Rocky Mountain National Park – Setting the Stage for the NPS

The Alpine Visitors Center at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado

The air gets a little thin at 12,000 feet, so walk slowly, breathe deeply and drink lots of water.

Rocky Mountain National Park, one of our nation’s most beloved cathedrals to nature, has the extra honor of having been a role model for legislation that created the entire National Park System.

ROMO was established in 1915, long after equally popular national parks, such as Yellowstone and Yosemite. So the rumblings were already growing for more coordinated effort to preserve and maintain a system of national playgrounds and historical sites. The legislative language that created ROMO was the basis of the Organic Act of 1916. That’s the one that eventually brought us 400+ units of the National Park Service that we enjoy today — a piece of legislature that has become known as “America’s Best Idea.”

Establishing Rocky Mountain National Park

Wildlife at Rocky Mountain National ParkWe can thank Enos Mills for getting the ball rolling on preserving this 400 square miles, nearly 265,000 acres. He lived in a cabin near Lily Lake, documenting the wildlife and wildflowers and other events in the mountains he so dearly loved.

Mills’ work not only convinced Congress that this land of needed preservation, but others as well. Each year, more than 3 million visitors pass through the gates of ROMO. Because of that, Rocky Mountain National Park established some of our first guidelines for user resources.

It was among the first of the national parks to issue back country permits to manage user impact on resources and among the first to use shuttle buses to minimize carbon emissions. It also has one of the country’s largest volunteer forces with nearly 1900 people signing on for duty each year.

Beginning with Memorial Day 2021 and continuing thru October 12, timed entry permits are now required, an effort to manager the huge crowds that descend on Rocky Mountain National Park each summer and fall. There’s no cost, but you do need to reserve a pass in advance that will designate what time you may enter the park.


Visiting Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado

A moose at Rocky Mountain National Park in ColoradoThe park service employees at ROMO tell us that most visitors to the park come in the east side at Estes Park and drive up the Trail Ridge Road to the Alpine Visitors Center and then turn around and go back. Oh, what a shame to miss so much of what this park has to offer.

There are 60 peaks over 12,000 feet, making this the highest park in the U.S. Many of the 360 miles of trails are original to the Ute and Arapahoe tribes who were the first residents of this region. There are 150 lakes and about 450 miles of streams in the park, including the headwaters of the Colorado River.

 Let’s do a better job of appreciating what Mother Nature, Enos Mills and Congress has given us. Let’s get out there and check in with the moose, the elk, and the black bear as well as the wind in the trees and the chorus of the streams.

And remember to be quiet and respectful, to use your park voice. You are in the presence of God’s most glorious work.

a deer in a meadow at Rocky Mountain National Park

Tip: Follow the Rocky Mountains north to discover some of Canada’s beautiful national parks.

Tools for Exploring our National Parks