Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Top 5 Reasons to Visit Rocky Mountain National Park

Encompassing more than 265,000 acres, and with more than sixty peaks topping out above 12,000 feet, Rocky Mountain National Park is home to some of the most spectacular scenery on Earth. From wooded forests to alpine tundra, these majestic mountains provide habitat to more than 60 species of mammals, while more than 280 species of birds visit or reside within the park. With more than 350 miles of trails meandering throughout the park, Rocky Mountain is also widely recognized as a hiker’s paradise. Here’s why you should plan to visit Rocky sometime this year:

The Continental Divide
One of the best things about Rocky Mountain National Park is its accessibility to the high country. No other park in the country allows visitors to gain lofty elevations so easily. Roughly one-third of the park is above tree-line, and more than 60 peaks top out above 12,000 feet, including 14,259-foot Longs Peak, the highest peak in the park. In addition to trails like the Flattop Mountain Trail or the route to Mt. Ida, visitors can also drive over the Continental Divide along the highest continuous paved road in North America. With a maximum elevation of 12,183 feet, and more than eight miles traveling above 11,000 feet, Trail Ridge Road connects Estes Park with Grand Lake. The road also provides access to outstanding tundra hikes such as the Ute Trail, the Tundra Communities Trail and the Alpine Ridge Trail.

Wet springs can bring exceptional wildflower blooming seasons in Rocky Mountain National Park. Even during normal years the park explodes with a variety of wildflowers. Some of the varieties visitors might enjoy include Alpine Clover, Rock Primrose, Western Wallflower, Sky Pilot and Alpine Sunflowers in the tundra areas of the park, as well as Mountain Iris, Lupine, Mariposa-lily and Colorado Columbines in the lower elevations. Some of best wildflower hikes include Big Meadows, Cascade Falls, Emerald Lake and the Lumpy Ridge Loop, among many others.

Longs Peak
At 14,259 feet, Longs Peak is the highest mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park. The iconic sentinel is seen from almost anywhere in the park, as well as from many locations around northern Colorado. It’s also one of most popular “fourteeners” for hikers and climbers to tackle in a state that boasts a total of 53 peaks above 14,000 feet. Although considered a mountaineering route, thousands of hikers attempt to summit the peak each summer using the famous Keyhole Route. Personally, I don’t want anything to do with the narrow ledges and steep cliffs along the upper portions of the route. I much prefer safer climbs such as Hallett Peak and the Chapin-Chiquita-Ypsilon Mountains route to cure my big mountain summit fever.

Elk Rut
The annual elk rut is one of the premier attractions in Rocky Mountain National Park. Each fall elk descend from the high country to the lower elevation meadows during the annual breeding season. During the rut, bull elk compete with one another for the right to breed with herds of females. Mature bulls compete for cows by bugling, posturing, displaying their antlers and herding, while occasionally fighting off young challengers. The peak season for the rut generally lasts from mid-September to mid-October in Rocky Mountain National Park.

Fall Aspens
Just as the elk rut is kicking into high gear, another annual event that draws tourists to the park during the autumn are the brilliant fall colors of aspens. Each September the leaves of quacking aspens turn from green to orange and golden yellow throughout the park. Some of best hikes for viewing fall aspens include Bierstadt Lake, Alberta Falls, Cub Lake, Finch Lake, Adams Falls and Chasm Lake, among many others.

In addition to the hikes discussed above, Rocky Mountain National Park has many other outstanding hikes that take-in the best scenery the park has to offer. If you do plan to visit Rocky Mountain this year, please note that our hiking website also offers a wide variety of accommodation listings and other things to do to help with all your vacation planning.


Thursday, February 16, 2017

Forest Service releases draft decision on Sulphur trails project

The U.S. Forest Service has released its final environmental assessment and a draft decision for the Sulphur Ranger District Trails Smart Sizing Project. The draft decision would approve up to 18 miles of new trail construction in the Winter Park and Fraser area, in addition to improved signage and enhanced trailheads.

The project includes rerouting and rebuilding trails, and decommissioning approximately 2.6 miles of system trail as well as any social trails discovered during the project. The plan converts a one-mile section of road to single track trail and narrows some 5 miles of non-motorized trail to single track. The draft decision also opens up some 2.5 miles of additional single track trail to motorbike use to expand the District’s single track motorized system to 13 miles, in addition to 66 miles of motorized trail wide enough to accommodate ATV use. Along with the trail improvements, bicycle use would only be allowed on designated system trails across the Sulphur Ranger District and the plan would restrict winter biking on about 9.5 miles of trail.

The project stems from years of collaboration and discussion with a variety of user groups, including Headwaters Trails Alliance (HTA), a group that represents local trail users and communities. In 2012, HTA began design on a plan that would improve the quality of the trails experience for the modern trail user as the current trail system wasn’t meeting the desires of the community.

This project is the culmination of the first phase of HTA’s master trails planning effort. The Forest Service has taken concepts and ideas for a portion of the area identified in the HTA Master Trails Plan and refined these to address concerns for wildlife, watersheds and other National Forest values.

“The goal of this project was to improve the trail system, not only for the public that uses the trail system but also for the wildlife that uses the Forest,” said Sulphur District Ranger Jon Morrissey. “The draft decision improves and modernizes the trail system on National Forest near the towns of Winter Park and Fraser while minimizing impacts to streams and wildlife by choosing more appropriate trail locations.”

The draft decision not only improves trail-to-trail connectivity, creates loop opportunities, and minimizes the amount of roads that trail users need to access other trails but also designs trails to create a range of difficulty levels from easy to difficult.

. The project would be completed in phases over the next 5 to 10 years by working with partners on both implementation and project funding.

The draft decision provides an opportunity to review the information before the decision in finalized. Those who previously provided written comments on the project have until midnight April 3, 2017, to submit written objections.

The complete draft decision, maps, final environmental analysis and information about the objection process are available online at


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Learn About Research And Science At Rocky Mountain National Park Biennial Research Conference

Rocky Mountain National Park’s 2017 Biennial Research Conference “People and Stewardship: Using Research for Management” will be held on March 1-2 at the Estes Park Town Hall. The park hosts one of the largest research programs in the National Park System, with more than 100 research permits active each year. Park partners in research come from other federal agencies, the State of Colorado and universities around the world. Last year, citizen scientists volunteered thousands of hours to research projects. In addition, hundreds of students participate in field data collections and lab analysis. More than one-hundred scientists are expected to attend this two-day meeting to discuss a variety of research projects.

The conference is free and open to all interested members of the community. No registration is required. The conference begins on Wednesday, March 1, at 8:15 a.m. Sessions will end by 4:00 p.m. each day. A complete schedule is available at:

Researchers will present for 20 minutes each. Talks are organized into sessions covering related subjects. Wednesday sessions will focus on visitor use, youth relevancy, wetlands and rivers, and the Grand Ditch breach restoration. These sessions will include presentations on Longs Peak history, monitoring visitor use, citizen science, willow restoration, streams and student projects.

Thursday sessions will focus on climate change, archaeology, wildlife, vegetation, environmental contaminants, and public health. These sessions will include presentations on ice patch archaeology, tree migration, macroinvertebrates, subalpine forests, invasive species, restoration, air quality, birds, ticks, elk, and toads. In addition to presentations, posters on a rich variety of subjects will be presented during a poster session on Thursday afternoon.

The 2017 Research Conference celebrates research at Rocky Mountain National Park, promotes collaboration between the park and its partners, provides a forum for researchers and park staff to share discoveries, highlights the current issues relevant to park management, creates opportunities for young professionals and scientists to engage with park staff and the public and encourages dialogue between the park, the public, students and scientists.

The Town Board Room is in the Estes Park Municipal Building, 170 MacGregor Avenue. For more information about Rocky Mountain National Park please call the park’s Information Office at (970) 586-1206.


Saturday, February 11, 2017

Teams Assisting Injured Man In Twin Sisters Area

A 60-year-old male suffered a leg injury in a sliding fall on the Twin Sisters Trail yesterday. Because the location of the injured man is just outside the boundary of the park, Rocky Mountain National Park Search and Rescue Team and the Larimer County Search and Rescue Team initiated a unified command for the operation. Rocky Mountain Rescue is also assisting. Park rangers were notified of the injury early yesterday afternoon via cell phone by the man’s hiking partner.

Search and Rescue team members reached the man at approximately 4:15 p.m. and provided advanced medical care. Team members have encountered numerous fallen trees and continue to deal with extremely strong winds. Rescuers are using a sled type litter for the evacuation. The rescue teams were expected to reach the trailhead by 9:30 p.m. The patient will then be taken by ambulance to the Estes Park Medical Center.

More than thirty people are involved in the rescue operation. No further information is available at this time.


Friday, February 10, 2017

Chance to Hike at Night at State Forest State Park's Full Moon Open House

Colorado Parks and Wildlife again invites the public to head to State Forest State Park Feb. 11, for the next Full Moon Open House, a fun, wintertime night hike, beginning at dusk. If you missed the last event, you still have a chance to enjoy traveling along snow-packed trails with your friends and family, surrounded by beautiful landscapes illuminated by bright, lunar light from a big full moon.

State Forest State Park, considered one of Colorado's most scenic natural areas, straddles the borders of Larimer and Jackson Counties along the peaks of the Medicine Bow mountain range. Due to it's remote location far from city lights, it's a great venue for nocturnal fun.

"We had a great turnout at the last event in January and we expect even more next week," said Park Interpreter Jennifer Greis. "People told us they loved the opportunity to get out of the house and enjoy a little nocturnal fun and adventure."

To add to the ambiance, everyone gets free glow-in-the-dark jewelry to wear, and glowsticks will line the paths. In addition, hikers can enjoy hot chocolate and cookies at the Chocolate Cabin as they trek along the trail.

Participants are reminded to arrive at the Moose Visitor Center at dusk, to dress warmly, bring snowshoes or skis and a warm potluck item for sharing with other participants.

Everyone is encouraged to bring their own snowshoes; however, the park will have a limited supply available for rental. Snowshoe rental reservations are recommended.

The event is free but every vehicle must have a valid park pass, available at the Moose Visitor Center.

Dog owners can bring their pets, but due to possible encounters with moose, they are required to keep dogs on a leash at all times or consider leaving them at home.

For more information, contact State Forest State Park at 970-723-8366, or visit

Who: Colorado Parks and Wildlife's State Forest State Park
What: Full Moon Open House
When: Saturday, Feb. 11, at dusk
Where: State Forest State Park, Moose Visitor Center


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Top 5 Reasons to Visit Grand Teton National Park

Rising more than 7000 feet above Jackson Hole, the high peaks of Grand Teton National Park provide one of the most dramatic landscapes in the world. Although many people seem to treat it as an afterthought, only visiting the park as a side trip while visiting its more famous neighbor to the north, more time and focus should be given to this stunning landscape. Within its 310,000 acres the majestic mountains of the Teton Range are home to a wide variety of wildlife, eight peaks that top out above 12,000 feet, more than 100 alpine and backcountry lakes, and more than 240 miles of trails that provide intimate access to all of this incredibly beautiful scenery.

Cascade Canyon
The Cascade Canyon Trail is widely touted as one of the best hikes in the entire National Park System. In addition to the stunning views of 12,928-foot Mt. Owen, the trail visits Hidden Falls and Inspiration Point. The route is also known for the wide variety of wildlife that is frequently seen, especially bears and moose.

Lake Views
Lying along the eastern base of the Teton Range is a series of glacially-carved lakes. Rising sharply above their western shores, the views of the rugged mountains are stunning and dramatic. From the shores of Jackson, Leigh, Jenny, Phelps, Bradley and Taggart Lakes, hikers will enjoy some of the most striking views in the park.

Although Yellowstone rightfully receives a lot of attention for its wildlife viewing opportunities, the Grand Tetons are also known for its diversity of wildlife. The rugged mountains provide habitat to a wide variety of wildlife, including black bears, grizzly bears, elk, bison, bighorn sheep, moose, pronghorn, wolves, fox, lynx, bobcats and mountain lions. There are also more than 300 species of birds, including trumpeter swans, ospreys and bald eagles. A drive along Moose-Wilson Road is a popular way of spotting mega fauna such as bears and moose. However, hikes such as Amphitheater Lake, Hermitage Point, Moose Ponds and the Emma Matilda Lake Loop are all great choices for possibly seeing wildlife in the backcountry.

The abrupt rise of the Tetons from the valley floor arguably makes them one of the most photogenic mountain ranges in the world. As a result, professional and amateur photographers alike will enjoy a multitude of photo opportunities around the park. Some of the best spots for getting that perfect shot include Mormon Row, Oxbow Bend, Schwabacher’s Landing, as well as the Snake River Overlook, which was made famous by Ansel Adams' 1942 photograph. Of course all of the backcountry locations mentioned above will also provide outstanding photo opportunities.

Snake River Float Trip
The Snake River meanders along the sage brush flats below the Teton Range, and provides park visitors with the unique opportunity of enjoying the majestic mountain scenery from a raft. Although outfitters offer trips throughout the day, I highly recommend the morning trips, as the mountains typically look their finest when bathed in the glow of early morning sunshine. Morning is also the best time to view wildlife along the river banks, including bald eagles.

With more than 240 miles of trails meandering throughout the park, hiking is the absolute best way to see Grand Teton National Park. In addition to the hikes listed above, the park offers a variety of other outstanding hikes. If you do plan to visit Grand Teton this year, please note that our hiking website also offers a wide variety of accommodation listings as well as other things to do to help with all your vacation planning.


Saturday, February 4, 2017

Annual Great Backyard Bird Count Marks Its 20th Year

A lot has changed since the first Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) was held in 1998. Each year brings unwavering enthusiasm from the growing number of participants in this now-global event. The 20th annual GBBC is taking place February 17-20 in backyards, parks, nature centers, on hiking trails, school grounds, balconies, and beaches—anywhere you find birds.

Bird watchers count the birds they see for at least 15 minutes on one or more days of the count, then enter their checklists at All the data contribute to a snapshot of bird distribution and help scientists see changes over the past 20 years.

"The very first GBBC was an experiment," says the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Marshall Iliff, a leader of the eBird program. "We wanted to see if people would use the Internet to send us their bird sightings. Clearly the experiment was a success!" eBird collects bird observations globally every day of the year and is the online platform used by the GBBC.

That first year, bird watchers submitted about 13,500 checklists from the United States and Canada. Fast-forward to the most recent event in 2016. Over the four days of the count, an estimated 163,763 bird watchers from more than 100 countries submitted 162,052 bird checklists reporting 5,689 species–more than half the known bird species in the world.

Varying weather conditions so far this winter are producing a few trends that GBBC participants can watch for during the count. eBird reports show many more waterfowl and kingfishers remaining further north than usual because they are finding open water. If that changes, these birds could move southward.

Also noted are higher than usual numbers of Bohemian Waxwings in the Pacific Northwest and northern Rocky Mountains. And while some winter finches have been spotted in the East, such as Red Crossbills, Common Redpolls, Evening Grosbeaks, and a few Pine Grosbeaks, there seem to be no big irruptions so far. A few eye-catching Snowy Owls have been reported in the northern half of the United States.

Jon McCracken, Bird Studies Canada's National Program Director, reminds participants in Canada and the U.S. to keep watch for snowies. He says, "The GBBC has done a terrific job of tracking irruptions of Snowy Owls southward over the past several years. We can't predict what winter 2017 will bring, because Snowy Owl populations are so closely tied to unpredictable 'cycles' of lemmings in the Arctic. These cycles occur at intervals between two and six years. Nevertheless, there are already reports of Snowy Owls as far south as Virginia."

In addition to counting birds, tens of thousands of stunning images have been submitted since 2006. For the 20th anniversary of the GBBC, the public is invited to vote for their favorite top photo from each of the past 11 years in a special album they will find on the GBBC website home page. Voting takes place during the four days of the GBBC.

To learn more about how to participate and what scientists have learned from the Great Backyard Bird Count over the past 20 years, visit The GBBC is a joint project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society with partner Bird Studies Canada and is made possible in part by sponsor Wild Birds Unlimited.