Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park is located in north-central Colorado in the United States. The park holds 265,761 acres of protected land and is bordered by Routt National Forest in the northwest, Arapaho National Forest in the southwest, and Roosevelt National Forest in the east and west. The park is separated into two areas by the Continental Divide, giving the west and east areas different climates and habitats. It holds 450 miles of streams and 150 different lakes, as well as 72 mountain peaks that reach elevations over 12,000 feet. The northern area of the park contains smaller mountains that are part of the Mummy Range.

Although Native Americans did travel through the Rocky Mountain area within the past ten thousand years ago, they did not affect the area greatly. The first American to settle in the park area was Joel Estes, who moved his family into the meadows that would become Estes Park in 1860. In 1866, the Estes family moved out of the meadows due to harsh winters, after which more settlers claimed land in the area. Tourists like mountain climbers began moving into the area at this time as well. Minors moved into the Never Summer Mountains, creating the mining city Lulu City. The create of Rocky Mountain National Park began when Enos Mills, after exploring the area extensively when he was fourteen years old, lobbied the government to establish the park. Congress passed the bill establishing the area as a national park and President Woodrow Wilson signed the bill in 1915.

The climate of Rocky Mountain National Park varies greatly depending upon the season. The summer season brings high temperatures that can peak in the eighties and thunderstorms are common. The winter season often occurs between the months of October to April and brings heavy snows. This snow melts quickly at low elevations, but can persist at higher elevations, causing closings of some hiking trails. The spring season brings light snows and rain showers.

Rocky Mountain National Park contains many habitats including alpine tundras at high elevations and grasslands and montane forests at low elevations. Lower elevation habitats contain douglas fir and ponderosa pine trees, while higher elevations hold sparse vegetation due to harsh conditions. Riparian wetland habitats occur throughout the park due to the presence of streams. Many animal species inhabit the park including pikas, mule deer, bighorn sheep, black bears, and mountain lions.

Rocky Mountain National Park can be accessed by State Highway 7 and U.S. Highways 34 and 36, although U.S. Highway 34 is the only road that runs throughout the entire park. This road is known as Trail Ridge Road within the park and offers a popular scenic view of the area. Visitors can partake in many activities including winter sports like skiing, snowshoeing, and other activities like camping, hiking, backpacking, fishing, and mountain climbing. Hikers can choose from 349 miles of trails that vary in length. Popular tourist attractions include mountain climbing on Longs Peak, hiking near and to Bear Lake, and visiting Paradise Park, which does not have any trails leading to it.

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Image Caption: Rocky Mountain National Park. Credit: Daniel Mayer (Mav)/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)