Rocky Mountain National Park
This information is compiled to assist guests who rent our Condo at the Zephyr Mountain Lodge. If you've arrived at this page as a result of a web search on Winter Park and Rocky Mountain National Park, we hope you benefit from the information. If you need lodging, thank you for considering us.
The most popular things to do in Rocky Mountain National Park
-- RMNP was Established in 1915 by Teddy Roosevelt.
-- Over 3 Million visitors enjoy the Park per year.
-- Admission is $15 per vehicle and is good for 7 days.
-- Trail Ridge Road spends 11 miles above 11,500 feet.
-- Trail Ridge Road climbs and drops over 4000 feet.
-- Rocky Mountain Park's lowest area is 7840 feet. It's highest spot is 14255 feet atop Longs Peak.
-- Rocky Mountain National Park encompasses 415 sq miles.
-- There are more than 355 miles of hiking trails in RMNP
DRIVE TRAIL RIDGE ROAD
Trail Ridge Road follows an old Ute Trail, Ute, Arapaho and Cheyenne Indians came into the Fraser Valley using this route in pursuit of game. Today, Trail Ridge Road is America's highest continuous highway. It stays above timberline for 11 miles and reaches a maximum elevation of 12183 feet. No other road takes you from glaciated valleys through green forests to the untamed tundra. You quickly gain eye level with majestic mountain peaks.
A strong recommendation is made for an early morning start. Arrive at RMNP entrance gate by 9AM. By starting early, you will be ahead of most of the crowds. But more important, you will see the Majestic Rocky Mountain Peaks before the daily clouds start to build.
Begin at Kawuneeche Visitor Center near Grand Lake to start your outing. For 8 miles, the road runs straight through forests of aspen and ponderosa pine, fir and spruce. There are regular views of the Kawuneeche Valley to the west [left]. This lovely valley is the start of the mighty Colorado River. Kawuneeche Valley was settled in the latter half of the 1800's by pioneers. You can still see some remains of their homesteading. At dusk [or dawn] this area is one of the top two areas for viewing elk, deer, and other wildlife [the other area is Horseshoe Park on the east side]. Be especially careful and on the lookout as you drive this stretch; striking an elk will do major damage to a car. Also be careful along this stretch to obey the speed limit. Rangers run regular radar patrols.
On your right you will pass the starts of several trail heads: Green Mountain Trail, Onahu Creek Trail, and finally Timber Lake Trail. These trails climb sharply into the high country to the east. On your left, you will pass Coyote Valley Trailhead and Bowen Baker Trailhead. These trails go across the Kawuneeche Valley meadows. At the 8 mile point, you pass the only automobile accessible campground on all TrailRidge road. After another mile and again on your left, you pass a parking lot for a trail that leads to the headwaters of the Colorado River.
At mile 10, Trail Ridge Road starts a serious climb to over 12000 feet. There are many tight switchbacks to be navigated. Do not be fooled at how easy it seems to drive up this stretch. Heading back downhill will be much more difficult. After another 8 miles, you come to Milner Pass. This is the point where Trail Ridge Road crosses the Continental Divide. The Continental Divide crosses the road at an almost 90 degree angle and continues to the right and left for about a mile in either direction. This location is a relatively 10,120 feet. You are not yet at treeline. The rest of the drive eastward drops water that ultimately makes its way to the Atlantic Ocean. Just past the Continental Divide crossing is Poudre Lake and the start of the Poudre River.
As you continue eastward [and upward] the forest becomes thinner. You will leave the trees behind at about mile 18. At tree line, the stunted, wind-battered trees give way to alpine tundra. At almost mile 20 you will make a big turn to the right -- Medicine Bow Curve. Park here and enjoy the scenery to the North. You can see all the way to Wyoming. Once back in your car, it's just a short [uphill] drive to Fall River Pass and the Alpine Visitor Center. At first you might not see how Fall River pass gets its name... after all, Trail Ridge road continues to climb uphill... there is a steep drop to your right ... where is the other side of the pass?
Take a moment to park your car and walk into the visitor center. Oxygen is scarce at this elevation. Monitor your exertion. Look out the windows to the far end and you will see Fall River and the old Fall River Road. Built in 1921, this road came through Fall River Pass on its way to the Western Slope. Fall River Road is now open just a few months of the year. It is one way [uphill]. You may choose to linger a bit at the visitor center, talk to a ranger, or have a bite to eat at the snack shop.
Back in your car, you will be above timberline for the next 9 miles. The area above treeline is know as the tundra region. There is an ever present wind and the temperatures are always 10 to 30 degrees colder than Winter Park. You are now over 11,500 feet -- well over 2 miles -- above sea level. Never walk on the tundra. Damage from mankind can take 30-50 years to heal in this challenging environment where plants have a short 40 day growing season. In your care, you first climb for another mile and a half -- to 12183 feet above sea level. Then, you will start a slow downward journey. There is pull-off at Lava Cliffs where you can see Iceberg pass below. While at Lava Cliffs, you may see Marmots scurrying around. Do not feed these cute creatures -- no matter how friendly they appear. They will try.
A little over 3 miles from the visitor center is the Rock Cut where the road narrows and goes through a slot. The actual rock cut slot is at the far end of the parking area. So park first, and take a short half mile hike on a designated trail across the tundra. Walk uphill slowly since the air is thin. You can always enjoy the tiny fragile flowers of the tundra. One year we were very lucky and saw a dozen big horn sheep.
In another two miles, you come to Forest Canyon Overlook. This is another popular viewing area. You look down 3000 feet into the Big Thompson drainage. Three miles farther down the road is Rainbow Curve. Along these 3 miles, you will start to see a few trees. Those which are green are windswept. Those which are dead were victim to a fire over a half century ago. Caution is advised along this 3 mile stretch. It is a steady down hill and easy to get going too fast. Use low gears to hold you back and save your brakes for the corners where you will have to slow further.
Right after Rainbow Curve, you re-enter the forest. Trail Ridge road continues its steep downhill. In less than a half mile, you pass across one of the trails of Hidden Valley Ski Hill which has not operated since the 1980's. About 4 miles from Rainbow Curve, you come to Many Parks Curve [uphill cars park on your left, around the curve is another parking lot for downhill cars]. Stop at Many Parks Curve and see the "parks" in the forest below. A "park" is a natural clearing and there are some beautiful ones along the Big Thompson River and other waterways. Most parks were caused by beavers and their purposeful dams. Chipmunks abound at Many Parks Curve. Do not feed them.
Continue downhill another 2 miles and look for pulloffs to your left
that head downhill [do not take the pulloff to your left that goes uphill
to the old Hidden Valley Ski Area base lodge]. The pulloffs you want
are a half mile past Hidden Valley and are home to beaver dams.
A decision is recommended at this point:
Just under 2 miles from the Beaver Pond pulloff, make a left turn [stay on US34 / follow the signs to Estes Park], and head to Horeshoe Park. 1 1/2 miles later make another left turn toward Endovalley and Fall River Road. Drive 2 miles to where the road surface turns to dirt -- navigable by cars. There are several lovely places to stop along Endovalley or in Horseshoe Park, so it is enjoy the scenery. Once the road turns to dirt, it is 9 miles of dust and bumps to Fall River Pass and the visitor center/gift shop/snack bar. Plan on it taking 1-2 hours depending on how frequently you wish to stop. The prettiest parts are the last 3 miles above treeline.
Once you have arrived at the
Wildlife can be found throughout RMNP. Fall, winter, and spring are the best viewing seasons. Different elevations are home to different wildlife at different seasons. You will find different animals in the alpine tundra from the sub-alpine forests from the lower forests and in the wetlands.
It is not practical to describe best viewing areas as the animals
frequent different areas depending on season, temperature, and other
factors. Stop by the visitor center and ask a ranger. All
total there are 262 species of birds and 67 species of mammals in the
Rocky Mountain Park. Have fun watching....
There are 700 to 900 different species of flowers in Rocky Mountain
Just in the alpine tundra along trail ridge road there are 200 kinds
of flowering plants. Due the number and ubiquity of flower types,
you are recommended to a website below.
RANGER LEAD PROGRAMS
From the middle of June until the middle of August RMNP rangers lead a series of programs. On the western side [the Winter Park side] there are programs for children and adults, active and lecture. The program guide in a recent year included:
Explore a section of the Colorado River
Learn which senses RMNP animals use to find food
Experience life on a 1920 dude ranch.
Evening Forest Sounds
Early Settlers of the Region
Visit a website with info on RMNP or check with the Rangers at the Visitor Center for details.
HIKING TRAILS ON THE WESTERN SLOPE
OTHER URL'S WITH INFORMATION ABOUT RMNP
Official Website for RMNP.