Rocky Mountain National Park
At any time of the year the Rocky Mountain National Park, northwest of Denver, is absolutely dazzling. In summer, take longer hikes rewarded by the sight of a stunning waterfall; in the fall come to hear the huge elk bugling and see the spectacular aspen trees changing colors; in the winter snowshoe or cross-country ski to, and around, a handful of pristine lakes; in the spring drive or walk among the wildflowers blooming and catch glimpses of wildlife that includes bighorn sheep, cougars, moose, and bears.
Among the 60 peaks that are over 12,000 feet high, the more adventurous types can attempt a hike to the top of 14,259-foot Longs Peak.
There are three visitors centers on east entrances to Rocky Mountain National Park; all have the same phone number and website. The Beaver Meadows Visitor Center (Rte. 36, 3 miles from Estes Park, 970/586-1206, www.nps.gov/romo, daily 8 a.m.–5 p.m.) has restrooms, maps, a 20-minute film about the park shown throughout the day, and rangers who can answer questions.
The Fall River Visitor Center (Rte. 34, 5 miles from Estes Park, check for seasonal hours) has hands-on nature exhibits, restrooms, and helpful rangers. The Moraine Park Visitor Center and Museum (off Bear Lake Rd. 1.5 miles from Beaver Meadows park entrance, check for seasonal hours) includes a half-mile nature trail.
For more information on the town of Estes Park, go to the Estes Park Visitors Center (500 Big Thompson Ave., 970/577-9900 or 800/443-7837, www.estesparkcvb.com). You can download a visitors guide from their website or have one mailed to you. In addition to lodging and dining information in Estes, they of course have brochures and can answer questions about Rocky Mountain National Park.
Getting to Rocky Mountain National Park
From Denver you can either take I-25 north to exit 243 through Longmont and then take State Highway 66 to Lyons to merge with Highway 36 into Estes Park, or from I-25 get on Highway 36 to Boulder and stay on the road as it passes through town and on to Lyons and then Estes Park.
The Peak-to-Peak Scenic Byway is another option, which starts in the town of Blackhawk on State Highway 119. It takes at least one hour to drive to Rocky Mountain National Park from downtown Denver, longer if you take a scenic route.
From Denver International Airport Estes Park Shuttle (970/586-5151, www.estesparkshuttle.com) offers at least three rides a day for $45 one-way and $85 round-trip.
There can be traffic jams in Rocky Mountain National Park during the busy summer months, and even in the fall when the elk are more visible and the leaves are changing color. There is free shuttle bus service within the park in spring, summer, and fall. For more information about bus schedules, check www.nps.gov/romo or call 970/586-1206.
Always check with the park for the latest road conditions because the high elevations can have dramatically different weather than the lower elevations.
© Mindy Sink from Moon Denver, 1st Edition