Hiking Rocky Mountain National Park

The eastern entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park sits on the western edge of Estes Park, Colorado. A 30-mile drive from Fort Collins, the park offers over 355 miles of hiking trails ranging from 7500 to 12000 feet above sea level, spread out over the park’s 415 square miles.

Colorado has no shortage of National Forest, State Forest and other public land hiking available, but several self-identified hikers identified Rocky Mountain National Park as their favorite location.

Dave Schutz, 31, started hiking in Colorado 25 years ago with his parents. “I grew up around Estes so I’m partial to hiking in Rocky and so that’s what I’m most familiar with and where I’ve done the most hiking,” Schutz said. “I’d have to say I’m probably most fond of the Loch Vale hike, the destination is amazing and has its own trailhead area.”

Schutz explained he primarily only takes day hikes in the park and prefers to do any overnight trips in National Forest or somewhere else. “I prefer not to do that sort of stuff in the park, camping has to be in designated areas so if I’m camping I’d rather hike in national forest,” Schutz said.

Entrance to the Park typically costs a fee ranging from ten dollars for a single pedestrian to $20 for a single automobile. In both cases, the fee covers entrance for the next seven days.

Other fees to be aware of include a $20 Backcountry Camping Permit and $20 a day for any of the five drive-in campgrounds. Be sure to make a reservation well ahead of your trip to prevent sleeping in your car.

Multiple season sasses are available for the park and range in price from ten dollars for seniors to $80 for a combined National Park and Federal Recreation Lands pass. Consult www.nps.gov for a breakdown of available passes and fees.

Kelsey Romshek, 25, has hiked Rocky Mountain National Park since he was a child. “Primarily I like the Bowen Baker Gulch hike the best,” Romshek said. “It’s easy to hit those two mountains within a day. I enjoy hiking into the thick forestry that breaks you out above tree line.”

Romshek explained the allure of Rocky Mountain National Park includes the close proximity to wildlife. “There’s a ton of wildlife and huge herds of elk,” he said. “Gotta love the sound of bull’s bugling to each other from across the valley as you begin a hike.”

While Romshek has hiked other areas of Colorado, including Dinosaur National Monument, he still prefers Rocky Mountain National Park. “I’m more partial to the forested areas more so than the desert areas,” Romshek said. “And I’m not a fan of areas with snakes.”

Laura Sanchez, 22, is an employee of Rocky Mountain National Park and offered some suggestions to avoid difficulties during a hike. “Bring proper gear for all occasions,” Sanchez said. “Be prepared, stay on the trail, bring and drink plenty of water.”

Sanchez knows first-hand how difficult hiking can get if not properly planned. “We started hiking the eight mile trip to Long’s Peak just after midnight on a day I had spent 12 hours at Elitch’s and a water park,” Sanchez said. “Since I have no background I was not prepared and it was like my own personal hell.”

Sanchez terminated her attempt to summit Long’s Peak seven miles into her eight mile hike that day. A decision many inexperienced hikers are unwilling to make. Several times a year, inexperienced hikers require evacuation from trails around Colorado sometimes requiring dispatch of search-and-rescue teams.

Rocky Mountain Rescue Group averaged 73 calls a year solely for hikers from 2004-2008.

Hiking the mountains of Colorado provides a great opportunity for those willing to plan appropriately. Spend the time before you go researching fees and appropriate equipment for the hike you’d like to experience to avoid any ugly surprises.

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