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Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

Established in January 1915, Rocky Mountain National Park is a living showcase of the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains, with elevations ranging from 8,000 feet in the wet, grassy valleys, to 14,259 feet at the weather-ravaged top of Longs Peak.The U.S. government acquired the park's original 358.5 square miles in the huge Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Long and his expedition forces avoided the rugged mountains and were never closer than 40 miles from the peak named for him.The first settler in the area was Joel Estes from Kentucky. In 1860, Estes moved his family into a new home in the area now known as Estes Park.Winters proved too harsh for cattle, so six years later, the Estes family sold out for a yoke of oxen. The Estes cabin was soon converted into guest accommodations, and from that time in 1867 on, the number of visitors to this area has grown steadily.Because large veins of silver and gold had been discovered in other areas of the Rockies, miners considered the area a land of opportunity and came in droves during Colorado's gold rush of the late 1870s.By 1880, Lulu City, in what is now the northwest part of the park, was a booming mining town with a raucous reputation. Three years later, it was nearly deserted because the region's mineral riches were far less than dreamed.Enos Mills, came to the Longs Peak area in 1884, when he was 14 years old, not long after his arrival, Mills bought the Longs Peak Inn and began conducting local nature trips. In 1909, Mills first proposed that the area become the nation's tenth national park to preserve the wild lands from inappropriate use.He spent several years lecturing across the nation, writing thousands of letters and articles, and lobbying Congress to create a new park that would stretch from the Wyoming border south to Pikes Peak, covering more than 1,000 square miles. He has support from several civic leaders, the Denver Chamber of Commerce, and the Colorado Mountain Club.The opposition came from mining, logging, and agricultural groups. Rogers, the first president of the Colorado Mountain Club, was the establishment of a smaller park (358.3 square miles). In January 1915 under President Woodrow Wilson, it was declared Rocky Mountain National Park.Rocky Mountain National Park has 60 peaks rising above 12,000 feet to challenge intrepid hikers and climbers. This is the highest, continuous, paved road in the United States.Construction on Trail Ridge Road began in September 1929, and was completed to Fall River Pass July 1932. Eight miles of the road are above 11,000 feet in elevation.In 1990, it gained an additional 465 acres when Congress approved expansion of the park to include the area known as Lily Lake. Today, the park stands as a legacy to those pioneers who looked beyond its harvestable resources and worked to preserve its natural values.

Rocky Mountain National Park

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Rocky Mountain National Park, spectacular mountainous region of north-central Colorado, U.S. It lies just west of the town of Estes Park and adjoins Arapaho National Recreation Area, which surrounds two lakes formed by the impounding of the Colorado River, to the southwest the eastern entrance of the park lies about 70 miles (115 km) northwest of Denver. Established in 1915 and designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1976, the national park has an area of 415 square miles (1,075 square km).

Rocky Mountain National Park includes part of the Front Range, a line of mountains trending north-south that marks the eastern edge of the Southern Rocky Mountains. Dozens of peaks exceed 12,000 feet (3,650 metres) in elevation, the highest being Longs Peak at 14,259 feet (4,346 metres). Also notable are the broad glacier-carved valleys and gorges, numerous alpine lakes, and plunging streams. Ice Age glacial deposition is evidenced by meadows and rolling moraines. The Continental Divide runs roughly northwest-southeast through the centre of the park. The source of the Colorado River is in the northwestern corner the river flows southward along the park’s western edge and into Arapaho National Recreation Area before turning to the southwest.

Rocky Mountain National Park supports three ecosystems: montane, subalpine, and alpine tundra. Tundra makes up one-third of the park’s area. A great variety of plant life, more than 700 species, can be seen. Trees characteristic of the area include aspen, fir, pine, and spruce. The tundra in the park’s high country is an island of arctic vegetation surrounded by plants of lower latitudes. Animal life includes bighorn, deer, mountain lions, bobcats, black bears, elk, moose, and a variety of birds.

The park is accessible in summer via Trail Ridge Road, which bisects it east-west and reaches an elevation of 12,183 feet (3,713 metres) it is one of America’s most scenic highways. The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail also passes through. The park has some 350 miles (565 km) of hiking trails. Popular activities are snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in winter and hiking, fishing, rock climbing, and horseback riding in summer. Several of the visitor centres have cultural and natural history exhibits.

Enos Mills: Father of Rocky Mountain National Park

Why Important: Responsible for the creation of Rocky Mountain National Park


Born in Kansas, Enos Mills left home at age 14 and traveled to Estes Park, Colorado, where some of his relatives lived. He fell in love with the mountains and in Colorado found his new home. For the next twenty years he made his living as a mountain guide and supplemented his income by working at local mines and ranches during seasons where there were not many tourists.

In 1902, Mills purchased the Longs Peak Inn in Estes Park, which he operated until his death in 1922. Mills wanted the Longs Peak Inn to reflect the quiet tranquility of nature, so he did not allow any music or dancing in his hotel. Mills loved Longs Peak, the mountain his hotel was named for, and had climbed it over 300 times.

Rocky Mountain National Park circa 1908-1920
(credit: Denver Public Library)

As he grew older, Mills quit his mining and ranching jobs, which often took him far from Estes Park, and began spending most of his time there, where he wrote books 1 “Enos A. Mills Issues New Book on ‘Waiting in the Wilderness.'”Fort Collins Courier, April 25, 1921. CHNC and articles promoting the area as a tourist destination. Soon Mills began to promote the idea of making the area around Estes Park into a National Park, especially since Estes Park had begun to draw more and more tourists with the opening of the Stanley Hotel. Mills feared the hotel would attract other commercial development 2 “Grand Lake Auto Road.” Middle Park Times, April 5, 1912. CHNC and sought to preserve the area as a National Park. Mills and others worked hard to determine the boundaries of the proposed park and to lobby Congress to designate the area. Finally, in 1915, Rocky Mountain National Park was officially designated. 3 “Rocky Mountain National Park is Dedicated.” Daily Journal, August 28, 1915. CHNC

At the age of 48, in 1918, Mills married Esther Burnell, who had come from Ohio as a tourist in Estes Park. The couple had one child, a daughter, Edna. Just four years after his marriage, Enos Mills died of influenza at the age of 52. 4 “Death of Enos A. Mills.” Longmont Ledger, September 22, 1922.CHNC Today, the Estes Park cabin in which he lived for many years has become a museum.

History of Rocky Mountain National Park

Although Rocky Mountain National Park was officially established by President Woodrow Wilson in 1915, this amazing region of peaks, valleys and forests that is now one of the nation’s most popular vacation destinations had already been inhabited by humans for thousands of years. Tribes of Ute and Arapaho spent summers in the area until the land was acquired by the U.S. government with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. These early European explorers were soon followed by hordes of miners and homesteaders in the 1860s enticed by the Pikes Peak gold rush and the Homestead Act of 1862, which offered settlers free plots of public land in the west.

Not many homesteaders were able to survive in the harsh Rocky Mountain climate, but one that did was the Holzwarth family. In 1917, shortly after the Rocky Mountain National Park Act was signed, German immigrants John and Sophia Holzwarth journeyed west to homestead 160 acres along the banks of the Colorado River in the Kawuneeche Valley, just a few miles from the town of Grand Lake. They first built a simple one-room cabin, but eventually added a barn, sawmill and additional cabins for guests becoming one of the nation’s first dude ranch destinations. Today, the preserved Holzwarth Historic Site is a must-see attraction on Rocky’s west side

Another family to successfully homestead in the area was the Harbison family. Sisters Kittie and Annie Harbison arrived in the Kawuneeche Valley in 1896 to establish a thriving dairy farm. Located near the western entrance station, the Harbison Meadows now provides some of the finest picnic sites on Rocky’s west side as well as one of the best places to spot elk and moose year-round.
In the 1930s, the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps recruited workers to Rocky Mountain National Park to help build roads, camps, trails and other facilities. It was during this time that the Trail Ridge Road scenic byway was constructed, allowing visitors to travel between the towns of Grand Lake and Estes Park. Tourism surged after World War II and the park service introduced the concept of visitor centers to manage and educate the influx of visitors.

Rocky Mountain National Park - History

The Rocky Mountain National Park . . . for centuries people have marveled at their rugged beauty, they’ve photographed ’em, climbed’em, hiked ’em, camped in ’em, sung songs about ’em, but how did they get there? What’s the story? Well, to be honest, not one but many geological events have been involved in creating the splendid recipe which became the Rocky Mountain National Park.

  • take hundreds and millions of years of rock formations
  • mix with the repeated uplift of these mountains by the most gigantic of tectonic forces and . . .
  • add millions of years of erosion by ice and water, carving out and sculpting the mountains into how they are today

That’s the recipe which was used to form the Rocky Mountain National Park.

Geological History of the Rocky Mountain National Park

The rocks in the Rocky Mountain National Park started out life as shale, sandstone and siltstone, as well as some volcanic rocks which were deposited around 2 billion years ago (yes, billion, how many noughts is that . . . no, I’m not sure either). Anyway, the rocks in the Never Summer Mountains are a bit newer, but I mean the rest of the rocks in the Rocky Mountain National Park. Anyway, these rocks were all caught up in the collision zone between tectonic plates and huge sections of the Earth’s crust . . . wham, bam, the rocky mountains were born, well, the core of the ancient mountain range anyway . . . they were crystallized by the enormous heat and pressure from the collision. Anyway, over time (millions of years actually) these mountains were eroded and ended up being a pretty flat surface, which (approximately 500 million years ago) was covered with shallow seas. During the next 200 million years or so hundreds of thousands of feet of sedimentary rocks were deposited and then . . . another mountain range was uplifted in the area. Wow, there’s sure been a lot of eroding and forming, eroding and forming going on . . .

You see, the top of the mountains were the bottom of the sea . . . the landscape is flat / high / flat / high etc. etc.

Rocky Mountain National Park

The area which is now the Rocky Mountain National Park was intermittently eroded and covered by seas around 65 million years ago (you see, it’s getting closer). There have been tons of bones found within the sedimentary rocks dating right back to the Jurassic and Cretaceous times . . . you’ve got it . . . Jurassic . . . dinosaurs lived in the Rocky Mountain National Park during this period.

Rocky Mountain NP - Alluvial Fan

Let’s go back in time just a little, to 130 million years ago when the major tectonic plates of the Earth’s crust began colliding again, along what was to become the west side of North America. The uplift which was caused by this began to affect the area which we now know as Colorado Rockies around 70 million years ago. The area began to rise, and the Cretaceous sea withdrew, so that the thick layer of sedimentary rocks which had been accumulated beneath the sea began to erode. All this took just a few million years, by which time the sedimentary rocks had completely eroded away once again exposing the igneous and metamorphic rocks of the region.

Simplification, that’s a great buzz word and just what we needed, an idiots guide to mountain building!

Glaciers in the Rocky Mountain National Park

Okay, let’s skip forward a few million years (it doesn’t sound like a long time if you say it quick) to two million years ago, when the climate of the Earth cooled and the Ice Age arrived (not the animated movie, the real Ice Age). During this time large sheets of ice floated around large areas of the Northern Hemisphere, and much of North America and Europe was covered by ice. The valleys between the high mountains became glaciers, probably around 1.6 million years ago, and each time a glacier flowed down between the valleys the valley sides and bottom were eroded, each glacier removing evidence of the one which moved before it.

The climate started to warm (where have I heard that before) around 12,000 to 15,000 years ago and the glaciers melted and disappeared. The glaciers which are still present in the Rocky Mountain National Park are nothing to do with the Ice Age, they’re only found in locations which receive large amounts of snow blowing across the mountain faces which melts only very slowly throughout the summer.

Boulder County


Thunder Lake Trail-Bluebird Lake Trail

The trail is associated with the early resort industry and tourism in the Estes Park region, and first appears on a tourist guide map in 1910.

Meeker Park

East Longs Peak Trail

The trail to the summit of Longs Peak reflects the principles of National Park Service Naturalistic Design from the 1920s through the 1940s. Active tourist use of the trail began in 1873 and continues up until the present day with hundreds of personal accounts repeatedly expressing exhilaration over the scenery and exhaustion from this high-altitude effort. Initially lodge owners maintained the trail and climbers hired local guides to assist in their mountain ascent. Between 1900 and 1906, Enos Mills forged his skills as a public speaker and naturalist while guiding visitors up the trail

Sandbeach Lake Trail

The trail is associated with the early resort industry and tourism in the Estes Park region, from its construction and initial use in 1910 through 1945, the year in which tourism in the park significantly changed due to increased automobile traffic after World War II.

Thunder Lake Patrol Cabin

Built in 1930, the small, well maintained log cabin is a good example of the National Park Service’s Rustic style design philosophy as implemented at Rocky Mountain National Park during the 1930s.

Wild Basin House

Originally built in 1931, the five room one-story Rustic style ranger cabin has a gabled roof that is covered with wood shingles.

Wild Basin Ranger Station & House

This one-story, duplex-like Rustic style log building was constructed in 1932. It is divided into a three room ranger station and a four room seasonal residence.

Rocky Mountain National Park - History

The NPS History Electronic Library is a portal to electronic publications covering the history of the National Park Service (NPS) and the cultural and natural history of the national parks, monuments, and historic sites of the U.S. National Park System. The information contained in this Website is historical in scope and is not meant as an aid for travel planning please refer to the official NATIONAL PARK SERVICE Website for current/additional information. While we are not affiliated with the National Park Service, we gratefully acknowledge the contributions by park employees and advocates, which has enabled us to create this free digital repository.

Last month debuted a new way to access park-specific content. Each park now has its own dedicated Web page that consolidates all of the content for that park on a single Web page. The View Park Archives selection above is the quickest way to access this content for a specific park, as well as from the existing Park Archives —> Historical Documents menu.

New eLibrary Additions

They Also Serve: Ancillary Uniforms — 1920-1991 National Park Service Uniforms Vol. 6 (R. Bryce Workman, unfinished draft, 1999)

Statistical Abstract 2020 NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/NRSS/EQS/NRDS—2021/1326 (Pamela S. Ziesler and Claire M. Spalding, May 2021)

Tule Springs Archaeological Surface Survey Nevada State Museum Anthropological Papers No. 12 (Margaret L. Susia, January 1964)

Tule Springs, Nevada With Other Evidences of Pleistocene Man in North America Southwest Museum Papers No. 18 (Mark Raymond Harrington and Ruth DeEtte Simpson, 1961)

Ethnographic Overview and Assessment, Mammoth Cave National Park Phase III Final Report (Darlene Applegate and Kate Hudepohl, December 2020)

Ethnographic Overview and Assessment: Zion National Park, Utah and Pipe Spring National Monument, Arizona (Richard W. Stoffle, Diane E. Austin, David B. Halmo and Arthur M. Phillips III, July 1999, revised 2013)

American Indians and the Old Spanish Trail (Richard W. Stoffle, Kathleen A. Van Vlack, Rebecca S. Toupal, Sean M. O'Meara, Jessica L. Medwied-Savage, Henry F. Dobyns and Richard W. Arnold, December 19, 2008)

Ethnohistoric and Ethnographic Assessment of Contemporary Communities along the Old Spanish Trail (Richard W. Stoffle, Rebecca S. Toupal, Jessica L. Medwied-Savage, Sean M. O'Meara, Kathleen A. Van Vlack, Henry F. Dobyns and Heather Fauland, December 19, 2008)

(Vincent L. Santucci and Justin S. Tweet, eds., 2021)

Grand Canyon National Park Centennial Paleontological Resources Inventory: A Century of Fossil Discovery and Research Utah Geological Association Special Publication 1 (Vincent L. Santucci and Justin S. Tweet, eds., 2021, ©Utah Geological Association, all rights reserved)

Natural Resource Condition Assessment, Cape Hatteras National Seashore NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/CAHA/NRR-2021/2257 (Andy J. Nadeau, Kathy Allen and Andy Robertson, May 2021)

Natural Resource Condition Assessment, Mammoth Cave National Park NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/MACA/NRR-2021/2258 (Chris Groves, Autumn Singer, Lee Anne Bledsoe, Richard S. Toomey III, Katie Algeo and Cathleen J. Webb, May 2021)

Presidios of the Big Bend Area / Los Presidios del Area de Big Bend Southwest Cultural Resources Center Professional Paper No. 31 (James E. Ivey, 1990)

The Vegetation of Everglades National Park: Final Report NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/SFCN/NRR-2021/2256 (Pablo L. Rui, Theodore N. Schall, Robert B. Shamblin and Kevin R.T. Whelan, May 2021)

Imprint of the Past: Ecological History of New Bedford Harbor (Carol E. Pesch, Richard A. Voyer, James S. Latimer, Jane Copeland, George Morrison and Douglas McGovern, February 2011)

Vegetation Classification and Mapping Project Report: Mount Rainier National Park NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/NCCN/NRR—2021/2253 (Eric M. Nielsen, Catharine Copass, Rachel L. Brunner and Lindsey K. Wise, May 2021)

Vegetation Classification and Mapping Project Report: Olympic National Park NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/NCCN/NRR—2021/2255 (Eric M. Nielsen, Catharine Copass, Rachel L. Brunner and Lindsey K. Wise, May 2021)

Vegetation Classification and Mapping Project Report: North Cascades National Park NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/NCCN/NRR—2021/2254 (Eric M. Nielsen, Catharine Copass, Rachel L. Brunner and Lindsey K. Wise, May 2021)

Systemwide Archeological Inventory Program: Rocky Mountain Cluster Plan Yellowstone Center for Resources YCR-CR-98-1 (James A. Truesdale, Adrienne Anderson and Ann Johnson, 1998)

Climate Change Impacts on Odawa Contemporary Use Plants and Cultture at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (Richard Stoffle, Katherine Brooks, Evelyn Pickering, Christopher Sittler and Kathleen Van Vlack, October 5, 2015)

Unav-Nuqauaint: Little Springs Lava Flow Ethnographic Investigation (Kathleen Van Vlack, Richard Stoffle, Evelyn Pickering, Katherine Brooks and Jennie Delfs, September 2013)

Yellowstone National Park Arnold Hague, extract from American Forestry, Vol. XIX No. 5, May 1913, ©American Forestry Association)

The Ecological Implications of Fire in Greater Yellowstone Second Biennial Conference on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (Jason M. Greenlee, ed., 1993 ©International Association of Wildland Fire)

Photo Gallery

– Courtesy Estes Park CVB –

– By Kjell Mitchell Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association Inset: Courtesy Frontier Historical Society –

– Courtesy Rocky Mountain National Park –

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Rocky Mountain National Park - History

The History of Rocky Mountain National Park

Families on vacation in Rocky Mountain National Park can learn that visitors have been hiking in the
area since the end of
the last ice age.

Prehistoric hunters, Ute people, mountain men, explorers, gold miners, dude ranchers, mountain climbers, photographers, and scientists are just a few of the people who have spent time in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Check out the great display where kids can dress up as some of these characters at the Fall River Visitor Center.

Photo: A young hiker mulls over the mysteries of ancient architecture at Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.

A fter the Ice Age

E ven older artifacts, Clovis points, in fact, suggest that people have been hunting in the park for as many as 12,000 years. A half dozen of the projectile points have been found on the surface in the mountain passes. Dating of the points shows that people ventured into the high country on the heels of retreating glaciers at the end of the Ice Age.

Early archaic people left abundant evidence of their hunts. Mt. Albion projectile points and stony remnants of game drives 6,000 to 7,000 years old suggest that people retreated to the mountains during periods of drought on the plains. The Flattop Mountain game drive site has low rock walls and stone hunting blinds. The walls were used to herd or funnel the animals together, while people drove them from behind. At the end of the walls, hunters hiding down wind behind the blinds would ambush the animals, killing several at one time.

In spite of the ingenious methods for capturing game, the archaic people left no evidence that they wintered in the high country. For that matter, very few animals spend the cold months at altitude, or even in the Kawuneeche Valley. It is likely that the people followed the game to Middle Park.

T he Ute or a linguistically related people have used the resources in what is now Rocky Mountain National Park since those archaic times. More recently, Apache ceramics from around 1500AD appeared in the area, and the Arapaho people arrived around 1800. Several place names in the park bear Arapaho names, including the Kawuneeche Valley, the Tonahutu Creek and Valley, and Onahu Creek and Trail. Tonahutu is said to mean big meadows in Arapaho, while Onahu means “one who warms himself by a fire” and refers to a horse with that habit.

The Upper Beaver Meadows area bears the remains of a battle between the Apache and the Arapaho that lasted for three or four days in about 1838.

A lthough the highest peak in Rocky Mountain National Park bears his name, Stephen Long and his 1820 expedition never ventured closer than about where Denver is now. From there he turned south and three members of his expedition climbed Pikes Peak. (Zebulon Pike never climbed the mountain named after him, either.)

A lthough mountain men hunted, trapped, and traded in the area, the first recorded European-American settlers came in 1859. Joel Estes and Milton, his son, ventured into the valley of the Big Thompson River below Lumpy Ridge that year, bringing the rest of the family back the next summer to settle. William Byers, in the Rocky Mountain News was the first to refer to the place as Estes’ Park.

Even so, the family found ranching there to be too hard, and sold their claim. Their cabin was used to shelter guests, foreshadowing the industry that was to become the main livelihood for most of the valley’s residents.

The scenery attracted adventurous tourists and hoteliers to cater to their needs. By 1874, a stage line ran from Longmont to Estes Park. In 1909 inventor F. O. Stanley built the Stanley Hotel, and promoted auto touring in the Fall River area.

W est of the Divide

T he second half of the nineteenth century saw several gold and silver strikes in the Colorado Rockies. The mineral wealth sent waves of prospectors into the mountains looking to strike it rich. Miners built as many as 40 mines on the east side of the park and 10 on the west side. Lulu City and Gaskill sprung up to support the miners, but busted quickly enough when the mines didn’t strike enough color to pay.

Towns and ranches on the west side of the park found income in tourism after mining’s bust. Visitors ventured into the valley to hunt and fish and recreate at dude ranches in the area.

P rotecting the Park

E ven as tourism increased and was encouraged, residents of the valley saw the need to protect the natural landscape. Early in the twentieth century, the Estes Park Protective and Improvement Association was established. In 1909, Enos Mills, a local lodge owner and guide proposed national park status for the area. He wrote, spoke, and lobbied in favor of a huge national park that would cover over 1,000 square miles. In 1915 President Woodrow Wilson did sign the bill designating Rocky Mountain National Park, although it encompassed only 358 square miles at the time.

Since then, the park has added acreage, and in 1976 it received status as a Biosphere Reserve from the United Nations. Trail Ridge Road was designated an All American Road and National Scenic Byway in 1996, while status as a Globally Important Bird Area was conferred upon the park in 2000.


The history of Estes Park begins with the powerful geologic forces of tectonic uplift and glacial erosion that over millions of years formed and then sculpted a magnificent mountain valley and its surrounding peaks in the heart of Colorado&rsquos Rocky Mountains. Together they have giving us the beautiful and unforgettable landscape and ecosystem that we are pleased to share each year with millions of visitors from around the nation and around the world.

Archaeologists tell us that our human history, at least on a seasonal basis, reaches back some ten thousand years to the ancestors of today&rsquos Native Americans. Until the late 1700s, the Utes dominated the mountain region to the west, increasingly being forced to share their territory with the Arapaho, Comanche, Shoshone, and even, it has been suggested, with roving bands of Apache. Until a decade before the arrival of the first Euro-Americans, the valleys to the east along the Front Range belonged to the Arapaho, who began to arrive in the 1790s, having been pushed west across the Great Plains by their Sioux enemies. Penetrating the foothills, they frequented the Estes Valley and the area now embraced by Rocky Mountain National Park. Evidence of their summer encampments and activity, including the hillside ovens used to cook their meals, has been found in many places. Artifacts, located around the base of Oldman Mountain, the conical granite knob overlooking Fall River and the west end of Elkhorn Avenue, suggest that its summit was once used by early visitors as a vision quest site.

Naming Estes Park

The word &ldquoPark,&rdquo in the parlance of the mountains, means upland valley. The name &ldquoEstes Park&rdquo (or &ldquoEste&rsquos Park&rdquo as it was first known), was bestowed on the valley by William Byers, founding editor of the Rocky Mountain News, in honor of its first permanent Anglo residents, Kentuckian Joel Estes and his wife Patsy. Byers, and his party, on their way to a failed attempt to climb Longs Peak in 1864, stayed with the Estes family, paying his hosts $2.20 for food and lodging. Writing of the experience for the News, Byers predicted that &ldquoeventually this park will become a favorite pleasure resort.&rdquo

The Estes family did not stay, leaving in 1866, in search for a more temperate place in which to ranch their cattle. Others, however, soon arrived, and by 1874, the valley had been opened for settlement under the terms of the Homestead Act. Though the first pioneer families (the MacGregors, Spragues, Jameses, Hupps, Fergusons, and Lambs among them) came to ranch and farm, most soon discovered that a more profitable living could be made by taking care of the needs of the summer visitors who arrived, and in ever-increasing numbers, to recreate and rest among scenery that many described as rivaling Switzerland itself.

Early Beginnings

The Town of Estes Park was platted by Abner Sprague in the spring of 1905, surveyed out from the small group of existing buildings clustered about what is now the corner of today&rsquos Elkhorn and Moraine avenues. Lots sold quickly, and within a decade the footprint of the town we know today was largely in place. Most of the town&rsquos early infrastructure&mdashits electricity, its water and sewerage system&mdashcame from the generosity of steam car pioneer F. O. Stanley, who had come to the Estes Valley in June 1903 hoping to recover his health. His legacy lives on most visibly in the magnificent Stanley Hotel complex overlooking the town, built between 1907 and 1909.

Thanks to the efforts of F. O. Stanley and other early residents, and their sense of Western self-sufficiency, for more than a decade the primary needs of the new town were taken care of by citizens themselves. These included the construction of a new fish hatchery on Fall River, the reintroduction of elk into a region that had hunted them to extinction, and the building of roads and trails&mdashall in the hope of attracting summer visitors. In the years after 1907, thanks to the organizational and inspirational talents of local naturalist and hotel owner Enos A Mills, residents rallied behind an even larger cause: the creation of a new national park.

Rocky Mountain National Park was established in January 1915. Two years later, in April 1917, came the formal incorporation of the Town of Estes Park and the beginnings of local government to guide the affairs of a fast growing community.


Much, of course, has happened in the century since. Milestones include the completion of Fall River Road over the Continental Divide in 1920, and its successor Trail Ridge Road a decade later, as well as the completion in 1944 of the thirteen-mile Alva Adams tunnel, keystone of the Colorado-Big Thompson Trans-mountain Irrigation Project, bringing water from Grand Lake under Rocky Mountain National Park to irrigate farms along the Front Range. There have also been major challenges, most notably the Big Thompson Flood of 1976, the Lawn Lake Flood of 1982, and the epic flood of September 2013, all of which challenged the resiliency, courage, and resolve of a community that has proven itself time and time again to be &ldquoMountain Strong.&rdquo

In 2017, our Centennial Year, the Town of Estes Park invites all its residents together with our millions of year-round guests to reflect upon the achievements of our first century and the rich heritage that inspires this remarkable place. We welcome your participation.

Park History: Rocky Mountain National Park

Though a relatively short drive from Denver, and joined at the hip to the bustling gateway town of Estes Park, Rocky Mountain National Park is a pretty wild place.

Proof of that exists in the current search for wolves in the park. Proof also can be found just standing atop Trail Ridge Road and taking a long, 360-degree gander at the alpine surroundings.

Given life on this date back in 1915, Rocky Mountain National Park can sate the most avid backcountry traveler. and even those front-country wanderers who aren't terribly comfortable with hoisting a pack upon their backs and disappearing into the woods for an extended period of time.

True, these days we seem to hear more about the park's issues than its beauty. And there are definitely some issues, such as how to manage the park's rather large elk population, how to protect the park's air quality, and, of course, how to make do with an insufficient budget.

So far, thankfully, none of those issues can take away from the park's breathtaking beauty. From the Mummy Range and Never Summer Range to the Gorge Lakes Area and Wild Basin Area the park offers a vault of, well, Rocky Mountain beauty. And since the 48-mile-long Trail Ridge Road is the only road that cuts through the park, there's plenty of room for exploring the backcountry without fear of encountering civilization.

The tantalizing possibility that wolves are migrating down from Yellowstone only adds to the park's richness. To envision wolves once again loping across Rocky Mountain's landscape is a wonderful thing. Of course, park managers and local officials no doubt probably hope that doesn't happen because of the management headaches it might create. But once the tourist dollars tied to wolf-watching start rolling in, as they have in Yellowstone, there might be a different take on the call of the wild.

But wolves aren't a necessary ingredient of Rocky Mountain's pedigree. Along with its natural resources the park boasts a rich cultural background, ranging from prehistoric nomads who hunted and gathered in the park to the stories revolving around Enos Mills, the rightly judged father of Rocky Mountain National Park.

When it comes to recreation, you can take a short, or long, hike, climb a mountain, look for wildlife, or simply enjoy the setting. Get out of your car near the top of Trail Ridge Road and you can get a pretty good idea of what the scenery far north in the Alaska Arctic looks like. Hike to Alberta Falls and you'll see a completely different setting.

There are five campgrounds (not counting two other group campgrounds) where you can pitch your tent (four where you can park your RV, though none has any hookups). And if you don't want to cook every night, there are great restaurants in Estes Park and Grand Lake.

It still only costs $20 for a week-long access by car to the park, and if you live close enough the $35 annual pass remains a pretty good bargain.

List of site sources >>>

Watch the video: Rocky Mountain National Park Vacation Travel Guide. Expedia (December 2021).