado

Updated: Jun 6, 2021

Rocky Mountain National Park is an American national park located approximately 76 miles northwest of Denver International Airport in north-central Colorado, within the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. The park is situated between the towns of Estes Park to the east and Grand Lake to the west. The eastern and western slopes of the Continental Divide run directly through the center of the park with the headwaters of the Colorado River located in the park's northwestern region. The main features of the park include mountains, alpine lakes and a wide variety of wildlife within various climates and environments, from wooded forests to mountain tundra.

The small town of Grand Lake was located right next to the entrance of the National Park. The town has nice restaurants and small but nice old-fashioned grocery stores. The town of Granby Colorado is located roughly 14 miles from the National Park and offers lodging, nice restaurants, and supermarkets.

We then drove to Estes Park. Estes Park is a town in northern Colorado. It’s known as a base for the Rocky Mountain National Park, home to wildlife including elk and bears, plus miles of trails. The park’s Trail Ridge Road winds past craggy peaks, forests and tundra. Nearby are the wilderness areas of Roosevelt National Forest. The Estes Park Aerial Tramway connects the town to the summit of Prospect Mountain for views over the valley.

There were plenty of restrooms and access to water at most of the trailheads. The restrooms and the park itself was very clean.

Wildlife to expect really depends on the time of year you go. Elk can be seen anytime, a popular viewing period being the fall rut, or mating season. Look for elk in meadows and where meadow and forest meet. Elk spend much of their time at or above tree line during the summer, moving to lower elevations in the fall, winter and spring. Favorite feeding times: dawn and dusk. Bighorn sheep are commonly seen at Sheep Lakes from May through mid-August. Moose frequent willow thickets along the Colorado River in the Kawuneeche Valley on the park's west side. Otters were reintroduced into the Colorado River area and are doing fairly well. These animals are difficult to spot. Mule deer are common and can be seen anywhere. They are most often found at lower elevations in open areas. Bats feed over lakes and ponds at dawn and dusk. Marmots and pikas favor rocky areas. Marmots are best seen on the alpine tundra along Trail Ridge and Old Fall River roads. Pikas - small, light-colored mammals - are common in rock piles. Listen for their sharp, distinctive bark and watch for movement. Clark's nutcrackers, Steller's jays, golden eagles, and prairie falcons can be seen along Trail Ridge Road. White-tailed ptarmigans, some of the most sought-after birds in Rocky Mountain National Park, are common but difficult to spot. For best results, hike on the tundra and look carefully. Ptarmigans usually remain still, relying on their natural camouflage for protection.

Our experience:

This park is a must for those who love wildlife. The views are spectacular and the park staff were vey helpful and nice. The trails we hiked well defined but the signage sometimes was confusing so bring a map and/or GPS. Also make sure you plan ahead and check with the National Parks Service as this park is susceptible to wildfires, as was our case. Keep in mind the altitude which ranges from 8,000 to 14,000 feet and cold temperatures; so don't overdo it if you are not from the region and prepare for cold weather.

Park location and contact:

1000 US Hwy 36 Estes Park, CO 80517

Phone:(970) 586-1206

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