Throughout its 415 square miles of rock-ribbed wildness, Rocky Mountain National Park truly is a land of superlatives. Here, at least 60 mountains exceed 12,000 feet, topping off at 14,255 feet on the football field-sized summit of Longs Peak. Names such as Cirrus, Chiefs Head, Isolation, Mummy, and Storm evoke the grandeur of this high landscape.
Although the great peaks comprise the essence of the park, the delicate alpine flowers, clear lakes, rushing mountain waters, and impressive forests appeal to all the senses. An array of wildlife - bighorn sheep, ptarmigan, coyote, beaver - adds life to the landscape.
The wide variety of elevations and habitats create a choice of activities for visitors. From scenic dives and short strolls along a gentle trail to more ambitious daylong hikes to vertical mountain climbs, Rocky Mountain National Park offers many ways to experience nature in all its splendor.
Rocky Mountain National Park has 355 miles of hiking trails. These range from flat lakeside strolls to quite steep peak climbs. If you are new to the park, rangers at the visitor centers and backcountry office can provide advice on trails that are appropriate for different fitness and experience levels.
As you plan your hike, keep in mind that park elevations range from 7,500 to over 12,000 feet. Even very fit individuals coming from lower elevations may experience altitude problems. Symptoms include headaches, shortness of breath, insomnia, and rapid heartbeat. After a few days your body will have made some physiological adjustments to higher elevations, but full acclimation may take a weeks. To minimize symptoms drink plenty of fluids, avoid alcohol, don't skip meals, and get plenty of rest.
Although you may not feel thirsty, the "thinner" air at high elevations actually results in increased water evaporation from your lungs. Again, drinking extra water may prevent a bad headache or other altitude symptoms.
Ultraviolet light is stronger in the mountains because there is less atmosphere for the sunlight to pass through. Wear sunscreen, a hat, sun glasses, and consider covering up with a long sleeved shirt if you are out in the sun for extended periods.
If you have never hiked before or are traveling with children, check out the recommended accessible trails. Ranger-led walks are free and can increase your confidence while you learn more about the park. Rocky Mountain National Park is a great place to discover how traveling by foot brings you closer to nature.
Although Rocky Mountain National Park is famous for its steep terrain, accessible trails have been constructed in areas noted for their scenery. These trails are also good choices for visitors interested in adjusting to the park's higher elevations, groups that include young children, visitors with visual impairment and anyone who finds walking on level, relatively smooth paths attractive. Park trails meeting accessibility specifications include:
Coyote Valley Trail
Kawuneeche, the Arapaho word for coyote, was the name given to this gentle valley of the Upper Colorado River. Elk and moose are sometimes sighted from the one-mile trail, especially during the early morning and early evening hours.
Abner Sprague homesteaded in this area more than a century ago and created a trout pond by damming a stream. Sprague also undoubtedly appreciated the breathtaking views of the Continental Divide, which are best seen from this half-mile-long trail at the far end of the lake. An accessible backcountry camping site is located in the area.
Enos Mills, the "father of Rocky Mountain National Park," enjoyed walking to Lily Lake from his nearby cabin. Check along the mile-long trail through this relatively low-elevation area for wildflowers in the spring and early summer.
Tucked into the spruce/fir forest at the base of Hallett Peak and Flattop Mountain, this 0.6-mile loop is one of Rocky's most famous trails.Unlike other listed trails, Bear Lake is not entirely flat and is a more challenging route.