It doesn't take long for the locals of Estes Park, Colorado, to point out the eminent peak towering over the mountainous skyline. "That one," they will say, "that one is Longs Peak."
Coloradans take great pride in their elevation, and reaching 14,259 feet, Longs gives people a reason to brag and point. What they're pointing at is the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park.
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Rocky Mountain National Park was named after and resides within the backbone of the North American continent. Reaching all the way from Mexico to Canada, the Rocky Mountains have become an exceptionally notable feature in every country they divide—a divide determining which direction watershed will travel, to the Pacific or the Atlantic.
Established in 1915, Rocky Mountain National Park became a designated area set to protect and preserve the unique features found within this mountain range, specifically the radical ecosystems spanning from montane to alpine. Due to the beautiful landscape, Rocky Mountain is one of the most frequented parks within the park system, giving visitors magnificent views of glacier-cut valleys, coniferous forests, towering waterfalls, and open and lush meadows.
The most notable drive in the park is Trail Ridge Road: the highest major highway in North America, reaching 12,183 feet and stretching 48 miles from east to west.
Trail Ridge Road
Driving Trail Ridge Road is a must for first-time visitors; this is the only road that will take you through all the ecosystems, above the tree line without hiking (trees stop growing around 11,000 feet in Rocky Mountain), and give you a glimpse of both the wet west side of the mountains and the dry east.
When making this drive, set aside at least half a day to enjoy the mountain passage. Though it's only 48 miles, it will take hours to navigate the switchbacks, scale the elevation, and appreciate the scenic viewpoints, looking over a landscape carved out by 18,000 years of glacial history. Traffic can also be bad during peak tourist season, especially if construction is underway.
This road will take you back and forth from the western entrance at Grand Lake and the eastern entrances of Estes Park.