One hundred and fifty lakes. Four hundred and fifty miles of streams. Seventy-seven peaks higher than 12,000 feet. Montane and subalpine ecosystems, vast alpine tundra, and countless elk, deer, moose, bighorn sheep, coyotes, black bears, and mountain lions. Rocky Mountain National Park is, by all accounts, magnificent; it’s a landscape that’s breathtaking, even by Colorado standards.
These riches are made all the more remarkable because Rocky is just a 90-minute drive from Denver—which may explain why so many Denverites take this jewel of the Rockies for granted.
Yes, Colorado’s nearly unparalleled, ubiquitous, and accessible natural beauty probably has something to do with the fact that we’re not sufficiently investigating Rocky. After all, national parks have more rules, regulations, fees—and, let’s face it, crowds—than the plethora of wilderness areas, national forests, state parks, and open spaces Colorado offers. But there’s something captivating and romantic about national parks. A uniquely American invention, these federally protected lands—84 million acres of earth and 4.5 million acres of oceans and lakes—preserve some of the country’s most jaw-dropping landscapes (Hawaii’s volcanoes, California’s redwoods, Wyoming’s geysers, Florida’s wetlands) as well as many of its most prized historical landmarks (Gettysburg, Cape Hatteras, Klondike Gold Rush, Ford’s Theatre). We think that’s exceptionally cool—and we think it’s even more cool that we’ve got one right in our backyard.
If there were ever an extra-special time to visit Rocky—to not take this treasure for granted—it would be this summer. The September 2013 floods tore through the park, and while most of the hiking trails and camping areas are now open, significant damage remains. Although Rocky received $3.5 million in federal emergency relief funds, at press time the park was still waiting to hear about further relief funding; park spokeswoman Kyle Patterson says even that hypothetical purse may not be enough. Instead, Rocky will rely, in part, on park entrance and camping permit fees—80 percent of which go to fund projects tied to visitor use—to subsidize other necessary repairs. Which means a trip to the park these days will not only bring you face-to-face with one of nature’s most exquisite creations, but it will also let you play a part in safeguarding one of America’s loveliest conservancies: Rocky Mountain National Park.
5280.com Exclusive: See our slideshow of Rocky Mountain National Park historical photos.