Places to Visit: Rocky Mountain National Park

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Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park is located along the continental divide in Colorado near Estes Park. Sixty peaks towering over 12,000 feet invite climbers and adventurers. The tallest is Long's Peak that sits at 14,259 feet and has a summit close to the size of soccer field. 359 miles of trail in the national park give visitors endless opportunities for hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. Fly fishing is a common sport in the Rocky Mountains but it is easy to find seclusion in remote waters as the park has 150 lakes and 450 miles of streams. Read More

From ponderosa pine to sub alpine fir and Engelmann spruce to the lichens and perennials of alpine tundra, the national park varies greatly in elevation and vegetation. Most of the park is above tree line, a hard place for plants and trees to survive. But wildflowers persist and are magnificent in June and July. Come September and October, even more color glistens from mountain sides as aspens change color from brilliant greens to yellows to oranges to reds.

The best time to see wildlife in Rocky Mountain National Park is in the early morning. Elk, mule deer, black bear, cougars, eagles, coyotes, bighorn sheep, moose, and hawks call this land home.

Moose tend to stick to themselves and are usually only seen with one or two other fellow moose. They eat willow, aspen leaves, and water plants and are over six feet tall. Moose lose their antlers every spring and typically live to be 20 years old.

May and June are busy months for wildlife as birds begin migrating and elk and bighorn offspring are born. The elk population varies from 3000 to 1000 depending on the time of year. In the fall they descend to the park's meadows to mate. This time is called the 'rut', literally meaning roar, because of the call the bull elk give out during the mating season which they use to scare rivals.

Bighorn Sheep have come close to extinction in the past because of hunting and disease. They have made a remarkable recovery and about 600 currently live in Rocky Mountain National Park. It is best to see bighorns at lower elevations in the late spring and early summer. They have great eyesight, hearing, and smell, a thick coat for colder months, and special hooves that give them great balance on high narrow cliff sides. In late spring, sheep come down from high alpine to eat rich soils of lower elevations. Their stomachs are very complex allowing them to stuff themselves quickly and then seek refuge in high alpine terrain where they process food while staying safe from predators. Bighorn Sheep keep their horns for life. A full curl is present by age 8 for males and female's horns grow into a long sharp point by age 4. The size and shape of their horns is helpful in determining their age and sex.

Rocky Mountain National Park is open year round and there are unlimited camping opportunities in both the front and backcountry. When visiting the national park, I suggest cruising the Trail Ridge Road, which is the highest road in any national park, offering amazing views of surrounding peaks. If traveling from Cody, Wyoming head south on Hwy 120 to US 20 and eventually merge with I-25. Exit onto Hwy 119 south. Remember that, like most of Colorado, mornings tend to be sunny and pleasant, but can quickly turn into powerful thunderstorms in the afternoons.