10 Reasons Why Rocky Mountain Is One of the Most Popular National Parks

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Wayne Boland / Getty Images

With 415 square miles of recreational and nature viewing opportunities, it is no wonder that Rocky Mountain National Park is visited by over 4.5 million people annually.

Explore the park's rich biodiversity and unique environmental value with these 10 Rocky Mountain National Park facts.

The Park Has 355 Miles of Hiking Trails

Hiking trails range from flat, easy walks to steep mountain peaks to backcountry wilderness treks.

Due to the park’s high elevations, even those who are in very fit physical conditions can experience issues due to altitude while hiking, so it's a good idea to give yourself a few days to adjust before tackling some of the more difficult hikes.

The Landscape Was Carved by Glaciers

Dream Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park
 Douglas Rissing / Getty Images

Moving glaciers pick up materials like rocks, gravel, and sand, which in turn press down and carve into the landscape as it freezes, ebbs, flows, and eventually melts.

The massive glaciers that originally sculpted the natural environment of Rocky Mountain are long gone, though there are still several smaller glaciers in the higher altitudes of the park. 

Rocky Mountain Encompasses Three Separate Ecosystems

About one-third of the national park is located above 11,000 feet, creating an alpine tundra ecosystem characterized by extreme conditions and unique vegetation that’s evolved to adapt to the strong winds and frigid temperatures.

Just below, the subalpine ecosystem thrives between 9,000 and 11,000 feet, along with evergreen forests and mountain lakes.

The montane ecosystem located between 5,600 and 9,500 feet has the richest diversity of life thanks to sweeping meadows and more temperate weather.

A Majority of Rocky Mountain National Park Is Designated as Wilderness

Out of the national park’s 265,770 acres, almost 250,000 (nearly 95% of the park) were designated as wilderness areas by Congress in 2009, granting them the highest level of protection from human impact.

Rocky Mountain National Park firmly advocates for leave no trace principles, especially for its backcountry campers.

The Park Is Home to Over 60 Species of Mammals

Elk deer grazing grass on Rocky Mountain National Park.
Julie Rideout / Getty Images  

Wildlife viewing is consistently rated as the number one activity for a majority of Rocky Mountain National Park’s annual visitors, as it’s easy to see why.

The park protects more than 60 species of mammals, including bighorn sheep, mule deer, a small population of moose, and an elk herd numbering between 600 to 800 individuals during the winter season. Additionally, Rocky Mountain is home to at least 280 bird species, six amphibians (including the endangered boreal toad), 11 species of fish, and a large number of insects and butterflies.

The luckiest visitors will catch a glimpse of federally threatened wildlife like the Canada lynx, the greenback cutthroat trout, the Mexican spotted owl, and the North American wolverine.

Bighorn Sheep in the Park Can Weigh Up to 300 Pounds

Bighorn sheep in Rocky Mountain National Park
TNWA Photography / Getty Images

As the official symbol of Rocky Mountain National Park, bighorn sheep are abundant within its boundaries. There are about 400 sheep in total living inside the park, and with males weighing up to 300 pounds and standing over 3 feet tall at the shoulder, it’s no surprise that they’re known as the country’s largest wild sheep.

Bighorns prefer the alpine tundra parts of the park, but often come down to lower elevations in the late spring and early summer.

There Are Over 1,000 Species of Flowering Plants

Thanks to the park’s range in elevation and protected status, Rocky Mountain provides a diverse terrain for a wide variety of flowering plants, including the Colorado state flower, the Colorado columbine.

The mountain meadows and alpine ecosystems are littered with wildflowers, so many that new species are being added to the list almost every year.

Rocky Mountain National Park Has More Confirmed Species of Butterfly Than Some States

Phoebus parnassian butterflies in Colorado National Park
milehightraveler / Getty Images

The diversity of plant species helps support a large population of different pollinators—most specifically, butterflies. There are 141 confirmed species of butterfly living in the park, from the silvery checkerspot to the juniper hairstreak, which is more than many states can say.

Butterflies help the park’s environment beyond pollination, however, as they are also great bioindicators and can reflect changes in plant communities during all stages of their life cycles.

It Is One of the Highest National Parks in the Country

Elevations within Rocky Mountain National Park range from 7,860 feet to an impressive 14,259 feet, including at least 77 mountain peaks that sit over 12,000 feet high.

In fact, the park’s Alpine Visitor Center has the highest elevation (11,796 feet) of any visitors center in the National Park Service. The park also features the highest continuous paved road in the United States, known as Trail Ridge Road, that reaches its highest point at 12,183 feet.

The Park Holds a Large Museum Collection

While about 710 preserved artifacts and specimens telling the story of Rocky Mountain are on display in the park at visitors centers and historic sites, the entire collection consists of 33,465 cultural objects, 294 works of art, 10,495 biological specimens, and 455 geological specimens. The remaining items are stored in nearby repositories, such as the YMCA of the Rockies and the Denver Botanical Gardens.

View Article Sources
  1. "Rocky Mountain NP Stats Viewer." National Park Service.

  2. "Wilderness." National Park Service.