Rocky Mountain National Park
Turn-of-the-century naturalist Enons Mill was a prophet of sorts, predicting the popularity of Rocky Mountain National Park. “In years to come,” he wrote in 1909,” “when I’m asleep beneath the pines, thousands of families will find rest … in this park.” More than a century later, his prediction has come true — and then some. Come September, the Rocky Mountain National Park turns 100 years old, and in that time, this 416-square-mile park has become one of Colorado’s most popular attractions, drawing 3 million visitors a year.
To celebrate the park’s Sept. 4, 1915 birthday, here are five reasons this iconic park has been an America favorite for 100 years and counting …
1. A park with a view
The Rocky Mountain National Park is known for one of Colorado’s favorite 14ers, Longs Peak, a heavenly summit that ascends more than 14,000 feet above sea level. In addition to this 14er, there are more than 72 peaks higher than 12,000 feet, making this park a backpacker’s playground. The park also boasts Trail Ridge Road, the highest continually paved road in the U.S., winding as high as 12,185 feet for tundra views. The Great Divide also runs through the park, and from this continental divide, water either runs east or west to its respective oceans.
2. Rocky Mountain recreation
With more than 358 miles of hiking trails, combined with Rocky Mountain backcountry, the Rockies offer up an infinite number of marvels. From majestic forests to tundra wildflowers, from trickling streams to surging rivers, every hike is as breathtaking as the last. Embark on an easy Colorado hike, like Bear Lake Loop, or set off on a challenging mountain summit, like Capitol Peak. If hiking isn’t your thing, there’s always mountain biking, river rafting, fly fishing, animal watching and more.
3. Rocky Mountain wildlife
From the park’s skittering chipmunks to its majestic big horn sheep, Rocky Mountain wildlife sightings are plentiful. So have your camera at the ready, especially during the height of the Rocky Mountain elk bugling season. As autumn approaches, elk descend from the high country to mountain meadows for breeding. (Moraine Park is a favorite herding location.) During this time, female herds gather as bull elk compete with one another for breeding rights. On an autumn evening, Rocky Mountain visitors are treated to the bugling of these bulls — a crescendo of deep tones that rise into a high-pitched squeal before ending in a series of grunts. Also known as “rutting,” this term is derived from the Latin word that means “roar,” an eerie call that signals mating season.
4. The Junior Ranger program
For the road tripping family, there’s nothing like the Rocky Mountain National Park and its Junior Ranger program. Led by a real Rocky Mountain ranger, kids can earn their ranger badge at Junior Ranger Headquarters from June to August. Located at Moraine Park Discovery Center along Bear Lake Road, this program is filled with educational opportunities, including nature walks, avalanche courses and rock climbing lessons. You might say, the only thing missing is Yogi Bear, but don’t worry — just outside this national park, Estes Park boats its own Yogi Bear Jellystone Park.
5. The Estes Park entrance
Estes Park is the eastern gateway of the Rocky Mountain National Park, but it’s a destination unto itself with one-of-a-kind stores lining the historic town’s main thoroughfare. More than 150 years old, town history runs thicker than the clusters of elk that gather on Estes’18-hole golf course. The town is perhaps best known for The Stanley, a Historic Hotel that was the inspiration for Stephen King’s The Shining. Aside from the novel, The Stanley is also known for its majestic white pillars that give the hotel its classic elegance. An hour away from Estes Park, Colorado visitors can also check into the Hotel Boulderardo, another Historic Hotel. Located in Boulder, this five-story Italianate brick building exudes its own elegance.