Wildlife is abundant throughout the park. Some of the big game includes black bear, elk, and even moose. Then there are the ones like marmots, chipmunks, and blue jays, which will approach you for a handout at the more popular locations. Don't feed them though. It is easy to tell that a lot of these animals do get fed, especially when they are on your lap or come within a hair of you.
There are mountain lions in the park too, however they are quite elusive. Fortunately, they tend to be shy, although if you see one following you, it should be reported to a ranger. The same would go for a black bear which is raiding tents or trying to be too close to people.
Bring a camera with you to this park, since you never know what you are going to see.
I think this is one thing that really can hamper a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park if you are not expecting it. A typical summer day involves a clear morning, partly cloudy skies in late morning, and then a massive buildup of moisture that leads to an afternoon thunderstorm complete with lightining.
You do not want to be above timberline when this happens. Lightining, pelting rain, and hail are no fun. For this reason, get an early start for any car or hiking trips to the high country. Thunderstorms do not usually last that long. Often, it clears up again quite nicely after they hit. Any trip to Rocky Mountain National Park should involve some type of rain gear. If you are hiking up a mountain and the weather is getting bad, then it is time to turn around and leave it for another day. The mountain will stll be there.
To get up this mountain, take a predawn start. Preferable, two hours or so before dawn so that you can see sunrise above treeline. Notice at dawn that you can see the lights of Denver and Boulder below. The light actually gets to you before it gets to them. The trail makes a steady climbto the boulderfields, where the backcountry tent sites are located. Now, look for the Keyhole, which should be straight ahead. It has an overhang and a small rock shelter next to it. Crossing over the keyhole, the fun really begins. The trail is gone and now there is simply bulleyes painted on rocks. Simply follow these until you reach the "Trough". This steep area rises to a chockstone which you must climb over. Now, you are on to the "Narrows". Sometimes, this scares people. Simply follow those bullseyes until you have reached the ramp of rocks called "the Homestretch". At the end of the homestretch is the top of the mountain and the grand views that it has waiting for you. It is a large flat and rocky summit. Hopefully, it is still late morning, because you need to descend before any bad weather in the afternoon shows up. Lighning and hypothermia have taken a toll on this mountain.
When you climb it, take warm clothing layers (no cotton), a good hat, a lot of water, and high energy food. This is not a complete list, of course, but they are essential.
This is one hike you will never forget. Are you ready for it?
Fondest memory: Getting to the top of the mountain, of course.
So you want to climb it, do you? It is a popular summer hike, and it is very rewarding.
First of all, there is only one nontechnical way up this thing. It is the classic "keyhole" route. For those who speak the hiking language, this is a class III scramble above the keyhole. Usually, mid-July is about the time where the snow is off the route to the top, and it is finally nontechnical. I suggest not doing this on a weekend. There are some narrow areas on the trail where you really do not want to come up on a lot of people.
The most common access is off of Highway 7 south from Estes Park. A camground is at the trailhead. You can also go a longer way from Bear Lake.
Fondest memory: Realizing I just reached the top of the mountain.
Rocky Mountain National Park is well know for the abundance of brilliantly colored wildflowers that bloom during the short summer. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in the high tundra, above timberline, in a climate which is much like that of the Arctic.
The flowers come in a dazzling array of colors and shapes. Varieties include Anemone, Delphium, Fairy Trumpet, Mouse-ear Chickweed, Primrose, Fireweed, Shooting Star, Glacier Lily, and many more. Some of the varieties are so rare that they have no common name. For those interested a good field guide to Rocky Mountain wildflowers is recommended and can be purchased in the visitor centers.
On my most recent trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, which was in July, we saw several herds of Elk high above timber line in the cool alpine meadows. On an earlier visit, in May when snow still lay heavy on the tundra, the elk were seen at lower elevations, incuding within the city limits of Estes Park. In fact, local residents have gotten so accustomed to seeing elk on their streets and lawns that they pay them only passing attention.
But although the elk sometimes appear to be tame, they are still wild and potentially dangerous animals. Just last year the news carried the story of an Estes Park woman who was killed by an elk in her own back yard when she accidently came between a cow and her calf. Always be careful around elk and enjoy watching them from a distance.
Favorite thing: The Landscape at Rocky Mountain National Park has more to offer than just snow capped peaks and rocky craigs. One favorite habitat for spotting wildlife is the ponds and meadows that can be found in the high valleys, such as this old overgrown beaver pond and clear cool stream.
Longs Peak, 14,225 feet, is the highest of the Park's 113 named peaks, and is a favorite destination of serious hikers and climbers. The trail up the peak can usually be negotiated during late summer without technical equipment. The north and east faces are for technical climbing only. The climb via the Keyhole route is demanding; it is 16 miles round-trip with an elevation gain of 4,700 feet and can take up to 12 hours. Climbers usually start their ascent between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. in order to make the summit by noon and to avoid afternoon lightning storms.
I did'nt climb Longs Peak, but several years ago I did make the ascent up Mt. Elbert, 14,433 feet, Colorado's highest mountain. I was caught in a severe afternoon snow/thunder storm near the summit and saw lightning strike a rock about 100 feet from me. I even felt the tingle. Scarey!
High elevation travel should not be attempted without adequate knowledge, experience, and equipment.
This beautiful glacial lake sits just east of the Continental Divide at Milner Pass, elevation 10,758-feet. It is one of the beauty spots along the Trail Ridge Road, and at approximately the half way point between the resort towns of Estes Park and Grand Lake.
Fondest memory: It was a special treat to be here with my son, Christopher, and his two children, Alexandria and Nicholas. It so happens that I had been at this exact same spot and took a picture of Chris and his brother, Gregory, exactly 30 years earlier, when Chris was just one year old. Now aged 31, a Ph.D., and living in Colorado, I was able to tell him that story when I took a this photo of Chris and his own two children.
The amazing thing is that the scene has changed hardly at all during the intervening 30 years. Chances are it has changed little in the past 300 years.
Bighorn Sheep, the living symbol of Rocky Mountain National Park, venture out during daylight hours. Sheep Lakes, a natural mineral lick in Horseshoe Park, is a good area to look for sheep, and I have seen large flocks of them there. Please observe them from the parking lot or where parking is permitted along a roadside.
We were lucky to spot the Bighorns in this photo along Trail Ridge Road a short distance west of the Alpine Visitor Center. When we stopped to take pictures, as did numerous others, a ranger came along and asked us to keep moving because there was no shoulder along the road at this point and we were blocking traffic. I'm glad I was able to get this shot before we had to move.
The American Bighorn is from 54 to 70 inches long, from 38 to 42 inches at the shoulder, and weighs about 185 pounds. Large males have been known to reach 300 pounds. These elusive creatures are very difficult to see in the wild except in parks such as this where they have become accustomed to human intrusion.
Although the Elk is not native to the Rocky Mountain National Park, these majestic animals have been introduced here and they are thriving. If you spend much time at all in the Park you are almost certain to see Elk.
The Elk is an animal of semi-open forests that summers in the mountains and winters in the valleys. He migrates in search of new feeding grounds. The animals have a strong social instinct and can be found in herds containing dozens of animals, or occasionally alone.
A mature elk can weigh anywhere from 500 to 1,100 pounds, will stand at up to 5 feet at the shoulder, and be up to 9 1/2 feet long. They can be dangerous if they feel threatened and should be admired only from a distance.
Fondest memory: We saw scores of Elk during our three days in RMNP. This young bull in velvet was grazing right beside the Trail Ridge Road, which allowed us to get a close-up photo from the safety of our automobile.
Favorite thing: Rocky Mountain National Park has hundreds of well established and relatively short trails which lead to scenic lakes and waterfalls and great mountain views. There are many opportunities to get out of your car and go for a hike. Even if your time in Rocky is short (and almost any trip to this park will be too short), take the time to explore some of the park's off road gems.
So I drove up to the Wild Basin area pay station in late March. My National Parks pass expired at the end of the month and damnit - I wanted to get my money's worth.
Must have been a slow time of the year, they did not even check my pass, nobody there to do it or even to collect fees. It's all about return on labor and that just wasn't there. An empty parking lot greeted me.
If you visit though do be prepared to pay 15 dollars for a 7 day vehicle pass. If you plan on visiting RMNP several times in a year it would make sense to purchase the 30 dollars annual Rocky Mountain National Park Pass.
Or my favorite.....
The Annual National Park Pass. I always have to get one. Fifty dollars for one year and you can get into any area under the banner of the National Park Servce.
Favorite thing: When you leave the car and boldly venture into the trail, the topography of the park is especially rewarding on the eastern side, where the prettiest scenes in Rocky are to be found. For those with little hiking experience in the national parks, many of Rocky's trails will not reveal their ultimate attraction until you are nearly at the end of the path.
Of my eighteen total days of experience in Rocky, I've had the incredible good fortune of having one day -- and one day alone -- of enjoying clouds in the "low" country. There are two places along the park road that signal your elevation at 2 miles above sea level, and sometimes the drops from the roadway seem as far down. Weather conditions differ depending on the altitude, but the effects are often magnificent.
When was the last time you parked at the edge of a cloud?